A new wave of how local government works with people in communities around the nation is happening. In several large metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, New York, and Seattle, mobile phone applications that allow users to submit trouble reports to municipalities for repair are becoming popular.
These apps work by combining the inherent ability for most smart phones to access cellular GPS with the ability to take mobile photo or video and to access the Internet so the user can give feedback or information on the problem being reported. Most often, these are used to report graffiti, pot holes, public transportation problems, and so forth.
More often than not, the applications and the way they work are not made by government, but by people and businesses who do it either voluntarily or for the money to be made by selling the app at the Apple iTunes Store or another venue. Usually, these apps are made free of charge by people in the community.
So far, after looking for something like that here in Florida, I've come up empty. With the huge tech community here, you'd think we would have something. It appears, though, that what's missing isn't the ability or willingness to make it, but instead the other half of the requirements: governmental transparency.
Most of these apps came about because the local governments opened up their data and statistics for easy access via Web portals. That is how San Francisco's was made; after a city government initiative to make most of the city's data public, databases were converted to formats compatible with website distribution and then the geeks took over and turned that data into something useful.
The closest we seem to have here in Florida is the 3-1-1 system (http://florida311.org/ ) and maybe the online trouble report system at the Miami-Dade County website. That's at least a step in the right direction.
I think that what we'll have to do, as citizens of South Florida communities, is talk to our elected representatives and tell them that this is something we want and need. It empowers regular people to become active in their governance and it shows the people working for us what we think needs to be done with the tax dollars we send them.
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"In order for us regular folks to make a difference and use the social web to its greatest extent, we have to demand certain apps from our local municipalities," says Herb Tabin of Boca Raton.
Of course, it's doesn't create a panacea of urban landscapes with no more graffiti or crime and perfect roadways. Local governments only have so many resources to work with, after all. But it does give citizens some empowerment in how their local system works.
It's what the term Gov2.0 is all about, after all. Making not only citizen-directed government, but also creating open government so we all know what is being done and/or what isn't being done.
In my view, that's a great thing.