Citizens Connect

Solving your neighbor’s possum problem in the dark? There’s an app for that.

One of the most common aphorisms heard around the Gov 2.0 world is that “potholes are the gateway drugs to civic engagement.”

After a recent report in Boston, maybe Hub pundits can add a new phrase to the lexicon: “possums are the gateway animal to citizens connecting.

As the indefatigable Adam Gaffin reported at Universal Hub, the wonderful hyperlocal blog in Beantown, the Citizens Connect app has now been deployed as Boston’s high tech possum saver.

According to Gaffin’s post, Susan Landibar of South Boston saw a possum report:

“Possum in my trash can. Can’t tell if it’s dead. Barrel in back of 168 west 9th. How do I get this removed?”

And acted upon it:

Labandibar reports:
11:15PM Walked over to West Ninth Street. It’s about three blocks from my house. Locate trash can behind house. Possum? Check. Living? Yep.

Turned the trash can on its side. Walked home. Good night, sweet possum.

When the city of Boston released the Citizens Connect application, which works on Android phones and iPhones, officials no doubt expected it to help constituents report potholes, graffiti, unplowed snow and trash removal.

And indeed, if you look through the list of reported issues, that’s the bulk of it.

After today, however, the city can add “possum problems” to the list of resolved issues. Crucially, however, it wasn’t the city that fixed it: it was a fellow citizen who saw an issue using the app and then went and took care of it herself.

For good or ill, this example of “do it ourselves” government is a data point that may be increasingly relevant. Plummeting city budgets mean smarter cities will need citizen sensors to detect issues and take civic pride into their own hands. As Gov 2.0 goes local, applications that connect citizens to one another in crises may become as important as technologies that connect citizens to government, like Citizens Connect.

As the role of the Internet as a platform for collective action grows, Clay Shirky may be proven prescient: “We have historically overestimated the value of access to information and underestimated the value of access to one another.”