While the City of Manor is not large in terms of population it has demonstrated that it is large in terms of its ability to innovate rapidly. Manor also has a great personality, as can been seen by this picture with a QR-Code key to the city to the left. I love it when people and organizations are able to have fun and accomplish great things in the process.
Dustin Haisler, Assistant City Manager and CIO of Manor, Texas, was good enough to take some time to answer a few of my questions. Thanks Dustin.
Q. The City of Manor is generally considered a good early example of what government 2.0 can be, what motivated the town to broadly embrace these initiatives?
A. The City of Manor’s motivation to embrace Gov 2.0 principles came out of signficant budgetary constraints that were beginning to impact our ability to serve our constituents. Manor does not have a significant tax base, yet we do have 6,500 people we must provide service to on a daily basis. As a city, we knew we could not afford to buy the industry solutions – and financing technology just did not make sense, so we went another direction and began to innovate.
Q. How were the concepts of government 2.0 first introduced at the local government level and how were the ideas sold?
A. Whenever you introduce new concepts you must be sure to break the down to a level that is easier to understand for individuals that are not tech-savvy. Further, we demonstrated to Council how these technologies could be used as a way to build transparency and increase efficiency, thus adding significant value to our agency. Also, since Manor had little to start with, it was much easier to quickly deploy and streamline such drastic technologies to fill the void.
A few examples of how we broke down some of the technologies can be seen at:
Q. How could these initiatives have been better positioned to local government officials to bring everyone on board faster?
A. We always have room to learn, and one example we discovered is that you want to have everyone that a project would effect, on-board from the beginning. Not only does this speed up adoption, but it allows the individuals that will be using the technology on a daily basis to make helpful recommendations prior to launching.
Q. Citizens, like the customers of a business, benefit from marketing and PR. What have you found successful in marketing the results to citizens in town?
A. What we have found by marketing the results of our initiatives is that citizens become more engaged and excited about participating in future innovations. When citizens see that we implemented an idea on Manor Labs, they see that we are not just taking ideas that could make our agency better – we are implementing them.
Q. Online bill payments for utilities and court expenses are available. What savings have been achieved by making on-line bill payments possible?
A. The amazing thing is that 5 years ago we did not even own a server, and today people can pay their utility bills and court citations online. The savings has been enormous, but cannot completely be attributed to online payments. Currently over 50% of our population is registered to pay their utility bill online and we recently introduced recurring auto-draft as another payment option. Online payments have also significantly reduced our utility department’s call volume adding to additional savings in staff time and resources.
Q. I am very impressed with SeeClickFix, the benefits of crowdsourcing are clear in terms of transparency, however, it is hard to judge the return on investment. What costs, and what return on this cost, have you seen with leveraging SeeClickFix?
A. SeeClickFix only costs us about $100.00 per month, yet provides our citizens with enormous value. Citizens can report issues from our website, their home phone, the Internet or one of handful of dedicated phone applications. SeeClickFix has become our primary work order system, streamlining the standard work order process and saving us significant time and money.
Q. What data sets, if any, have you opened up? Are you leveraging open 311 “standards” or rolling your own “standard”?
A. Manor has taken a slightly different approach to open data sets. We don’t just want to publish hundreds of raw data sets and call ourselves “transparent.” Raw data is important; but we also want to focus on making the information easy to understand and visualize for our citizens. We are currently working on a portal that will launch within the next few months in addition to our raw data sets.
Q. Look out 12 months. What capabilities do you want to be offering that you are not offering yet?
A. We hope that within 12 months we will be offering more assistance to agencies that need help getting their Gov 2.0 projects off the ground. We have partnered with the OpenCourseware Consortium of Universities to establish and reward citizen/employee Gov 2.0 education. As a part of this venture, Manor will publish 10 open and free courses by 2012 centered around governance and Gov 2.0.
Q. Any great stories from citizens in the town demonstrating successes that would not have been possible without the social and collaborative strategies and technologies you are using now?
A. Our use of SeeClickFix actually came out of an idea on Manor Labs. A citizen asked if we could generate an RSS feed for city work orders, etc. and we began to research ways to make it happen, eventually leading us to SeeClickFix. It’s been amazing to see what’s possible when you embrace Web 2.0 tools to engage citizens and let them participate in making their community a better place to live.