Jun is a small town in Spain of 3,500 people. Its mayor, José Antonio Rodríguez Salas, doesn’t have as big a following on Twitter as some big-city mayors and national politicians. But his followers are devoted. That’s because, since 2011, Twitter has been the official means of communication between the mayor and the townspeople.

If someone in town tweets a complaint, the mayor responds with a tweet about how he’s going to address it. If the problem isn’t addressed, everybody knows it.

Now two professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are studying Jun to see how its example of open government could be adapted to other, bigger cities.

One of those professors, Deb Roy, also works for Twitter. He said the town started using tweets in this way unbeknownst to the company. When he and his colleagues at Twitter heard about what Jun is doing, they thought they might be able to build upon it to bring “more open and responsive democracy.”

Roy traveled to Jun to take a closer look, bringing along fellow MIT professor William Powers — whose book Hamlet’s BlackBerry looks at positive and negative effects that the digital world has on human interaction.

They found an unusual dynamic: Since citizens’ interactions with government take place on social media, they can be seen by everyone. This “mutual visibility” keeps requests reasonable, induces fast responses and keeps Jun’s inhabitants aware of how their government is serving them.

For example, when a man in Jun reported a broken street light to the mayor’s account, the mayor answered and included the handle of the electrician he had tasked to fix the light. The next day, the electrician posted a picture of the repaired light.

Translated tweets show how a broken street light was reported and repaired in Jun. (Courtesy photo)

The advantage to Jun’s system, explains Martin Saveski, a researcher in the Laboratory for Social Machines, the professors’ initiative at MIT, is that it “flattens” the hierarchical structure of governments, eliminating layers of officials that can separate citizens from their mayor.

The big question is “Could this work in a large city, where the mayor cannot personally respond to a million Twitter messages?” As a first step, Powers says, he, Roy and Mayor Rodríguez have approached Barcelona’s mayor about hosting a pilot program in that city of 1.6 million. Barcelona is made up of many boroughs, each of which has its own manager. The managers of these subsections would be accountable to the city mayor, as in the snowflake model of community organizing.

The differing needs of a small town and a big city are already apparent. MIT’s experts offered to build Rodriguez a digital tool similar to the one they envision for larger cities — a tool that would count, categorize and prioritize requests. “But the mayor turns out to be really happy with his ad hoc method of managing,” said Powers, “which is basically having his phone with him all the time and checking it constantly. It works for him.”

It seems to work for the people of Jun too. Last year the mayor was re-elected by a huge margin.