Cashing in Citizen Points

What I have noticed over many years of working in local government is that residents who call with concerns or problems will at some point announce how many years they have lived in that particular city. It can be anywhere from 1 to 90+ years. But no matter the amount of time, the declaration is emphatically stated and then followed by a slight pause. It is as if they are expecting me to jump in and say “congratulations, your years of residency have earned you X citizen points, and these can be used to (fill in whatever action would address or fix their problem).”

So far, I haven’t really heard of any city that gives out citizen points, at least not officially. Some might argue political clout is a type of citizen point system. but if so, this is not an officially sanctioned government program. And not everyone tries the “do you know who I am” statement. While on the other hand, a large majority of people do comment on the years they have lived in a community or somehow otherwise contributed to their neighborhood.
But most of us in local government have been trained to treat everyone equally regardless of the race, age, etc. And this training extends to other factors such as years of residency, hours of volunteer work, number of family members, household income, number of sick family members, etc – we just don’t take these into account to determine level or quality of service or even the leverage to bend rules. (Although occasionally some factors can allow some residents to access specific services not available to others.) However, I am starting to believe based on the frequency people interject these distinguishing factors into the discussion that they do expect that all this earns them something. And some who have obviously felt they have accumulated many “points” become very upset and agitated when these “points” are not taken into consideration by government staff. Some even begin repeating it as if the distinction was not clearly understand the first time.
I don’t believe citizens who fit this profile realize they are doing this, which makes me think they truly have an expectation that they have somehow have built up a cache of credit that can be cashed in. In the end, I wonder if this is a common behavior by citizens living all over the U.S., is it a common behavior in other countries, and should government implement a system where points could be earned for various activities and then cashed in for services?

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Would be interesting if you got citizen points. For example, lots of universities use “points” to give out football season tickets. You get points if you go to other sporting events that are less popular and other events at university – therefore you get pushed up the line on football.

Would be cool if you got points for various civic activities – volunteering, community service, voting, etc that you could redeem

Peter Sperry

The concept of “seniority” has become deeply ingrained in the human psyche for everything from how much we should be paid to how we should recieve government services. And, there is actually something to be said for the idea that individuals who have demonstrated a greater level of committment to an organization or community as demonstrated by length or service, residency, vollunteer time, extended family etc may rightfully expect a correspondingly greater quid pro quo. Back in the days when communities relied more heavily on citizen participation to provide common services rather than paid government employees, it made sense to ensure that individuals who consistently showed up to harvest crops, hunt game, put out fires, build barns etc recieved priority over those who had not yet domenstrated such commitment. May not work today, but the concept is not entirely without merit.

Carlos V. Roman

Hi Pam, I believe a company hired by the City of Hollywood, Florida issues points to residents for recyclable items. You can also check out this website for information on Waste Management and what they are doing.

Here is another website to review:

I am considering a points system myself for CitizenRequest whereas vendors such as Sony, Apple, Microsoft and others provide large discounts or goods to redeem for actively participating in citizen engagement activities to improve the operational efficiencies of all levels of government.

Also, I think if you have points similar to AMEX membership rewards or airline reward points you would definitely want to cash those babies in for something worthwhile.



Bethany Blakey

Pam – You brought laughter to my Friday. Thank you. While I am now with the federal government, I used to work in local government and was reminded of just how many times I heard a complaint or opinion that started with that ever popular phrase. Conversely, relative newcomers to a city or neighborhood seemed to preface their statements with the discalimer that they ‘have only been here for xx years.” like somehow their opinion mattered less and that they weer apologizing for having the audicty to express an opinion at all. So odd.

Last I heard, seniority in residency was not an authorized entitlement program.

Perhaps the real issue is that we still haven’t found enough ways to respect and engage citizens in meaningful ways. A point system seems like an additional layer of bureacracy for very little benefit. (And potentially some legal risk.) But ‘points’ for taking advantage of opportunities for citizen engagement, as suggested by fellow posters, seems like a more validating way to recognize contributions and participation in their government. THAT is a good thing.

Pam Broviak

I really appreciate your great comments. I agree with you Steve – a point system is a cool idea to think about and fits into our culture. And I like the tie to seniority, Peter. The concept seems so ingrained in everyone since we apply this idea of “points” to most other aspects of our life. So I guess it makes sense that people expect it to work that way with government.

And your comment, Bethany, about how people do almost apologize for “only” living somewhere for a short amount of time is right on! I just moved last year and find myself doing that very same thing! Your idea to award points for participation could help significantly with citizen involvement in government.

The links you posted are great Carlos! Thanks for sharing them – good examples. I just keep thinking we have reward systems in most aspects of our lives from childhood to adulthood so it must be what people have come to expect.

So the question for government becomes is this a path we should be taking and if so, what would earn rewards, for what could they be redeemed, and how in the heck would we all administer it! And who wants to volunteer to try it out first! ­čÖé

(but worried at this point government workers would be disqualified from participating since it would probably be seen as a conflict of interest)

Christopher Whitaker

At my office people always tell me, “I’ve been paying into unemployment for all these years! You should….” – in which I stop them there, because they havn’t been paying into unemployment. Their employer has.

The other line I get is, but I’ve been here 5 times! Or, I’ve been waiting here 5 hours (when I know they haven’t)

Pam Broviak

Chris – seems like there is a lot of misunderstanding of exactly how govt agencies are funded.

As for verifying visits, you could always set up a badge system with Foursquare/Gowalla for check-ins at the unemployment office. But I’m not sure most people probably would try for that badge/pin!

Henry Brown

Going to take somewhat of contranian viewpoint, and I know that there are exceptions to every situation, and it is VERY dangerous to make generalities, especially when dealing with customer(s) stakeholders

My biases/thought process are based on the fact that I have spent a significant portion of my work life providing customer support.

If the stakeholder receives positive feedback when they are requesting help/assistance/information/???? the odds decrease of any conflict…

If the explanation why the services cannot be provided to the stakeholder included a reference to any “perceived points earned” the likelihood for conflict can/should be dramatically reduced….

Pam Broviak

You are correct Henry – if I can give a positive response to a citizen or agree to do what they want then we have no issues. But if they are requesting something the city cannot do such as paving their private drive, they sometimes get very upset.

At this point, I have been hesitant to discuss this point perception idea with residents. Not sure how they would react and what they would think about it. Particularly because I think they might not even be aware they are giving this impression.

Tamara Lamb-Ghenee

I previously worked for the IRS. A colleague of mine had formerly worked in delinquent accounts and used a classic line in response to the “I pay your salary” comment we government workers often hear. When a delinquent taxpayer gave her the “I pay your salary” line, she responded, “No, you don’t. You haven’t paid your taxes.” Not the best customer service, I admit, but a good response nonetheless.

Cheryl Wahlheim

@Bethany…”Perhaps the real issue is that we still haven’t found enough ways to respect and engage citizens in meaningful ways”. I live in Boulder, CO, a fairly interesting and generally liberal college town. Very opinionated citizens, however, I just read in the paper Sunday that the City Council is starting to look at “rewarding” citizens if they come to City Council meetings and participate. Generally the City Council meetings are occupied by rather “radical” people like the gentleman who protested a vote from the City Council by stripping down to his boxers, or the lady who realized nudity is not illegal in Boulder and comes to meetings in her thong and pasties! So the City Council is going to pay us “normal” people to come! Hilarious!

Pam Broviak

Seems like we all hear the “I pay your salary” comment. There was one resident in my last community who was very belligerent and who contacted us so much just to complain in general. He always ended each rant with the “I pay your salary” quote. So one day I finally sat down and calculated how much he paid of my salary – I think it was something like $0.001 each year. I don’t think people realize the actual amount of our salary they pay is so very minor compared to everything else their taxes pay for.