Participatory budgeting is not a new concept, in fact, many cities worldwide have embraced this process in order to create a certain level of civic engagement. Paris, like these other cities, has a formal participatory budgeting website that allows residents to submit projects that are then evaluated by committees. However, they have gone one step further by creating a site that allows for informal idea generation. Launched in 2014, “Lady Mayor, I Have An Idea” promotes civic engagement by giving Paris residents a forum by which they can propose ideas or proposals on a wide variety of topics or campaigns affecting their city. While the ideas are often lacking in details, they provide opportunities for discussion with other Paris residents, council members, experts, etc. It is an example of feedback that eventually leads to interaction when ideas that move forward are discussed in community meetings or co-construction workshops.
The Peachtree City, GA local government and its residents take their yard sales very seriously. Peachtree City is a suburb or Atlanta, GA. The City used to maintain a Virtual Neighborhood database–until the server kicked the bucket over the winter. To replace it, the City released the Peachtree City App, which now features the weekly yard sale list that the residents had been missing. In order for a resident to have their yard sale on the list, they have to purchase a special yard sale sign at City Hall for 50 cents. There are also restrictions about when and where the signs are posted, and anyone that is caught with an illegally placed sign will have it removed–and presumably their yard sale from the list too. In addition to the physical placement in the yard, each residential address is limited to advertising two yard sales per year through the Peachtree City App feature.
Ever wish there was an easier way to access government instead of using traditional, outdated websites and being on hold with city hall for hours?
The County of San Diego has made it easy for residents to access government services with a series of apps to enhance convenience. Some of these apps include:
- Tell Us Now – An app for residents to report non-emergency problems including pricing and scales, air quality, and code compliance.
- SD Emergency – An emergency preparedness app that provides tools to prepare and respond to the unexpected.
- VAPP: The Veterans App – Designed by Veterans for Veterans, this app targets the needs of service members and their families, particularly as it relates to the transition to civilian life.
- Fight The Bite – The goal of this app is to assist the County Vector Control Program in fighting the West Nile virus through the use of anonymous reporting.
- Pay Property Taxes – A mobile site that allows residents to pay taxes at any time, from any location.
- Know your H20 – A self-assessment that allows residents to evaluate knowledge of best practices for improving water quality.
The creation of this suite of apps shows the County’s dedication to user need and experience. Free in both the Apple Store and Google Play, San Diego County makes resources accessible to almost every resident. With nearly 90% of the American population owning cellular devices, connecting with communities through this technology is essential to citizen engagement and utilization of services more frequently and on a long-term basis.
Today, Canada once again is leading the way forward as a progressive and innovative government thinker.
They have launched a non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping governments build more efficient, digital public services. The Minister of Digital Government for Ontario, (yeah you heard that right, they have a full-on government Minister dedicated to digital government), Deb Matthews made the announcement.
Through their Fellowship Program, Municipal Network, Community Network, and Education and Training strategies they hope to build digital public tools faster and at a lower cost.
Utilizing agile development and design thinking, Executive Director, Gabe Sawhney, wants to help governments, “be user-centered, iterative, and data-driven.”
Check out the article here – Article
If you want to check out Code For Canada’s website go here – Code for Canada
For the past few years, NYC has turned to apps to help address challenges for its citizens. The NYC Economic Develop Corporation is charged with using the City’s assets to drive growth, create jobs, and improve quality of life. To that end, they established an app competition in the city 7 years ago.BigAppsis the premier civic innovation initiative for New York City that aids the development of products and services capable of addressing critical civic and urban issues in the City and improving the quality of life of New Yorkers.
I want to highlight a 2014 winner that I feel is indicative of the power of technology to serve the public good.
To set the stage, last winter, the city received over 200,000 heat-related complaints from 37,000 unique buildings, concentrated in lower-income neighborhoods throughout Upper Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. And although it is consistently the #1 complaint during the winter, less than 4% of those heat complaints resulted in a violation. Thousands of New Yorkers are freezing in their homes, with few resources to get the heat turned up.
Heat Seek is an app that was designed to address heat related concerns in the city. NYC landlords are required to provide adequate heat for its tenants. Heat Seek started in February 2014 when William Jeffries was up late one night in the cold at the Flatiron School, tinkering with a temperature sensor. He got a basic graph of the temperature sensor working, and wrote a blog post about how the technology could be used to help people who don’t get access to adequate heat in the winter. His classmate Tristan Siegel saw it and said his mother was a social worker with clients who could use the technology. With some equipment purchased by the school, they monitored Heat Seek’s first apartment in the South Bronx. Within a few weeks, they had captured temperatures below the legal requirement. It got down to 53ºF.
They then brought it to the BigApps competition. It was well received and got multiple awards.
