Citizen Sensor: crowdsourcing public works reports

Paul Raven @ 19-04-2010

Tired of your local government authority ignoring all those little patch-up jobs that would make your town or city a nicer place to live? Maybe you should try crowdsourcing a form of polite, transparent, insistent (and very public) pressure, and applying it to the affected area? That’s what SeeClickFix are helping people to do in an assortment of cities in the US, and it seems to be working [via SlashDot]:

The first city was New Haven, Conn., and the mayor and the chief administrative officer were both very receptive. So receptive that the mayor wrote a letter to about 100 other mayors around the country. The majority of responses since have been really positive. You get a few where they’ll say, “Oh, but we already have a website where people can report issues.” And, of course, our response is, “Yes, you do. But that website does not display issues publicly when you post them.”

We have a ton of features that exceed standard city websites, and that helps move the ball forward in terms of acceptance of public, transparent, collective reporting. But in the beginning, really the only one-up we had on a city website was that we were a map-based transparent web reporting tool, and they were usually just a closed web form that was no better than leaving a phone call. You still had the same black box syndrome.

[…]

I don’t think I’ve ever had a public works official say to me, “We don’t want this because it’s going to make the information public.” No one wants to be on record saying that. So what we do is, we don’t really give them a choice.

The information is going to be public whether city governments receive alerts or not. And then we sign them up to receive alerts, if they don’t sign themselves up. Many, many city governments have signed themselves up. But many others have been signed up by us or by a media partner or by one of their constituents.

They appear to have thought fairly thoroughly about potential gaming/obstructional behaviour from the authorities, but I wonder if they’ve spent the same amount of time thinking about ways malicious reports could exploit the system? There’s gotta be an angle there, though I can’t think of one immediately.

Of course, the next logical step – once you’ve submitted countless reports left endlessly open due to budget and resource constraints – is that you get together with your local neighbourhood and use a similar set of social tools to set up a public fund of cash and/or person-hours in order to start fixing the problems yourselves…