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Friday, March 5, 2010

How Cincinnati could benefit from greater use of new media

A recent article written by Christian Madera in Next American City discussed what role new media plays in local government, and more particularly, in small local governments. Madera's article examined what a couple of small local governments are doing around the nation to better engage their citizens while doing it on a tight budget.

While Cincinnati does not fit the bill of a "small local government," the city does have the opportunity to enhance residents' experience with local government with little to no extra costs. Over this past winter, the City of Cincinnati started operating a Twitter account (@CincinnatiSnow) where anyone interested could follow along and stay informed on the latest snow emergency levels, procedures, status of snow clearing efforts and more. This joins a small group of other City departments/agencies that have joined the Twitter fold to further share their information with the public at-large, but what else could be done?

The City currently has a phone number that people can call to report overflowing City trash cans among other things. This system could be enhanced to allow people to tweet, text or email these reports to the City which would then be handled by an analyst - presumably the same person now answering the phone and handling the calls - so that the City could dispatch crews accordingly. If Cincinnati can not afford the upfront capital expenditure associated with solar-powered trash cans that automatically notify crews when they approach a certain fill level, then this could be the next best option.

Public meetings are currently broadcast on CitiCable, Cincinnati's local access television station, but why not turn the audio recordings already done into podcasts or broadcast them on UStream? Those interested in Planning Commission or City Council meetings, for example, could subscribe to those podcasts and listen to the meetings at their convenience. Broadcasting the meetings on UStream would create another means in which the public could stay connected with City Hall while adding no additional costs to the City's budget.

The City already has the ability to record the audio and video for all of its public meetings, so all it would take is the initial effort and maintenance of operating the new media outlets. Young talent already possesses the ability to do this and could be managed on a department by department basis where existing staff takes on the minor work increase, or a singular employee could manage the entire system from the dissemination of information to its collection from those engaged in the process.

The beauty of new media is that it allows for instant exchange of information and ideas. Effectively taking advantage of this at the local government level could improve services, make public information more available, and allow for an interaction between citizen and government that is not currently seen.

Cincinnati City Hall photograph by Thadd Fiala.


Quimbob said...

holy serendipity!
The city does post full council meetings, but not committee meetings. Archives are here:
Videos are in Windows Media. You can watch & listen to these at the library & a lot of their computer stuff is donated by M$oft so their proprietary encoding should work. Mac & Linux can play WMV with a little work. (I'd use Ogg)
I would prefer the city handle this rather than a 3rd party, tho. Easy to use tools are available from M$oft, Apple & Adobe.
I just posted part of a recent meeting with an update on the I75 planning progress. Seemed like this is something a few people in town might have an interest in. Why the city would not post it in some manner is weird.

Randy Simes said...

Yeah the City does post those videos up to their website (albeit slowly, most recent one as of today is from two weeks ago.

The minutes and meeting agendas are usually shared in PDF form for most meetings too, but often times those documents are pretty weak and don't do much to share the information that was exchanged at the meeting.

Travis Estell said...

Imaging a City of Cincinnati iPhone app where users could snap a photo of a pothole, malfunctioning traffic signal, or defaced road sign and submit it to the city. The city could then prioritize the fixing of these problems based on how many reports they receive. The user could then get a nice pop-up alert when the city marks the report as fixed.

Randy Simes said...


I love the idea of getting an alert once the City takes care of your complaint. Not only would you get the satisfaction of alerting the City, but you would also get the satisfaction knowing when it is repaired. Great idea.

Unknown said...

I like your thinking Travis. Rather than improving current methods, lets think outside the box.

The beautiful notion is that many creative folks, both professional and as a hobby, would love to dabble in these tech methods.

Rather than seeking vendors for a task, the city should just hold an open forum for ideas.

The average joe would love to tell potential employers or clients that he/she created something for the city to revolutionize operations.

PS- I was hoping this article was going to touch on Cincy's creative market and how the town itself could benefit.

Unknown said...

The city actually does have it set up so that you can email AND that you get an alert when your complaint has been taken care of. It can be done online at, then click CSR, then click REQUEST SERVICE.

Now texting would make it even better :).

Randy Simes said...

^Not exactly cutting edge technology there Robert, but yes, the City does utilize technology to a certain degree now that allows people to get engaged. But those means aren't really taking advantage of new media opportunities like what Travis suggested above, or the others suggested in this article.

For those interested, the City also offers Open Records Requests where you can request specific information that is of public record and have it supplied to you.

Amyl said...

While there hasn't been much local use, I've read of people having good responses with It looks like someone from the City of Cincinnati is watching the alert areas within the city limits, so the next time I see something the city needs to fix, I'm going to try out. There are all sorts of exciting resources that have been developed, it's just a matter of local implementation.

Amyl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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