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Crowdsourcing the Department of Public Works 143

Posted by Soulskill
from the soon-we'll-have-a-government-wiki-office dept.
blackbearnh writes "Usually, Gov 2.0 deals mainly with outward transparency of government to the citizens. But SeeClickFix is trying to drive data in the other direction, letting citizens report and track neighborhood problems as mundane as potholes, and as serious as drug dealers. In a recent interview, co-founder Jeff Blasius talked about how cities such as New Haven and Tucson are using SeeClickFix to involve their citizens in identifying and fixing problems with city infrastructure. 'We have thousands of potholes fixed across the country, thousands of pieces of graffiti repaired, streetlights turned on, catch basins cleared, all of that basic, broken-windows kind of stuff. We've seen neighborhood groups form based around issues reported on the site. We've seen people get new streetlights for their neighborhood, pedestrian improvements in many different cities, and all-terrain vehicles taken off of city streets. There was also one case of an arrest. The New Haven Police Department attributed initial reports on SeeClickFix to a sting operation that led to an arrest of two drug dealers selling heroin in front of a grammar school.'"
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Crowdsourcing the Department of Public Works

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  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:17PM (#31821842)

    they might fill the drug dealers with asphalt and chase the potholes out of the neighborhood.

    • Both are fine with me. And more amusing than the alternative.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Maxo-Texas (864189)

      The crowd overwhelmingly seems to support drug dealers who sell to adults.

      Especially pot... which should be legalized.

      But also cocaine (which could be argued either way).

      Probably not meth.

      my point is that there are drug dealers and there are drug dealers. Depending on their target market (kids vs adults) and their product (pot, cocaine, heroin, hash, crystal meth, crank, crack). Your local drug dealer could be a dangerously crazy type or it could be someone's nice grandmother.

      Cigarettes and alchohol are a

  • The city is never any further than an email or phone call away. Where do you live that your city doesn't have phone or an Internet presence?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:22PM (#31821916)

      If you email or call the city, it's between you and the city.

      If you use this site, it's among you, the city, and everyone else using the city. So whereas now the city would just ignore you cause they don't give a shit (like where I live), this might just provide sufficient public shame to get something accomplished.

      I'm not naive enough to assume the magic of the intertubes will fix everything, but as ideas go, this isn't a bad one and has some potential as a responsiveness check on municipal government.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by alphax45 (675119)
        Sad that people have to be publicly shamed into doing their job - but it does work!
        • by DragonWriter (970822) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:33PM (#31822076)

          Sad that people have to be publicly shamed into doing their job - but it does work!

          "Shame" or not, I don't think its surprising that people are more likely to do the job that they are being paid to do if their performance (or lack thereof) is more visible to the people that are paying them to do it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        It isn't just shame. Convenience counts.

        A call or email, even a polite one with grammar and everything, is largely unstructured information. A human has to interpret it, parse the actual data out of it, and pass it on to the right person. If they have to do that manually, they'll fuck up some percentage of the time, even if they actually care about what they are doing, and more often if they don't(y'know the game "Telephone"?)

        If, on the other hand, through the use of web technologies(and, as time goes
      • by tomhudson (43916)
        That's what we have town council meetings, local newspapers (6 of them at last count - 3 free weeklies and 3 dailies), and radio and TV stations for. There's no need for an "aggregator", and it only takes a few bucks to set up a "$MAYOR_SO_AND_SO_SUCKS.COM" site that will be MUCH more effective.
      • by hduff (570443)

        If you email or call the city, it's between you and the city.

        If you use this site, it's among you, the city, and everyone else using the city. So whereas now the city would just ignore you cause they don't give a shit (like where I live), this might just provide sufficient public shame to get something accomplished.

        I'm not naive enough to assume the magic of the intertubes will fix everything, but as ideas go, this isn't a bad one and has some potential as a responsiveness check on municipal government.

        Politicians do not like to be embarrassed.

        Many newspaper writers are bereft of local story ideas.

        Convenient place to post info helpful to your community.

        Match made in Heaven for the public.

