Imagine a world in which all citizens felt they were engaged in a dialogue with local governments, as well as with one another individually, in ways that were highly efficient and accountable to public concerns.
These are the principles driving SeeClickFix.com, a “Governance 2.0” tool that allows citizens and organizations to identify and resolve non-emergency issues – no matter where in the world they live. SeeClickFix is at the forefront of a national movement to exploit technology and social media for more open community action.
This movement was recognized by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy as having the potential to vastly improve the quality of our urban spaces.
Why “Governance 2.0” and not “Government 2.0”? These new communications tools do not presuppose that material entities or organizations are needed to administer arrangements that resolve collective action problems: citizens and neighborhoods can take direct action themselves.
SeeClickFix began in New Haven, Connecticut, founded by residents who wanted to address graffiti in neighborhood commercial districts. Issue reports had to be targeted to the appropriate party: depending on the nature of the graffiti, that might be the City of New Haven, utility companies who owned cable boxes, private landlords, or the State of Connecticut. Issues were distributed through community networks and via New Haven’s outstanding array of hyperlocal news sources. The project worked – many instances of graffiti or potholes I have reported in New Haven have been resolved within hours.
Some issues are more complicated and take longer to fix. Issue #23, a missing pedestrian signal in Downtown New Haven, took over a year to address. Issue #1300, a dangerous and improperly-designed rail crossing on New Haven’s main harbor bridge, still hasn’t been resolved despite 7,000 pageviews and 250 citizen comments. But the stream of headline newspaper, blog and television publicity of this issue – much of it resulting from SeeClickFix – has led to several ConnDOT and City of New Haven investigations, as well as much wider public awareness of safety issues involved in the crossing. Residents are still hopeful, and SeeClickFix gives them a place to permanently catalogue progress towards a resolution.
In fact, well over 100 serious traffic safety and “livable streets” issues in New Haven have been catalogued in detail by members of the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition, an informal coalition of over 100 local organizations and businesses. Given the city’s new Complete Streets Design Manual and other initiatives that have been a direct response to grassroots organizing, we expect all of them to be resolved at some point in the future.
Philadelphia residents have also been among the “early adopters” of SeeClickFix. Using the new technology, residents in Society Hill and other neighborhoods are documenting issues such as vandalism, trash, potholes, dead trees and unsafe intersections. Other citizens anonymously submit law enforcement issues such as speeding, idling vehicles, prostitution and drug use. Local organizations such as the Society Hill Civic Association, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Philadelphia Clean Air Council and Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia are now monitoring and fixing issues. Media organizations and blogs check it for hot stories. Philadelphia 311 and government officials are also “wired up”: they currently receive notice of any issues submitted, and have joined the resulting discussions. The result is a healthier, more efficient city.
Ben Berkowitz, the co-founder and CEO of SeeClickFix, envisions a higher purpose to the site. “Citizens who take the time to report even minor issues and see them fixed are likely to become more engaged in their communities over time.”
New Haven, Connecticut