Manor Labs: Research in mass participation civic engagement

Manor Labs was a study in how technology can engage citizens to more actively participate in identifying, prioritizing and solving local community problems.  The Stanford Persuasive Technology and Peace Innovation Labs partnered with the City of Manor, Texas, population 5325, in 2009, to explore the use of persuasive social and mobile technologies to increase constructive collaboration and participation between citizens and local government. Since inception, the City of Manor has received input from over 800 participants on their ideation platform, evaluated 80 ideas and implemented 5.  In addition, the City of Manor has become a recognized leader for municipal innovation in the United States.

The city of Manor (population 5,235) is located southeast of Austin, Texas.  

Municipal Budget: $9,236,356 (Overall City Budget) / $1,320,762 (Public Safety)

IT Budget: Under $100,000

Government Staff: 37 Full-time, 1 Part-time (how many in public safety?)

Demographics: income data?

Male 48.30%
Female 51.70%
18 years and over 69.60%
65 years and over 11.00%
Married Persons 50.20%
Single Persons 49.80%
Median Age 31.9
Average Family Size 3.54


White 55.10%
Black or African American 17.80%
American Indian and Alaska Native 2.00%
Asian 0.10%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander 0.60%
Other 26.50%
Hispanic or Latino (of any race) 48.80%

Economic Characteristics

City of Manor, Texas

Median Household Income $37,500
Per Capita Income $15,607
In Labor Force 67.00%
Families below poverty level 8.90%

Education Characteristics

City of Manor, Texas

School Enrollment
Elementary School Enrollment 202
High School Enrollment 93
College or Graduate School 30

Educational Attainment Population 25 years and older

City of Manor, Texas

High School Graduate 33.00%
Associates Degree 4.00%
Bachelor’s Degree 3.70%
Graduate or Professional Degree 2.00%

* Census Data

The Manor Labs project addressed the following issues:

    • Need to deliver city services that scale without increasing budget or government headcount
    • Need to marry the R&D division of Manor Labs with the City of Manor citizens.
    • How to bring disengaged citizens into the larger discussion for improving government services and infrastructure.
    • Creating a compelling case for the importance of social media tools and government
    • Creating connections across isolated and geographically dispersed organizations.
    • Utilize new emerging technologies to better serve residents.
    • Constrained city budget – less than $100,000  year annually for IT support.
    • Incubate future technologies for public sector use.
  • Create an ecosystem of partners to stimulate economic development.

Over the course of 18 months, the city of Manor was transformed into a testbed for municipal innovation.  Through creative partnerships, Manor and Stanford implemented a series of technology interventions to foster new civic participation.  Some of these interventions included:

Open Innovation Platform


    • Established a common open innovation platform that has not only engaged citizens in the innovation process, but the political process as well.
    • Citizens are now “engaged” in their local government. They have a platform that allows them to work hand-in-hand with city staff to make the community better.
    • Collaboration with other agencies has provided an opportunity to share the R&D from Manor Labs to benefit other communities that are working on solving similar problems.
    • Provide tangible rewards for participation on the platform such as: being mayor for a day, ride out with the Police Chief, rare custom-framed Texas flag.
    • Generated 46 ideas and 2 fully implemented solutions after only 1 month of being active.
    • Identified numerous internal and external processes that could be corrected to increase efficiency and cut costs.
  • Citizens could see where their ideas and suggestions were in the implementation process and could vote ideas up or down, signaling what was most important to them.

Streamlined Government Services through Online Services

    • Implemented auto-debit for utility bills and web-based utility bill payment system. Citizens have the ability to have their utility bill automatically drafted from their accounts each month. The service is now available for any citizen to sign up for.
  • Created online mechanism that allowed individuals to plead and pay on their court citations.

Citizen Crowdsourcing for Public Works

    • SeeClickFix mobile app integrated into municipal 311 (public works database)
    • Allows citizens to take a photo and submit a problem automatically into public works database; citizen receives a message when the issue is resolved.
    • Drastic reduction in paperwork
  • Citizens can view and vote up priority of projects on city website

Delivering Information to the Citizen Where They Are

    • QR Codes, which can be read by a citizen’s mobile phone, implemented throughout City of Manor
    • By placing QR-code signs at municipal construction projects, the city of Manor provided the taxpayer real-time information about that project resulting in increased transparency of municipal government activities
    • Manor currently has 24 fixed mounted QR-codes, 15 of whiManor_QRch are also equipped with RFID for NFC phones that provide real-time information to  residents.
    • City Twitter feed and Facebook page created to reach citizens through the communications channel they prefer.
  • Real time water safety notifications sent through Twitter engaged citizens to
    be proactive in sharing emergency information with their own social graphs. In addition, it allowed the City of Manor an opportunity to respond to timely questions that was not possible through automated emergency notification systems.

Better Services at a Lower Cost

    • Municipal website redesigned using WordPress, a popular content management platform.
    • A WordPress theme for municipal government designed and then made available at no cost to other cities.  
    • City of Manor Extra Terratorial Jurisdiction Maps put on Google Earth at a cost of $0 to make city GIS information more accessible to citizens.

Testbed for Govt Innovation Startups and University Partners

    • SeeClickFix
    • Civiguard
    • Ricoh
    • OKKAM
    • University of Trentino, Italy
  • Alcatel-Lucent


By establishing itself as a nexus of municipal innovation, the City of Manor attracted university, industry and technology partners around the world.

Recognized by the White House, Manor Labs was one of the first municipal innovation labs in the Gov 2.0 movement.  By transforming the City of Manor into an incubator for government innovation, Manor Labs became a resource for numerous government agencies from across the world to learn how they turned ideas into solutions and how to change citizen-government engagement in the process. Lessons from Manor, Texas have spread throughout the world and numerous cities, counties and countries have implemented best practices that stemmed from this small Texas town.

Scale and Replication

The ideas and technologies tested within Manor were replicated by towns as small as De Leon, Texas to Chicago and New York City.

QR Codes

  • NYC Building Permits
  • Transit Systems Across The Globe
  • De Leon, Texas
  • Pratsville, Alabama
  • Smithsonian Institute (Exhibits)

Ideation Platform

  • New York City
  • Bogota, Colombia
  • NASA
  • Harford County, MD
  • Maricopa County, AZ
  • Enid, OK
  • DWP (UK)
  • Cabinet Office (UK)

SeeClickFix/Public Works Integration

  • City of Chicago
  • Boston, MA
  • New Haven, CT
  • Houston, TX
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • De Leon, TX



Public Service, Governance and Web 2.0 Technologies: Future Trends in Social Media: Future Trends in Social Media

Active Citizen Participation in E-Government: A Global PerspectiveA Global Perspective

Digital Democracy: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications

Cyber Behavior: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications

BreakoutPioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate

BizVoice, Volume 13

Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government

Transforming American Governance: Rebooting the Public Square

Scan Me – Everybody’s Guide to the Magical World of Qr Codes

A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing: Advice from Leading Experts in the Field

The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State

Emerging Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities in Urban E-Planning

The New Public Service: Serving, Not Steering

Social Media in the Public Sector: A Guide to Participation, Collaboration

A Journey through Digital Society/Voyage dans la nouvelle société numérique: 25 innovations that are changing our lives/25 innovations qui changent notre vie

A Quarta Revolução

Current Municipal Problems, Volume 36