Facebook is already good for reconnecting with old friends, making party plans, and building virtual farms. However, a new plug-in allows citizens of small municipalities to report potholes, noise complaints, graffiti, and more via Mark Zuckerberg's social network or by smartphone. The new software has already been adopted by municipalities nationwide, and helps cash-strapped city governments save money in the process.
CivicPlus's Facebook and iPhone application, Citizen Request Tracker, allows users to report non-emergency issues to local governments. Residents fill out a form that consists of a combination of pull-down menus and text boxes and then submit the information to their municipality. Separate back-end software then allows city bureaucrats to respond to queries, record them, and view statistical analyses. Importantly, the app's backend automatically categorizes and sorts incident reports for local government—a bonus for strapped city budgets that often require employees to wear five or six hats at once.
According to CivicPlus CEO Ward Morgan, "The more local government organizations can offer electronically, the easier they make it for people to access services and get the help or information they need […] The idea behind our Citizen Request Tracker Suite was to make local government more accessible to the modern tech-savvy citizens who use social media sites and mobile devices in their daily lives."
Citizen Request Tracker is currently being tested in Burleson, Texas, an exurb of Dallas-Fort Worth with a population of approximately 34,000 best known as American Idol Kelly Clarkson's hometown. According to Sally Ellertson, Burleson's Public Information Officer, the Facebook/iPhone app is being used to log non-emergency concerns about animal services, code compliance, parks and recreation, and public works.
Burleson began rolling out the integrated Facebook/iPhone suite in June. Several other municipalities are planning to unveil the software in the near future; League City, Texas, will launch the suite in August and the Portland, Ore., suburb of Lake Oswego is also planning to offer Citizen Request Tracker access to residents in the near future.
Online municipal government outreach efforts, such as CivicPlus's (pay) software or SeeClickFix, are an important component of a movement called gov 2.0, or e-government, which our own Anya Kamenetz wrote about back in November. A loose alliance of transparency advocates, techies, academics, journalists, bureaucrats, and for-profit companies are actively seeking to make government more responsive to constituents and more transparent to taxpayers, which in turn should lead to a greater connection between citizens and their government. As SeeClickFix's Ben Berkowitz says, reporting a pothole on your phone is "the gateway drug of civic engagement."