Neighborhow.org is a website born of a collaboration between Code for America and the City of Philadelphia. It is intended to be a source of ideas that neighbors can share and find for solutions that neighbors may know best how to approach. Some of the situations they list on their site are: clean up my block, have a block party, and start neighborhood watch.
Both the site and idea were started in 2012. This website and tool don’t appear to be of much use. I believe the tool could be useful but it needs some attention and effort to be promising. Those who are behind the scenes will need to determine an audience and put in work to make the site’s existence known. The website appears as if they expected it to somehow take off on it’s own. To be an engagement tool there needs to be actual engagement. The organizations behind the site should have put in more thought before the launch so that there is an infrastructure to handle the social media presence and to spread the word of its use. While the site was started in part by the City of Philadelphia it does offer categories for other cities, but there are no other cities, just a choice of Philadelphia and “Any city”.
One other issue that may hinder Neighborhow.org from gaining traction is that there may not be a desire for this type of interaction or there are better sources for the same information. This tool and it’s web presence, or lack thereof, serves as an example of a potentially great idea that was either poorly thought out or poorly implemented.
Front Porch Forum is a novel twist on connecting neighbors in an engaging way. Upon entering your home address you are added to a forum (if one exists) for your neighborhood. The forum is public, in the sense that anyone may join, but each “neighborhood” is open only to those actually residing in a particular area. Not only may neighbors discuss matters of interest or concern, local officials are also members of the “neighborhood,” so they too may have visibility into the topics discussed. This platform provides an online channel for neighbors to connect, socialize, and talk about things…that neighbors talk about!
The budgetary process can be tough for both government officials and citizens alike. One company, OneNorth, is trying to help ease the tension between citizens and officials by developing a budget simulation platform called Citizen Budget. Through the tool, citizens are allowed to create their own version of a balanced budget and submit it to government officials. The tool for each municipality can be accessed through Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail. Government officials select between 10 and 30 programs and services for citizens to work with. Citizens can customize budget levels for each program or service, but the overall budget must be balanced in order for citizens to submit it to government officials. What’s great about this platform is that it helps citizens understand the tradeoffs that are necessary to produce a balanced budget each year. Similar tools have been made available at the federal and state level across the country, but platforms such as Citizen Budget make the technology available to any level of government and allow citizens to submit their proposed budgets as feedback to officials. As government budgeting continues to be a hot topic in all levels of government, a tool like Citizen Budget is a powerful way to both educate and involve citizens in the budget process.
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Crowdbrite is an online collaboration space where community members can give feedback (or interaction-light, in some cases) on various community projects. The tool is designed to take brainstorming online and also comes with a mobile app. Ideas are put up as a virtual canvas and participants add sticky notes with comments and ideas to the canvas. It appears that it has had its most success or traction with city and street redevelopment projects.
Unfortunately, I found the tool to be confusing. While it is free for the participants (people adding input), organizations must pay. Sadly, it’s unclear what you’re paying for and how you can really use the tool. The website isn’t very user-friendly and seems like older technology. For me, that’s a turn-off. I also wonder how much work it is on the part of the local organization, as it seems like it wouldn’t just easily work “out of the box.” I obviously have concerns about this technology and believe that it may not have enough to take hold in its current form.
Citizinvestor is a crowd funding and civic engagement platform specifically designed for local governments. Local government officials post projects that have the council’s support, but lack the financial backing, in an attempt to gain financial support from the community. This is where the community comes in as it has the opportunity to show its support by making 100% tax deductible donations to improve the community by investing in the project. This type of community engagement would be a vary strong form of feedback as these people are actually not just saying they want something, but are speaking with their money to make it happen. This platform is a promising technology solution for local governments, but I have my concerns. The platform is less than two years old, but has seen success and has over 170 government partners. However, I see potential political backfire if this is used to fund large projects instead of the intended use for smaller local community projects. The citizens could also want to know why their taxes are not being used to cover these projects and why the government is asking individuals to bear the burden of the cost of projects that will benefit the community.
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Cityzen is an online community engagement software that gathers public opinion for decision-makers by placing polls and comment tools in social media and online news sites. They gather and aggregate the feedback data and deliver it to the decision-makers. This technology seeks to increase citizen buy-in and participation through social media interaction. I think it is a promising technology with a hopeful future. Social media is the main source of news for a growing percentage of U.S. citizens. Therefore, I think Cityzen would generate a significant amount of interaction and feedback through social media. However, my concern is that there is still a demographic that is not being reached by this effort. The article, “11 Shocking New Social Media Statistics in America”, stated that 55% of Americans between the age 45 and 54 have a profile on a social networking site. This technology is targeted towards a younger generation. While the scope of its reach is growing, I think it does not fully succeed at increasing citizen participation and interaction, yet.
New York City Government is breathing new life into an old technology to make it more accessible to today’s information consumers across the city. Dialing 311 has provided the citizens of New York City with access to important information such as what police precinct an address is in, or what day trash pick-up is as well as the ability to make complaints such as reporting potholes, noise, graffiti and more for years. The idea is that citizens don’t need to know the specific department they’re trying to contact; they just dial 311 and get routed to the correct department to report their issue. The City’s Information Technology Office has released a new 311 app called “NYC 311” that allows users to access the services available through 311 in a beautiful, user-friendly interface. Through the app, users can still enjoy all the traditional benefits of 311 through the convenience of their mobile device. In an October 3, 2014 article published by Michael del Castillo (a link to the full version of the article is available below) Chief Digital Officer and Undersecretary for Technology Rachel Haot explains that the goal isn’t to force citizens to adopt new technology, but rather to grow with technology trends. Haot says that they seek to “invest in communities that already exist and make it seamless” in the online community. First released in 2012, NYC 311 is currently on version 3.6 with the latest updates including new fire hydrant complaint forms, an updated facility finder in the Parks and Recreation section, and much more.
For more information please see:
“After 15 Years, New York State is Quietly Preparing a New Website” by Michael del Castillo http://www.bizjournals.com/newyork/news/2014/10/03/after-15-years-new-york-state-is-secretly.html (accessed 10/27/2014)