Lack of civic engagement is a source of fragility and the potential demise of any democracy. Many governments and organizations have tried to solve this problem by pumping more information and more data at citizens in the name of transparency and engagement. What the government expects in return is feedback and engagement from citizens. But what if that doesn’t work? Better feedback from the government when citizens do engage can strengthen feedback loops. In our experience at SeeClickFix, government feedback is essential to motivating citizens to provide feedback in the first place. It is a critical final step to closing feedback loops.
We built SeeClickFix because we believe that public feedback loops from government on local issues were necessary to continuously engage the public. When a citizen notifies a government that there is an overflowing trash can in a park, the citizen expects follow-up. The obvious follow-up is an emptied garbage can and a clean park. But, there are other opportunities for engagement and feedback along the way.
The following three things are important steps toward strengthening feedback loops from government back to citizens on their concerns:
1. Acknowledge requests and thank citizen for reporting
Recently, a SeeClickFix citizen user in St. Petersburg, FL (Alexander, 1175 civic points) reported “Alley Clearing” to the City of St. Petersburg. Less than an hour later, the City of St. Petersburg “acknowledged” the issue, and posted a comment. This touch point of connection between the time of report and the time the issue is fixed helps cities like St. Petersburg set expectations for the citizen. In addition, by thanking the citizen, St. Petersburg can make Alexander feel like a valuable part of the process of resolution. A citizen that feels valued also feels responsible; meaning Alexander will be more likely to report more issues and contribute more to the city.
2. Let citizens know about the process for correcting the issue (and be transparent when facing challenges in doing so)
This past month in Burlington, VT, a SeeClickFix citizen user reported anonymously a “Peeling Paint” issue. Bill Ward, of the City of Burlington Code Enforcement, explained the legal challenges to resolving the lead paint pealing off the walls of a building constructed in the 1800s. One commenter, “Burlingtonian” entered into the conversation frustrated and upset — questioning the city of Burlington in an aggressive way and asking Norm Baldwin of the City of Burlington Public Works Department to comment.
Perhaps to Burlingtonian’s surprise, both Baldwin and Ward responded with a lengthy comment diving into the weeds of both Public Works and Code Enforcement ordinances for handling these kinds of issues. That same day, Ward commented with a picture of the home after inspecting for lead paint and leaving a warning note to the owner about the zoning violations. By the end of this comment thread, Burlingtonian expressed gratitude: “Thank you for looking into this. Sorry for the frustration.”
Without SeeClickFix, Burlingtonian’s frustration as a citizen would most likely have continued to boil and heighten — with no ability to be heard by the departments that could help. With SeeClickFix, however, the City of Burlington was able to turn an angry complaint into a productive conversation around a complex issue — leading to a resolution where everyone felt heard.
3. Keep requests public so other neighbors can add their voice of support
On SeeClickFix, not only do governments connect with citizens, but citizens connect with citizens. This provides opportunities for issues reported to be fixed by citizens alone — without the help, time, or resources of governments.
In Ann Arbor, MI, citizen Rebecca Arends has been doing just that. Arends, part-time student and therapist, has been using SeeClickFix to curb graffiti with a public art campaign in downtown Ann Arbor. Arends is a SeeClickFix super user with 22,420 civic points — having reported 161 issues. She has been connecting with other SeeClickFix users, the Police Department, and local artists to turn graffiti reported on the platform into beautiful images of Ann Arbor’s symbols and icons that citizens love.
Even on SeeClickFix, governments will have limited budgets to address all issues. That’s when citizens can connect, and step up to fill in the gaps.
The true power of SeeClickFix is that, at the end of the day, the issue rests in the hands of the citizen.
When the issue is resolved, notifications are sent to those who supported the issue. If an issue is fixed, citizens have the opportunity to thank their government with a “Thank you” button.
If, for some reason, the government closes an issue before it has been fixed, the citizen has the ability to reopen the issue and clarify why the it has not yet been resolved. This can further productive discussion to bring both government and citizen closer to a satisfying resolution.
Nearly 3 million issues have been documented on SeeClickFix and nearly 2.5 million issues have been fixed. Along the way over 15 million comments have been posted on these issues which have been viewed collectively upwards of 100 million times. This feedback loop that comes from local government officials has consistently reengaged the public in ways that empower them and leave them resolved to make their own homes a better place for themselves and their neighbors. From St. Petersburg to Burlington to Ann Arbor across America, these small and large feedback loops are being set and kept spinning on SeeClickFix — fueled by transparency, collaboration, and gratitude.
CEO & Founder
Ben is a Co Founder and the CEO of SeeClickFix, a mobile and web platform that allows users to report issues that they want fixed or improved in their neighborhood to their government and others that can help fix an issue. SeeClickFix is host to one of the largest open government communities on the web and Ben has been a key player in the Gov20 movement as well as the hyper local news movement. For his work with SeeClickFix Ben has been recognized by The Huffington Post as a 2010 Tech Game Changer and “The Greatest Person of the Day.”
Ben hails originally from New Haven, CT, where his company is now based. He attended George Washington University.
Inc., Fast Company and Governing Magazine have recognized Ben’s work as an entrepreneur and an innovator with various awards. Ben’s work has pushed geo-location on mobile applications and use of the googlemaps API to new places with his involvement in the SeeClickFix alerting and mobile reporting system. He has also been actively involved in the growing Open311 API Standard.