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Competition seeking tech ideas to improve public services could use some help of its own

By Hamish McKenzie , written on November 6, 2013

From The News Desk

Last month, online engagement platform MindMixer and Code For America ran a competition “Ideation Nation,” seeking ideas from the American public for how to use technology to improve their communities. Good. After all, we can all agree it's a smart idea for governments to become more innovative, right?

A panel of judges is in the process of reviewing the ideas and on Monday will announce 25 finalists. Those ideas will then go back to the Ideation Nation community for two weeks of feedback.

The team or individual behind the winning idea will get a free MindMixer site for their community, mentorship towards developing the idea, and $5,000. The remaining 24 ideas will remain publicly available, in case civic hackers want to put them into action.

But are the ideas any good? Um. Well. Take a look at the following submissions, as selected by MindMixer.

A food delivery service for the homeless based on an app that knows when people’s food is about to expire

A leftover food geospatial delivery app that pinpoints which residences have food in their fridge that is on the verge of expiring, and delivers the food to homeless shelters in the area.

PandoDaily’s take: Nice in theory, but it expects a lot of lazy people. Who’s going to remember to open an app every time they see an apple on the edge?

Public works app

An app for the public to report, through geo-location data and photos, public areas that need the attention of various government agencies. Think: potholes, downed power lines, vandalism, and the likes.

PandoDaily’s take: This service exists. It’s called 311, and there are multiple apps for it.

Court-mandated tech help for grassroots organizations

If someone with tech skills gets community service, they should be obliged to spend a certain number of hours contributing to cash-strapped grassroots organizations that need help with things such as Web design.

PandoDaily’s take: Depends on a steady stream of misbehaving techies. Potential supply problem. Also, this is a problem to be addressed by the courts, not technology.

Harness skyscrapers for alternative energy

Put wind turbines on the tallest buildings or solar panels on the sunniest buildings and use that energy to partially power that building.

PandoDaily’s take: Already done the world over, especially in China, where whole cities have given over their rooftops to solar installations. No need to limit it to just tall buildings.

Solve the youth unemployment crisis through digital literacy

Curb the US youth unemployment rate by encouraging and mentoring today’s youth to become technology entrepreneurs, teaching them how to code, staging conferences, and sponsoring training sessions for the community.

PandoDaily’s take: Hundreds of organizations are doing just that. Also, it depends on people actually wanting to learn how to code. Not everyone does.

Summary

We gotta tell it to you straight, MindMixer: The initiative is admirable, and the country needs more people thinking about how tech can be used in the service of the public good. But. These ideas don’t exactly inspire wonder. If they’re the best you’ve got, perhaps you’ve got to think about upping the potential prize purse for next year.

[Photo by comedy_nose]