Tuesday is another election day. It’s especially important to many local elected officials since so many local elections occur this year. As this election season comes to a close, there is that frustrating feeling among public leaders that many voters just don’t understand what the government does.
Sure, the obvious public services – for example, public safety and education – are known. But the full extent of government services is unknown to great numbers of those who benefit from those services.
What can be done about this? Some governments have taken ideas from non-fiction cable television channels, including two mainstays of the Discovery Channel – Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters.
With the low cost of video equipment, this is easy to do. There are even products now, like the Flip HD video cameras that are smaller than a cell phone, easy to use and quick to upload to the web.
Miami-Dade County has created a series of videos that show some of the “dirty jobs” that County workers do for the public on its “Inside County Jobs” television show. This started as one-minute video about training of firefighters and led to the realization that Miami-Dade could do more. See the first installment at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7aivNoPsxg
So, following the model of Discovery’s “Dirty Jobs”, with its own host/participant, there is compelling footage of filling potholes, unplugging storm drains, fixing stop signs, lab testing, trash recycling and the other activities seen and unseen that residents often take for granted. Here’s another example — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aj7U1A_pq2s
The video is available both on the County website and on YouTube. In addition to its success with the public, the videos have had a positive effect on employees, who now take to their jobs with a greater sense of purpose and pride.
Westchester County, for example, had a volunteer team put together a movie in the style of a 1930s film noir detective story. During the course of his investigation, the “detective” interacted with all kinds of county workers. The County Executive played an abridged version of the movie in one of his “State of the County” speeches in an effort to educate the public about the variety of activities of county government.
Video isn’t the only tool. The leaders of Oakland County, Michigan, responded to the gaps in public knowledge by taking the “Mythbusters” title to attract attention, but presenting their material on the web. They tackled some of the toughest issues posing a question in True/False form and then busting the myth for the wrong answer. Here’s one example concerning regional efforts — http://www.oakgov.com/exec/insight/myth_regionalism.html
So there is hope to engage a distracted public and upgrade their knowledge of what your government does, by using some of the inexpensive tools now available. Your creativity is the only limit.
Norm Jacknis firstname.lastname@example.org November 2, 2009