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25 Tech Ideas for Improving Your Community

Ideation Nation, a technology brainstorming competition for civic solutions, announces its 25 top ideas for government technology projects.

It could be said that community improvement has always started with community. It’s an idea -- close to a campaign slogan and with a touch of idealism -- that holds true for Ideation Nation, a national competition to promote community engagement through civic technology projects.

The five-week competition — sponsored by citizen tech organizations Code for America and MindMixer — announced its top 25 project ideas this month. A panel of judges with expertise in civic projects, technology and engagement efforts chose the ideas from a field of 356 submissions. The top 25 ideas include IT-based answers to city challenges ranging from recycling and zoning to street lighting and volunteerism (see the entire list below).

“A big part of this (competition) is breaking down the perception that government doesn't listen or that communities don't listen to the individual,” said Nick Bowden, CEO of MindMixer, a community engagement platform company based in Omaha, Neb.

The contest is designed to give exposure to individuals who want to improve their communites in significant ways, Bowden said. The winner, who will be announced Dec. 3, recieves $5,000 to develop their idea, along with a MindMixer website and expert mentorship.

Bowden said contest submissions were highly creative and came from across the nation. “What was cool to see is that we had representation from about 350 ZIP codes,” Bowden said.

One of those ZIP codes belongs to Baltimore resident Elizabeth Jones, who submitted three ideas: a bike pool app, a bike sharing app and a notification system for businesses to transfer unused food to homeless shelters.

Jones, an avid cyclist who belongs to a local club called “The Crank Maidens,” said bikers struggle to schedule rides with each other for recreation, for the morning commute, for companionship or for just simple motivation. Her solution turned into a pitch for a Bike Pool App, a mobile phone app that would allow cyclists to form bike-pool groups based on a specific city or town and with mobile access to routes, and meet-up and drop-off locations.

“There really isn't a single tool that incorporates all of those things.” Jones said. “It’s really complicated to try to get a group of us together.”

Baltimore’s urban environment can be intimidating to cyclists who aren't familiar with navigating the city on two wheels, she added. Pairing experienced riders with the aspiring is another way the app offers value.

“So far everybody has been saying that ‘the idea is so cool,’ or ‘I wish something happens like this,’” Jones said of the initial feedback.

Another notable submission comes from Derek Homann, a finalist from Omaha who proposed  a mobile ticket payment system for police citations. Homann said the idea came to him after a he’d been cited for making an illegal U-turn.

“I had this traffic violation on my counter for a few weeks. And sure enough the deadline came and I remembered it the day it was due. I basically paid it at the last minute,” Homann said.

His solution would equip police officers with mobile credit card readers that attach to a smartphone, similar to the devices commonly used by small businesses. “It’s a win-win situation for government, in terms of collecting money more rapidly, and potentially for the violator who could get it over and done with more quickly,” Homann said.

He noted that the solution would be an optional service — as not all cited drivers accept alleged violations — and cities would need to have citation databases that could process the instant citations and payments.

Homann, Jones and the rest of the finalists will be judged by participant and community feedback to determine who will be crowned the winning idea.

Top 25 Ideas

    1.    Allow police officers to accept mobile payments for violations
    2.    Recycling tracker and educator for the city
    3.    Mapping software for efficient yard waste collection
    4.    Volunteer exchange
    5.    Zoning iPhone app
    6.    Gift card remainder charity website
    7.    Electricity monitoring device rentals
    8.    Integrated discovery website for camping, hiking, outdoor recreation
    9.    Use the Internet to create a more direct democracy at all levels
    10.  Lodge a complaint, get connected on civic issues
    11.  Creativity Crowd
    12.  Gaming volunteerism and rewarding impact creation
    13.  Location-based app for public recycling
    14.  Creating an online community map of underutilized spaces
    15.  Install on-demand street lighting
    16.  Create a bike share app like AirBnB
    17.  Renaissance CSA
    18.  Create a resource center to share collaborative projects
    19.  A citizen’s board of developers
    20.  My place: Our World, a civic engagement app
    21.  App for food transfer
    22.  Create a social networking platform for volunteers and NPOs
    23.  Communitywide sharing application
    24.  Common permit application
    25.  Bike-pool app

2013 Judges

1. Jeff Friedman, co-director of the Philadelphia Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics
2. Stephen Goldsmith, former deputy mayor of New York City
3. Mitch Silver, immediate past president of the American Planning Association (APA) and chief planning & development officer of Raleigh, N.C.
4. Sly James, mayor of Kansas City, Mo.
5. Marci Harris, CEO of PopVox
6. Abhi Nemani, co-executive director of Code for America

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.