25 Ideas To Improve Government - From Citizens - InformationWeek
Government // Leadership
11:10 AM

25 Ideas To Improve Government From Citizens

Finalists in an event by Code For America and MindMixer offer ideas on how technology could help local communities.

Imagine a more efficient government that allows police officers to accept mobile payments for traffic violations on the spot. Instant payment of fines for speeding and other offenses could reduce the delinquency rate for traffic penalties and make it easier to collect unpaid violations.

(Source: MindMixer.com)
(Source: MindMixer.com)

This is just one of the top 25 ideas selected as part of Ideation Nation, a five-week civic engagement project headed by the nonprofit group Code for America and the web-based platform MindMixer. During the open submission period, which ended Oct. 31, the project backers received 356 proposals on how technology could improve local governments and communities.

Ideation Nation's goals are to promote collaboration among citizens and governments and to give public leaders fresh insight from the public. The effort brought about a flurry of ideas.

The list of 25 finalists includes:

  • Software that allows people to sign up for yard waste collection and find the most efficient route for pickup
  • A zoning app that lets residents apply for permits and get other information related to zoning
  • On-demand lighting that adjusts itself based on the presence of pedestrians or vehicles to reduce energy consumption
  • A social networking platform for volunteers looking for opportunities posted by nonprofits and government agencies
  • Electricity monitoring devices that cities can rent out at public libraries and government offices -- for free or for a small monthly fee -- to help decrease overall energy consumption
  • An integrated discovery website for camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation
  • A website where balances remaining on gift cards can be pooled together and donated to charities

The best idea will be chosen based on community feedback, which is currently being accepted on the contest site. The winner will be awarded $5,000, a free MindMixer online engagement site (to involve communities virtually), and consultation sessions with experts from MindMixer and Code for America to develop and implement the idea in 2014.

[Read how "Code For America Made Me A Better IT Leader"]

Code for America has a long history of helping the government put technology to use. Abhi Nemani, the nonprofit's chief of staff, told us in an email that, by calling on the public, Ideation Nation aims to change feelings of frustration and indifference toward the government.

"What we are seeing in the 21st century is that institutions are most innovative when they are open to innovation from the outside," Nemani said. "It's this kind of 'open innovation' that Ideation Nation hopes to support for local governments across the country: citizens working hand-in-hand with their local officials to make their communities better."

Editor's Note: MindMixer and Code for America announced Dec. 4 that San Francisco’s Alyssa Ravasio was selected as this year's winner for her idea to create a national discovery website for outdoor recreation resources.  She is to awarded $5,000 from both companies along with mentorship and coaching to develop and implement her idea in 2014.


Moving email to the cloud has lowered IT costs and improved efficiency. Find out what federal agencies can learn from early adopters. Also in the The Great Email Migration issue of InformationWeek Government: Lessons from a successful government data site (free registration required).

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User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 9:45:35 AM
This is terrific. I love the pay-on-the-spot ticket idea, as long as it doeesn't turn police officers into merchants. And the website for pooling balances on gift cards for charities--very clever and worthwhile. 
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 10:07:09 AM
Re: Nice
Re: "I love the pay-on-the-spot ticket idea, as long as it doeesn't turn police officers into merchants."

Unfortunately, the only unbreakable law in the universe is the law of unexpected consequences.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 1:32:59 PM
Re: Nice
I didn't see an option for getting rid of everyone in Congress.
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 5:15:07 PM
Re: Nice
@Thomas ha, that would improve quite a lot of things in one shot. 

My favorite suggestion is
  • A social networking platform for volunteers looking for opportunities posted by nonprofits and government agencies

The way to pool gift certificates is a close second.
User Rank: Apprentice
11/19/2013 | 9:53:47 AM
Any of it
This is interesting stuff... And I like the idea of imroving goverment with software. Heaven knows that the goverment is rife with inefficiency. Applied appropriately, software can close that gap a little bit. My one concern with all of it is that there is a group of people who may not have access to the necessary technology. How do we address that?
User Rank: Strategist
11/19/2013 | 12:13:46 PM
Re: Any of it
It strikes me that many of these applications are informational in nature and relate to things that used to be discoverable through local newspapers -- which have sadly gone the way of the dodo for the most part. And even if you do use or have access to current technology, the virtual sources that have developed in their stead -- yelp, patch.com, etc. -- simply aren't yet filling the need for truly local, "physical" community news and information.
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 4:57:52 PM
Re: Any of it
Code for America has done a great job buidling bridges between innovators/entrepreneurs and local governments which otherwise wouldn't have the means to develop many of these ideas on their own.  But the question of how do we address the gap between the digital haves and have-nots is an important one that needs attention -- and some of Code for America's creative energy.

Alex Kane Rudansky
Alex Kane Rudansky,
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 11:11:46 AM
on-demand lighting
My only concern is with the on-demand lighting that adjusts based on vehicle or pedestrian presence. That system would have to work incredibly well and be maintained incredibly well, otherwise dangerous situations could arise. 

User Rank: Ninja
11/19/2013 | 11:23:01 AM
Gift Cards
Love the gift card idea. So many times I've thrown away a few £ after birthdays and Christmas. Be good to actualyl do something with them instead. 
User Rank: Strategist
11/19/2013 | 7:05:21 PM
Great post
Some great examples of what can be acheived quickly throigh citizen-centric innovation.
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