From Crowd-Sourcing Potholes to Community Policing: Applying Interoperability Theory to Analyze the Expansion of 'Open311'

20 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2013

See all articles by Manik Suri

Manik Suri

Harvard Law School; New York University (NYU) - Governance Lab

Date Written: August 20, 2013


The tragic Boston Marathon bombing and hair-raising manhunt that ensued was a sobering event. It also served as a reminder that emerging “civic technologies” – platforms and applications that enable citizens to connect and collaborate with each other and with government – are more important today than ever before. As commentators have noted, local police and federal agents utilized a range of technological platforms to tap the “wisdom of the crowd,” relying on thousands of private citizens to develop a “hive mind” that identified two suspects within a record period of time.

In the immediate wake of the devastating attack on April 15th, investigators had few leads. But within twenty-four hours, senior FBI officials, determined to seek “assistance from the public,” called on everyone with information to submit all media, tips, and leads related to the Boston Marathon attack. This unusual request for help yielded thousands of images and videos from local Bostonians, tourists, and private companies through technological channels ranging from telephone calls and emails to Flickr posts and Twitter messages. In mere hours, investigators were able to “crowd-source” a tremendous amount of data – including thousands of images from personal cameras, amateur videos from smart phones, and cell-tower information from private carriers. Combing through data from this massive network of “eyes and ears,” law enforcement officials were quickly able to generate images of two lead suspects – enabling a “modern manhunt” to commence immediately.

Technological innovations have transformed our commercial, political, and social realities. These advances include new approaches to how we generate knowledge, access information, and interact with one another, as well as new pathways for building social movements and catalyzing political change. While a significant body of academic research has focused on the role of technology in transforming electoral politics and social movements, less attention has been paid to how technological innovation can improve the process of governance itself.

A growing number of platforms and applications lie at this intersection of technology and governance, in what might be termed the “civic technology” sector. Broadly speaking, this sector involves the application of new information and communication technologies – ranging from robust social media platforms to state-of-the-art big data analysis systems – to address public policy problems. Civic technologies encompass enterprises that “bring web technologies directly to government, build services on top of government data for citizens, and change the way citizens ask, get, or need services from government.” These technologies have the potential to transform governance by promoting greater transparency in policy-making, increasing government efficiency, and enhancing citizens’ participation in public sector decision-making.

Suggested Citation

Suri, Manik, From Crowd-Sourcing Potholes to Community Policing: Applying Interoperability Theory to Analyze the Expansion of 'Open311' (August 20, 2013). Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2013-18, Available at SSRN: or

Manik Suri (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

New York University (NYU) - Governance Lab ( email )

NYU Wagner School of Public Service
295 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10012
United States

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