Gov Games & Civic Guilds

GovGame Directory Site

As a result of my participation last year in a course held by Boise State University (BSU), I gained the opportunity to create my own courses using 3D Game Lab – an online game-based learning platform hosted by BSU. My primary goal in doing so was to offer information and resources to citizens in our community in an easy to use and fun format that was accessible 24/7. To begin, I chose to create a course on drainage and flooding because this is a topic about which we seem to get a lot of calls or questions. But now as I am nearing completion of the course and getting ready to roll it out for use, I realized there is no good place or centralized location to offer information about serious games designed specifically for citizens. And while regular games have numerous fan sites all over the place where players can talk about the games and exchange ideas and opinions, there's nothing for players or users of these "gov games."

Civic Guild Site

So I figured if our city needed a place to promote our game and a place where people could discuss the game and offer feedback, other agencies could probably use something like this too. And how much better it would be if we could all be located in one place. That way anyone interested in serious gaming related to government and community would not have to search all over the Internet. And if there was a type of guild site for these games, people could go there to see reviews of games, discover new games, or just interact with others who are interested in civic gaming. The members of this guild site could also become a type of Civic Guild which might then offer opportunities reaching beyond only online interactions!

In the end, I was not really sure how much of a need for this was out there or if it would actually work the way I envisioned, but I went ahead anyway and set up a GovGame Directory and Civic Guild site. You can visit the sites by clicking the links below. Because this idea is still somewhat in Beta form, it would be great to get feedback on whether or not people think this would be beneficial, and if so, how the sites could be improved. And feel free to submit your favorite GovGames through the directory site so we can add them to the listing. I know I'll be adding ours once it's finally completed.

GovGames Directory

Civic Guild Site



Geneva’s Great Land Adventure

Geneva Land AdventureSeveral months ago, I read some blog posts about frustration with Gov 2.0 not doing enough and a few other posts with offers from people interested in working for free for experience. The two seemingly unrelated topics got me wondering: How could our city use Gov 2.0 to offer job opportunities to people just looking for experience and also offer opportunities to citizens interested in participating in government? My thoughts drifted to the projects I’m working on at my job. And I wondered if our city could reach out to these people with the use of Gov 2.0 tools to help us complete some of our projects. One particular project rose above the others as a perfect candidate – the creation of a database documenting all properties in which the city holds some interest. It seemed possible because all the research could be done online by anyone with a connection to the Internet.

Fortunately, my supervisor and city administrator were fully supportive of implementing this idea. And even better, an intern working for us who is a public administration graduate student was able to partner with us to set it all up. While we were planning the project, I noticed a post on GovLoop written by Dave Briggs: The need for micro-participation. It seemed to discuss exactly what we were hoping to do. His post and support of the idea of micro-volunteering inspired me to finish setting up the project. After it was complete, we took some time evaluating it. After getting some great input from everyone, the project became an adventure of discovery with a Viking theme complete with a Viking figure donated by our wastewater division staff. Now anyone can join us on a discovery of property. And people can even earn titles and rewards as they successfully complete documentation of areas. You can check out the site here: The Geneva Land Adventure.

While we realize this approach has been used before to crowdsource genealogy databases, we’re not sure if other local governments have offered similar opportunities for micro-participation. We would be interested in hearing from others who might be aware of similar examples of participation or information about property management systems already in place. And we would love to hear comments or suggestions for improving the project and would love it even more if you signed up and participated in our adventure! (And because property management in local government is not a widely discussed or known topic, I offer a little background below.)



People are usually surprised to discover that local governments have a significant number of interests in real estate or property. These property rights can be held in the form of deeds, dedications, easements, rights of way, or licenses. And, depending on a government agency’s size, the number of documents conveying these rights can range from hundreds to thousands.

What also surprises people is that agencies most likely do not have a property database in place to document and manage the property rights associated with these documents. When I started working at the city of LaSalle in 1993, I figured they didn’t have this in place because they were somewhat of a small community with a population of about 9700. So I got to work building the database and putting a management system in place. By the time I left in 2009, I had discovered about 300+ properties in which the city had some ownership right. What I’ve since realized from talking to others in government is that many cities lack a property database.

Based on my experience in LaSalle, I have developed a process of building the database and putting in place a management system. One of the first steps is to discover all the documents in which an agency has property rights. But this task can take significant time. Since starting a new job with the city of Geneva two years ago, I’ve been working on setting up the system here. Fortunately we already have most of the property held by deeds in a database created by the county tax assessor. But this information needs to be verified and all the other documents covering easements, licenses, dedications, etc. need to be discovered.

Some might wonder if it’s so much work, why bother. Well, in government, ownership and property rights come up frequently throughout the day. Most activities that go on in local government, particularly in public works or property maintenance, involve the need to know what can be done where. If a database does not exist, research must be done each time a question about rights or ownership comes up. With a completed database and GIS, the answers are much more readily available. There are other benefits, but to keep it brief, the bottom line is having the database saves time and money which is always a good thing to achieve in government.







The Foibles of FOIA

This week I received a request at work for information that has me wondering how US citizens and in particular Illinois citizens would feel about the results of our new FOIA law. This particular FOIA request ended up taking way too much time from other more pressing matters. However based on the new law, we had to immediately address and handle it regardless of what might be considered more important by our city and citizens.

The request was commercial in nature, and while I tried to send what we had related to the request, in the end, I could not send the actual data they wanted because it was exempted under the law. Finally after I had sent the final email in a series of many that stated the denial of the request, I received the form that I had been asking for all along to verify the commercial status of the request. From the form, I discovered this person was in Romania. This is when I realized they had been asking for information we had spent our citizens' money producing for the benefit of our city so that they could launch a website to make money off our data. The citizens of our city paid me to put their needs and concerns aside to instead devote my attention to someone in Romania. And in the end, the Romanian citizen did not receive what they wanted anyway. 

