At a time of growing pressure on public services and finite revenues, the public sector can deliver better citizen service at lower cost by harnessing the power of the citizens themselves.
One of the most exciting trends in the public sector at present is growing out from the idea of intelligent cities. The principle of the intelligent city is that the density of sensors in a modern city allows information to be aggregated at a central location to coordinate responses from city government.
However, one of the most valuable sets of sensors in any populated area – the citizens themselves – is often neglected. For citizens, reporting issues can be a time-consuming and opaque process. But it does not need to be. Technologies citizens already use with comfort, such as mobile phones and social networks, can be used to streamline communications, improve service delivery and lower costs.
Citizen intelligence and new urban mechanics
Rio de Janeiro’s urban managers used social media sentiment analytics to search geotagged social media messages along the route of the city’s legendary Carnival, looking for words such as “disgusting” and “ugly”. They could then check these locations, finding piles of refuse. By using citizen intelligence, they were able to target their clean-up crews to where they were most needed.
Similar mobile and social solutions can be used to improve the everyday management of a city or other area.
In Boston and Philadelphia, the Mayor’s Offices of New Urban Mechanics are developing and deploying smartphone applications that make it easy to report issues immediately and to the right department. One app, Street Bump, cuts out the need to report completely – instead using the phone’s motion sensing function to “feel” bumps in the road and report them automatically.
Whether automatic or triggered by citizens, these inputs have the potential to change the way public work is reported, allocated and completed. A water leak, damaged road service or faulty stoplight in a remote area may not be reported for some time – especially if “reporting” means remembering to find and call a phone number, potentially at the start of a busy working day, and being moved from department to department.
Many citizens have the power to tell the relevant authority immediately – using technology they have paid for, and which they carry with them at all times. Citizens have the power to transform the way the public sector works – allowing for more efficient, timely and accurate interventions, and changing the relationship between government and its citizens for the better.
In my next post, I will look at the cloud, and its unique power to connect agencies and citizens. The age of the engaged citizen is just beginning.
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