Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Crowdsourcing Bureaucracy:

Most people in the United States agree: Taxes are too high.

Some people wish to see spending cut from social services, some wish to see it cut from the military, some from the salaries of government officials, etc. The one area we can all agree is a waste of money is bureaucracy. In our current economy, no one likes knowing that a substantial amount of their earnings go toward cutting through red tape and taking forever to get what should be simple and inexpensive tasks, done.

The problem is, we can’t live without bureaucracy. It is the backbone of our government. While politics deal in the creation of laws and regulations, bureaucracy deals with actually taking care of public tasks.

Bureaucracy is not in and of itself a bad thing. However, the word has taken on a negative meaning. Mostly because the handling of bureaucracy by our government is wasteful, convoluted, and inept.

So the question is, how do we make bureaucracy work better?

At a recent TED TALKS, Jennifer Pahlka gave a talk titled 'Coding a Better Government' (watch it HERE) which describes the efforts of the organization ‘Code for America’ to answer that very question.

The idea is to basically crowdsource bureaucratic tasks. One of the examples that Jennifer gives is an app that was used to coordinate the adoption of fire hydrants in Boston.

After a snowstorm, someone has to dig out all of the fire hydrants so that they are accessible if there is a fire. As a Boston resident, I can tell you that those hydrants never get shoveled out. And I am certain that someone does get paid to take care of that very task.

Through the app, citizens are able to adopt a hydrant near their house or apartment, and voluntarily go out and shovel. By taking five minutes out of their day a few times a year, these Bostonians could save thousands of dollars in unnecessary public funding, have their hydrants cleared in a timely fashion, and will ACTUALLY have access to them if there is an emergency.

Many of the public tasks that have fallen to the local, state, and even federal governments have done so because in decades past, the government was the only group with the resources to coordinate these simple, yet wide spread tasks. Can you imagine trying to organize a group of volunteer citizens to handle animal control for a whole city back in the 1920’s before even half of the households in America had telephones?

This is no longer an issue. With the advent of smartphones and feature-phones, the ability of citizens to coordinate with each other anywhere via mobile apps is as simple as getting a few app developers to donate their time and skills.

Just think of how much time, money, and aggravation average citizens could save every year by simply signing on and volunteering to take responsibility for the basic upkeep of our communities.

For all of us out there that spend WAY too much time complaining about how poorly our government is run, this could be our chance to put our money where our mouths are and prove that there is a better way to run our bureaucracy and that we are willing to be the ones to help do it.