SeeClickFix might be a bit subversive but in a good natured way.
“I get the feed of all the (Oakland) reports, and I laugh hysterically,” said Susan Mernit, Publisher of Oakland Local, CA.
“I can see the ID’s of who is reporting. I can see different people who are community activists — like the Mayor — reporting problems over and over. The Mayor and lots of other concerned citizens,” she said.
Connecting those dots — from the Mayor to municipal services on the streets— is what SeeClickFix does well. It makes problems transparent
“It does not mean that the people doing the repairs are doing them faster, “ Mernit said. “But it does raise awareness in government of what is going on.”
The customer base for SeeClick Fix has been growing steadily since its launch in 2008. About 80 municipalities are clients. Recurring revenue is 3 times what it was at this point last year, said Ben Berkowitz, CEO and Co-Founder. Many media users are TV stations and legacy newsrooms.
“Certainly with independent, or smaller news orgs, we are interested in making sure that users are exposed to it,” said Berkowitz. “We are solving a problem that is pretty age old, connecting citizens to governments.”
SeeClickFix has no geographic limits. And its free to publishers willing to accept its advertising widget. Residents get started by creating a watch area on a map in their city or neighborhood. When they post an infrastructure or service problem SCF sends an email to the municipality.
Oakland Local was one of the earlier hyperlocal sites to use SeeClickFix, but still the news site lagged behind some cities, like New Haven and Boston that were early adapters. Mernit says that she suggested that the City of Oakland try the service and in the past six months the City has done a deal.
She noted that it is very easy to set up. “I really like it.”
By now, publishers know SeeClickFix on its own doesn’t have teeth to ensure that the government pays attention to issues posted by users in a place. You’d hope the municipality would just respond. Often they don’t. It takes some added “oomph” to get it going, like a series of articles or an organizing initiative. Newsrooms that add that oomph of unique local content benefit from web traffic and greater community engagement, the SeeClickFix website says.
That’s what André Natta, Publisher and Managing Editor of The Terminal thinks.
“I love it!” Natta said. But he — like Mernit — said he’s not seen quick response to complaints from the city.
“A lot of it comes down to who’s using it, who’s aware that it is even out there,” Natta said. “As more people find out it’s there and more people start using it at some point you are forcing the city to pay attention to it.”
Natta’s planning some experiments using SeeClickFix after he’s finalized his new strategy for The Terminal. He’s passionate about the community organizing aspects of journalism and thinks SeeClickFix fits into that.
“The real beauty of SeeClickFix is that it provides a transparent way for people to see the problems that have been reported and gives them a chance to organize around a severe problem,” she said.
For instance, an indie publisher could use it as a tool to identify foreclosed homes in that aren’t properly secured and then build some news coverage around that to spur action.
SeeClickFix is an early mover in tools that connect the community to information. And its founders are involved launching the next generation.
Open 311 is a data standard for reading and writing to and from customer request management systems intended for managing citizen requests. Here in Chicago, we have a team from Code for America implementing it.
SeeClickFix wrote the first draft spec of Open 311, Berkowitz said. You can learn more about Open311 on a community wiki.
Berkowitz is working on the next phase: Creating a platform that will make it easy to clearly address questions and answers.
“Questions like ‘Where do I get my taxes paid’?” said Berkowitz. “That is a big next step. We are releasing a knowledge base and Q&A standards base.”
Here in Chicago, Code for America is helping the City launch Open 311.
I was ecstatic recently when two problems I had been reporting in my Chicago neighborhood through SeeClickFix for nearly two years were finally addressed.
When I asked Berkowitz why he thought this had suddenly happened, he said: “You got a new mayor.”
“You needed a new mayor,” Berkowitz said. “The old mayor didn’t care about Open Gov. They were very interested in closed government. “
Could be, but I got a new alderman too. Only time will tell how open Chicago really can be.
Additional SeeClicFix online news partners.
We’d like to hear your stories about how you’ve used SeeClickFix and other tools that track municipal services.