Open government: mobile mashup tech helps citizens reach officials

Mobile technology and applications that "mash up" public data will help to close the communication gap between government and the general public, according to a prominent research organization.

Mobile technology and applications that "mash up" public data will help to close the communication gap between government and the general public, according to a prominent research organization.

Fraunhofer says its scientists are working on the development of ways to facilitate rapid contact with government institutions and local authorities.

Take a pothole, for instance. What is the best way to report road damage? Currently, the barrier to do so -- find the right government phone number, wait as a machine takes you through options, leave a message for no one in particular -- is too high to make it worthwhile for all but the most considerate citizens.

For most people, the pothole remains forgotten until it causes an auto accident.

Fraunhofer says the latest "mashup" technology makes it easier to be an engaged citizen. The German research organization is, through the "Government Mashups" project at its Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS in Berlin, developing applications that allow you to report damage with GPS coordinates via mobile phone.

The system allows officials to see an overview of what's been reported and indicates whether the issue has been reported by someone else, according to the organization.

Fraunhofer says it got the idea from the U.K. website FixMyStreet -- a similar service exists in Boston in the form of a mobile app called "StreetBump" -- but it's looking at other ways to use and combine (thus, "mash up") existing public data to create services that solve problems better than existing ones.

On its radar:

  • Complaints management.
  • A geographical breakdown of public funding.
  • The association of restaurant reviews to the results of food hygiene inspections.
  • The visualization of capacity utilization at different airports to coordinate rescue services during a disaster.

Mashups aren't new, of course -- here in the U.S., OpenSecrets has long made data available about the inner workings (and finance) of different levels of government, and the Huffington Post's FundRace reveals campaign donations by regular Americans, as well as where elected politicians send federal money.

(It's not just politics, either: EveryBlock aggregates crime data for your neighborhood, as well as food hygiene inspections, restaurant reviews and local news.)

The difference here is that instead of waiting for a third-party watchdog to host the service, governments can offer it themselves as part of their mission (and legal requirement) to inform their constituents.

The idea: the data's already public, so why not make it more easily available and legible?

The good news is that once the data is digital -- and most of it already is -- mashups are relatively cheap to produce.

For Fraunhofer, it's about finding a way to meet the German government's mission to pursue networked and transparent administration through open government practices.

For citizens, it's a way to be heard.

And for researchers, it's a goldmine of statistical data to better understand the world around us.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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