Review: WikiGovernment and Manor Labs

I’d read Wiki Government and, by the end of the book, my head was swimming with ideas about the City of Worcester could do better in their use of the web.

I had trouble articulating exactly what I wanted to see in a more interactive city website…until I came across manorlabs.org, which is the website for a town of 6,500 (people, not employees) in Texas. 

Basically, Manor Labs (pronounced MAY-ner, not “manner”) is a website (powered by Spigit) where citizens can submit ideas to improve the town.  There are four stages from incubation (the idea is submitted and voted on) to validation (reviewed by a department head when the idea gets the requisite number of votes and page views) to emergence (the innovation team meets to discuss the idea in more detail — cost, pilot program, etc.) to implementation/aborted (either the idea is implemented, or the citizen is given a reason why it can’t be).  You can watch the short video on their About page  to see how these ideas get evaluated.

This website has a lot of the features Beth Noveck describes in Wiki Government: ideas that have digg-like votes for or against (see the View All Ideas tab for some examples); users are evaluated by the usefulness and accuracy of their comments (see the Leaderboard for ratings on both ideas and users); easy usability (see here for videos).

Take a look at this idea: someone suggested that the town employ a part-time warrant officer, and people responded with reasons why it wouldn’t work.  Or an idea for automatic debiting of utility bills, which was successfully implemented.

You can read a WSJ article about the other awesome things this small town is doing and dream about a day when Worcester will have something similar.