Some people really dig their town, and Manor, TX is trying to tap into this passion through its crowdscouring site Manor Labs.  The site has many social media features from sites like Digg.  It seems fitting that its CIO Dustin Haisler, who is 23, spearheads this effort; perhaps this is what you get when you give a millennial authority.  He is doing something bold.  Check out the May 2010 Government Technology profile of his efforts titled "City 2.0."

Like Digg, Manor Labs enables people to vote up or down each idea, and the more popular an idea is, the more likely that the town will take action on it if it is reasonable and feasible to do so.  Participants are also given "Innobucks" that they earn by contributing to the site.  They can cash them in at the site’s store for privileges like the opportunity to serve as a honorary mayor for the day (complete with lunch and dinner with the mayor and city manager), a ride with the police chief in his car for an entire shift, and — my favorite — the opportunity for the town to officially name a week after the person through proclamation. It is important to give participants incentives — even if it is an ego boost like getting a week named after you, which comes at very little cost to the town.  Further, I wonder how many boys between between the ages of 3 and 10 years old who are begging their parents for a ride in a police car…  Very clever.

There’s little need to touch upon peddling and purchasing influence since the spirit of the effort is to encourage improving the town for everyone. ;)  Another advantage to this type of crowdsourcing is that it is done in a venue that promotes transparency.

As I have noted before, there are participation inequality issues.  Not everyone has the ability (whether access or competency) nor the desire to participate in such an effort. What happens when the digitally savvy and excited over represent themselves?  That was the case when the Utah State Legislature passed a school voucher bill back in 2007; many pundits attributed some of the success to a discussion about the bill on the Politicopia wiki set up specifically discuss political issues in Utah.  After the bill’s passage, the bill was killed by a voter referendum.  Thus, even though people get excited about an idea online, it does not mean that most of the other affected people agree with the direction of the discussion.

However, it is important not to throw out the baby with the bath water.  Organizations that use social media to gather opinions and feedback from their constituents must acknowledge that their entire constituency likely does not use one channel of communication and participation.  Thus, they must take such feedback and participation in context and solicit feedback through other means to involve a more diverse group of stakeholders.  If Manor, TX does this, it likely will avoid what happened to the Utah State Legislature.