Advancing the Civic Technology Movement

At the 7th annual Mayors’ Innovation Summit held in Philadelphia last week, city leaders asked what’s next when it comes to using data from citizen-powered apps.

by / May 29, 2013

City governments consistently use data from citizen-powered mobile and Web apps, whether it be to report potholes or inform police of crimes in progress. But at the 7th annual Mayors’ Innovation Summit held in Philadelphia the week of May 20, local leaders asked "What's next?" when it comes to using this information.

When it comes to advancing the civic technology movement, the consensus at the event was twofold, Technically Philly reported: Cities need to continue reaching out to new user bases and seeking better ways to make sense of the data being collected.

“We’re going to have to get better as cities at processing all of this info,” Mesa, Ariz., Mayor Scott Smith told Technically Philly.

If cities are to do this, however, officials must make sure they’re receiving a "holistic view of community sentiment," which Chris Osgood, Co-Chair of Boston’s New Urban Mechanics department, suggests doing by “tailoring outreach to the motivations of users” when reaching out to citizens who are reluctant to using the apps.

Osgood's proof that such a tactic works? He tested two different fliers around Boston to encourage Boston’s Dudley Square community to use Citizens Connect to report potholes: "Potholes in Boston? Get them fixed." and “Potholes in Dudley Square? Get them fixed.” The outcome? The Boston ad saw limited success while the Dudley Square-specific ad compelled citizens to report 80 percent of the potholes, according to Technically Philly.

Full-scale civic engagement like this could be the key to more inclusive legislation, and if in the year 2020, crowdsourcing pothole locations is happening more often than developing policy, Osgood said, "we may all have collectively failed."

Image via city of Boston