The Giver That Keeps On Giving

You would be hard-pressed to find a government official in America who hasn't given thought to ways to increase citizen engagement in their communities. And it's no wonder: more and more, it's being shown that the level of citizen engagement is inextricably tied to the vibrancy of local communities.

In particular, governments are becoming deeply interested in not just increasing citizen engagement but cultivating sustained citizen engagement. In other words, governments are asking the question: how can we continually keep our citizens engaged?

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Adam Grant, a Wharton professor and researcher, has explored a concept parallel to "sustained citizen engagement" that he calls "motivation maintenance".

Grant divides individuals into "givers" (those whose tendency is to give without expecting return) and takers (those whose tendency is to try to get more than they give). He uses motivation maintenance to describe strategies to sustain and strengthen givers' drive to give.

He found that givers are most likely to stop giving (to "burnout") when they do not have access to the impact of their giving. Givers seem to be the most motivated to contribute to others when they continually receive feedback about why their giving matters. For example, the givers in a university fundraising call center were far more productive and energized when they received letters from the students benefitting from their efforts (Grant, 2008*). And when callers were able to interact with these students in-person, the average caller doubled in calls per hour resulting in 144% more alumni donating per week.

The importance of this kind of feedback also reveals itself in cases where it takes time for impact to show. Grant discusses how teaching, for example, is an occupation where individuals can be vulnerable to "giver burnout". Although teachers may see their students every day, it can require years to see the benefits of their efforts.

Citizens may fall into a similar camp to teachers. When residents vote in an election or join the local neighborhood association, the positive outcomes of their engagement may not be immediately apparent to them. Therefore, the challenge governments face in cultivating sustained citizen engagement is finding ways for citizens to continually receive feedback that their engagement is meaningful.

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As a dual mobile application and citizen service request management tool, SeeClickFix's platform can afford governments the ability to tackle this challenge head-on.

One of the core pillars of SeeClickFix's model is its ability to create a tight feedback loop between a citizen's action and the positive result of their action. When a citizen reports an issue (i.e. a pothole, graffiti, or abandoned trash), action can be swiftly taken by government officials to acknowledge and close the issue. This makes the impact of the citizen's report clear: an issue in their community has been fixed because of the citizen's efforts. Even if the issue takes longer to close, feedback can still be immediate in the form of comments, votes, and views made by government officials and other community members. Additionally, the feedback loop is effective on the backend as well: government officials, who are also typically motivated by being able to see the effects of their giving, receive feedback on SeeClickFix. For example, SeeClickFix allows citizens to send a "thank you" to government officials after an issue has been closed.

This feedback loop is why we have over 500,000 citizens using SeeClickFix. Every time a citizen engages with the platform they are given some level of response (whether it is automatic or custom) furthering a sustainable model for citizen engagement in a community.

How do you create these kinds of feedback loops in your community? How do you try to motivate the givers in your community? What are the main challenges you face when engaging your citizens? Tweet your thoughts at @SeeClickFix with the hashtag #civicengagement.


*Grant, Adam (2008), The significance of task significance: Job performance effects, relational mechanisms, and boundary conditions.. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 93(1), 108-124.

Grant, Adam (2013), Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

Catalyst Photography. By Ian Christmann.