Guadalajara’s Agave Lab just launched Avisora, a mobile app it hopes will help Mexican residents improve their communities.
Many Mexican residents brush off small inconveniences liked piles of garbage, cracked sidewalks and dangerous bus drivers as part of life in the country.
Layers of bureaucracy, a slow process and a lack of knowledge about where and how to report such problems often result in even bigger issues like robberies and corruption going unreported. But with a new generation taking to social media to voice their frustrations, attitudes appear to be shifting and Guadalajara tech companies are taking notice.
Agave Lab, a tech incubator and mobile app developer , just announced the launch of Avisora, an app and website that lets city residents—and people across Mexico, for that matter—report concerns they have about their communities.
Diego Méndez, who helped lead the app development team, noted that Mexicans often vent their frustrations on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. But in those situations the only people that learn about the problems are their friends and people with whom they’re already connected.
Avisora, an app for iPhones available through Apple’s app store, provides a tool for citizens to make note of what is going on in their surroundings and what they want to have fixed.
“In the end the objective is to push forward our cities, our environments,” Méndez said.
The aim also is to bring attention to problems as they begin to cluster, so they can be addressed before they begin to degrade citizens’ quality of life. Small problems, when left to fester, grow into bigger problems, said Agave Lab founder Andy Kieffer.
After downloading the Avisora app and registering, complaints that have already been made pop up on a map of your immediate surroundings. If you’re interested in learning about what’s going on in another area of town, you can swipe over to that zone and see if anything has been reported there.
It’s also possible to check complaints, which can include comments and photos and can be made anonymously, in a feed that shows the most recent reports first. Once an issue has been noted, it can be up-voted or “witnessed” by others who see it. That could prove useful to city officials or civic organizations that are trying to find out which problems affect the most people.
A popular example is the pothole. They strike with a vengeance during the Guadalajara area’s rainy season. City workers could use Avisora to determine which of these—sometimes potentially car damaging—street craters are affecting the most people.
Public Sector Interest
Kieffer and Méndez said they approached government officials to gauge their interest in using the data from Avisora. While they expected a bit of pushback—after all, it is an app that lets citizens rail about public services—the public sector was quite receptive. Many officials said they’d be interested in the kinds of data they could get out of such a service.
Shortly after Kieffer and Méndez announced the launch of the app, Alejandro Juarez Aguilar, the CEO of Corazón de la Tierra Institute of Environmental Research, said he was interested in what kind of data would be collected.
Avisora is definitely a good way for people to get involved, but it’s still the early stages and a lot is going to depend on how many residents actually start using it, he said. Still, it’s important that Agave Lab isn’t tied directly to any government or corporate interests, he said.
“If they’re interested in moving in a participatory direction, there’s a lot of potential with this,” Juarez Aguilar said.
As for his organization, Juarez Aguilar said it could prove extremely useful for people who are interested in reporting environmental issues such as fires.
At the launch event, Kieffer stressed that it’s still not totally certain what the end results will turn out to be. The collected data could prove useful to human rights or environmental organizations, though only if enough users get involved to create a useful set of information.
An important point to remember, Méndez stressed, is that the app isn’t just for complaining. It’s about identifying problems so they can be solved — and ultimately transforming communities.
Dale Quinn is a freelance journalist based in Guadalajara, Mexico. He’s most recently written about technology, real estate and security issues faced by international companies. His work has appeared in The Financialist, an online magazine published by Credit Suisse, and in the Institutional Real Estate Inc.’s Americas letter. Before moving to Mexico, he worked as a business reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, where he covered the housing crisis in the wake of the financial meltdown.