Does anyone still believe that government services can’t be designed to rely on volunteers? Apparently so. We continue to build whole systems so that we don’t have to rely on people (take the bus system for example, it doesn’t rely on constant customer input – indeed I think it actively discourages it).
So I was struck the other day when I stumbled into an unfortunate situation that reminded me of how much one of our most critical support system relies on ordinary citizens volunteering their time and resources to provide essential information.
Last Sunday night, through the review mirror, I witnessed a terrible car accident.
A block behind me, two cars hit head on at a 90 degree angle – with one car flipping end over end and landing on its roof in the middle of the intersection.
Although it was late in the evening there were at least 20-30 people on the surrounding streets… and within 5 seconds of the crash I could saw over the soft glow of over 15 cellphone LCD screens light up the night. Within 60 seconds, I could hear the ambulance sirens.
It was a terrible situation, but also an excellent example of how governments already rely on open system – even to deliver essential, life saving services. 911 services rely on unpaid, volunteer citizens to take the time and expend the (relatively low) resources to precisely guide emergency resources. It is an interesting counterpoint to government officials who design systems that pointedly avoid citizen feedback. More importantly, if we trust on volunteers to provide information to improve an essential service, why don’t we trust them to provide a constant stream of feedback on other government services?