Everyone can think of something in his or her neighborhood that needs fixing. Whether it be potholes on the main highway, overfilled dumpsters, or even graffiti on schools, we can easily name the issues. The problem is getting them fixed, especially when local government seems unresponsive to complaints.
With the advent of the webtool SeeClickFix.com, however, it is now easy for citizens to not only use technology to file these reports, but also to hold their local authorities accountable for responding to them.
Founded in 2008 by Ben Berkowitz and three fellow co-founders, SeeClickFix has fixed over 75,000 neighborhood issues in 25,000 towns (both in the U.S. and abroad) and has 80 government partners. Essentially, SeeClickFix allows you to type in your zip code, anonymously file a public report about a non-emergency issue, and then post this issue for the community and local authorities to see. After the complaint has been filed, SeeClickFix automatically emails the anonymous citizen to inform them that their complaint has been received. Other features of the site include the ability to upload a picture of the complaint, to vote/comment on other issues posted, and to draw watch areas on a Google map for further monitoring.
In addition to the site, SeeClickFix has an app for smart phones that uses GPS tracking to enable citizens to report issues and upload photos from their phones. SeeClickFix has also incorporated new media platforms into the fold: the SeeClickFix Facebook app allows users to file reports on the app, but also adds a gaming aspect by allowing people to earn civic points for reports they file. On Twitter, SeeClickFix tweets updates about the site and allows users to Tweet improvements and issues. Expansion to new technological platforms has given SeeClickFix the ability to empower more people to engage with their local governments in an interesting and updated way.
SeeClickFix definitely has the capacity to be very beneficial to neighborhoods; one question, however, remains: “Is the site being used?”
While SeeClickFix has particularly strong usage in cities such as New Haven and Philadelphia, it has not gained as much popularity in other areas. This may be because citizens are not yet aware of it, or because other local governments may already have similar contracts with other entities. However, the site is increasingly gaining credibility. About 60% of issues reported on SeeClickFix are actually being resolved and as it continues to generate results, its potential to appeal to more users will also grow.
Another question may be, “How is SeeClickFix different from similar sites such as FixMyStreet or Street Advisor?” What really seems to make SeeClickFix effective and different is the fact that it creates collaboration between citizens, communities, government, and the media. The ability to report anonymously encourages more people to file complaints and the fact that everyone can see that these reports are being made increases transparency. The public forum puts pressure on the local governments to respond. Just as importantly, SeeClickFix lets the local authorities know what people want to see changed. After all, local governments may not know what needs being fixed unless someone tells them. In this respect, SeeClickFix increases dialogue between cities and its constituents.
In addition, SeeClickFix allows a form of citizen journalism because issues that citizens report can become the basis of local media stories. News media outlets following SeeClickFix can uses the citizen reports as sources for stories and the press coverage also helps encourage government responses to neighborhood issues.
Although only in its fourth year of operation, SeeClickFix definitely appears to have the potential to be a primary way for citizens to communicate with their local governments. Its ability to expand and incorporate new media platforms will help it to reach more cities and help more people. As SeeClickFix continues to expand and put cities back in citizens’ hands, the possibility of becoming a national 3-1-1 service certainly is within reach.