Gov 2.0 guide to a city makeover

My name is Dustin Haisler and I’m the Assistant City Manager and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the City of Manor, Texas.  Manor is a small community, located just east of Austin, of approximately 6,500 citizens. More recently, Manor has received a lot press for some of our innovative projects; such as our QR-code program, citizen idea portal, and pothole reporting system.  In fact, we are in such a state of continuous improvement that we even added the word ‘beta’ to our city logo.

Over the past year, it’s been my pleasure to be one of the many evangelists of these new citizen-empowering technologies for government agencies across the country.  In the process, I’ve realized that there are many bureaucratic constraints, fears and misunderstandings about how these technologies fit within municipal government.  Further, I understand that type of innovation within government is sometimes seen as a risky concept; however, I would argue there is a science to what we do in Manor that can and should be replicated by other municipalities.

So let me brake down what we’ve done by starting at the beginning.  Manor’s innovation journey began like most- out of a means of survival.  With dwindling revenues and rising costs, we faced a significant challenge to continue providing the services our citizens demanded.  As a result, we were faced with two choices: finance industry solutions over a period of time or leverage what we have to make our own.  We chose the latter.  Now it’s difficult to leverage 34 employees beyond their current capacities, but we  do have 6,500 citizens that are each an expert in something.  It was time to tap the wisdom of the crowds.

Almost five years later, we have overhauled every department within our agency, actually reducing our information technology budget, with our citizens helping drive the change.  My next goal was to help educate other cities that they could achieve the same thing.  During this process, I continued to hit the same roadblocks, around the lines of “I don’t know where to start!”

In talking through this frustration, Luke Fretwell, the founder of GovFresh, and I decided we were going to do something to help catalyze a municipal innovation movement.  We had both been to numerous conferences that were very inspiring to the participants, but lacked the action-oriented approach needed to make things happen.  As a result, manor.govfresh was born with the intention of demonstrating that everything we had done in Manor could be replicated by other cities.  We determined that the best way to demonstrate this was by performing a makeover on another city.  Essentially, we took every citizen engagement technology we use in Manor (plus some) and applied them to America’s next ‘beta’ city, the City of De Leon, Texas.  The most amazing aspect of the makeover is that we did it in under a month.

So what does a Gov 2.0 makeover look like?

Website

For the website portion of the makeover, we used a free web technology that is typically used for blogs, called WordPress, along with the free GovFresh Gov 2.0 template, to make it easy for De Leon staff members to maintain and keep their citizens up-to-date.  Price: Free + Hosting (Approximately $54.00 per year).

Idea Suggestion

In order to channel new ideas, we deployed a Spigit platform to apply a structured and transparent process the citizens of De Leon to suggest new ideas.  In addition, citizens are rewarded for their participation, through game-mechanics, to make the process sustainable.  Price: Starts at $499.00 per month.

QR-codes

QR-codes are a type of barcode that can be read with most newer model camera phones.  Using can download a free application and simply scan the barcode using the camera on their phone.  Once a code is scanned, their phone will display the information that was linked within it.  For the De Leon QR-code program, we used a free online creator and a local sign printing company to provide a physical hyperlink for 35 points-of-interest throughout their community.  Price: Free (Just the cost of printing).

Open Data

In order to make public information more accessible to citizens, we deployed a Socrata platform to allow citizens to view and analyze public information on a deeper level without the need of an open-records request.  In addition, local developers now have access to make web applications that tie-in to these data sets.  Price: Free Version Available (Plans start at $499.00 per month).

Citizen Reporting (311)

To encourage citizen reporting, we deployed SeeClickFix to empower citizens to help ‘fix’ their community from a variety of channels including a dedicated mobile application, toll-free phone number, e-mail and embeddable web application.  Price: Starts at $40.00 per month.

Crime Reporting

Using CrimeReports, we took the City of De Leon’s public crime data, that was not accessible online, and embedded it within an easy to understand visual map.  Price: Starts at $99.00 per month.

E-Forms & Processes

Using Firmstep, the City of De Leon now has electronic forms and applications that are apart of a bigger electronic process.  This means that city forms can be processed without ever needing to print them out. Price: Starts at $300.00 per month.

Social Media

We setup the City of De Leon with a Facebook and Twitter account to better engage with their citizens using online platforms where the conversations are currently taking place.  Price: Free.

Records Retention (Online)

In order to maintain and comply with records retention laws, we used PageFreezer to auto-archive all of the City of De Leon’s online activities. Price: Starts at $199.00 per month.

Mobile Application

The City of De Leon will also have access to the first location-based-service application for government (Think of Foursquare for government). This application will empowers citizens to interact with their city no matter where they’re at.  Price: Free (Extra features are available).

Internet Telephone System

Developed just for this conference, the City of De Leon now has access to the MuniVox Internet phone system (VoIP). MuniVox makes it easy for small local governments to implement a sophisticated phone system using open-source software.  Price: Free.

E-mail/Document Management

Using Google Apps Standard Edition, the City of De Leon has access to a very cost-effective and robust e-mail and document management system.  Price: Free (Up to 50 users).

Project Management

Using Manymoon, with direct integration to Google Apps Standard Edition, the City of De Leon can better manage their daily operations and tasks.  Price: Free.

Are We There Yet?

Nope, and we will never fully arrive. In the spirit of being in a continuous state of

improvement (‘beta’), we can never fully arrive. Technology and citizen services

will continue to change and we must always be listening.  I hope that what we did inspires you to go ‘beta’ and embrace technologies that can revolutionize the way you interact with your citizens.

There is a guide available on the BetaCities website with more detailed information for other cities interested in deploying these technologies.

Special thanks

Luke and I didn’t pull this makeover off on our own. We built this with the help of our community. Along with the partners listed above, and our planning committee, supporters and sponsors should get most of the credit for making this vision a reality:

Planning Committee

  • Mark Headd
  • Geovanna Ricaldi
  • Kevin Curry
  • Sara Moore
  • Robert Greenberg
  • Andrew Krzmarzick
  • Sid Burgess
  • Margarita Quihuis
  • Pam Broviak

Supporters

Sponsors

  • Texas.gov
  • Spigit
  • OpenPlans
  • Manor ISD
  • Manor Education Foundation
  • Bluebonnet Electric
  • BLGY Architecture
  • Bridge Born
  • G&H International Services, Inc.

Dustin Haisler is Director of Government Innovation at Spigit. He can be reached at dhaisler@spigit.com or on Twitter at @dustinhaisler.

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