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Where Innovation Happens

by: Clay Johnson, Partner, Big Window Labs

May 10, 2011

In 1932, Justice Louis Brandeis famously quipped that state governments are the "laboratories of democracies." As our population has grown since then our state governments have grown larger, making cities a new and interesting place for governmental innovation innovation. In many cases, the smaller the population, the more open to risk and innovation a government is. That's why Apps for Communities' target is cities, towns, rural and underserved communities.

For instance: New Haven, Conn., (population: 129,779), gave rise and early adoption to SeeClickFix.com. SeeClickFix helps citizens file non-emergency requests with government more effectively.
 
It also helps government fulfill those services by both providing tools for government to manage those requests and by allowing for neighbors to link up and solve problems themselves. SeeClickFix is now working with several cities across the country to do the same thing.
 
Taking a look at how effective it's been, you'll see that SeeClickFix's top performing
cities (the ones that use the software the most to fulfill citizen requests) are also America's small towns and rural areas. It's not behemoth tech capitals like San Francisco, New York, or Washington, DC at the top of the list, it's cities like Omaha, NE (pop: 408,958), Elk Grove, CA (pop: 153,015), and Plano, TX (pop: 273,611) that sit at the top.
 
SeeClickFix is but one of many innovations to happen at the local level. In Manor, TX, the city took to putting QR Codes on pieces of civic infrastructure giving citizens access to unparalleled details on what's available from their government.
 
They're new, cheap ways to give people information about city tours or to better explain the town's construction projects. Manor set up a R&D lab that's creating amazing things. They're putting NFC RFID tags throughout the city, they're developing an augmented reality program, and Android mobile apps for the city. All this for a city with a population of 1,204. You read that right -- one thousand two hundred and four people.
 
Apps for Communities holds promise not only because these small towns often don't have access to technology in the same way that our tech-dense cities do, but also because they hold the most potential for adoption. It's there they need it the most, and can afford to take the most risk adopting and deploying the app themselves. Combine that with the fact that the app is open source, and the Apps for Communities winners may find themselves impacting the lives of millions.
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