What are politician’s decisions about your neighborhood? What does usually happen in my street and what could be done better? In Frankfurt, Germany, there is now a website called Frankfurt-Gestalten.de (Create Frankfurt), which makes local political decision more transparent and offers a new space for citizen to participate.

Frankfurt-Gestalten.de is a new project I have been working on for the last few months. The concept is to combine the following dimensions, which hopefully lead to a vibrant engagement:

  • Connecting to local information service, compromising local political decision of the district committee and offer the information in three new ways: 1) Geo-reference data, so issues can be tracked easily, right in your neighborhood or street. 2) Thousands of documents are tagged with key words, so they can be found quicker. 3) Latest decisions and/or discussions can be tracked in a map.
  • An email service is offered to citizens to get the latest updates or changes on their neighborhood, so they are aware of issues, such as when a new parking house is planned.
  • The district committee discussion is extended to the Internet. Citizens can comment on decisions and discuss further, for example, the issue of a speeding camera.
  • Citizens are welcome to bring in their own ideas about what is needed to be changed and find neighbours with similar interests.

The idea is to offer citizens helpful information services and this way motivate them to connect locally, to discuss and brainstorm on how to change their neighborhood. Already, after two weeks, I have learnt a lot of lessons. As usual online communities often develops in a direction you have not anticipated. It is incredible to get a lot of feedback right away and people taking responsibility. Makes me enthusiastic to explore further potential for collaboration.

The project was inspired by these great initiatives: theyworkforyou.com and fixmystreet.com. Thanks to Tom Steinberg and Rob Mckinnon from theyworkforyou.co.nz for there support. The website received already some nice publicity and we hope it will make German public authorities think about the potential for open data. Frontrunners are the USA and UK with Data.gov and Data.gov.uk. In the UK the city of London has started with an open data initiative too.

Luckily, the German scene is not passive: Abgeordnetenwatch (Member of Parliament Watch), participatory budgets for local communities or the API Germany (Deutschland API). The Open Data Network, where I am member of, does some great work to push the agenda for open government. One result is a Hacks4Democracy, a hackday on open data.

What fascinates me about the Frankfurt-gestalten.de project is that it has a lot of potential and can develop in many directions:

  • The data can be further explored or more data sources added to present local politics from different angles (e.g. interests) by using maps and other visualization methods.
  • Extend the initiative section and create a general channel for local neighborhood exchange of ideas with different local stakeholders for social change.
  • Developing further applications for transparency and citizen engagement, for example through mobile phones.

Lastly, it makes fun to realize a project with a small budget thanks to open source projects such as Drupal and OpenStreetMap.