City Bug Report: Service Platform

Fig.1 Mobile version.
Fig.2 Desktop version.

In 2012 I participated in arranging the Media Architecture Biennale in Aarhus, Denmark. As part of the biennale, we wanted to develop a few media architecture installations to promote the festival and show-case perspectives related to smart city approaches. We develop a project centered around the idea that citizens should be able to inform the city (municipality) about issues as ``City Bugs''. The project consists of two components – a media facade installation and a bug reporting platform. The background was developed in collaboration with people from the citizen service department at the municipality of Aarhus and participants in a two-day workshop hosted by Smart Aarhus. I developed the initial idea and concept together with Martin Brynskov, and was technical lead on developing the service platform.

Urban bugs

The platform borrows the notion of 'bug' reporting from the world of software and aim to enrol citizens in Aarhus as a help in identifying, qualifying and discussing urban and municipal issues.

When encountering an urban `bug', citizens could report is using the online tool by selecting a category and provide a description and propose a solution. Once reported, the bug was available on the website and people could share it via social media. Each of the provided categories correspond to one of the responsible departments within the municipality, e.g. citizen service, waste management, culture and library services. The vision was that the reports could help management identify and prioritize issues, as well as provide more direct feedback to the citizens. Examples could be potholes, broken signs, missing translations, broken links etc.

Implementation

The platform was designed as a responsive website with a PHP and MySQL back-end. The mobile version (fig.1) focused on reporting issues in 3 easy steps -- category, description and proposed solution. The desktop version focused on presenting the bugs reported and describe the project (fig.2).

I included a small API that would allow external services to query for all the reported bugs and get the latest bug. The rational were that we wanted to connect the bug reporting platform to the media facade installation. Something we did not mangage to fully do before or while the installation was live.

Outcome

The platform ran for the duration of the Media Architecture Biennale November 15 - 17 2012, and until the board meeting in Smart Aarhus, December 3rd 2012. The service platform was promoted at a sign outside city hall,under the tag-line "Together we will make Aarhus..." to invite citizens to participate (fig.3).

Fig.3 Promotion Poster outside City Hall.

During the period, 23 bugs were reported with 9 being incomplete and appearing as if people was playing with the platform. Of the 14 remaining bugs, 12 proposed solutions. A few of the reported bugs did focus on concrete issues that fell within specific department responsibilities, like pavement markings for cyclists or increased congestions within the city, however, others targeted issues of more political matters, such as budget cuts and school closings (see fig.4).

Fig.4 Example bug: Discussing planned school closing and proposing a solution.

I find the case interesting as a small experiment in how to poke at municipal operations. Throughout the process, several concerns emerged within the city. Some were concerned that the reported issues would disrupt existing initiatives and planning and others were concerned on how the platform challenged the legal obligations of the municipality. Both extremely valid concerns. At the time, I was fascinated with and a proponent of this kind of technology-driven examples that might disrupt or even force municipalities to adopt a more agile and open approach to smart city initiatives. Today, my stance is that while such experiments are interesting and thought provoking, they should rely on a better understanding of the complexity involved in city management and operations, and have a solid anchoring point within the organisation (rather than coming from the outside).

Read more about City Bug Report on the project website or in the research publication.

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CC BY-NC Henrik Korsgaard 2018
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