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Public meetings have moved from the bedrock of local democracy to the rocky-bed. A place that only seems still comfortable for those used to a diet of lumpy and cold communications – or those who would rather not share their bed with anyone.

Can citizens be fruitfully engaged in solving civic problems? Recent initiatives in cities such as Boston (Citizens Connect), Chicago (Smart Chicago Collaborative), San Francisco (ImproveSF) and New York (NYC BigApps) indicate that citizens can be involved in not just identifying and reporting civic problems but in conceptualizing, designing and developing, and implementing solutions as well.

The availability of new technologies (e.g. social media) has radically lowered the cost of collaboration and the "distance" between government agencies and the citizens they serve. Further involving citizens — who are often closest to and possess unique knowledge about the problems they face — makes a lot of sense given the increasing complexity of the problems that need to be addressed.

A recent research report that I wrote highlights four distinct roles that citizens can play in civic innovation and problem-solving.


From fundraising efforts to searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370, crowdsourcing has quickly become a popular trend over the last few years. But a California legislator may have broken new ground with the concept, using it to potentially alter state law.

After a couple of decades of trying to drag everyone and their mother out to my public meeting or onto my online platform, I’m wondering if we’ve been thinking about this all wrong. Face it: not everyone cares about everything. We just can’t– and as people work harder, and work longer, and have more and more demands on their time, and as the issues we have to deal with become more and more varied and complicated…how much can we realistically expect?

There is debate about the similarities and differences between community capacity building and community development... As Verity  suggests, some writers use the terms interchangeable, some see community capacity building as a more “evolved” form of community development while others argue that it is the antithesis of community development’s foundation in social justice.  While I don’t want to get caught up in these debates, we do, however, need to recognise that there are dangers in blindly adopting community capacity building uncritically. 

Open data is characterized by not only being available, but being both legally open (released under an open license that allows full and free reuse conditioned at most to giving credit to it’s source and under same license) and technically available in bulk and in machine readable formats – contrary to the case of Google Maps. It may be that their data are available, but they’re not open. This – among other reasons – is why the global community around the 100% open alternative Open Street Map is growing rapidly and an increasing number of businesses choose to base their services on this open initiative instead. - See more at:

Look at what the public or social sector in any major city is doing to leverage new technologies and you’re likely to find an abundance of unfinished and unused civic applications. Such graveyards of software applications are an unfortunate byproduct of of the app contests and hackathons that forward-thinking cities like to promote. Latin America has as many as any other part of the world, but it also has the Desarrollando America Latina (DAL) network. DAL is experimenting with new models for generating technology solutions to social problems. Efforts in other parts of the world - from New York to Nairobi - should study their lessons learned.


A 10-nation study finds Singapore, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates do a better job of providing citizens with online and mobile services.

In the fall of 2012, we launched a knowledge innovation fund and received many entries.

Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting ideas was a submission made by the duo Katie Economidou and Dervish Baha. Together they had been trained in the early ’90s in conflict resolution and mediation along with many of their peers, who later went on to do much of the great civil society work on peacebuilding in Cyprus.

Katie and Dervish wanted to create a video depository of the experiences of themselves and their colleagues, and to create a platform where they would invite mediators and conflict resolution trainers from around the world to do the same.

In March of this year, along with the launch of Mahallae, their dream to create one of the world’s first crowdsourced video archives for mediators will start to come true.

Check out our brief interview with Katie: