Crowdsourcing or Democracy?

[cross-posted on the Ogilvy Fresh Influence blog]

Earlier this week we introduced you to SeeClickFix and their model of social business. We talked briefly about how they are using social technologies and process to improve how governments operate and engage their constituents.

Today we thought it would be interesting to share with you some of the intricacies and wins we learned discovered in our interview with Ben Berkowitz, CEO of SeeClickFIx.

We wanted to know where SeeClickFix is having the most success? What stories could Ben share to cast the vision and help us to see how things are working?

Ben: “The biggest success with the application, is in terms of geography. Some of the bigger cities are Richmond, Raleigh and Washington, D.C. The functionality of our app is really neat because not only can people report they can also see what issues are recorded nearby. So maybe someone without an app reported a big pothole and you walk by and you have the app and you see the issue, you can take a photo of the pothole, and add it to their issue. So it’s kind of an interim (iterate) of the reporting process where people with the mobile application can help those without. I also think there is a place for city inspectors and others with the application where they can go out because all the issues are mapped they can follow those issues around and easily close out work orders right from the phone.”

It’s interesting that the inspectors can check projects and issues and close the issues right from the phone allowing the citizens to see in real-time and track how and when their issues are closed.

One interesting story was how a town in Connecticut used the application to respond to an algae bloom in their water system but also how the community helped spread the word and prevent panic.

Ben: “Here in Connecticut, in a town near by, there was a late algae bloom, which is a non-life threatening thing that can happen to a water system, but it’s something that can be concerning. Hundreds of people voted on 20 or 30 issues in different locations as to the spread of this algae bloom and the city was able to respond back to just one of the issues letting people know that an algae bloom is safe, that they don’t have to worry, the water may taste funny, but it’s safe and they are working to resolve it. So not only could you see the spread of the algae bloom through the reports of the citizens but you could see the citizens could communicate with each other and let them know not to panic.”

Finally we brought up the question of crowdsourcing:
Does it work? Are citizens taking advantage of it?
Ben’s response was interesting:
“This is government helping to spread the word through citizens. I like the term ‘crowdsourcing’ when it comes to business and I do think that governments can learn a lot from a businesses that are focused on customer service, but the interesting thing is that it’s really not crowdsourcing when it’s government, right? It’s just basic democracy. In the US, to a lot of people, democracy happens once every four years when you go to vote then you walk away and you don’t get to shift the opinions of the people you elected. At a very local level, SeeClickFix allows citizens to help governments make decisions that better improve the citizens’ lives. We are just enabling a core feature of democracy in a real time and very dynamic way about very specific issues that affect everybody.”

I think Ben has a point and that we all are accountable and wasn’t this country founded on the premise that government is for the people by the people and of the people? And SeeClickFix is removing the barriers and not only making it easier but efficient.

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