Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Obama showed us how it was done, now its NYC's turn

PSFK CONFERENCE NYC 2011: Rachel Sterne from Piers Fawkes on Vimeo.

One of the many recent trips I have made to NYC has lead to me noticing a number of small things about how the city is using technology to allow the citizens to have their say, but also access information that is important to their lives.
Considering you are being run by a guy who might know a little bit about how information can change any landscape. Mr Bloomberg seems to have brought his commerical understanding of how information can lead to power... to empower his citizens.

I noticed across the city a lot of information about building sites has their licences posted on the walls with QR codes on them. This I have now found out is full of all the appropriate information needed including the phone number of the builders making all the noise if you felt the need to call them and tell them to keep it down.

I realised this in so many small cases when I was in NYC. I was there in January during the huge snow storms and the citys attempt to clean up the snow which was a huge problem which they struggled in different areas of the city. As you would think loud mouthed New Yorkers went to the internet to share their frustration. But I'll be honest they jumped on the idea pretty quickly and did something about it. In the UK two years in a row there have been big dumps of snow... trains stopped the 2nd year and took a while to start up again because the supposed snow clearing machines for the trains were in the shop being fixed... in the middle of winter.... nice one Anyway I digress. Its awesome to see how the local government has really become citizen centric and thought about how they can gain from citizen concern and also address it in the digital age.

One of my favourites we have talked about in meetings in the UK a bit is the Daily Pot Hole. It is just a tumblr that they have used to speak to one of the biggest problems in NYC. pot holes. People can use an app to send a photo and geo tag where pot holes are. Which is great for the local government to address. But not only that they have used it in a creative way to tell stories about fixing them but also be transparent with the audience by showing how many they have done.

Smartphones are probably in the hands of a lot of New Yorkers but they must address everyone. Their line 331 is actually a city complaints number that people can call, go online or post activity to from a mobile app. Something more simple is a free text message of things like traffic, accidents road closures etc. Simple low tech ideas to help the audience through their beloved city.

The second thing I love is that they are starting to open up all the data they have to the larger digital community to do what they will. They have a lot of information but they dont know what to do with it. So have reached out to a community that can. creating a competition for developers to create useful tools for their citizens they help them through their day utilising the available data. Then the winner gets publicity and also a little cash for their work. So they have turned a problem into a way they can be seen to helping small businesses and also their citizens... thats a win win win.

The great thing overall is that technology isnt there just for fun. They see its value in helping the government with its processes, how they share information and communicate with the public.

So what will the government teach us. Something quite simple

Listen to your audience. Give them the ability to have a nag about something they dont like. Use that information to identify problems. Address that problem in a way that is manageable (cant do everything at once, but communicating that can help). Create things that are useful for everyday purpose. If you cant do something be open and reach out to companies that can help. Dont be afraid to have a little fun doing it

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