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Making Your Town Feel More Like a Community

Out driving you spot a pothole or tree branch in the road. What if you could use your phone to photograph it, with the location noted via GPS, then type a quick note re the problem and forward both via an application on your phone that enables your Twitter account to route it to the right agency? That makes being a good citizen easy and worthwhile.  San Jose’s launching this service.

FixMyStreet offers another option. It lets people report, view and discuss problems based on mapping mash-ups.

A silver lining in the current, wrenching city government budget cuts is that politicans are desperate for ways to save money. Thus some are more open to using such citizen-involving technology to increase efficiency and involve citizens.

In Vancouver citizens can get an email alert to remind them to put their garbage out. In Seattle you can sign up for government RSS feeds and get information sent directly to your phone or mobile device. Several departments, including fire, police and transportation provide Twitter feeds too.

EveryBlock relies on location-based data to inform citizens about crimes, restaurant inspections and new permits, all mixed in with news and information provided by bloggers and volunteer journalists.

Does your business serve a local market? Do you care about your town or neighborhood? Want to stand out and serve? If your town government doesn’t step up to the plate you could launch a simple town-centered social media site using free tools: 

NingTwitter and Posterous. Encourage local groups to form on the site for their civic (Rotary) or special interest (dog parks) group or project, departmental program or citizen protest. Other group topics might range from block-level news exchanges to anticrime block watches to volunteer sign-ups for civic events.  Use other free tools like Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey to survey citizens on issues. Bill Schrier suggests more tools. 

Libraries have become helpful places for less tech-savvy citizens to learn how to use these online tools. 

Rather than look at a government Web site with menus and channels, citizens should enter the public sector through a map that visually shows everything from transit and crime information to locations for social services or election information. “People care about place,” notes FortiusOne CTO Andrew Turner. They don’t care about agencies or programs.  One of their app maps for Washington, D.C. maps provides information for locating crime-infested neighborhoods and crisis response information. Another remarkable geospatial service, Virtual Alabamaprovided integrated public safety, emergency management solution, born in the wake of Katrina. 

Melbourne and San Jose are using wikis to make it easier for citizens to become involved in city planning. 

 Philadelphia’s new CIO, Allan Frank “sees the city’s 311 hotline as a transformational tool that will allow the city to move from functioning as a ‘service request operation’ that responds to incoming complaints and queries, toward a more proactive work-order management operation that anticipates customer service needs in a timelier fashion.”

To make your town’s information and operations more understandable, citizen responsive and efficient several companies are going geospatial.  That means they are mashing maps and government data together. They are doing this by creating applications with free and open APIs. That means application programming interfaces.  

Imagine the value of your town getting a custom template of any of these applications.

If your town government doesn’t step up to the plate you could launch a simple town-centered social media site using free tools: Ning, Twitter and Posterous. Encourage local groups to form on the site for their civic (Rotary) or special interest (dog parks) group or project, departmental program or citizen protest. Other group topics might range from block-level news exchanges to anticrime block watches to volunteer sign-ups for civic events.  Use free tools like Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey to survey citizens on issues. Bill Schrier suggests more tools. 

What ways could your cash-crunched town use online and mobile technology to reduce costs, become more efficient or offer you more value or make it easier for you to hear about city events or volunteer for a commission? For more fresh ideas take a look at the Learning Pool and also see the local government’s equivalent of the Grammy awards for citizen-serving uses of the web. 

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3 Comments

  1. Michael Yanakiev
    Posted September 21, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    WOW! What can I say except,that all packages of options and feasible alternatives is amazing, strongly needed
    and with foreseeable consequences. I can only wish that all the people that truly care about their towns /cities
    and communities will start doing something similar in Bulgaria. It is a shame for such a small country like
    Bulgaria,to stay helpless with their hands crossed,exceptionally it’s capital Sofia, where most of the population
    lives. A most useful post by Kare, that hits the nail with the appropriate hammer.

  2. Michael Yanakiev
    Posted September 21, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    WOW! What can I say except,that all packages of options and feasible alternatives is amazing, strongly needed
    and with foreseeable consequences. I can only wish that all the people that truly care about their towns /cities
    and communities will start doing something similar in Bulgaria. It is a shame for such a small country like
    Bulgaria,to stay helpless with their hands crossed,exceptionally it’s capital Sofia, where most of the population
    lives. A most useful post by Kare, that hits the nail with the appropriate hammer.

  3. Michael Yanakiev
    Posted September 21, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    WOW! What can I say except,that all packages of options and feasible alternatives is amazing, strongly needed
    and with foreseeable consequences. I can only wish that all the people that truly care about their towns /cities
    and communities will start doing something similar in Bulgaria. It is a shame for such a small country like
    Bulgaria,to stay helpless with their hands crossed,exceptionally it’s capital Sofia, where most of the population
    lives. A most useful post by Kare, that hits the nail with the appropriate hammer.

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