Davenport Institute’s Pete Peterson has spent the last seven years working with local governments on improving their approach to public engagement. Now, he’s running for California secretary of state on a platform centered around civic innovation.
.gov designer is a regular GovFresh feature profiling the people behind public sector design.
Fellow, Code for America
When did you first become interested in design?
I’ve always had a creative streak. When I was growing up I was always drawing and building things. I was really into LEGO and drawing maps of fake cities, and I always thought I would go to college for architecture… so I did. My dad, an engineer, wanted me to major in computer science. I didn’t do that, but I was also growing up at the time the Internet and web design was becoming popular, so I dabbled in it.
.gov designer is a regular GovFresh feature profiling the people behind public sector design.
Director of design, NIC
When did you first become interested in design?
I grew up spending a great deal of time in art galleries with my parents, so that cultivated my interest in art and design. At the same time, I started tinkering with websites as a teenager, creating terribly clunky websites on GeoCites, figuring how HTML worked. In college I majored in art history while taking classes in music, ceramics and computer science. Eventually I figured out I could combine the two worlds.
How did you get into .gov design?
After years of working on websites on the side, I decided to pursue website design as a career and was looking for work. I found an ad for a design position working on RI.gov — Rhode Island’s government web portal, (powered by eGovernment company NIC), and the rest was history. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work on eGovernment projects across the country, from New Jersey, Maryland, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Hawaii, and recently as a Presidential Innovation Fellow assigned to projectMyUSA.
Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.
Captricity solves the “paper problem,” unlocking digital, machine-readable data from paper quickly and accurately (even with handwriting).
What problem does Captricity solve for government?
Many government agencies still rely on paper-based data collection workflows, yet need machine-readable, digital data to function day-to-day and respond to increasing calls for open data and transparency. Getting the information off paper and into electronic systems is a major bottleneck: manual entry is slow, often inaccurate, and keeps government employees from directly serving citizens. Existing software options, meanwhile, are costly, hard-to-use and often not able to read handwriting.
Captricity offers an easy-to-use solution, combining the best of machine learning and human intelligence to capture digital data faster than manual data entry and more accurately than software-alone.
What’s the story behind starting Captricity?
Captricity was born of founder Kuang Chen’s graduate research at health clinics in Uganda. There, the relatively few trained health workers spend a disproportionately large share of their time wrangling paper files. They needed a better way to process large amounts of data collected on paper, like HIV treatment visit records. Chen began working on a new approach that would maintain the benefits of paper (the lights go out regrettably often) but also enable the benefits of electronic systems.
While completing his PhD at UC Berkeley, Chen thus teamed up with co-founder Jeff Lin, and former product manager at Microsoft (and rockstar – literally) to take Kuang’s notion of human-guided machine learning and turn it into a cloud-based service that anyone can use. Finally, as a Code for America Accelerator company, Captricity was introduced to the need that exists in government as well as the opportunity to advance open data initiatives; see our open data portal.
What are its key features?
First, the secret sauce (Captricity’s unique combination of human workers and advanced computer vision and machine learning), generates highly-accurate data far more quickly and at lower cost than manual data entry, but more accurately than computers alone could. This special combination also makes Captricity scale easily to meet your needs: you can upload 100 or 100,000 forms at a time – we just put more processing power behind your work. It also keeps your information private and secure.
Second, Captricity is a cloud-based service, so there are no drawn-out installations or pricy software upgrades (think Salesforce.com vs SAP). Set-up is fast and easy, and there are no contracts required, giving you the flexibility to upload however many forms you have, whenever you want. You can even go back and look at the actual handwriting or text that generated the digital data.
Finally, we’ve packaged all the complex technology in a simple, beautiful, easy-to-use interface that you can customize to your needs with no programming at all. If you can draw a box with your mouse, you can use Captricity. We’ve also released a mobile app and a RESTful API so that you can plug our service into a workflow or database/software application with as little hassle as humanly possible.
What are the costs, pricing plans?
Users pay based on the number of pages they process and the amount of information they want to extract from each page. Currently, you pay just $0.20 per page to get your data processed; there are discounts for high volumes and the first 10 pages are free. You can check it try it out, totally for free, right now, at captricity.com.
How can those interested connect with you?
Watch San Francisco Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath being interviewed by Brian Solis.
#one4one is the latest Twitter meme making the rounds encouraging digital influencers to “name someone whose identity has a radically different trait as their One. If you’re a dude, name a woman. If you’re white, name a person of color. If you’re straight, name an LGBTQ person.” The concept emerged in response to a recent Digital Power Index created by The Daily Beast and Newsweek.
My civic #one4one is Hillary Hartley.
Hillary, a gay woman, is one of the genuine articles of the new government movement. She has worked in the state and local government technology profession for nearly 15 years and probably knows more about the technology and people behind it than anyone else in the industry.
Her Zen-like demeanor makes her unbelievably accessible and always enjoyable to talk with. Her only agenda is to be as helpful as possible in facilitating a discussion about how we can make government better. She is idealistic about how government can change through technology, but realistic about how that progress will be realized.
Many in the open government/Gov 2.0 movement know Hillary well. Despite her experience and professional connections both in and outside government technology, she’s not one to seek the civic spotlight. Hillary quietly does her own work and unknowingly influences many of us to do the same.
