So this is interesting. The City of Calgary has launched a Business Plan & Budget app for free from iTunes.
It’s a smart move as it creates an easy, “one button” option for citizens to participate in and learn about the city’s financial planning process. You can read (a tiny bit) more at the City of Calgary’s blog.
Looking more closely at the app, it doesn’t offer a huge amount but don’t dismiss it too quickly. Consolidating all the information into a single place and making it available to people on the go is a great starting point. Secondly, it is worth remembering that this is just a starting point – there is obviously lots to be learned about how to engage citizens online – especially using mobile technology. If this is done right, Calgary will be learning these lessons first, which means their 2nd and 3rd generation versions of the app and the process will be more sophisticated while others are left catching up (think of Apple and the iPad).
So while the app is fairly light on features today… I can imagine a future where it becomes significantly more engaging and comprehensive, using open data on the data and city services to show maps of where and how money is spent, as well as post reminders for in person meet ups, tours of facilities, and dial in townhall meetings. The best way to get to these more advanced features is to experiment with getting the lighter features right today. The challenge for Calgary on this front is that it seems to have no plans for sharing much data with the public (that I’ve heard of), it’s open data portal has few offerings and its design is sorely lacking. Ultimately, if you want to consult citizens on planning and the budget it might be nice to go beyond surveys and share more raw data and information with them, it’s a piece of the puzzle I think will be essential. This is something no city seems to be tackling with any gusto and, along with crime data, is emerging as a serious litmus test of a city’s intention to be transparent.
The possibilities that Calgary’s consultation app presents are exciting – and again it is early days – so it will be interesting if developers in Calgary and elsewhere can begin to figuring out how to easily extend and enhance this type of approach. Moreover, it’s nice to see a city venturing out and experimenting with this technology, I hope other cities will not just watch, but start experiments of their own, it’s the best way to learn.