Californian startup NextRequest has set out to help local authorities and public agencies in the United States to move to the 2.0 era by providing an online platform which streamlines the process of making documents available to the public.
NextRequest has set itself the challenge of modernising the process of making public documents available to citizens. Basically the young San Francisco startup is looking to simplify the sluggish and time-consuming procedures currently followed whenever a request for information comes in to a local authority department or public institution, involving staff having to look out the corresponding documents and then making them available to the requester. ‟Our platform provides three different services in one,” points out NextRequest co-founder and Chief Product Officer Reed Duecy-Gibbs, explaining: ‟Firstly, citizens can submit requests easily; secondly, local authority staff have an intuitive interface which helps them to receive and process these requests; and thirdly, once the documents have been found and sent to the requester, they are automatically published in online archives, so that in future other people needing the same documents can get fast access to them without having to make a special request.”
NextRequest provides an intuitive interface which enables citizens to post requests online
Saving public institutions time and money
Underlying the spirit of this service is the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. FOIA requires all federal agencies to supply their documents to any citizen who requests them. However, given the fact that public information systems are often still quite archaic, with archives available only in paper form, and that organisational procedures differ from one agency to another, it is often very difficult for citizens to find what they are looking for. Meanwhile the public institutions are bogged down in long tiresome processes that cost both time and money. A video published on the NextRequest site claims that it costs around $400 on average to deal with each single request. ‟Our solution enables governments to save precious time and considerably reduce the risk of leaving requests without any reply, which can leave an authority open to legal action that may cost it even more money,” argues Reed Duecy-Gibbs. NextRequest is targeting all US government agencies that are likely to have to respond to demands from the public: states and municipalities, plus also state universities, courts, schools, and similar bodies. At the moment the startup is focusing on local authorities, as things get much more complicated when you move up to federal level. Institutions using the NextRequest service pay an annual subscription for a user-friendly platform which can be tailored to their needs, with data stored in the Cloud. The city of Oakland (California) is currently using a prototype. Other pilot projects are being negotiated in Seattle, Sacramento and Tacoma.
The benefits: more user-friendly procedures and a huge reduction in paperwork through data storage in the Cloud
Putting the new technologies at the service of the State
Duecy-Gibbs believes that we are now witnessing a revolution in the way public authorities work: ‟The private sector has taken the new technologies on board, simplifying processes and increasing efficiency and profitability. Meanwhile the State, for a variety of reasons, has still not managed to adopt these technologies. But this is now changing, and investors are becoming aware of the fact and are ready to fund companies that are looking to supply first-rate services to governments and citizens,” he points out. Among these companies is North Carolina-based ArchiveSocial, which provides a turnkey solution to help organisations manage their archives of material arising from the social networks. This is very close to what NextRequest is doing so it seems quite logical that the two companies have decided to work together: ‟When someone makes a request on our platform relating to the social networks, it’s redirected to the ArchiveSocial service, which is best able to deal with it,” explains the NextRequest Chief Product Officer. There are also similar initiatives in France, a noteworthy example being Fluicity, which has set out to provide a streamlined two-way communication tool between citizens and their town halls.