        This was the first I heard of this site. I joined for my community and have already successfully encouraged several friends in other communities in the US to participate. I am waiting to hear the critique from my friend who is extra careful about privacy issues, however, but I don't really care who knows I reported a poth

    • Where do you live that allows your neighbourhood to have a 50 person conference call with a city official or an email service that allows you to check up on the status of an individual request without pestering a single official?

      Your response is akin to "Social Networking? Bah! We've had email and phones for ages!"

      • by xaxa (988988)

        The London Borough of Barnet, which partnered with FixMyStreet.com [fixmystreet.com] to provide exactly what this US website has done, but for the UK.

        (FixMyStreet.com provide the service for the whole UK, Barnet display a subsection of it under barnet.FixMyStreet.com)

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        Where do you live that allows your neighbourhood to have a 50 person conference call with a city official

        Guess what? We've had that for decades BEFORE the Internet - it's called the monthly town council meeting. Complete with media coverage. Much more effective than yet another web site. They know that if one person shows up, there are probably 100 more who are p***ed off, and that the one showing up may very well end up running against them next election ,,,

        THAT is how you get things done, from changi

        • There is a huge difference between being lazy and not having time. If I have to wait a month and reschedule my plans around a council meeting, it sure doesn't get things resolved quickly or efficiently.

          • by tomhudson (43916)
            An email or a phone call should take care of the problem. If it doesn't then a web site won't, either. That's when you go to the town council meeting.

            People problems can't be solved by technical solutions. Otherwise, we wouldn't have people clicking on spam, we wouldn't have viruses and trojans, and we'd already have the "Year of the linux desktop" (which, btw, will never happen, unfortunately - at least not until CrapUbuntu is killed off).

        • by aafiske (243836)

          Yeah, stop using technology to make it easier to get involved. That would be wrong, for some reason.

          • by tomhudson (43916)

            Yeah, stop using the wrong technology to make it easier to get involved. That would be wrong, for some reason.

            There - fixed it for you.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      After deciding that it was hopeless dealing with my neighbor, I went to call city hall. I left something like five different messages with the department that I presumed was responsible. At some point, while waiting on hold and getting different answers about what I could do,...

      And what was touched on is that it's public

      After that, make sure someone is receiving an alert. If you go to your neighborhood or city, you can click the "Who's Watching" tab and you can see if your mayor or your public works department is already receiving alerts. And if not, you can sign them up. The last step is just reporting issues.

      NPR reported on this about a month ago.

      It's pretty embarrassing to the bureaucrats when their incompetence is publicly visible.

    • by samkass (174571)

      And should you copy the lat/lon by hand off your GPS into your email address? Or be forced to talk to someone and hope they record everything properly. This is news because it shows that if you make something dramatically cheaper, faster, easier, and more accurate by using new technology it can redefine the community-government relationship. It brings us closer to Democracy.

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        There's nothing easier than phoning or sending an email to city hall saying "there's a loose sewer cover / burned out street lights / whatever". They generally send someone to take care of it within 24 hours.

        Then again, we have a VERY good mayor and a very effective town council. TRY to find a pothole - the mayor has a contest every year, and he offers to pay $10 to each person who reports one - out of his own pocket. He never has to pay, because he keeps on top of things.

        I compare that to the surroun

    • by caramelcarrot (778148) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:57PM (#31822478)
      It sounds very like http://www.fixmystreet.com/ [fixmystreet.com] by the wonderful mySociety which has been running in the UK for a while now, and working quite well, all for free. It's effective because it streamlines the often awful web reporting mechanism that city councils have into a single system that handles the reporting and the public presence of the report that other people can see (to see how effective the council is).
      • by Mendy (468439)

        It's not so effective from the other side of the fence. It depends of course on what systems the individual council has put in place but for those that have gone to the trouble of developing a GIS based system that automatically creates enquires in their works management system having e-mails turn up from random 3rd party websites isn't especially efficient.

  • This was reported [govtech.com] back in Dec of '09 with an iPhone App. There's even an wiki [open311.org] dedicated to Open311. In the US the app was created by CitySourced [citysourced.com].