At Heat Seek NYC, they are tapping the internet to empower tenants, landlords, community organizations, and the justice system to tackle the city’s heating crisis. They:
- Provide unbiased evidence to verify heating code abuse claims in housing court
- Help landlords heat their buildings more effectively while reducing costs
- Create transparency in heating data to educate the community and inform housing policy
The affordable temperature sensors can be installed in any number of apartments per building. They talk to each other via mesh network to periodically collect and transmit ambient temperature data to Heat Seek NYC’s servers. Their powerful web app integrates this data with public 311 heating complaint information to deliver a better picture of New York City’s heating crisis than ever before.
They are working closely with community organizations, landlords, and the New York City’s Housing Preservation and Development to make their technology available to thousands of New Yorkers in time for the cold.
Measure Analyze and Identify Advocate
Their web-connected temperature sensors take hourly temperature readings and send them through an onboard internet connection to their secure servers, where they store the data all winter long. To ensure data custody, their team conducts all installs and protects the devices from potential tampering.
ANALYZE & IDENTIFY
Their web application analyzes the sensor data, alongside the outdoor temperature, in order to record each hour the temperature falls below the legal limit as defined by the NYC Housing Code. Data is displayed in a graph as well as a comprehensive heat log, so that tenants and their advocates have robust data to take to court and to use in landlord-tenant negotiations.
Armed with this data, public interest attorneys, community organizers, and even city officials can advocate on behalf of at-risk tenants, and better hold landlords accountable for their negligence and harassment. Their data can demonstrate patterns of landlord abuse: manipulating the heat before, during, and after city inspections; targeting specific tenants; using heat as a harassment tactic; and more.
Watch Their Video Here https://vimeo.com/108858343
Heat Seek installed temperature sensors in the building in October in partnership with The Legal Aid Society, and in the weeks that followed, they recorded hundreds of hours in which the temperature was below the legal limit according to NYC Housing Code. Despite a long, warm fall, nearly 25% of the hours were in violation.
In December of 2016, Heat Seek held a press conference in front of the building to announce a partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and The Legal Aid Society. The same day, Legal Aid Society attorneys filed a case against the landlord in NYC Housing Court.
And then a funny thing happened…
The heat came on! After weeks in which the temperature hovered at or around 60 degrees, the temperature increased almost a full 10 degrees the day after the press conference.
Rangers Football Club in Glasgow, Scotland, has launched a “Community Engagement blueprint” to improve its relationship with the surrounding community. The club held a “a series of fact-finding meetings with councillors in order to understand local concerns,” and as a result of those meetings will implement a number of strategies aimed at being a better neighbor to local residents.
- The team will play a video during games to encourage fans to respect the local community
- Local law enforcement will make more visible patrols on match days
- The team is installing more portable toilets and recycling bins around the stadium
This is a good example of an organization soliciting feedback from citizens and create an initiative using that feedback to improve relationships and build trust between their organization and the public. It’s also evidence of an organization working to effectively communicate that they have received the feedback and plan to make real changes as a result.
Below is a video of the Community Engagement promotional video which will play during games, along with video of the press conference announcing the “Community Engagement blueprint.”
Nextdoor (https://nextdoor.com/) is a social networking service that connects users through neighborhood groups and allows them to share information with other users in their neighborhood. Nextdoor was founded in 2010 and now includes more than 125,000 neighborhoods across the country. Users are able to post about a myriad of things including notifying neighbors of break-ins or other crimes in the area, organizing a neighborhood watch group, advertising and recommending services, asking for help finding lost pets, and listing items for sale. Membership is by invitation only and users must verify their addresses and use real names.
In 2014, Nextdoor began offering public agencies the opportunity to connect with neighborhoods for purposes including community engagement, crime prevention, and emergency preparedness. Currently, these partnerships are limited to public safety agencies and local governments. In 2016, Nextdoor added the ability for agencies to conduct neighborhood polls. Today, more than 2,000 public agencies use Nextdoor to communicate with citizens.
Across the Internet, there are numerous success stories of government engaging with citizens through Nextdoor. Neighborhoods across the United States used it to provide assistance to refugees following the recent Travel Ban. In Austin, Texas, a neighborhood used Nextdoor to collect yarn for a cancer patient to crochet hats during her recovery. Towns in California used Nextdoor to communicate with residents about flooding. In San Diego, a neighborhood created an innovative “Supper Club” while Sacramento used Nextdoor to recruit staffers for warming centers during the winter. Nextdoor is also frequently used to report crime and to enhance community policing. Therein, however, lies some of the downside. Nextdoor is seen by critics as a place where racial profiling is common, though this could be said of many social media platforms. There is also the potential for siloing where people tend to self-segregate themselves in neighborhoods among others who look and think like they do. Using Nextdoor to conduct neighborhood polls may still leave a lot of people out of the conversation.
Ultimately, I think Nextdoor, like most other forms of technology and social media, can play a positive role in communities where they draw people out into the world and bring people together, introduce people to new neighbors, and enhance engagement with government programs and services. I think it’s an innovative way to bring people together in an age where many people are turning inward to technology and their devices, and the potential for public agencies to target groups of people with information specifically geared for them, rather than blasting their entire communities with a barrage of information they may not connect with has significant potential to improve community engagement.