Mobile apps encourage active citizens


Thanks to Mary Sue MacFarland for sending me a great article on Cities embrace mobile apps, ‘Gov 2.0′ in CNN Tech. If you’re looking for fun killer apps, this article has some definite contenders. It highlights a number of new Gov 2.0 applications that promote better communication between local governments and citizens. 

One application they mention is SeeClickFix. It “allows anyone to report and track non-emergency issues anywhere in the world via the internet.” So if you have a complaint in your neighborhood, you post it on SeeClickFix. If others see your complaint, they may second it. They may see your complaint on SeeClickFix or they may see it on a local site. SeeClickFix offers easy RSS feeds to community sites.

In Minnesota, the Twin Cities Daily Planet posts local SeeClickFix posts on their homepage. So even from Dublin, I can see that Selby Avenue in St. Paul has some dangerous ice and 5 people want it fixed. Community groups and local governments are apparently keeping an eye on the site and many are using it to see what needs to be done.

The article in CNN Tech had a few examples of citizens who have reported problems and local governments who have fixed items. I don’t have any successful stories in Minnesota — yet. (I’d love to hear them.)

I think it’s a great idea. It really opens up a two-way communication between citizens and governments that seems as if it might save, not cost more time and money. No one needs to answer a phone or take notes — the local governments simply needs to check out the site.

SeeClickFix is possible because it has been built using public data sets. It is one example of a web-based tool making public data sets available to the public, letting the developers use the data to create applications and unleashing it to the public. Again the costs are minimal and it encourages greater collaboration.

The article mentions that currently, big cities are taking better advantage of these tools but efforts are being made to create processes and tools that can be used across the board:

He [Brian Purchia from the San Francisco Mayor’s Office] said the city is working with others to develop a national standard for municipal government data sets and the programs that make them useful. That way, an app that tracks trash in San Francisco could be used by people in Bismarck, North Dakota, as long as the city’s public data is posted online in the right format.

It’s good to hear that the framework is being setup to allow smaller communities to take advantage of these tools. But as I’ve said before, we just need to make sure that citizens in smaller town and rural areas have access to the training and connectivity they need to take advantage of these new killer apps.