  • I guess most users heard about them, but there are a few iPhone/iPad apps that help in reporting these issues, also taking advantage of the devices' geolocation.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:36PM (#31822108)

    ... are probably their own local governments.

    "Click here to have your corrupt mayor tarred and feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail."

    . . . or . . .

    "Click here to endorse a public works program, which nobody wants, because nobody needs . . . Monorail!"

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by izomiac (815208)

      "Click here to have your corrupt mayor tarred and feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail."

      IMHO, governments would improve greatly if citizens could vote to do that to representatives that fail to serve their constituent's interests. Just give people a choice of "Yay", "Nay", or abstain (i.e. for the non-voters), and ensure there's no way to delay the tarring/feathering or force a re-vote. I don't think we'd see too many more secrete copyright treaties, or politicians being bought by corporate interests.

      Modern technology allows us to effectively live in a true democracy. Of course, this isn'

      • Au contraire... What we need is to improve education so the average person has a lot of clues of what the government ought to be doing. And then in the elections they wouldn't vote whoever has the better publicist or promises the best snake oil. How do you "ensure that our representatives are actually actin on our behalf rather than their own" instead? Without education, the "way to ensure..." would be for the politics the same that elections (wait! the elections already are one of those "way to ensure...")

      • by dwandy (907337)

        Of course, this isn't desirable since the average person has no clue what the government ought to be doing, so a republic is still the better option.

        Most people act in their own self interest.
        Politicians self-interest is not the same as the public's interest. There may be coincidental overlap, but they are not the same.
        Politicians have proven themselves clueless on many issues that they get to vote on.
        Your statement seems to rely on (what I believe to be a false) premise that those that we elect are our

    • by hduff (570443)

      ... are probably their own local governments.
      p>"Click here to endorse a public works program, which nobody wants, because nobody needs . . . Monorail!"

      hat boondoggle is referred to as "Light Rail" in Norfolk, VA. Significantly over budget (will probably become the most expensive-per-mile system in the US), no rational justification other than "nice to have" and which has been rejected in a public referendum, but "we can't let those matching Federal dollars go to waste". Even the shamed and discredited transportation director who let the budget go to Hell is still on full salary but doesn't have to report to work anymore. The inmates not only run the asylu

  • Awwhhh... (Score:5, Funny)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:39PM (#31822166)
    But I *liked* the heroin and potholes.
  • Tucson... (Score:3, Funny)

    by irreverant (1544263) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:42PM (#31822210)
    I reside in Tucson, and in south-tucson, and ironically, it being the drug portal; you know with all the mexican cartels trying to lay claim to this gateway, the number one thing i found my fellow tucsonans complaining about, more important than drugs: is our Potholes, i guess the only pot they care about is the one they drive over.
    • by guruevi (827432)

      That's why we should legalize all drugs and have them sold in drugstores (also called pharmacies). Make it illegal to sell to underage children and make it illegal to drive/work under the influence of any drug. This would take care of violent drug cartels whom are only fueled by the high prices the underground trading commands. Making it legal takes the risk out of it, drops the prices and leaves those drug dealers out of a job.

      People will get high somehow, people will kill themselves with it just as they d

  • by dave562 (969951) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:53PM (#31822414) Journal

    The more civic functions that we are able to move online, the better. I live in Long Beach, CA and the city has a graffiti hotline. The one time I used it, the graffiti that I reported was cleaned up less than 24 hours later. The system involves having to leave a voice mail, and the recording time is way too short. It would be much easier to be able to upload digital pictures, or even click the relative location on a map and type in a short description. It would make dispatching the tickets easier too on the city's end.

