In Seoul, the Citizens Are the Mayor

Date01 July 2014
Published date01 July 2014
Park Won-soon, human rights lawyer
and civic activist, was elected mayor of
Seoul, South Korea, on October 26,
2011, as an independent candidate. He
was principal founder of the nonprof‌i t
watchdog organization People’s Solidarity
for Participatory Democracy, which monitors
government regulatory practices and f‌i ghts
political corruption. Park has also been
instrumental in advancing other social
change organizations in South Korea,
among them the Beautiful Foundation and
Hope Institute.
442 Public Administration Review • July | August 2014
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 4, pp. 442–443. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12243.
Park Won-soon
Seoul, South Korea
Editor’s Note: Mayor Park was re-elected by 56%
majority on June 4, 2014.
Seoul is a dynamic city.  e lights rarely go out.
Seoul is known for a lot of things, but its “owl
buses” are what make it famous at night. Owl
buses are public buses run by the city from mid-
night to dawn. Every day, around 6,400 citizens use
owl buses to return home. Passengers are corporate
employees and students working and studying late at
night, store owners and shopkeepers running night-
time businesses, and street cleaners and chauf‌f eurs
working night shifts. For these citizens, owl buses have
become an indispensable means of public transporta-
tion that is safe and reliable.
e idea for owl buses f‌i rst came from a university
student. He wrote an e-mail to the city suggesting that
the city operate late-night buses. His suggestion was a
good one, and it was ref‌l ected in city policies, quickly
becoming a reality and changing the lives of citizens
for the better. As such, the strength of Seoul lies in
communication and collaboration with the citizens.
In Seoul, the citizens are the mayor.
My election as mayor of Seoul in October 2011
paved the way for citizens to become more involved
in the city’s policy-making process. My pledge to the
citizens upon my inauguration was that I would be
the f‌i rst mayor to truly change their lives for the bet-
ter. I would not sacrif‌i ce their quality of life for urban
For most of the past several decades, Seoul had
focused primarily on urban development and
neglected quality of life. A new way of thinking
was required: the city would harness the power of
the citizens. Citizens would no longer be at the
receiving end of city policies; they would be at the
forefront, playing an active role in shaping city
e ver y f‌i rst initiative I pursued as mayor was com-
munication and collaboration with the citizens. To
that end, we strived for innovation in city administra-
tion.  e f‌i rst innovation was on-site administration.
Solutions are found at the site of the problem, not
in boardrooms or behind desks. We launched an
“On-Site Of‌f‌i ce of the Mayor” to make regular visits
to neglected neighborhoods to listen to the voices of
the residents. We also opened “Listening Workshops”
to ref‌l ect the opinions of the citizens in our policies.
In city hall, we created “Citizens’ Hall,” a venue where
citizens can actively communicate and collaborate
with city government.
e second innovation was open administration.
We launched an online platform (http://opengov. to disclose all public data to citizens.
Citizens can have access to of‌f‌i cial documents author-
ized by the city government and submit their opinions
about the city government’s decisions. Our open
government initiative not only raises transparency but
also improves accountability and builds trust.
e third innovation was Twitter administration or
Social Networking Services (SNS) administration.
Realizing that SNS could be an ef‌f ective channel
of communication, we pursued active communica-
tion with citizens through Twitter, Facebook, and
KakaoStory. I have more than 1 million followers and
friends. I receive hundreds of messages from citizens
containing complaints and suggestions every day.
City of‌f‌i cials view these messages in real time and
swiftly address the issues raised. We also launched an
integrated online channel (http://eungdapso.seoul. through which citizens can f‌i le complaints
more easily and civil servants can respond more
ef‌f ectively.
Such innovation in city administration, as well as
constant consultation with civic organizations and
expert groups, is empowering “collective governance”
in Seoul. And this collective governance, based on
communication and collaboration with the citizens,
In Seoul, the Citizens Are the Mayor

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