Baltimore empowers citizens to act as sensors with new mobile apps, open 311

This past weekend, citizens acted as important sensors as Hurricane Irene washed up the East Coast of the United States, sharing crisis data as the storm moved through their communities and damage reports in its wake.

Baltimore has embraced the open 311 standard with a new 311 API and take a major step forward towards a collaborative approach to reporting issues with the launch of new mobile applications for the iPhone and Android  devices.

“The new 311 Mobile App allows citizens to have real-time collaboration with their government,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake in a prepared statement. “If you see a pothole, graffiti, or a broken streetlight, you can see it, shoot it, and send it to us — we have an app for that!”

As Philip Ashlock highlighted at Civic Commons in a post on open 311 in Baltimore, the city has a long history with 311:

The City of Baltimore has a long history of leading the way with 311. In 1996, they were the first city to deploy the 311 short code and unified call center, and in 1999, the city launched CitiStat, pioneering the use of statistics based performance management. Now both of these innovations can be amplified by a much more open and collaborative relationship between Baltimoreans and their government through Open311.

Ashlock highlighted another key detail about the integration of the standard by Motorola, which was crucial in DC and San Francisco, the first cities in the U.S. to embrace the Open311 standard.

The launch of Baltimore’s Open311 apps and API was aided by the fact that they were able to leverage the Open311 compliant solutions provided by Motorola CSR and Connected Bits. Baltimore CIO Rico Singleton went as far as to say that their choice of software solutions was influenced by the interoperability provided by the standard.

There are a limited number of citizens who have the time, expertise, passion and education to go clean up public data. There are quite a few more who will report issues in the neighborhoods they live in or work near and share what they see. This kind of mobile networked accountability is going to be a big deal in Africa, Asia and South America very soon. We’ve been seeing early versions of it emerge already during disasters, man-made and otherwise.

With the launch of more mobile applications that connect citizens to existing systems for accountability, city governments are empowering citizens to act as sensors, connecting the real world to the Internet and creating positive feedback loops. That’s good news for Baltimore and beyond.

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.