    I'm sure that there will be some who decry the big brother potential of the system. They will worry about nosey neighbors and the spectre of authoritarianism intruding into their lives. I wonder how many of those people actually live in neighborhoods that are right on the border between "nice" and "not so nice". In those neighborhoods, community activism and participation are key in reversing the slide toward the "not so nice" end of the spectrum. All it takes for a neighborhood to decay is for the residents to remain apathetic for long enough. Soon enough all of the "little" things start to add up.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      I lived in two of those nice neighborhoods in Colorado Springs in 1998. At the time I was a Java developer for MCI working on their Local Care system. In one house I lived alone, and in the second house I had three hot goth girls as roommates. I'm 6'4" (190cm) tall, have long hair and tattoos, dress in all black w/ combat boots, ride a loud motorcycle, and at the time had a sports car with a loud audio system installed. On two separate occasions the police were dispatched to my house by anonymous tips f

  • I have a completely different plan to crowdsource the DPW.

    "Welcome, welcome to the intersection of Cedar and Ash streets. Thank you all for responding to my tweet about giving away a new Apple iPad. There is of course a little catch, before the giveaway." (... Hands out the shovels ...)

    The weird part is, that when you account for full lifetime pensions after 20 years, having three guys watch one guy dig, and govt wages far higher than private wages, its probably cheaper to give away Apple products than to

    • by dave562 (969951)

      The weird part is, that when you account for full lifetime pensions after 20 years, having three guys watch one guy dig, and govt wages far higher than private wages, its probably cheaper to give away Apple products than to pay DPW to do it for you...

      Cities are starting to outsource things. Where I live, the city outsourced graffiti removal to a sub-contractor. The response time is great and because there is competition in the market, it encourages the contractor to do a good job. It is only a matter of

  • In the UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bogtha (906264) on Monday April 12, 2010 @03:57PM (#31822466)

    We have a similar thing in the UK, called Fix My Street [fixmystreet.com]. I used it once. I got a form email after a couple of days, followed promptly by nothing at all. They finally got around to fixing the problem I reported after a few months, but never bothered to reply to say so. Zero human communication. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's all very well setting something like this up, but the government has to be committed to the project for it to work. Setting up a website is only the small part, getting them to actually follow up is another matter. It's all too easy for a politician to pay lip service to ideas like this, but fail to adequately support the effort after the headlines have been made.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by corbettw (214229)

      That's because you filled out a form 11-b, when you should have filled out an 11/b. It's your own fault for not taking more interest in your local government.

      • by hduff (570443)

        That's because you filled out a form 11-b, when you should have filled out an 11/b. It's your own fault for not taking more interest in your local government.

        And for that, you are made redundant. Thank you for your participation in our community. Close the gate as you depart.

  • Cynical Sam says "Oh this is truly great news. Grandma will be able to complain 24/7! Now if we can just get this for Home Owners Associations."

    • Every time the volume of complaints from whiny old people with too much time on their hands, change the interface to rely on an even more esoteric Web(N+1).0 fad.

      Too many cranky phone calls?

      Switch to email.

      Emails getting overwhelming?

      Web interface time.

      Too many busybodies with WebTV>

      Aggressive adoption of pre-standard HTML5 features, that'll keep 'em out.

      Younger family members set them up with Chrome?

      If your report isn't on twitter, we didn't hear it.
      • by hduff (570443)

        Every time the volume of complaints from whiny old people with too much time on their hands, change the interface to rely on an even more esoteric Web(N+1).0 fad.

        If your report isn't on twitter, we didn't hear it.

        Mr. Mayor, is that you?

  • Portland (Score:2, Informative)

    by mojatt (704902)
    Portland has been doing such a thing for a few months now through an iPhone app appropriately named "City of Portland Citizen Reports". Allows users to upload photos with descriptions and tag them with GPS coordinates. The description pulled from the iTunes page:

    Citizen Reports is a direct result of Mayor Adams and the City of Portland’s call for more open data and interactions with the citizens of Portland. Citizen Reports is used by citizens to report and request service calls to city assets an
  • by myowntrueself (607117) on Monday April 12, 2010 @04:53PM (#31823198)
  • Usually, Gov 2.0 deals mainly with outward transparency of government to the citizens.

    Posts from a different, less corrupt universe are leaking through again. I thought they patched that?

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adhocracy [wikipedia.org]. For extra kicks and grins, read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [craphound.com] about a society based on this concept, plus using online reputation instead of currency.

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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