Monthly Archives: September 2014

ELERTS Platform- See Something, Say Something

It has become the standard scene for individuals to constantly be looking at their cellphone while they are walking, riding, and waiting. This common occurrence has allowed for the creation of a discreet smart phone application for reporting crime, suspicious or undesirable activity. ELERTS is a business that has designed and implemented a smartphone application for the reporting of crime or unfavorable activity. The platform is targeted toward cities, hospitals, schools, and corporate campuses. The application allows individuals to receive emergency notifications in real time. It also allows for individuals to report crime by taking a photo, giving a brief message, and location details. Atlanta (MARTA), Boston (transit Police), and San Francisco (Bay Area Rapid Transit) are currently using this application. After a crime is reported an officer is dispatched to investigate the report. Recently this application has been modified for use at all of the Buffalo Bills home games this season. This will allow fans to report any problems they have on game day.



Weed Control App – Getting Citizens Involved

There are many apps out there that identify birds, flowers, animals, etc.  Most of these apps are for enthusiasts and having fun.  However, the city of Edmonton has built on this concept and developed a new app that identifies noxious weeds to help them combat an environmental issue they are facing.  In Edmonton, there are 75 weeds regulated under their Weed Control Act.  Now residents can ID these weeds, file a weed complaint, and get a response before the weeds spread.  This app is an interesting new way of educating and getting citizens involved with protecting the environment.

Below are two links with more info:

Text Message and Phone for Diverse Communication

I am particularly interested in how technology can help to engage low income citizens in community activities and political decisions. This group of people are easily marginalized in decision-making because they are unable to engage with policy-makers in the same way households with only one working spouse (or, for that matter, families where no one holds more than one job) are able to do.  As technological capabilities have boomed with the advent of internet, researchers have found that lower income people (especially in other countries) have skipped over having internet on a desktop computer and but are likely to have internet access on cell phones.

I found an interesting initiative (and paper analyzing the success of the initiative, found here) called North End Organizing Network (NEON) that spoke to this fact. NEON created a mobile tool for residents of Springfield, Massachusetts to submit questions via text message and voicemail. I thought this approach was very interesting because it didn’t utilize mobile apps, which I think is the current fad. At first I thought this might be a negative in terms of engagement and management, but, on the other hand, this approach allows for older citizens who might not have smart phones to engage with their government. However, NEON found that many of their participants (including the older ones) have access to a computer with internet at home but few seniors owned mobile phones and had trouble even dialing the number for NEON. Many of the younger citizens suggested NEON use facebook to reach the community, but interestingly, many of their participants preferred traditional communication channels like radio and the newspaper. The NEON trial concluded that utilizing multiple platforms is essential when trying to reach many generations.

Next Door: Building and Engaging Neighborhoods Through Technology

Next Door ( is a private social network for neighborhoods. The concept is to provide a comfortable and safe environment for neighborhood members to share information.  To keep it safe, only members of a neighborhood are allowed to join their neighborhood group.  Each member must verify their location to ensure privacy.  The concept builds on the notion that there used to be more neighborhoods where people felt safe and came together to socialize and solve problems.  However, in today’s suburbs, a property owner may not even know neighbors living two houses away.  There is no sense of community in that reality, which often results in government getting involved and having to row rather than steer.  The social network is used for a variety of things including:  getting the word out about a break in, seeing if there is a local repairperson, sharing equipment and tools, planning neighborhood enhancements and amenities, coordinating neighborhood events, or even just saying hello to new neighbors.

Local governments are not and should not be integrally involved in the private social network.  However, local governments are needed to help promote the concept.  They can partner with Next Door by providing information about their local neighborhoods, which may or may not be that obvious.  While the social network is set up for the neighbors, local governments are now also partnering with Next Door to disseminate information and engage neighborhoods through the network.  For example, local governments can share information about road work projects, utility breaks, tree trimming activities, water boil advisories, etc. directly to the residents being affected. Below are several links to communities in California and Oregon who are partnering with Next Door and using this social media platform to engage their citizens and promote neighborhood connections.

Snapchat Used by Colleges

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education blog post highlighted uses of Snapchat by three different institutions to engage with current students, prospective students, and prospective athlete students:

In each case, the goal of increasing engagement was to create a stronger relationship with people, either to improve their college experience and identification with the institution or to recruit people to come to the institution.  At least at these institutions, it appears to be working.  As we think about ways to increase community engagement across a variety of public service contexts, two questions come to mind: 1) Is Snapchat one of those social media tools that will migrate through ages and thus become relevant to audiences outside of teenagers? 2) If your community was using Snapchat, how can a public service organization enter the conversation/circle and to what purpose(s)?