While this quote from #one4one co-founder Deanna Zandt applies to the technology industry in general, it especially is important to those working on civic technology, because the stakes are so much higher:
Humans surround themselves with people they think are like them, so when it comes time to pick people from our peer groups, they tend to all look like us.
Not only does that mean the same types of people, and even same people period, get highlighted and supported, but it also means that we’re missing crucial compelling voices in the larger conversations we’re having about the future. And if we’re going to understand fully and capitalize on what the digital revolution holds, we’ve got to have as many different kinds of people as possible in the mix.
Who’s your civic #one4one?
Alissa Black joined the New America Foundation in April to lead the newly-formed California Civic Innovation Project, focused on “identifying best practices to improving service delivery, opening new channels for public voices, and bridging the state’s digital divides.”
Black previously served as government relations director at Code for America and has worked for New York City and San Francisco governments, including developing and deploying SF’s Open311 citizen reporting system.
What is the CA Civic Innovation Project and your new role in this?
I’m very excited to be leading the California Civic Innovation Project (CCIP). CCIP promotes innovations in technology, policy and practice that deepen engagement between government and communities throughout the state. Through research and information-sharing, CCIP builds communities of practice within California’s local governments and identifies best practices to improving service delivery, opening new channels for public voices, and bridging the state’s digital divides.
Healthy knowledge sharing networks, both formal and informal, are essential to the diffusion of innovation in local governments. CCIP’s research in the area will contribute to more a comprehensive understanding of how local governments can better share technology, policies, and practices. Additionally, CCIP will engage with local governments to develop an innovation process grounded in public-private collaboration and community engagement.
What are the biggest challenges in getting government to engage with citizens and how does it overcome this?
The most daunting challenge any large organization could face is culture change, and that really is the underlying barrier to governments’ deeper level of engagement with the community. Local governments operate in an environment that is heavily siloed, so much so that employees in one department do not interact with employees in other departments. The culture of operating in silos disincentivizes government employees from collaboration, both internally and with the public. There are a number of cities in California that have overcome the silo barrier and engage with their communities.
Days of Dialogue, created by former Los Angeles Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, brings together civic leaders, government officials, and the general public to engage in dialogue on issues that divide the community. Other California municipalities have been successful forming partnerships with community groups to support civic engagement. The partnerships offer the advantage of engaging a pre-existing network and tapping into the expertise and resources of local partners.
What are the best examples of innovative uses of technology with regards to enabling better citizen participation?
A few examples come to mind:
- Open311 is one of the best examples of government innovating to not only improve access for residents, but also to create an ecosystem for developers to build mobile apps and consumers to access government data.
- Another example that I consider innovative, simply because the technology we consider ubiquitous is often absent in government, is the use of video conferencing in Nevada County, California. The county government began offering video conferencing for service intake and court filings, saving residents time and making county services more accessible.
- Participatory budgeting is an exciting way to involve the public in better understanding the local budgeting process, but more importantly I believe, raising public awareness of the trade-offs that need to be made when preparing a budget.
How can those interested in your work connect with you to learn more (website, social media, contact info, etc.)?
You can find out more about the California Civic Innovation Project at ccip.newamerica.net.
I’m currently looking for policy interns so if you’re interested in learning more about the opportunity you can reach me at blacka (at) newamerica.net. You can follow me on Twitter at @alissa007 and @NewAmericaOTI.
Listen to Black’s interview on the CAFwd Radio Show:
I like this:
“She’s an intellectual heavyweight who’s as smart as—or smarter than—any guy in the room,” Sklar says. “And she’s ambitious, but she’s also really nice and gracious and poised. She’s a lady.” Half-joking, she adds, “She’s kind of our Kate Middleton.”
Sterne shares Bloomberg’s vision of turning New York into a tech hub that rivals Silicon Valley, but she understands that it won’t happen by opening factories that make computer chips. What matters now, she says, is the code—the digital language—that is quickly becoming the foundation of the city’s financial and cultural infrastructure. “Rachel is part of the generation that understands that code is literally the architecture of the future,” Rasiej says. “Code can solve problems, save money, make money, and advance humanity.
Thank you Alex for your contributions and support of GovFresh, but also all the work you do for the entire open government community. There are many ideas, innovators, apps and events that don’t get covered by mainstream media and, if they weren’t covered by you, would never move beyond our community of Gov 2.0 enthusiasts. Blogging is powerful, and you do important work.
As I’ve said many times, Alex Howard is the “Hardest Working Man in Gov 2.0 Business.”
Today is International Women’s Day. Women’s organizations around the world will be celebrating and talking about all kinds of women’s issues, including our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who launched a bold new initiative. People might tweet about it and the fact that it’s the 100th anniversary. One of the many positive things that come from the day is acknowledgment of many achievements made by great women over time.
We have some amazing women doing great work in government innovation, and GovTwit’s Steve Lunceford reminded me that it’s been nearly a year since we highlighted these women on GovFresh, so this seemed like a good time to update the list. If you know of women who aren’t on it and should be, please note their names in the comments. And if you have Twitter IDs for them, even better. I’m maintaining a gov20women Twitter list where they can all be found and contacted easily.
Secretary Clinton may be the most prominent American voice on behalf of women around the world, but she is not the only one, and it’s important that we continue highlighting the work done by these women around the country and around the world every day to promote not only equality and human rights, but also innovation and openness in government.
Secretary Clinton’s International Women’s Day video message: