My Intelligent Cities class has been exploring civic hacking, and one of my favorite examples is SeeClickFix and Open311 in Chicago.
SeeClickFix is a web tool and mobile app in which citizens can report non-emergency problems to their local government, such as potholes, broken traffic lights, or overgrown trees. It was founded in 2008 by ordinary citizens looking to build civic activism and engagement with government, to hold government accountable and improve transparency, and to increase efficiency in solving local problems.
Over 25,000 towns and 8,000 neighborhoods adopted the tool, and in response, many local governments have partnered with SeeClickFix to formalize the process, including the City of Chicago, which now has its own customized Open311 Platform. The city also partnered with Code for America, opening the data and API from its 311 services to invite civic hackers to continually improve the service.
The City of Chicago’s partnerships with SeeClickFix and Code for America to promote and improve upon the process of citizens reporting problems directly to government exemplifies how governments can engage with not only “civic hackers” but with all citizens. The choice to actively embrace the app, open city data, and invite innovation also makes the app more sustainable for the long-term and will potentially reach more people than if it remained purely citizen-driven. It shows how bottom-up processes can combine with top-down governance to benefit both elected officials and citizens, balancing the will of the people with official government services while increasing transparency and engagement.