Case Study – Stimuluswatch.org
1. How complex software does not need to cost millions (your intranet, your website etc.)
2. How quickly projects can now get off the ground (weeks not months)
3. How people outside your company can contribute their talent to get things done (Open beats Closed)
For those of you less inclined to read, here is a screencast that covers most of these details
A bit of history. Stimuluswatch began with this blog request from Jerry Brito,
Who can help me take the database on the Conference of Mayors site and turn each project into a wiki-page or other mechanism where local citizens can comment on whether the project is actually needed or whether it’s a boondoggle? How can we create an app that will let citizens separate the wheat from the pork and then sort for Congress and the new administration the project in descending order or relevancy?
I got in touch with two of the developers who responded to Brito’s blog request, Peter Snyder and Kevin Dwyer, to get details on their collaboration. The final site included all of the functionality (and more) that Brito had asked for was launched after only two weeks of work conducted over seven weeks including the holidays (for more technical detail on how they achieved this, see my Radar post here).
None of these people knew each other previously. They were brought together by blog post into a common effort. They used open source tools in rapid development. They plugged in off the shelf social technologies (Disqus as a tool to enable forums and commenting on projects, Tumblr as a blog and publishing platform for updates from Jerry and Mediawiki as a tool to allow citizens to collaborate together on building a common definition around each project – much like wikipedia allows users to collaborate on defining the meaning of a concept). They achieved this in a matter of weeks.
Results so far? One week after launch Stimuluswatch had 20,000 unique visitors. These visitors were actively voting, discussing and even cleaning up mistakes in the mayor’s original data. Total cost of the effort? $40 per month for hosting.
I am not sure that Stimuluswatch is the right set of tools for citizen engagement in public works. That remains to be seen. It does demonstrate the power of the Internet to radically reduce the time it takes to create powerful software and lower the barriers to group collaboration. If you are a business being faced with a million dollar software price tag from a big consulting firm you should think long and hard about whether or not your money is being wisely spent.