We already know that positive rewards make us more likely to repeat an action. Just like laboratory rats, when something feels good, we do it again.
Our recent collaboration with a team of researchers at the World Bank goes to show that it’s no different when it comes to civic participation. The team analysed almost 400,000 anonymised FixMyStreet reports to prove the hypothesis that, if a user’s first report is fixed, he or she is more likely to go on and make more.
So, just as a biscuit may give us a sugary high that we’re keen to experience again and again, the knowledge of having done ‘local public good’ is enough of a hit to bring people back to make another FixMyStreet report. In fact, they are 54% more likely to do so.
A learning for local government
What can our councils learn from this research? That responding to a resident’s report may have more than the obvious, immediate effect.
By fixing a user’s issue, a council is increasing the probability that that citizen will become a regular reporter of issues, and possibly (although this wasn’t covered by the current research) a more engaged citizen all round.
In short, it’s a two-way street. Ignore a report, and you run the risk of alienating a user enough that they never bother to engage again. Fix it, and you’ve proved the value of making contact.
Image: Troy McCollough (CC)
I Use this site every other day.
But is this democratic? Doesn’t it mean that the streets get fixed first in those areas where people know about the fixmystreet service, have access to the internet to report it? This means he/she who shouts loudest gets the best service?
This research used FixMyStreet data, because it’s available, time-dated and can be easily analysed.
That doesn’t mean the findings only relate to FixMyStreet reports, though: I’d be pretty sure that anyone, reporting via any means (on the phone or in person) would be more likely to make a subsequent report if their first report had a positive effect.
It’s a sad fact of life that he/she who shouts the loudest has almost invariably got the best service.
Or alternatively that councils can only fix problems they know about.
You can not only fixmystreet but fix somebody else’s as well. So it doesn’t have to be limited. I tried it on a wobbly paving stone by a bus stop in Oxford St and it worked a treat. Next week the paving was stable.
What has got our local residents engaged (well some of them) is Streetlife. A sort of on-line “over the fence” where we exchange info, help each other, find out how and where to complain, swap things and ideas, recommend pubs and cafes, and generally become more of a friendly community.