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Spring 2012 Edition

Civic Engagement Apps Fall into Seven Categories

This article as a PDF.

The FCC Speed Test measures the quality and speed of a consumer broadband connection.

The FCC Speed Test, an iPhone app that citizens download, measures the quality and speed of a consumer broadband connection and sends that information to the Federal Communications Commission.

Public Information

Maps are being used with greater frequency to communicate complex information that would not be quickly grasped in another format. These apps are effective at addressing transparency concerns, provide a channel for feedback, and communicate both where and why government money is being spent., mapping the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus spending, is a good example of this type of app.

Public Reporting

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tapped into the power of crowdsourced information through the FCC Speed Test, an iPhone app that measures the quality and speed of a consumer's broadband connection. During the first six months it was available from the App Store, 1.2 million people downloaded the app and reported back information that helped the agency plan infrastructure expansion and determine policy. The captured data is visualized as a mapped surface that can be explored.

Solicited Comments

Apps don't have to be forever. When the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, Nevada, wanted citizen comment on the Reno Sparks Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, it worked with Esri partner CitySourced to develop an app that would let residents identify the locations for needed improvements, such as a crosswalk or a bike lane, simply by taking a photo of the location with a smartphone and writing comments in a form. These comments were captured and displayed on a web map. The app went up in summer 2010 and was taken down in early 2011.

Unsolicited Comments

Governments can learn about public opinion on issues and the effects of events through apps that gather constituents' posts on social media sites such as Twitter and Flickr. Social media maps on events such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill aggregated and shared comments, photos, and videos that greatly enhanced the information available on conditions.

Citizen as Sensor

The Crime Tips app, from Esri partners The Omega Group and CitySourced, gives police many more eyes on the street. The iPhone/iPod/iPad app lets the user learn which crimes are happening nearby as well as anonymously report crime tips that will be forwarded to authorities.


The Lifesaving App for the Android and iPhone, developed for the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District by the nonprofit PulsePoint Foundation, crowdsources Good Samaritans. In instances of cardiac arrest, time is vital. The Lifesaving App lets smartphone users volunteer to be notified if someone nearby needs CPR. When a 911 call is received, the nearest CPR volunteer, who is in the best position to respond in timely fashion, receives information on the incident.

Citizen as Scientist

Individuals can contribute to collective knowledge with these apps. The free Mojave Desert Tortoise app lets users take a photo, find out more about this endangered species, and note location and other information about an individual tortoise.

See also "Improving Citizen Engagement."

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