Chapter 7

Manage Communities to Facilitate Great Outcomes

We may be moving to a world of networks well led versus organizations well managed.

—Jim Collins

The city of Boston fixes about 19,000 potholes a year. Part of the cost involved in doing so is not just repairing the potholes, but figuring out where they are. When the city first began addressing the challenge, they thought they had a good idea for how to deal with the problem efficiently. Their solution was to ask the good citizens of Boston to help them. So, like other cities, they built a website and mobile application to allow people to report pothole locations.

But getting people to report potholes was still pretty tedious and, as we have seen, the harder it is to participate, the lower participation rates will be. So, under the umbrella of their “New Urban Mechanics” initiative,1 the city created a smartphone application that allowed citizens to help the city create work orders for problems without requiring a phone call or an email to city engineers—what they called volunteering without the sweat equity. The app used a driver’s phone’s accelerometer—a motion detector—to sense when their car hit a bump, based on the car’s acceleration. The phone’s GPS sensor could then be used to accurately note the location and transmit the data to the city.

The city of Boston worked with outside partners to help develop the application—a traditional contract relationship with experts at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Santa ...

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