(Below is a document written by Zak Stone of SeeClickFix submitted to NYC Council in support of open data)
June 21, 2010
New York City Hall
SeeClickFix White Paper
SeeClickFix & Open Data
What is SeeClickFix?
SeeClickFix is a free mobile phone and web tool that allows citizens to report and publicly document non-emergency issues on an interactive map. From pot holes to blighted houses, from requests for new bike lanes to reports of possible gang activity, SeeClickFix issues run the gamut of everyday concerns within the public space in communities around the country. Each issue reported on SeeClickFix receives a distinct page where users can monitor the issue's progress, post updates and photos, and discuss potential fixes. Citizens, community groups, local government, and local media can find out about breaking news in their community by signing up their email addresses to receive issue alerts in real time.
What's the Difference between a standard 311 System and an Open Data System?
A standard 311 System, which many municipalities including New York City currently use, provides a platform for citizens to enter complaints with city departments by calling a hotline or filling out an online form. The service request data is entered into the city's CRM, and citizens receive a tracking number for their problem. End of story. If a quick fix does not arrive, citizens can check their problem's status online or call back to complain. If they are feeling particularly energized or annoyed, citizens can lobby neighborhood officials to help get the problem solved. However, this is time-consuming work for taxpayersÂ¬ to secure what they might feel like is already entitled to them'things like paved streets, clean parks, and shoe-free telephone wires. It can be frustrating to get put on hold again and again by call center workers. And such a system does little to empower citizens; rather, it reinforces a relationship of citizen as supplicant and government as benefactor. Citizens are put in a position where they must ask for change in their local neighborhoods rather than do anything about it themselves, like contribute ideas or organize their community.
An Open Data system like SeeClickFix seeks to change this relationship in several, important ways, by publicly documenting service requests online and harnessing the power of social media and crowdsourcing to discuss and diagnose everyday, quality of life problems. From the moment a SeeClickFix issue is reported, the entire community has the ability to comment on it, vote to support it, and provide evidence. The local government can immediately weigh in on the problem, provide a repair schedule, and alert the whole community when the problem is fixed. SeeClickFix has used this approach to obtain results everywhere from New Mexico to New Jersey. A noteworthy case occurred in Washington, DC, where community groups, city councilman, and transit officials used SeeClickFix over the course of a year to discuss and design solutions for a dangerous intersection. SeeClickFix's dedicaton to an Open Data system'through which all service request data are publicly documented and publicly available'enables such results. SeeClickFix is a testament to the power of Open Data systems to empower communities, increase government accountability and efficiency, foster more transparent communication, encourage civic engagement, and enable new enterprise.
â¢ Empowerment. By transferring 311 data from a closed system to a publicly accessible one, SeeClickFix empowers citizens to hold their government more accountable. If everyone can see that a problem has not been fixed yet, government will have more incentive to get an issue fixed. And when government fixes a problem, officials can use SeeClickFix to communicate directly with citizens and let them know how hard they are working to listen to citizens' needs. Finally, government can use SeeClickFix to keep citizens up-to-date about the fixes that they are planning for a certain site, making communication between government and citizens more transparent.
â¢ Engagement. SeeClickFix provides the communicative platform for neighbors to discuss and brainstorm solutions to local problems with one another and with neighborhood officials. Crowdsourcing principals allow the good ideas to rise to the top while email alerts spread the ideas to those in decision making roles. Citizens who take the time to report even minor issues and see them fixed are likely to get more engaged in their local communities: it's a self-reinforcing loop. Such a process helps build civic engagement and encourages community groups to take certain problems into their own hands, like park clean-ups or graffiti removal.
â¢ Efficiency. Two heads are better than one and thousands of heads are better than two. We make it easy and fun for everyone to see, click and fix by providing citizens a multi-platform interface to quickly and easily report everyday concerns, transforming passive residents into active collectors of data. In computer terminology, this is called distributed sensing, a particularly powerful method for recognizing patterns, such as those that gradually take shape on a street. This process takes the burden off of government to track down the problems, and the precision of GPS lets government know exactly where to find them.
â¢ Entrepreneurialism. Opening up municipal data creates new windows for entrepreneurs like SeeClickFix to act. By exploiting city data, web developers can create new municipally-oriented applications that aim to compliment city services and boost government transparency and efficiency. Most apps, like SeeClickFix's, are free for citizens to use, providing residents with significant value at a low cost to government.
In the past two years, SeeClickFix has enabled hundreds of thousands of citizens in thousands of municipalities to communicate more directly with their government. SeeClickFix has strengthened community activism by providing new outlets for advocacy. And SeeClickFix has saved governments time and money, by helping them target the most pressing issues in their communities. All of this is possible through a simple change to data management, by opening up locked 311 service request data.[