By Blair Glencorse
There has been a huge amount written on urban governance in well-known success stories such as Singapore and on lesser-known but useful models for municipal citizen engagement in places such as Colombia. Some great research on these issues is currently being carried out by organizations in the developing world including PRIA in India and Isandla in South Africa- both with support from forward-thinking funders such as the Ford Foundation.
Recently, we came across two innovative examples of alternative strategies being deployed in the United States to ensure that municipal projects serve the public good in targeted ways. These could be called real “public-public partnerships” in that both the government and individual citizens are integral to their functionality.
On the demand side, a tool called neighbor.ly in Kansas City, Missouri, was recently profiled in an article on the Governing for States and Localities website. Neighbor.ly is a “civic crowdfunding platform” (see our previous post on related issues here) that matches projects with demand from citizens. Through the website, local governments and civic organizations propose projects (ranging from the development of a streetcar system to inclusive broadband internet access) which can then be supported by members of the public in exchange for certain benefits (such as merchandise and credits to fund other interesting projects). This draws federal funding into alignment with community needs, while also saving taxpayers money and reducing future public debt.
On the supply-side, the integrated Somerstat municipal management system in Somerville, Massachusetts (based on Baltimore’s Citistat model) gathers real time data from citizens through two-way resident notifications, feedback forums, and hotlines. Resistat discussions and community meetings are used to engage residents and provide feedback. The government then crunches the data to investigate operational issues and correct problems, track changes and inform metrics for activity-based budgeting, and develop new ideas. This award-winning approach has allowed Somerville to increase accountability significantly and provide more effective public services while spending, per capita, the least of any municipality in the state.
It is estimated that over 60% of the global population will live in cities by 2030, and thus responsive and accountable urban governance systems are essential. Where designed appropriately, collaborative programs between local governments and citizens on both the supply and demand sides- such as neighbor.ly and Somerstat- offer clear evidence of the value of engaging the population in real-time planning for municipal governance. That’s why “public-public partnerships” for cities are an accountability innovation we love!