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Weekly Trend: Startups Turn to Citizens to Help Local Governments

Peter Lougee

Energy Columnist, 1776

Throughout the 2015 Challenge Cup, the 1776 team began to notice a trend within the Smart Cities contestants: Many entrants in this category seemed to be leveraging the knowledge of the crowds and local citizens in an effort to provide clearer and more efficient information back to the local governments. As it turns out, this trend was not confined solely to the Challenge Cup.

As IT News Africa reports, the foundation of any Smart City is good data. However, data delivered solely by remotely operated devices and sensors is quickly becoming insufficient. Indeed, IT News Africa notes that startups are increasingly turning to local citizens to aid in the gathering of more and better data.

This traditional government method of gathering information from its citizens is a relic of the twentieth century: the call center. From incomplete record gathering, to the sheer frustration of waiting on hold for a government representative to answer a phone, call centers are by no means the most efficient means a government has of gathering information in the year 2015. New and innovative? Not quite.

This is where the startups come in and create “intuitive, interactive, and real-time platforms” for citizen-based data gathering that leverages the mobile technology likely already in that citizen’s pocket.

The market is already showing signs of this particular innovation taking root. South Africa Info writes that the Johannesburg Roads Agency has partnered with local enterprise solutions firm Intervate to develop the Find & Fix application for smartphones. Using the app, locals can submit a service request to the JRA and their smartphone will both capture their location data using GPS and upload pictures using the phone’s camera. This both cuts down on the amount of information a user has to enter, as well as ensures the information is captured in a way that is useful to the JRA.

Another example comes from the Challenge Cup itself, with Tel-Aviv based startup Insights, which offers a “crowd-consulting” platform that sorts and organizes citizen feedback data. Currently, Insights provides services to one-third of Israeli ministries, which includes an extensive consulting project to gather information related to education initiatives in the Ethiopian community.

Although it may be too early to determine just how strong this trend in Smart Cities will be, the findings of IT News Africa ring true: governments need information from their citizens that is both reliable and easily assembled. Startups seeking to contract with and help public sector agencies would do well to find a way to gather this information that innovates on the outdated call center model of gathering citizen data.

Peter Lougee

Energy Columnist, 1776

Peter is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer with a Master's Degree in Public Policy from American University. In addition to startups, Peter likes coffee, books and whiskey.