Civic Apps Competition Handbook: A Guide to Planning, Organizing, and Troubleshooting

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Since June , the app has registered 32, complaints sent by 21, users and more than 10, problems were solved. In , the project won the Civic Innovation Prize and was awarded 5, euros to finance the development of a mobile application. In April , the mobile app was introduced to the public. Since the code of both the web and mobile apps is open-source, it was quickly adapted for another 22 Russian cities.

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The name of the application was changed to Krasiviy Mir Beautiful World , extending the problem-solving algorithm from St. Petersburg to the whole country, and, metaphorically, to the whole world. Results In the analysis of the four cases I aim to disclose important similarities among them: the four apps are crowdsourced and aim to provide an algorithm applicable to the majority of individual cases, translating individual negative experiences into a public problem by standardizing the experience within a certain legal and programming code.

Analysing the genesis of these apps leads us to a better understanding of the establishment and institutionalization of this new form of civic participation and also of the innovative effects of these apps.

with more than 175 years’ experience in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

From Experience to Code: Developing Problem Solving Algorithms Civic applications operate as complex algorithms combining both legal and programming code. However, these algorithms must not be taken for granted. As my interviews have shown, they result from personal experience of a problem and experimentation with various human and non-human agents. Lawyers, activists and developers worked together, tinkering with laws, mashing them up, experimenting offline with paper letters and petitions, trying to find out which combination of actions would produce the desired result i.

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Analyzing the narratives that developers provide on the genesis of these apps in my interviews, I detect a similar dynamic: starting with a personal problem and translating this immediate experience into a potentially universal strategy that can be digitalized and transformed into an application. The problem has its own career and trajectory, transforming together with the problem owner Chateauraynaud, Dmitri Levenets, the creator of RosZKH says the following about the origins of the application: I was graduating from the faculty of law, Moscow State University, and I had a problem in my yard.

Several neighbors had installed barriers on the parking space which was normally free and public. I wanted to do something about this. First of all, I went to see the person responsible for ZKH in my district, but he sent me back home, as happens to all citizens in this country in all ZKH offices. I was tired of public services doing nothing, and I wanted, using any legal means, to understand what they are supposed to do and how to make them do it.

So I found the specific institution responsible for my problem, the Inspectorate. I wrote to them and it worked. I shared my experience with friends and relatives and then created the project, where I have put the texts of typical letters to be sent to the Inspectorate, with a list of addresses.

In this quote, several issues are worth noticing: first of all, Dmitri's initial addressee was the local service ZKH, immediately responsible for his problem. In fact, it is the officials and workers from this service that must intervene in order to remove the illegal reserved parking slots. But the initial contact with ZKH was entirely unsuccessful and Dmitri changed the addressee of his complaint: instead of communicating his problem directly to the local services, he decided to outdo them and act via a higher supervisory authority, the Housing Inspectorate.

In this context, solving a particular problem — illegal parking slots, a leaking roof, a pothole — is just part of the mission. The app's other function is to put pressure on officials and improve the accountability of public services. For the founder of Zalivaet, the initial idea of an application is also linked to a problem that he experienced, indeed a problem more immediate than parking. It is clear from my interview with Fedor, the app's creator, that he analyzed his own experience step-by-step and improved his application before arriving at an algorithm that could work.

It all started with a leak in my room. So I was writing these complaints. First, I approached the chair of the housing committee … I invited her to see my room. I became really angry when my flat was completely flooded. It was in January. But no one actually came. In March, the snow started melting, I searched through the internet, there was no website, no web service to help people like me.

So I decided to make my web application.

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I used a very simple blog driver, life-street, you can register and write, and comment. I posted my story online, and in several days there were already stories. As in the case of Dmitri, Fedor first went through official channels - with no success. He developed his application as a means of attracting media attention that helped motivate other citizens to join his initiative. It is thanks to the crowdsourcing activity on his platform that he could, with more than 3, cases in one year, find help from Maxim Reznik an opposition deputy of the St. Petersburg city council. I started sending them my appeals directly.

This became the basis of the mechanism that we now use in Krasiviy Peterburg. We are sending everything to the very top — to the Mayor of the city — and then they send it to the local administration. Sending appeals to the top level of public administration rather than to those immediately responsible for a particular kind of problem has become the basic algorithm in all the four cases I have studied.

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In fact, there was neither a technical nor a political avenue for a direct transmission of requests from users to public services. The technical reason for this is the absence of an application programming interface API that could link together mobile clients, the web application and the administration's back office and the lack of fully automated appeal-sending machines. API is not only a technical, but also a political tool.

The moderator of RosZKH complains about this: All governmental organizations and public services have electronic waiting rooms elektronnye priemnye. But the problem is that not all of them have APIs, and we cannot plug our app to them. That would be much easier with an API, sending directly to these waiting rooms, for many reasons, for example, the official platform assigns every complaint a tracking number. But for now it is impossible. I worked in administrative structures and I understand their logic.

They do think that an API is a useless thing. Interview with Dmitri Taralov In the absence of API, the chain of actions is prolonged: a user makes an application act, the application produces a text that makes supervisory institutions pressurize lower levels of administration that, finally, act upon the problem. This algorithm uses the hierarchy of Russian administrations against them: within the context of distrust towards traditional means of communication, civic applications become, as Pierre Rosanvallon would say, instruments of counter-democracy, tools of surveillance, controlling authorities with their own institutional means Rosanvallon, Though, I argue, civic applications, as ICT tools, deeply transform this practice and the very experience of public problems.

In the next section I will show how coding a digital interface for complaint submission produces specific ways of recording and communicating the problematic experience. Their efficiency arises from translating the legal code — a combination of laws, technical norms and official standards GOST 3 — into a programming code and, finally, into a code of actions, or into an algorithm that a user must follow in order to correctly prepare and transfer his complaint.

The law structures the choices of app interfaces and algorithms. The legal code empowers the programming code and is at the same time empowered by it. Civic applications make use of existing legal mechanisms and standards to legitimize and strengthen an individual complaint. When incorporated into an interface, it becomes easier to multiply and repeat the effect of these legal algorithms, automatically extending their action to many similar cases.

Civic Apps Competition Handbook

First of all, we can observe this during work on the menu of the application with different categories of problems. So, anything that is not in these norms is a fault and we have the right to report it because we pay for it every month. So we used legal texts to identify expressions for the app. Actors thus see the translation of ordinary experience into official terms as a necessary operation that leads to a successful dialogue between app users and civil servants.

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However, none of the civic apps is technically capable of automatically detecting a problem, and it is up to human agents to decide whether this or that event must be reported with an app. This leads to debates among users and teams of developers on how to distinguish a fault from the norm. Thus, during my observations of the already mentioned photowalks, on several occasions I saw users debating a specific case and deciding whether the case at hand is a real fault e. I remember observing testers of the Krasiviy Peterburg mobile app standing at an unfenced decaying lawn with a big Jeep parked on it.

They were deciding how to classify this fault — as a problem with green space, or missing fencing, or illegal parking. The emotional aspect of complaints is also something that the apps tend to control, either by recommendations to users or by technical means. The RosZKH app tries to control emotions by technical means, it allows only characters to describe a problem.

Some problems can be described in characters [Twitter standard], is a lot.