For the last few years, new e-government technologies have given citizens online platforms to express their opinions and ideas for government without having to attend public meetings.

But how should these interactive websites be developed? Some city governments, for example, are outsourcing these opinion websites to third-party vendors, while other municipal governments have decided instead to develop and monitor their crowdsourcing sites internally.

While there seems to be no right or wrong method, cities are finding that these differing approaches yield different benefits.

Nearly a week ago, Kansas City, Mo., launched KCMOmentum through a third-party vendor. Kcmomentum.com allows residents to create accounts and submit ideas on how to improve the city. Through the interactive site, users can give feedback on ideas submitted from other users and “second” those ideas to earn points for prizes. When KCMOmentum closes the first round of idea submissions on Sept. 2, the five users with the most points will receive prizes.

The city selected Omaha, Neb.-based vendor MindMixer to provide the platform instead of creating its own platform internally on the city’s website. Going through a third-party was a quicker way to expedite the system, said Dennis Gagnon, the city’s communications officer. Within one month, the city went from having no platform to having KCMOmentum up and running.

Because the website was developed by the vendor, Kansas City officials didn’t have to come up with their own “terms of engagement.” Those terms were worked out beforehand by MindMixer. 

“We didn’t have to go through that process of thinking through, ‘OK, will people engage in the site? How will we control that?’” Gagnon said.

Not every city looks to vendors to develop crowdsourcing sites. For Grand Rapids, Mich., developing and administrating a citizen opinion site in-house was feasible — and potentially cheaper.

Grand Rapids launched its site, called Grand Ideas, on July 19. The site runs on an open source Web framework called Ruby on Rails and an open source “idea gathering application,” said Jasmine Olsen, a junior project coordinator for Grand Rapids.

Grand Ideas was partially developed by Jake Wesorick, a 21-year-old computer science major at Michigan State University who is interning with the Grand Rapids city government. He said the city looked to other government crowdsourcing websites like Give a Minute for ideas on how to shape the Grand Ideas site.

Since Grand Ideas’ deployment, Wesorick has been responsible for administration duties on the site. Olsen will take over the duties upon Wesorick’s internship completion this week, Olsen said.

Aside from Wesorick’s wages, there were no additional costs for developing Grand Ideas. Olsen said if a city has the resources to develop a crowdsourcing site internally, it should.

“I don’t think that it made sense to go to a third party when we had the capabilities here,” she said.

Cities aside from Kansas City and Grand Rapids have taken strides toward building crowdsourcing websites. Omaha also partnered with MindMixer and last April announced the launch of its version of the website called Engage Omaha.

In 2009, Manor, Texas, launched Manor Labs — a crowdsourcing site with prize incentives that encourages the town’s residents to submit ideas on how to make the city more efficient. The site awards its users with “Innobucks,” or virtual money, for participating on the site by submitting ideas or voting ideas up or down.

Discussion Starter: Did your city develop a crowdsourcing website internally or through a third-party vendor? Share your experience and comments below.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.