Crowdsourcing Data for the Public Good
Connecting the public sector with communities through technology.
Cities must consider how to become resilient to the strains and stresses of the 21st century. It is not enough to simply manage these problems. A city must effectively face these challenges head-on and learn new methods along the way. In particular, the public sector can leverage emergent technologies to meet these problems and connect with the communities they serve.
With the rise of smartphones worldwide, cities have an opportunity to engage with communities at every level in policymaking and legislative action. Community input joined with technology in the municipal process can create a collective intelligence in city governance. Enabling new perspectives in the city governance process and added support from neighborhood-led initiatives. Technology can help facilitate this collaboration and create better outcomes.
Detroit is a city marred by urban blight, with upwards of 80,000 vacant buildings or those in need of dire repair. The neighborhoods with blighted homes face increased crime, theft, and vandalism, causing residents to raise concerns to the city — demanding action. However, the solution was not merely sending crews to demolish the buildings. The city did not have documentation of buildings experiencing blight, let alone the capital fund required to demolish each building. The city needed to be smart on spending its limited resources and target neighborhoods with the highest density of blight. Glenda Price, who co-chairs the blight task force in Detroit, said in an interview with PBS.
“You can’t do one house on the East Side, one house in Brightmoor, one house someplace else and feel as though you have made a difference. You do three houses on one block, and, by golly, you have made a difference.” 
In Detroit, a group of college graduates developed a mobile app called “Blexting” (short for blight texting), which allowed community members to take pictures and report homes experiencing blight. The mobile app enabled the city to look across the entire city and develop a spatial intuition of where to send crews. The app gave the city insight and empowered residents to help fight urban blight in their neighborhoods. The task force began in 2013 by collecting data to gain a complete picture of Detroit’s real estate parcels. The data accommodated their elimination strategy to support neighborhoods facing blight in residential structures, small commercial, and vacant lots. In this case study, technology created new communication lines between the city’s task force and community members to contextualize and inform the problem. Detroit has now integrated the blighted real estate properties dataset into its open data portal for public use. Which turned a simple crowdsource app into a long-term data point for Detroit’s city to track blight.
Accessible Crowdsourcing Data
Detroit saw an opportunity to connect with community members to gain insight into the urban blight problem. Technology played a crucial role but was dependent on community involvement and outreach by city officials. Data literacy is crucial for a crowdsourced data collection of city initiatives. A non-profit group called Data-Driven Detroit hosts classes for the community to learn how to use the mobile app and understand the public-facing online dashboard created from the crowdsourced data collection.
Countless cities create open data portals or fancy online dashboards, but often are only for show and lack any meaningful public engagement. However, when combined with community classes, outreach, and results from these technology-based city initiatives. Community members can see real results in their neighborhoods. New pathways for communication. are formed between the public sector and the community they serve.
 Blight Violations. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://data.detroitmi.gov/datasets/blight-violations
 NewsHour, P. (2014, September 29). Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/detroit-streamlined-fight-blight
 Noveck, B. S. (2018). Crowdlaw: Collective Intelligence and Lawmaking. Analyse & Kritik, 40(2). doi:https://doi.org/10.1515/auk-2018-0020
 Time to End Blight. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.timetoendblight.com/