Working with the Crowd to Solve Civic Issues

Published Mar-30-14

How the city of San Francisco is co-creating solutions to civic problems with its citizens.

The City of San Francisco, United States

The Story:

Working with the Crowd to Solve Civic Issues Open innovation is providing communities in numerous countries with the means to start to affect change in their localities. Not only as a way to report civic problems but also to ideate, design, develop and implement the solutions.

Just as some companies realize they don’t have the smarts to completely go it on their own, so some local authorities have concluded that great ideas can come from outside of council chambers.

Members of the public have a number of roles in this civic open innovation process such as ideators, designers and change agents who support the adoption of novel solutions.

Improving San Francisco

Improve San Francisco is an open innovation initiative that taps into the knowledge and experience of citizens, tasking them to work with civic authorities to solve the city’s most pressing and challenging problems.

The Improve SF online platform is where city agencies pose a series of curated challenges that anyone can work on. Discussions focused around the challenges help to push the best ideas to the top and spark further thinking and discussion among community members.

Ideas that are submitted through the portal are reviewed and the best ones that are workable are implemented.

Ideas, Challenges and Solutions

One notable challenge asked for ways to provide access to healthy food for residents in Central Market, a blighted neighborhood in San Francisco. A total of 109 ideas were submitted and the winning solution was called The Loaves & Fishes program. The idea is to take the excess food left over from farmers markets and redistribute it to those in need of healthy food.

Members of the public are also posting a range of ideas for improving life for San Francisco’s citizens. They include an idea to launch a home goods line and create jobs for the formerly incarcerated and suggestions to improve the urban landscape.

According to the Improve SF website the ideas are routed to the Mayor, the Chief Innovation Officer of the city and county of San Francisco, the Deputy Innovation Officer and the Director, Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services.

Points and Prizes

To encourage citizen participation, points are available for submitting an idea, referring a friend to take part, commenting on an idea and other criteria. These can be redeemed for prizes such as a baseball signed by a San Francisco Giants pitcher, cooking classes, gift vouchers and even a personal voicemail greeting on your answerphone recorded by the Mayor.

Collaboration is Key

According to Edwin Lee, San Francisco’s mayor, the best way to solve community issues is with the community, and the Improve SF portal incorporates lessons learned from the city’s hackathons and other crowdsourced events.

“Innovation is disruptive,” says the Mayor. “Solutions can come from anywhere and collaboration is key.”

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