I'll get to the subject line but let me give you a little background first.
Our friends at the City of Boston's Office of New Urban Mechanics have been working on a really cool project. Its an app that enables sensors in your smartphone to detect and report potholes when your car hits a bump. There are some technical hurtles but Nigel Jacob and Co. at the City of Boston are not deterred. They're innovating and we hope they succeed. SeeClickFix is the largest provider of the open311 endpoint and we think that this tool would be valuable to our client cities like Washington, Richmond, Raleigh and Oakland. If connected to Open311 the value would scale instantly.
While the app is potentially great, John Sutter from CNN's coverage was not. Here's John's opening quote, "Here's the problem with the whole Gov 2.0 movement: People are lazy.
Plenty of apps - SeeClickFix among them - allow diligent, digitally minded citizens to snap photos of potholes and send them to city hall. But that takes effort and, let's be honest, it's not something many people will follow through with."
Its shocking that 1 month after Time Magazine named The Protestor "Person of the Year" a CNN reporter would still believe that citizens are lazy. He also uses no facts to justify that you are lazy. Regardless of that here they are: When Boston.com used the SeeClickFix map to document potholes in the Boston area in 2009 over 700 potholes were reported in the first week. This was by citizens not robots. There were tons of issues reported because people had not been given the opportunity to vent these complaints previously. Boston has since been connected to SeeClickFix via Open311, and though the Boston Globe has not done a pothole story recently with a SeeClickFix map, we imagine that if they did similar results would occur.
Regardless of the fact that over 1/4 million people have participated in creating content on SeeClickFix and people are clearly declaring an end to apathy John Sutter is missing the bigger point. Robots will never replace the value of SeeClickFix because the value of SeeClickFix is not acting as a pothole crowdsourcer. The value of SeeClickFix is empowering citizens to take part in the smallest parts of their democracy by connecting them to their elected officials and neighbors in a meaningful way.
As a side note I do agree that there have been a number of problems with the Gov20 movement which could be documented separately but they have nothing to do with citizens lack of desire to engage. Most of those problems have to do with the overemphasis of access to data and under estimate the ability to create it. We work really hard to encourage governments to lay some of their older policies aside to make it easier for citizens to effectively communicate with them and there are many great city leaders who have taken the lead on this as well. The idea that local governments want to hear from their citizens is a relatively new one. See Bloomberg's 311 as first big city example. People have been disenfranchised from participation for quite some time, but there is not indication to us that the 'laziness' is doing anything shy of going away.
I've gotten a number of emails from friends and users astonished at the silly quote. More than anything it feels really really good to know that John is wrong and we have data to back it up. (And those of us who don't drive cars will still have a place to communicate with their government even if the robots take over.)