Web and mobile civic engagement apps are improving the performance and image of government by helping citizens actively participate in the improvement of their city. Applications such us FixMyStreet and SeeClickFix have the potential to enlist new segments of the population—people who had not previously participated in government—and bring their concerns, insight, energy, and commitment to reinvigorate not only the city but also the government.
Such an application is developed by URENIO Research Unit in collaboration with the Municipality of Thermi during the PEOPLE research project. The ImproveMyCity application enables citizens to report local problems such as potholes, illegal trash dumping, faulty street lights, broken tiles on sidewalks and illegal advertising boards. The submitted issues are displayed on the city’s map. Users may add photos and comments. Moreover, they can suggest solutions for improving the environment of their neighbourhood.
Through the application local government agencies enable citizens and local actors to take action to improve their city. Reported cases then go directly into the city’s work order queue for resolution, and users are informed how quickly the case will be closed. When cases are resolved the date and time of the resolution is listed, providing users with the sense that the city is on the job.
The following is a list of some of the features that come standard with ImproveMyCity:
- Accurate positioning on the map: Citizens are able to determine the exact location of the problem on the map, while they can also attach relevant photos.
All issues are displayed on a local map: The submitted cases are displayed on the city’s map. Each category is presented with a different icon. There is also a cases list with most important info about each case.
- Detailed presentation of each submitted case: Each case is presented in detail, in a separate page showing: category, address, name of the citizen who submitted it, the date of submission, a photo, description, user comments, location on the map, and the number of positive votes. In this page users can also comment, give a positive vote and print the case.
- Filtering of the submitted cases: Users can view only the cases that belong to specific categories or those who have a specific status. They can also sort the cases by date of submission, number of votes and status.
- User feedback: Citizens and employees of the Municipality can make comments on existing cases. Commenting is allowed up to ten days after the resolution a case
- Support for on-line polls: Citizens can provide a positive vote on issues they consider significant. This process helps Municipalities to better hierarch city’s problems.
- Users are informed about the resolution process: The citizens are informed about the status of their requests by email. Initially the status of each case is “Open”. Once the Municipality becomes aware of the case and forwarded it to the relevant department the status changed to “Acknowledged”. Finally, once the case is resolved the status becomes “Closed”.
- An integrated management system: The submitted issues are managed through a web based environment that is based on Joomla content management system. The management is distributed to the Departments of the Municipality. The authorized employees manage the entries through a web form which presents all the available information.
- Categories icons & emails: Different Municipality’s employees can be responsible for different categories. The application allows the assignment of various emails per category and also a special icon for each category.
- User Comments Management: The application provides a special page where citizens comments is displayed allowing the administrators and City Officials to have an overview of the discussions about the submitted issues.
Following the latest trend of application interoperability, ImproveMyCity introduced a complete functionality wrapping around its core features and elements in the form of RESTful services. Simple speaking, Improve-my-city has its own Application Programming Interface (API) to be used by 3rd party developers. The next version (3.0) of the application will support the Open311 standard (http://open311.org/) that provides open channels of communication for issues that concern public space and public services. Primarily, Open311 refers to a standardized protocol for location-based collaborative issue-tracking.
Moreover, the application is distributed for free, under AGPL v3 open source license. Anyone who wishes can download it from the GitHub website or participate in application’s improvement.
Web applications for smart cities
The ImproveMyCity application belong to a number of web applications developed within the project “PEOPLE: Pilot smart urban Ecosystems leveraging Open innovation for promoting and enabling future e- services”, which is partly funded by the European Commission. These applications aim (1) to strengthen the commercial center of Thermi, (2) to increase the number of visitors and (3) to facilitate access to the region of Thermi, creating thereby a smart commercial and recreational district in the Eastern Thessaloniki.
URENIO Research Unit collaborates with the Open Knowledge Foundation Greece (Open Cities Working Group) on issues related to the creation and distribution of open data and open knowledge during the creation of smart / intelligent cities.