Thursday, April 5, 2012 - By Kevin Donohue - No comments

Cognitive Surplus and The Responsible Citizens

People who are interested in the way that SeeClickFix enables citizens to interact with their government simply and intuitively will probably enjoy Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus.

The premise of the book is that the internet is enabling individuals to participate in and contribute to collaborative projects that are having profound and positive effects on society.  One of the most well known examples of this phenomenon is is Wikipedia.  We at SeeClickFix were especially interested in the story Shirky tells of "The Responsible Citizens,” in Lahore, Pakistan.  

The Responsible Citizens were a group of Pakistani teens who used facebook to recruit their friends to pick up garbage at a local market that was notoriously messy.  Shirky writes, “Once the three had enough recruits to join them, they showed up on the streets on Sundays, gathering trash from a public market in Anarkali.  Local citizens and merchants at first merely observed, but as the Responsible Citizens kept returning, the locals began to join them.  This new labor, in turn, helped the Citizens expand to other markets in town.”  

The experience of the Responsible Citizens reflects the civic momentum that we observe as more and more areas start to make use of SeeClickFix.  Initially, there are a few early adopters who are especially interested in social media or technology.  Then, average citizens who just want the government to fix the street light on their block start to use it.  As the energy behind SeeClickFix builds in a community, this often leads to early conversations with local governments or media partners who are curious about how they can use our tools to engage with citizens.  

Moreover, with SeeClickFix, community members don’t actually have to personally witness the their neighbors working to improve their community to catch the spirit, as they did in the case of the Responsible Citizens.  Any resident of Washington, DC, or Raleigh, NC, or Oakland, CA can just look at the SeeClickFix map of their city to know about the efforts currently underway to improve the public space in their towns.  This helps to build the type of community enthusiasm that the Responsible Citizens were able to build in Lahore everywhere that people use SeeClickFix. This civic momentum is growing in the United States, but it is not limited to this country.  In fact, there was an issue reported on SeeClickFix not far from Lahore, Pakistan just a few months ago.  I wonder if the teenagers Shirky writes about had something to do with this?

Cognitive Surplus quotes from the Responsible Citizens manifesto: “We wish to nurture in everyone a community spirit.”  This is a complicated, important undertaking, and we’re proud to share in this work with them.

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