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The city’s workers already have that option _ and the ideas that receive the most votes get evaluated by deputy mayors. As a result of that crowdsourcing effort, which formally began last month, the city has ordered all its offices to change their printer settings so that documents print double-sided by default. Other ideas suggested by city employees have included the creation of a central research and development unit to help connect agencies with new initiatives, as well as an online auction portal allowing city agencies to bid on items being given up by other agencies.

The interest in this tech-age brand of populism has attracted both activists and entrepreneurs _ and people who straddle both worlds.

One effort launched this year, Code for America, recruits technology developers and entrepreneurs before they enter lucrative careers, persuading them to give a year of service in exchange for a stipend. Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, D.C, are hosting fellows this year. New York City officials have met with the organization about the possibility of being included in the program next year.

At the federal level, President Barack Obama has ordered agencies to “improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration” into their work. Last month, the federal government finished collecting input from hundreds of people around the world on how it can best use technology to consult citizens. Even NASA has enlisted the help of the crowd, asking the public to use images from Mars to count craters and help create better maps of the planet.

Internationally, Ireland has made use of crowdsourcing. Last year, thousands of private citizens competed online for two 100,000-euro prizes, submitting proposals to create jobs and transform the economy. The government of Flanders began a similar program in September.

In New York City, officials say the efforts could ultimately save the city millions of dollars. The city _ like so many others _ is facing a budget crunch and anticipating hundreds of municipal worker layoffs, but Goldsmith says he doesn’t believe the information gathered will replace city jobs.

“What it will do is make the work of city officials more productive and effective,” he said.

But Mario Cilento, chief of staff of the New York State AFL-CIO, which represents many city workers, said he was wary of any program that replaces the wisdom of city workers with that of laymen.

“Because I watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ that doesn’t make me a doctor,” he said. “We’re never satisfied when you substitute inexperienced individuals for those who have years of knowledge, experience and a high level of skill.”

When the 6,500-person city of Manor, Texas, chose to shift to a “Gov 2.0” approach, it was in part out of financial concerns: Officials there decided they wanted to engage residents and beef up services beyond the means of their modest budget.

Within a year, nearly one-third of the community had joined the project, and the city set up a new billing system, changed trash pickups and made work orders viewable to the public, said Dustin Haisler, who at the time was the city’s chief information officer. It was quite a shift from the days when citizen engagement meant vainly trying to persuade people to attend public hearings.

Haisler _ who has since moved on to Spigit, the company providing the technology powering New York’s employee-idea forum _ says that such projects aren’t built on a handover of a city’s discretion to its people, but rather a bridging of the divide between citizens and government. It’s a system that only works when governments are completely open with the public about what they do after receiving suggestions, he says.

“We’re faced with so many challenges in government. We really have to look to other ways of solving them,” he said. “This can allow citizens to help us solve some of the biggest problems that we have.”