The Citizen Initiated Performance Assessment (CIPA) has been pilot tested in nine Iowa cities, with the end goal of enhancing citizen participation and ensuring that performance measures are citizen-based, politically credible and used by policy-makers in decision-making.

"It seemed like an interesting way to engage citizens in a different way than we have before," said Michael Armstrong, CIO of Des Moines, Iowa. "It's very much a civic engagement project."

Cities in the project, which is based on similar systems already used in New York City and Hartford, Conn., use a blend of technologies, including handheld computers with built-in digital cameras, to complement more traditional methods of joining citizens and city officials in governance, such as town meetings, citizen committees and focus groups.

Organizations involved in the program include Iowa State University (ISU), which received a grant from the Sloan Foundation; the Fund for the City of New York, which allowed Des Moines to use its initial survey software for the handheld devices and conducted some training; the Iowa League of Cities, which is a sponsor statewide; and the Des Moines Neighbors, an umbrella organization that works with all neighborhood organizations.

"Des Moines Neighbors is kind of a central point of contact, and they're coordinating things on the neighborhood side," Armstrong said. "Rather than deal with 51 neighborhoods one-on-one, we can deal with one organization, which is always nice."

CIPA was also attractive to Des Moines government because it looked like a good way to test how citizen needs aligned with what government was providing, Armstrong said.

Defining Reality

"This is a porthole to what people really consider important," he said. "We're anxious to see how the items citizens identify as priorities match up with what we think is reality. Those are not always the same thing."

Community organizations establish lists of neighborhood problems they believe need attention from city government. Volunteers train to use handheld computers with built-in digital cameras, and then use the devices to survey pre-identified areas on foot. Volunteers record problems -- graffiti, broken sidewalks, potholes, drug activity, etc. -- and take photos.

"We're talking about 35 people in two hours covering 14 city blocks," Armstrong said of the overall CIPA process. "It's very focused."

Data from the handheld PCs is uploaded to a desktop PC in City Hall. In Des Moines, the data is directly incorporated into the city's CRM system. In Hartford, Conn., and New York City -- where CIPA began -- paper reports are given to the appropriate government agencies. CIPA also gives local governments a chance to re-evaluate their workloads and become more efficient.

"The information citizens collect [that goes] into our CRM system gets assigned back out as work orders," Armstrong said. "Now we tend to get clusters of work, rather than individual requests, which helps us manage the limited resources we have a little bit better."

In the project's first year -- fall 2001 to fall 2002 -- Alfred Ho, assistant professor of public policy and administration at Iowa State University; and Paul Coates, director of the Office of State and Local Government Programs at Iowa State University Extension, together with Norm Riggs, community development specialist at Iowa State University, sat through many meetings with citizens.

Concerns about public services and their perspectives on city government were discussed, and performance measures for "nuisance control" from a citizen's perspective were developed, Ho said.

"I think CIPA has changed some city officials' perspectives on how they view performance measures and public services," he said.

Bring on the HEAT

Now in its second year, CIPA is focused on collecting data in a variety of ways.

"The digital survey is one of the mechanisms," Ho said. "

Jessica Jones  |  Managing Editor