Well, today’s project idea was to post about the use of bug trackers for the management of city problems, but as it should turn out, I’m behind the curve on this one, so I’ll just explain the concept, and post some links to people that have live implementations or have already blogged about this. When I first researched this idea about six months ago, I didn’t find anything, but it seems that steam is building behind this idea.
Essentially, the idea is this: Cities have problems that citizens know about such as potholes, busted lampposts, gang activity, etc. They want to report these things to the city, but unfortunately reporting the problems by the phone or navigating the city websites is usually an awful, time-consuming, and unrewarding experience. It goes like this: First you get bumped from one department to another, eventually finding somebody who seems like they care. You tell them about the problem and feel satisfied that you’ve done your part, but you don’t know if it’s really in their system, or when it’s going to get fixed or anything. You hang up the phone, and the problem is still a part of your daily life. You know if you call again, you won’t be able to get an update, and you resign yourself to simply hoping that the problem will eventually be resolved. The next time you notice something that’s in need of fixing, you’re less likely to try to help. As this goes on, eventually the people that once cared no longer do, and getting residents of a city engaged in the problems in their community becomes increasingly difficult.
In the software world, there is a similar phenomenon, except instead of infrastructure and safety problems, the problems are errors in the software that need to be fixed – bugs. The solution to getting these bugs triaged and managed is to use what’s known as a bug tracker. These systems allow the programmers behind the software to respond to problems that people find, and to triage them appropriately. In addition, they allow other people to vote on bugs, and help solve them. They allow careful prioritization of the bugs, and they allow visualizations of the bugs to be created such as the speed that they are fixed by department, the oldest bug in the system, etc.
If such as system were used for citizens to track problems they find in their city, it would have all kinds of benefits, and indeed a few such systems have been created. The most popular that I have found is called SeeClickFix, and looking at the page for Berkeley, it seems like it is a system that is at least used by Berkeley residents. Another popular one is http://www.fixmystreet.com/. Of course, for the system to be truly effective, it would have to be endorsed by the city itself, and used by its employees as well, which is something I have yet to find an example of.
The question now is what will it take to implement it correctly, and what system will be the one that gains usage. I fully expect to see more cities using this type of technology in the next few years.
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