Sometimes it’s good to remember that crowdsourcing efforts don’t always have to be huge, world-sweeping events that change the very nature of how our society functions. Sometimes, crowdsourcing just provides us with a neat way to improve the immediate world around us, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now in a town in Massachusetts.
James Fiorentini, the mayor of Haverhill, MA, has recently put out the call to the residents of his town: find potholes for us to fix, and get a chance to win one of three $25 gift certificates from local businesses. It’s a win/win/win proposition; the contest winners get free services and merchandise, the residents of the town get better roads, and the mayor can spend resources on fixing potholes instead of locating them. In his announcement, the mayor stated that he intends to fix all of the reported potholes within two business days of when they are discovered.
I personally think this is just swell. Potholes are a huge annoyance to anyone who uses a wheeled vehicle to navigate roads, and there is no shortage of people who are angry enough about them to report them. While some residents have correctly identified this to be the job of the Department of Public Works, I would image that it is difficult for that group to be prolific enough to locate every pothole by themselves. By recruiting regular citizens, they essentially get watchdogs on every street in every neighborhood. The added bonus of a specific phone number and email address to send these reports means they can all be grouped together instead of potentially getting lost in the shuffle of bureaucracy.
This project is also three-for-three on successful crowdsourcing tenets. There is a joint incentive for those participating; they get the guaranteed improvement of their neighborhoods and a change at some free local swag. Like successful campaigns before them, this one gives an outlet to those who were desperately trying to have their concerns heard and met. The barrier of entry is appropriately low, and the inclusion of both a dedicated phone number and email address for reports means that even technologically-impaired residents can participate. And the compartmentalization is about as straightforward as you can get; it doesn’t get much clearer than “tell us where the potholes are.”
Interestingly, some citizens are less-than-pleased at this announcement. The comments section for the initial announcement contains many who would like to see the DPW be a little more dedicated to their jobs, eliminating the need for citizen reports in the first place. I addressed this concern above, but the local commentariat has additional complaints that I think are a little more well-founded. Mainly, they think that the prizes offered are either insufficient or downright insulting. Some would rather see the money go towards repairing vehicles that have already been damaged by potholes, and others feel that the combined $75 total of prize value is a mere distraction from the fact that citizens are being asked to cover the perceived failures of their local government.
As an outsider to the intricacies of Haverhill political intrigue, my opinion of this story as a whole is generally positive. I would jump at the opportunity to similarly improve my own residential area, and seeing public officials at least attempt to connect with their constituents is heartwarming even if the execution is less than over-the-top. I hope this story gets some traction and other cities offer similar services in the future. It would make all of our rides a little smoother.