I realize there is the argument that government should be sharing data to help create and sustain jobs. But what I wondered was does this extend to other countries? How do our citizens feel about allowing people in other countries make money off work that has been produced with US tax dollars? And has our economy and country become so globally oriented that this really isn't an issue?




Deliver Recovery Project Information Using Social Media

Implementing a social media campaign for delivery of recovery project related information is a good way for local government to test the use of social media. The demand for this information is there, and the tools are available at little to no cost.

So how would a local government accomplish this goal? First, the agency needs to assemble the staff that would be required to set up the social media tools and deliver the content. Mostly likely this would involve members of the IT department and the public works and engineering staff. If the staff is not already familiar with social media, the agency needs to arrange for a social media 101 session to introduce the tools and how they are used. Then the team should lay out the steps of the project delivery and decide where social media best fits into the picture.

This process creates a type of roadmap to implementation. From here, the IT department can set up the accounts and download any necessary software. Then the engineering and public works departments can begin creating content. Sometimes it helps to keep these efforts in house, if possible, while the team practices with the new tools and creates a few test posts. This helps everyone become more comfortable with the tools and techniques before going “live.” And it gives everyone a chance to comment and offer suggestions for improvements.

I set up a mock demo of a simple implementation of this plan for a typical engineering project – Recovery Project Example. In doing so, I chose to use the following social media tools for the purpose indicated:

  • Microblog (used Twitter, free): use to deliver short announcements of project milestones such as advertisement for bids, opening of bids, award of bid, pay estimates, etc.
  • Blog (used Blogger, free from Google): use as a type of project diary, indicating major milestones but also daily activities. Allows for comments by local citizens which increases understanding of the project and allows for input and suggestions for project improvement.
  • Photosharing (used Flickr, free or paid pro account): use for posting photos of the project site. Could create a group for the project and allow others to post related photos.
  • Widgets (used a weather widget available on Google, free): every resident needs to keep up with the weather – what better way than to post a weather widget.
  • Timeline: (used timeline tool from Dipity, free): a project timeline offers a quick, visual glance at the project execution.

  • There are probably more tools out there that could be used to enhance the delivery of information for a project. But I wanted to create a quick, easy example to show others how simple it really would be to set up something like this. If anyone decides to implement a social media program for a public works project and has any questions, feel free to send me an e-mail at


    MuniGovCon09 – A Virtual Conference for Government

    Yesterday the MuniGov group held the first virtual conference for government in Second Life. This event was the result of about five months of planning and hours of volunteer work by members of the group. Registrations for the event totaled 166 people representing all levels of government from the U.S., Canada, and other countries along with some vendors. In the end, the number of people who actually attended and stayed throughout the day averaged about 77.

    Panelists also represented local, state, and federal levels. Their presentations covered government use of wikis, virtual worlds, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools. Discussion and questions touched on implementation, policy, and legal challenges. One of the MuniGov members taped the conference so the entire video will eventually be online for anyone interested in viewing the event.

    Because people will be able to view the conference for themselves, I wanted to highlight some of the observations and issues not covered by the actual presentations. By doing so, I hope to give people a better idea of what to expect from a virtual conference along with hopefully encouraging others to try attending one in the future.

    One exciting aspect of this event was the fact that the majority of the people attending were either learning to use Second Life for the first time or had only visited this virtual space a limited number of times. Because of this, several MuniGov members dedicated time to offer orientations for newer members during the months leading up to the conference. These orientations focused on the initial skills needed to move and communicate in a virtual world. Topics covered walking, flying, teleporting, talking, chatting, using IM, and altering their avatar’s appearance.

    Another decision that had to be made early on was where to hold the actual conference. Our normal meeting area can only comfortably accommodate about 60 people or so. Fortunately Paulette Robinson with the National Defense University offered us the use of her agency’s island in Second Life. This center could hold about 200 avatars.

    Because everyone was so new, there were some issues at the beginning with making sure everyone could hear and that their own speakers were muted or turned off during presentations. This took some time and for future events, someone advised setting aside time prior to the event for troubleshooting communication issues.

    After the conference, people were encouraged to visit the MuniGov area where we regularly meet on Wednesday nights. There we had vendors exhibiting in virtual booths representing the first virtual trade show for government. We had also set up typical Second Life type amenities such as water slides and games to showcase how avatars can interact with virtual objects and how these objects can emulate real life. People could also visit the “govpods” or virtual offices members have set up to represent their agencies.

    Overall, everyone seemed pleased with the conference. The cost savings to offer this event virtually rather than in a more traditional venue was about $1500 per person. People could attend from their offices or homes, and many had others in the room with them so actual attendance was probably more than the average 77 avatars in the Second Life space. And most importantly everyone attending had the opportunity to interact with other government professionals from all levels of government. They could also meet with representatives from companies serving government. CDWG, Microsoft, ActiveGovernment, Municibid and Earth911, all had virtual booths at the MuniGov Center.

    Of course, because the event was held in Second Life, there were the typical amusing extras that you just don’t get at a regular conference. From Alan parachuting into the MuniGov area at the end to his sitting on the rotating trade show sign while we all networked. And I don’t think I will ever forget one presenter who paused during her presentation to “put us on hold” to take a call from her boss. That could only have been done within this type of venue.

    Thanks to everyone – it truly was a monumental and memorable experience that I hope is just the beginning. Below is a scrapbook I made of the event: