Citizen reporting is a relatively new phenomenon of Internet-based interaction between governments and citizens. It is enabled by the digitalization of governmental information systems and Web 2.0 technologies (Nam 2012
). Such reporting applications allow citizens to efficiently share knowledge that is relevant to governmental services via a web-based or mobile platform by means of information and communications technology (ICT). They are predominantly used to report infrastructure issues at certain locations using geolocation technology (de Reuver et al. 2013
). Thus, in the context of smart cities, citizen reporting is of special interest because local governments require a multitude of data sources to enhance or expand their services in “smart” ways. Citizens who voluntarily provide information can in turn be particularly valuable sources of data since most public services are eventually geared to them and to creating public value (Bryson et al. 2014
). Therefore, it is no surprise that a number of scholars have started scrutinizing this phenomenon.
However, while many of the publications on citizen reporting focus on classifying and structuring the concept as such (e.g., Linders 2012
; Nam 2012
) or on how the respective applications should ideally be designed (e.g., de Reuver et al. 2013
; Lönn et al. 2016
), to date, little is known about what motivates citizens to voluntarily engage in citizen reporting activities. In particular, with a few exceptions such as the study by Wijnhoven et al. (2015
), there is a lack of empirical studies looking at what drives platform users to devote time and resources to support governments by means of their reporting. Wijnhoven et al. (2015
) empirically examined various motivational factors and demographic variables as correlates of individuals’ willingness to participate in citizen reporting to governments, transferring research insights from the free/libre open source software communities to the citizen reporting context. While they provide some interesting insights into motivational antecedents of citizen reporting, such as that fun and the opportunity to learn are relevant facets and that demographic factors do not appear to have any effects, the participants of the study did not actually participate in citizen reporting initiatives but only indicated their hypothetical willingness to do so. Thus, the validity of their findings in real-world settings which involve actual behavior remains somewhat questionable.
To our knowledge, no empirical studies that rely on actual use data, as opposed to merely users’ intention to use, have been published thus far. Actual use, however, is a central indicator of success in any information system (Legris et al. 2003
) and therefore the lack of citizen reporting studies with this focus presents a crucial gap in research. Our study is intended to fill this gap by examining actual participation in the FixMyStreet-based citizen reporting initiative “Zueri wie neu” (ZWN, translation: “Zurich as good as new”) in Switzerland, which enables citizens to report damages in and other issues with the city’s infrastructure. To this end, and expanding the findings by Wijnhoven et al. (2015
), we draw on motivation research in social psychology and public management and examine the question of whether it is self-concern or other-orientation that is a stronger driver of citizen reporting engagement. Self-concern may be understood as the tendency to base one’s behavior on the desire to protect and improve one’s self-interest, whereas other-orientation is geared towards the needs and interests of others, highlighting the importance to take care of the weak and poor (De Dreu and Nauta 2009
To test our two hypotheses (postulating that both self-concern and other-orientation are positively associated with citizen reporting engagement, although possibly to varying degrees), we relied on a sample of ZWN users (n = 650). Data was collected from two different sources: motivation was assessed in an online user survey, whereas citizen reporting engagement was measured by the number of reports that a user had filed on the platform. The analysis was carried out using negative binomial regression. Our findings suggest that both self-concern and other-orientation are significant drivers of citizen reporting engagement, although the effect of self-concern appears to be stronger in comparison.
As such, this study contributes to a better understanding of what motivates citizens to engage in citizen reporting platforms, which are a cornerstone application in many smart cities. It sheds light on the question of the relative importance of both intrinsic and prosocial motives (focused on other-orientation) and extrinsic motives (focused on self-concern) in citizen sourcing contexts, which has been subject of theoretical debate (Schmidthuber and Hilgers 2017
). Furthermore, this study’s findings may provide information for the design and advertisement of existing and future citizen reporting initiatives, helping public sector practitioners to maximize the number of platform contributors by motivating citizens appropriately. At the societal level, this may lead to more efficient and effective public services for citizens and consequently to an increase in public value (Bryson et al. 2014
) in the long run.
The remainder of this study is structured as follows: the following section contains a review of relevant literature on the motives behind citizen reporting engagement, focusing on the roles of self-concern or other-orientation. We then present in depth our hypotheses derived from theory before proceeding to an outline of the analytical methods we used. We continue with our data analysis and a presentation of the results. The final section presents the discussion and conclusions of our work.
3 Theory and Hypotheses
Citizens can be motivated to participate in citizen reporting either because they expect to benefit from their actions, for instance if the government settles an issue they previously reported because it personally annoyed them. In this case, citizens are mainly self-concerned. If, however, they report infrastructure issues because they want to help others, other-orientation is considered to be dominant.
In the literature on motivation in open source communities, the first concept is known as “own-use”. Raymond first introduced this idea by explaining how developers solve problems and contribute to open source projects because they are “scratching an itch” (Raymond 2001
). By fixing bugs and adding new features to the software, they benefit from their work themselves. Frequently, such an own-use motivation is the initial reason to start contributing to an open source project, but in the long run intrinsic motives such as fun and enjoyment become relevant (Shah 2006
In open source literature, the second concept, other-orientation, manifests itself either as altruism or kinship (Von Krogh et al. 2012
). Altruism is usually characterized as follows: “(a) it is an end in itself; it is not directed at gain, (b) is emitted voluntarily, and (c) does good” (Heider 1958 in Krebs 1970
, pp 259). Such altruistic behavior is caused by prosocial motives (Lindenberg 2001
), leading programmers to contribute to open source projects with the goal of helping others. This was empirically observed in various studies of open source communities (Hars and Ou 2001
; Hemetsberger 2002
; Wu et al. 2007
). The second form of other-orientation is kinship – belonging to a group. It was found in several studies on open source contributors who participated because they felt they were part of a group (Hemetsberger 2002
; Lakhani and Wolf 2003
; Zeitlyn 2003
A lively debate among psychology and organizational researchers has discussed whether self-concern and other-orientation are one single or two different constructs (Bolino and Grant 2016
). Advocates of the existence of only one construct have argued that self-concern and other-orientation are the extremes of a single continuum. The debate was resolved when De Dreu and Nauta (2009
) empirically demonstrated that self-concern and other-orientation are two different constructs that may, however, occur at the same time (see also Neumann 2017
). In the present paper, we adopt the notion that self-concern and other-orientation are two different constructs.
This is also in line with open source communities, where self-concern and other-orientation are among the main drivers behind contributing (Hars and Ou 2001
; Wu et al. 2007
; Oreg and Nov 2008
; Choi and Yi 2015
). This leads us to hypotheses H1 and H2:
Self-concern is positively associated with citizen reporting engagement.
Other-orientation is positively associated with citizen reporting engagement.
4 Case Selection
To investigate the hypotheses, we have drawn on data from the citizen reporting initiative ZWN in the Swiss city of Zurich. ZWN is a web-based service enabling citizens to report damages in and issues with the city infrastructure such as litter, graffiti, potholes, and broken street lights. In addition to the web-based application, citizens can also report their issue via a mobile app. Reports consist of a description of the issue and localization on the map. Photographs can be added to provide additional clarification. Within 1 day, the report will be validated and assigned to the responsible city department. Within 5 working days, the department will reply to the issue by posting a publicly visible response on the platform.
ZWN is a representative citizen reporting application for two reasons: first, ZWN is based on FixMyStreet, a widely used open source platform for citizen reporting. It has been developed continuously since 2007 by the UK non-profit organization mySociety. In the UK, over 1.3 million reports have since then been published by citizens on http://www.fixmystreet.com
. FixMyStreet is also used in several other countries such as Sweden, France, Australia, Malaysia, and India. Thus, it works in numerous languages and is accepted in different cultures. In addition, ZWN is not a new application, but a mature and stable platform which has been running in the city of Zurich since 2013 with over 12,000 issues reported by citizens. Moreover, the rate of reports is steadily increasing because the city government has decided to operate the platform as a regular city service.
The aim of this study was to examine to which degree self-concern and other-orientation are related to the number of reports filed by users of a citizen reporting platform. After having laid out the theoretical assumptions on the motivations behind citizen reporting, we empirically investigated two hypotheses based on a sample of users from the citizen reporting initiative ZWN in Switzerland. ZWN is a web-based service allowing citizens in Zurich to report damages in the city infrastructure such as litter, graffiti, potholes, and broken street lights.
Descriptive statistics show that male, middle-aged, well-educated and employed individuals are more active users of this particular citizen reporting initiative. The unequal distribution implies that the reports in citizen reporting do not proportionately represent all societal groups. This finding is of particular importance since co-production between citizens and governments is likely to be based increasingly on digital platforms (Lim et al. 2012
). The distribution of the socio-economic characteristics of the participants in our study differs from prior research by Wijnhoven et al. (2015
). This difference may be explained by the fact that in Wijnhoven et al. (2015
) individuals were asked whether they hypothetically would or would not participate, while our study relied on actual participants.
A subsequent regression analysis showed that self-concern and other-orientation are statistically significantly related to the number of reports of a participant. This is in line with previous research in open source and open content contexts. Interestingly, the interaction between self-concern and other-orientation was not found to be statistically significantly related to the number of reports per user (Table 6
). This suggests that the separate effects of these two types of motivation neither reinforce nor diminish one another.
In organizational research, it is often assumed that people with highly pronounced concern both for themselves and for others generate the most persistent contributions to others (Frimer et al. 2012
; Grant 2014
; Bolino and Grant 2016
). Grant (2014
) suggests that organizational performance benefits most from people with a high emphasis on both types of motivation at the same time. Therefore, it could be questioned whether our main dependent variable (number of reports per user) does in fact measure contribution to governmental performance or to public value (Bryson et al. 2014
): people with high emphasis on one of the two constructs may be too concerned either with their own (respectively with others) interests, causing them not to act in favor of the community other than by reporting the issue at hand.
It would be interesting to examine the reports of people motivated by self-concern and other-orientation in regard to their impact on governmental performance. Our research simply assumed the higher the number of contributions, the better for the government. However, while a high user reporting rate is necessary to keep the system running, not every report is necessarily helpful. Therefore, an examination of whether self-concerned or other-oriented people contribute more reports furthering governmental performance could also be useful. We believe that even the quality of a report does not sufficiently reflect its value for the government or the public (Newcomer 2007
Our findings lead to three main implications for managers in public administration. First, in order to increase the number of reports per participant, advertising should be focused on people with either a high emphasis on self-concern or on other-orientation. Second, attention should be paid to the influence of socio-economic characteristics on the level of participation and the number of reports per participant in citizen reporting. The ever-increasing digitalization of governments may lead to the exclusion of parts of the population, for instance those who use digital media less or not at all. Regarding citizen reporting initiatives such as ZWN, our findings identify women, older people, not currently employed and less educated people. Third, the willingness to participate does not necessarily correspond to actual participation. This is of particular importance when the launch of a new project is intended to be based on a survey of citizens concerning their willingness to participate.
In addition to the practical implications for public sector managers, this study holds a number of implications both for society and for theoretical debates on the motivations behind citizen sourcing engagement. As for the societal implications, it is often assumed that people do not contribute personal effort to a community if they expect multiple individuals to profit from the effort as well. This problem is called the collective action problem (Olson 1971
). The results of our study lead us to the assumption that citizen reporting can reduce the collective action problem for the infrastructure of cities to some degree. Moreover, if citizens can be motivated appropriately to participate in citizen reporting, this new form of collaboration between governments and citizens can be a valuable tool to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of public services, consequently leading to an increase in public value (Bryson et al. 2014
) – a concept that has received increasing attention in Information Systems research in recent years. Regarding the theoretical implications, our study contributes to the debate on whether intrinsic and prosocial motives (focused on other-orientation) or extrinsic motives (focused on self-concern) are the more important driver of citizen sourcing engagement (Schmidthuber and Hilgers 2017
). In line with the notion that individuals usually do not pursue just one single but several motives at the same time (Neumann 2016
), we were able to illustrate that both self-concern and other-orientation are important drivers of citizen reporting engagement, although self-concern is indeed a slightly stronger factor.
This study has several strengths and limitations. As for the strengths, first, basing our data collection strategy on two different sources, namely a user survey for the independent variables and actual use data for the dependent variable, allowed us to avoid common method bias (Podsakoff et al. 2003
), which often is an issue in social sciences. Second, our sample was relatively large (n = 650), improving the precision of our estimates. Third, our focus on actual use data allowed us to correlate the motivational constructs used in this study with actual behavior, as opposed to merely the intention to use the platform, which is not necessarily a robust predictor of actual use. Regarding the limitations, it should be noted that, first, this study relies on cross-sectional survey data which does not allow for definitive statements on the causality of the investigated variable relationships. Second, since our sample was drawn entirely from the application ZWN, the generalizability to other contexts such as other types of citizen sourcing applications, more rural instead of urban areas, or even other countries is questionable. Finally, the operationalization of the motivational constructs of other-orientation and self-concern is somewhat simplistic as it relies on just two items per construct, which could be improved in future studies.
We recommend that future research should, in addition, compare the motivations of users from platforms with different aims of citizen reporting (e.g., damaged infrastructure reporting versus crime reporting). Moreover, the socio-economic characteristics and motivational reasons for participation in various kinds of citizen sourcing other than reporting (consultation, ideation, crowdsourcing, and co-delivery) need to be examined. Another interesting line of inquiry would be to compare socio-economic characteristics and motivational reasons for an initiative similar to ZWN in a city in a developing country. Zurich is one of the most livable cities in the world and, therefore, problems may be less urgent than in cities with a lower quality of living. It would furthermore be worthwhile to investigate how the urgency of problems affects participation in citizen reporting. Finally, although, Schmidthuber et al. (2017
) did not find ease of use to be a significant driver of platform activity, it would be interesting to validate this finding with actual use data. We did not incorporate ease of use in this study because the focus of this paper was not on the user’s perception of the application, but on the citizens’ motives to participate.