Can the US learn something about transparent and efficient government from Mexico? Mexican entrepreneurs Oscar Salazar and Jorge Soto certainly hope so. Their company CitiVox
is at the forefront of the fast-developing movement to use statistical datasets collected by government and public information-gathering sources to make public administration more responsive, cost-effective, and honest.
CitiVox is an open-source platform to help decision-makers visualize data around issues like traffic, crime, public health, environment, and real estate development to drive better policies for government. Citizens can report problems using the Web, mobile applications, email, text messaging, Twitter, and more. The console functions like a key performance indicator (KPI) dashboard, graphing patterns over time so that trends, patterns, and anomalies requiring action are equally visible to government actors and concerned citizens. Additional underlying data comes from a variety of systems and sources that governments have recently starting making available to entrepreneurs and developers in the hopes of sparking just this sort of innovation.
In addition to the government-oriented business intelligence features, CitiVox also integrates with the map-based front end of Ushahidi, a crowdsourced solution for crisis response that has played important and life-saving roles in real-time emergencies ranging from the Haitian earthquake to the Gulf oil spill to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
CitiVox and Ushahidi share a post-Millennial approach to government: one based on data, transparency, and bottom-up, rather than top-down management, and the use of open platforms to create shared facilities for both public and private stakeholders. Cash-strapped public agencies, always eager to do more with less, are embracing these kinds of models -- and the consequent blurring of the borders between public, private, and non-governmental entities.
But CitiVox is up to more than just building a better, cheaper mousetrap. CEO Oscar Salazar sees the company’s product and the data-based government movement as a lever to upend the old, failed policies of the past.
“In Mexico, public officials govern through PR,” says Salazar. “They waste huge amounts of money on bad projects and corruption, then spend millions more managing their image so they can get reelected.”
Salazar says his company humbly offers a better model: “Serve the public better and your image will take care of itself.” CitiVox provides tools that let governments see where the problems are so they can prioritize and plan better. They can then share that information with constituents to demystify the process and build greater trust in the system.
“It’s okay to tell someone, ‘We hear your problem, but we can’t do anything right now until we get the money.’ People understand that. They’d rather hear that than be ignored or lied to,” says Salazar.
CitiVox has gotten enough traction that the company has opened a New York office, and uptake in the United States has reportedly been brisk. Salazar says San Francisco and New York are definitely high on the agenda because of the high penetration of technology and the political will to adopt this kind of tool.
CitiVox just closed an investment round and is busy signing up new clients at all levels of government. By the end of the year, it hopes to double its workforce to 20 employees across offices in Mexico and the US.
— Rob Salkowitz is the author of Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology, and Entrepreneurship Are Changing the World From the Bottom Up.