Help your citizens help themselves

29 April 2013 | David Burrows, Managing Director of Government Industry, Europe, Middle East & Africa

Windows 8 is only a few months old, but already a rich ecosystem of apps has sprouted up, including some great tools created by government agencies to deliver services and information to citizens quickly and efficiently. Hundreds of apps are available for download from the Windows 8 apps for Government & Politics site, and the list is growing rapidly.

We just released the UK Public Sector Windows 8 Apps e-book, which explores several of these in detail. And my colleague Parul Bhandari looked at her favorites for Windows Phone in Dear Government: Do you have an app for that?

I especially appreciate the win/win benefits many of these apps generate. For citizens who need access to government resources, these easy-to-use tools put tremendous amounts of information right at their fingertips. Material that formerly was difficult to locate is now easy to retrieve. At the same time, the apps help make agencies more open, accessible, and able to perform key functions with less effort and lower overhead.

Here are a few new apps I’m excited about. Maybe they’ll help inspire your organization with ideas for self-service apps for your residents. The modest, upfront development investment can really pay off in increased citizen satisfaction and reduced staffing and other costs.

The majority of these apps are freeware, downloadable and useable at no cost. And with the associated QR code on each app's page, it’s literally a snap to download them to a smartphone.

Here in the U.K., for example, I’ve discovered a couple of apps that aggregate useful public data that might otherwise be devilishly tricky for, well, the public to find and use. Bobby is an application that reveals crime statistics within a one-mile radius of any point on an interactive map, with regularly updated data provided by police forces in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Users can search by address or postal code, or, if location awareness is turned on, the app will automatically zoom in to a user’s current location. Bobby discloses the kind of knowledge that would be invaluable for, say, a family considering a move to a new city or neighborhood, to news organizations, and to anyone else interested in public safety.

In similar fashion, Food Safety UK lets you peek into the kitchens of restaurants, takeaways, and food shops to make sure they meet standards set by the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency—before you order the seafood special. Like Bobby, the app features searchable, interactive maps and can show establishments in your immediate area when you turn on location awareness.

Love Clean Streets, a U.K.-based app now going global, harnesses the power of crowdsourcing and encourages citizen involvement by making it easy for people to report graffiti, potholes, illegal dumping, and other problems directly to local authorities. You can map the location and submit a picture and description of the problem, and then track the issue through to resolution. It’s a great example of a simple citizen-services platform that addresses practical, if mundane, chores and helps municipalities fulfill essential duties more cost-effectively.

For visitors and locals alike, getting around the sprawling metropolis of London is now a lot easier, thanks to London Tube Map and London Bus Checker, both of which leverage real-time data supplied by Transport for London. Among the cool features in London Tube Map are live departure boards for all stations and an efficient route planner, while London Bus Checker includes street-level maps for all of London’s 700 bus routes and an accurate live countdown display of bus arrivals at any of the city’s 20,000 stops.

Primarily deployed in U.S. jurisdictions, CitySourced is another real-time civic-engagement platform along the lines of Love Clean Streets. It too enables citizens to quickly report eyesores and safety hazards they spot around their town. The CitySourced Console is the mobile management app that authorities can use to make sense of all the incoming data, with functions for prioritizing, delegating, and monitoring the reports while keeping the public informed of progress. It’s another smart solution that streamlines the response workflows while increasing transparency.

Check out our Windows 8 Apps Facebook page for more ideas on how other agencies are leveraging Windows 8 apps to interact with citizens. I look forward to seeing more to come, including those from your agency.

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David Burrows
Managing Director of Government Industry, Europe, Middle East & Africa

About the Author

David Burrows | Managing Director of Government Industry, Europe, Middle East & Africa

David leads engagement with government customers across EMEA on innovative business strategies using ICT to improve their effectiveness to make a real impact in their communities, regions, and countries.