If you live in San Francisco, you probably spend a lot of time complaining about the lackluster public transportation. I’m no exception — so today, I was really excited to see a new government website called ImproveSF, where residents can submit and vote on suggestions about how to make Muni better, faster, and more reliable.
CEO Nick Bowden says that he and his co-founder Nathan Preheim both come from an urban planning background. The idea came from their experiences holding public meetings that no one would attend. The Web seemed like an obvious way to solve that problem, but when they explored existing services for crowdsourcing ideas, but Bowden says none had the “nuance” that was needed.
“Most of those products are idea-oriented — they solicit ideas,” Bowden says. “But in a government or city process, ideas are like the first element of decision-making.”
In other words, it’s not just about submitting and voting on ideas, but also channeling those ideas into specific strategies that are affordable on a government budget. So they created MindMixer to manage that process, keeping citizens involved every step of the way.
MindMixer now claims to work with more than 125 government organizations, including the City of Los Angeles, the National Park Service, and yes, the City of San Francisco. In San Francisco, the Muni survey is just the beginning — the city plans to post a new challenge every month asking for new ideas and offering rewards to participants.
The company is starting to expand beyond the initial model, Bowden adds, by serving some schools and enterprise companies. Moving forward, he wants to add tools that allow citizens to become more involved in making the plans a reality, for example by crowdfunding a project or volunteering.