09/12/2012 by Cheryl Getuiza
Local California governments using free tech to connect with citizens
Shrinking budgets are something municipalities throughout California are getting used to. With less money, many local elected leaders are finding it hard to continue on with the same level of service as their citizens are used to.
So when a free service pops up that allows local public leaders to enhance communication with residents while engaging and involving them, it’s obvious cities would instantly jump on board.
Such is the case in the city of Davis.
“We’ve had budget and staffing reductions and we’re still trying to maintain the same level of efficiency and communication with our citizens. Citizens of Davis, want technology, and they have a higher expectation to access information. They want all of these electronic choicesand they come at different prices," said Stacy Winton, community partnership coordinator.
"Nextdoor is a no cost alternative for the city and a no cost tool for the residents,” she said.
Nextdoor is a free private social network for your neighborhood. Think of it as a Facebook for your neighborhood. There’s a news section and profiles for each member. The whole purpose behind the site is to talk about civic issues, crime and safety, and anything pertaining to that specific neighborhood.
Here’s how it works: Once you are on Nextdoor’s site, type in your address. If a neighborhood is created, you will be sent directly to that site. If not, you will be asked to create one. Once created, you can invite neighbors. It’s just that simple.
In one month, more than 21 neighborhoods, about 740 households, in Davis have started using the service. It’s already proven to be a big success already.
“I posted something the other day about the closure of a major county road that connects our city and to the city north of us. It’s going to be closed for 20 days. Within minutes of posting, I got three responses from people thanking me for giving them that information,” said Winton.
Based in the Bay Area, Nextdoor has been around since October 2011. Thirty eight California cities are participating with a total of 603 neighborhood websites.
“Because our sites are kept private and because we verify people’s addresses when they join our site, the local officials can be confident that when they post information, they’re actually communicating with people in their city,” said Kelsey Grady, Nextdoor’s senior communications manager.
“Once you get started, you can use the site for all sorts of utility needs. It’s not a social network, people are posting comments because they need information or want to share information. They’re using the site for crime and safety alerts,” Grady continued.
Cities aren’t the only entities seeing the benefit as police departments and fire departments have signed on as well.
“Cities understand the importance of having connected neighbors and engaged citizens and this is just another great free tool that is helping cities,” said Grady.
“Governments can and should use technology to make sure that people understand how programs are working and how government can do better,” Jim Mayer, California Forward’s executive director said. “Technology not only changes what is possible but increases the public’s expectations. They want to use technology to do business with government. They want to use technology to know what government is doing. And they want to use technology to tell public officials what they think.”