Crowdsourcing in City Office of Boston

Started from March 2015, the City of Boston initiated a crowdsourcing city project to redesign the City Hall Plaza in North End Boston. Although with a perfect proximity to most notable attractions in downtown, the current plaza is an eyesore with 20,000 square feet of vacant brick which causes a huge waste of real-estate and public space. Using the hashtag #CityHallPlaza, the mayor’s office started crowdsourcing ideas for this project.[1]

Boston has been actively seeking urban solutions through general public by various type of crowdsourcing focusing on various issues such as snow plowing and city operation. The Martin J. Walsh established Office of New Urban Mechanics, which is a civic innovation group under the mayor’s administration to form partnerships with residents, educators and entrepreneurs for identifying city problem and seeking potential solutions. [2] In December 2014, the city announced an app called Permit Finder co-designed by public, technology firms and city employees to let citizens track their permit applications by phone or tablet. The idea originated from a two-day hackathon hosted by the city to design a better licensing tracking system and code a user-friendly interface.[3] The app officially launched on December last year, it allows people to monitor the processing of their permit applications in real-time. To achieve successful crowdsourcing projects, the city developed a well-structured work flow to provide explanation of the their goal, accurately define the issues, set up a clear development guideline, clarify the submission requirement and their intended outcome. [4]

The crowdsourcing practice of the City of Boston shows the potential of crowdsourcing and the strategies to achieve the goal successfully. Eventually crowdsourcing isn’t necessarily to build whatever the public wants, but is to make good use of the public diversity and collective intelligence to enhance city operation and practice.

[1] Sam Sturgis, Why Crowdsourcing City Projects Actually Works for Boston, Atlantic CITYLAB, May 13, 2015 Retrieved from

[2] Steve Annear, Boston looking for ideas on snow disposal, Boston Globe, February 10, 2015. Retrieved from

[3] Mohana Ravindranath, City of Boston signs up for Reston app developer’s Permit Finder, The Washington Post, December 14, 2014 Retrieved from

[4] Sam Sturgis, Should Cities Give Hackathons Another Look to Improve Digital Infrastructure? Atlantic CITYLAB, December 18, 2014 Retrieved from

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