Ultimate Citizen

(Um, obviously not referring to me.)

Tracy pointed out a competition sponsored by the Pioneer Institute called the Ultimate Citizen Award. 

Here’s a summary:

From May 17th to June 15th, 2010, Pioneer Institute is launching a competition to hear citizen’s ideas about how transparency and accountability issues in government could be solved through technology.If you live or work in Brockton, Chicopee, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Springfield, Taunton or Worcester we invite you to contact your family, friends, and neighbors and ask them 3 basic questions:

What government information do you think people should have access to?
In what format do you think this information should be delivered in?
How do you think technology can be used to make government more transparent and accountable to citizens?

You can collect responses to these 3 questions through blog posts, email surveys, video testimonials, phone calls, Twitter update submissions, and/or in-person focus groups.

So — in addition to our ongoing discussion of a project that we’ll vote on for the city — I’d love to hear your responses to the three questions above (either in the comments or on your own blog).  I’ll submit this blog post (with comments) as an entry.  If we win, we can use the money from the prize ($1,000) towards one or more of the projects we vote on, or something that comes up in the context of the above three questions.

Here are my answers to the three questions:

1 & 2) I think there’s a lot of financial data that could be made accessible to citizens without going the FOIA route.  For instance, there are legitimate questions about how much the Providence Street playground should have cost, and I know (though I can’t find a link) that Konnie Lukes has proposed that all city payments be made available via the web.  For that kind of data, I think that something online, easily searchable, and downloadable into a .pdf or .xls format would be preferable.

I also think that the City of Worcester needs to improve public safety communications.  When I read Jeff’s post this morning, I was less irritated that the T&G had not reported the news of a shooting, and more that the police had not reported this via Twitter.  The last time the crime statistics page was updated was the first quarter of 2009; the link from their main page to crime watch meetings just brings you to the city calendar, which isn’t helpful in the least.  I think that the WorcesterPD should be providing crime alerts via Twitter (similar to the Boston Police, which also uses CrimeReports for statistics), providing crime statistics in a format (and frequency) similar to the Hartford Police, and a better-formatted calendar of neighborhood watch meetings.

As for the city in general, I think it would be great to have a Twitter/Facebook account for each precinct in the city, which would let residents know about traffic delays/construction projects, crime alerts, public meetings affecting that precinct (Planning Board, Historical Commission, ZBA, etc.), school meetings, etc.  Right now, there is no good way for someone to know everything that is affecting their area of the city in one click/link.

3) –I’ll update this post when I think about that further; stay tuned–

Input Requested

I know I’ve asked for post ideas before, and I haven’t followed up on any of the ideas.  (To recap, “Lost Villages of Worcester” won, and I’ve been doing intermittent research for that.  Emily wanted me to discuss making the city more walkable, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading on urban design and walkability, which is, of course, belied by my lack of posting on the subject.  Someone — probably my husband — recommended an ‘in-depth exploration of area strip clubs,’ which I will leave for another blogger to tackle.)

Along with dog parks, we’d been discussing how to get citizens more involved in the city.  T-traveler recommended that the virtual community pick two or three ideas, and prioritize one to really push/work with city government to address.

There are no existing government-sanctioned vehicles for this kind of discussion, but I think this might be an experiment worth pursuing.  Here’s how we’ll do it:

1) In the comments section of this post, leave one or more ideas you’d like to see the government work on with the help of citizens.  They could be tech-focused (i.e., create a City of Worcester suggestion website similar to Manor Labs).  They could be variations on something you heard a city councilor talk about (i.e., at the last City Council meeting, Kate Toomey talked about colleges paying students to work at the public library via workstudy; what if we approached colleges with early childhood education programs and asked if students would be interested in volunteering to do some storytimes?).  They could be small (fix the swings in Elm Park) or large (pick a park a year for a volunteer team to improve). 

2)  On Tuesday, I’ll compile the ideas and put up a poll (because the real point of all this is for me to have another poll; I should just apply to work for the T&G web team).  We’ll give people a couple of days to vote.

3)  A blue-ribbon panel (me and my cats) will select an idea from the top three vote-getters for us to pursue as a virtual community.  (I have no idea what that will entail, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

I look forward to reading your ideas!

Yes, Virginia, Worcester is Pretty Safe

I’d been a bit bothered by this article, and the lack of comparison to other cities of similar size.  I was inspired to look a little bit at other cities’ crime stats:

  Worcester Providence Hartford
Murder 7 24 33
Rape n/a 46 56
Robbery 425 426 603
Agg. Assault 2847 n/a 927
Burglary 1721 1847 1145
Larceny 2483 5185 4160
Auto Theft 786 1100 1011
Arrests 7189 n/a 16433
Shooting Incidents 17 n/a 178
Sworn Officers 330ish n/a 460

The Hartford statistics are from this great webpage.  (Please compare to the Worcester statistics site, which has not been updated in a year.)  It’s unclear whether “sworn officers” includes all or just those actively patrolling.

The Providence statistics are from this Projo article.  Worcester’s are from this T&G article, because the agenda attachments aren’t up on the city website.  Two items of interest:

1) Worcester has a lot fewer shooting incidents than Hartford, but it’s unclear how many stabbing incidents there are in either Hartford or Providence.

2) Seriously, the crime statistics page for Hartford is awesome.  It just goes to show that you don’t need to make use of fancy tools like CrimeReports to inform your citizens.  Hartford is just putting together data that they already send to the FBI and making it available to their residents.  Why aren’t we?

(When that FBI site is updated for all of 2009, it would be interesting to continue the comparison and include Springfield.)

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.