Citizens help improve their city via an app

Noone knows a street better than the people living in it. They notice lots of little things that could be improved. The glass recycling box is always full, there's trash in some corner, graffiti, new street bumps etc. They wouldn't normally report these small problems as it's too much work. Therefore many problems that could easily be resolved don't get resolved. Some cities have introduced apps to make issues easier to report for citizens - with mixed success. 


If you are responsible for a city or town, or a part of it, you want the citizens and businesses to feel safe and good about living or doing business there. You want to create a good vibe and solve problems. Sometimes however you might not have all the detail about different districts, streets, parks, schoolyards and so on, as you can't be everywhere. Your citizens may not be encouraged to report seemingly small issues as authority opening times can be quite short, and responsibilities are not always clear. 


The solution: an app that allows citizens do upload pictures of the problem, geo tagged, categorise the issue and post it. Or post an idea for improvement. Or say something nice about someone. Or many other things.


Some cities use these apps successfully. Jakarta in Indonesia uses the app Qlue with a large number of users. City Sourced is popular with a number of cities in the US, and also boasts large user numbers. 

On the other hand, there are a quite a few cities that have introduced such apps and have not seen much usage, therefore not much return on investment. Let's look at the reasons for using such an app and the differences in usage patterns.


1. Why build an app and not just use the website

Most towns and cities have websites where they regularly post information. Websites are useful to broadcast information, from one source to many recipients. They tend to be static, and a lot of them are not smartphone friendly as they use old web design technology. Some have a feedback section, but it generally doesn't have a photo upload option or geo tagging.

In February 2017, 78% of Germans had a smartphone. Even 39% of pensioners had one. By now, we're definitely beyond 80%. A lot of these people use their smartphone for just about everything all the time, constantly taking pictures and posting them somewhere. Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, just to name a few. Meet these people where they are anyway - on their smartphone. Let them do things that they do anyway - post geo tagged photos with comments in an app. If your app makes it just as easy as Instagram does, you'll get lots of feedback.


2. Difference between usage and non-usage

There are two main differences between city apps that get used a lot and those that don't. 

a) Responsiveness - what happens with the feedback. The smartphone generation expects instant reactions on their posts. If I post something on Facebook now, I'll probably have a reaction within seconds, a Like or a Comment. If I make the effort as citizen to post an issue in the app, I want recognition for that. That means you have to respond quickly - within a day - in some form. Ideally you immediately post an automated Thank You message, and a personal message a little later. Take the always overflowing glass container as an example. Mrs Schmidt takes a picture on Tuesday at 8am with the comment "It looks like this every week, even though collection is on Monday!" At 8:01am there's a comment "Thank you for your message, we'll attend to it shortly." By 9:30am there's a personal comment: "We'll call the glass recycling company now and see if they can put up a bigger container." And so on, until Mrs Schmidt confirms the problem is resolved. Or until you have explained why unfortunately this problem can't be solved at this point in time. 

If you don't have the resources in place to respond to feedback in a timely manner, you will create dissatisfaction. The people submitting feedback will be disappointed if they feel ignored and stop using the app.


b) User experience / friendliness. Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are excellent examples of ease of use, and the minimal number of clicks required to post something. That's what smartphone users expect. Three additional clicks, and you've lost them. They expect the same ease of use when it comes to tracking the status of their feedback. Sounds simple, but has to be well thought through.


Another important point is marketing of the app. 


And what is your benefit as town or city?

  1. You know what is important to your citizens and businesses, especially the smartphone generation.
  2. You can deploy your resources more efficiently, solving the problems that your citizens perceive as important.
  3. You can save money by not investing in things that your citizens don't see as important.
  4. Your citizens feel engaged.
  5. You create an innovative brand for your town.
  6. Once your citizens get used to interacting with you in this way, you can use the app for more and more processes and therefore become more efficient.

These apps can be deployed initially without full scale integration. Therefore they can be a very good starting point for digitalisation. Routing, reporting, privacy and security have to be well thought through. We're happy to help.

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