Here's a bit of practical advice I recently picked up:
Have all your heart attacks in San Ramon.
This is a judgment based on government innovation. San Ramon, and its fire protection district, have pioneered an iPhone application that creates faster emergency response.
Essentially, anyone who is CPR certified signs up for the app -- and then gets a notification in the event that there's an emergency such as a heart attack nearby. With this app, good Samaritans can often get to the scene and provide aid faster than paramedics.
This is the promise of what is sometimes called Government 2.0, or the use of technology to change government in ways that allows citizens to be part of providing services, often faster, more efficiently and at lower cost.
California may be best known for its civic dysfunction, but experts in this area say that some of the state's local governments are leaders. In fact, the state's persistent budget crisis has created interest in technological solutions that allow governments to do more with less.
Of course, there are problems. There are no clear standards for measuring the success of such Gov 2.0 innovations. And in many cases, governments aren't sharing lessons from their efforts in this area.
But there's a lot going on. More details, with specific examples from governments near you, are available in new reports from the New America Foundation (full disclosure: that's the think tank where I'm a fellow, and I helped edit the report) and from the National Conference on Citizenship.