Using the Web and apps to empower citizens to report issues in their neighborhoods has become increasingly popular — and governments aren’t the only ones implementing tools similar to 311 hotlines to allow this interaction. Private-sector services that tap into citizens’ desire to speak up about conditions in their communities and facilitate the management of the citizen-government relationship are cropping up. And one leader of this trend is Ben Berkowitz, co-founder of SeeClickFix.

Inspired by FixMyStreet in the United Kingdom, Berkowitz set out to build a portal that enables residents to report, monitor and even fix problems in their neighborhoods, including illegal dumping and broken streetlights. SeeClickFix.com allows people to file public reports online or with a mobile phone, and governments can monitor and interact with citizens by acknowledging problems and discussing possible solutions.

The application is leading citizens to get involved. “We’ve seen neighbors remove graffiti, clean up parks and plant trees,” Berkowitz said. “One neighbor actually painted a crosswalk.”

The platform is being used in both poor and wealthy communities to bridge what Berkowitz called a participatory divide. “A big part of it is based on lack of feedback when speaking up and lack of faith in our governing bodies,” he said. “This is a great way for governments to quickly respond to a citizen in a one-to-many fashion … and [citizens] start understanding that they will be rewarded with response if they participate.”

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