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How Generation X is Shaping Government

May 7, 2013View for printing

Gen Xers are way more comfortable with transparency and open data initiatives. We're learning in government that people are interested in this information and that they're willing to put it into a meaningful, useful format that benefits other people in the community."

A couple of months ago, the city of San Mateo, Calif., finished a small experiment. Planning to renovate the playground at one of its most popular community parks, it put a set of proposed designs online for a month and invited public comments. Some 130 people from around the city batted ideas back and forth, remarked on what they liked and didn't like in the designs, and made suggestions. The playground needed shade, they agreed, and water fountains reachable by little kids.

The city's Parks and Recreation Department was thrilled. Before trying the online approach, it had convened a public meeting to solicit feedback. Eight people had bothered to show up.

What stood out most in the online forum was who the participants turned out to be. Almost 60 percent of them were between the ages of 35 and 45. The average age was just shy of 42 -- noticeably younger than the demographic typically drawn by public hearings in San Mateo. "This was the target audience we'd been trying to get but were not getting" through conventional hearings, says Abby Veeser, a senior management analyst in the parks department.

In other words, Generation X was checking in.

By Rob Gurwitt, contributing writer

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