Chris Osgood and Nigel Jacob at Living Cities: “There’s been tremendous energy behind the movement to change the way that local governments use technology to better connect with residents. Civic hackers, Code for America Fellows, concerned residents, and offices such as ours, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston, are working together to create a more collaborative environment in which these various players can develop new kinds of solutions to urban challenges…
This is not going to happen overnight, nor is the path to changing the interface between citizens and government an obvious one. However, reflecting on the work we’ve done over the past few years, we are starting to see a set of design principles that can help guide our efforts. These are emergent, and so imperfect, but we share them here in the hopes of getting feedback to improve them:
- The reasons for engagement must be clear: It is incumbent on us as creators and purveyors of civic technologies to be crystal-clear about what policies we are trying to rewrite, why, and what role the public plays in that process. With the Public Schools, the Community PlanIT game was built to engage residents both on-line and in person to co-design school performance metrics; the result was an approach that was different, and better, than what had originally been proposed, with less discord than was happening in traditional town hall meetings.
- Channels must be high-quality and appropriately receptive: When you use Citizens Connect to report quality-of-life issues in Boston, you get an email saying: “Thank you for reporting this pothole. It has now been fixed.” You can’t just cut and paste that email to say: “Thank you for your views on this policy. The policy has now been fixed.” The channel has to make it possible for the City to make meaning of and act on resident input, and then to communicate back to users what has been done and why. And as our friends at Code for America say, they must be “simple, beautiful and easy to use.”
- Transparency is vital: Transparency around how the process works and why fosters greater public trust in the system and consequently makes people more likely to engage. Local leaders must therefore be very clear up-front about these points, and communicate them repeatedly and consistently in the face of potential mistrust and misunderstanding.”