Month: October 2010

Quotable: ‘Don’t get blinded by this shiny little iPhone app that’s going to get developed …’

Watching FEDTALKS videos and found this money quote from iStrategy Labs CEO Peter Corbett discussing the Word Bank data catalog and apps contest:

“The most important thing you’re going to do is build a body of hundreds if not thousands of technology developers who really want to use their skills to ameliorate the world’s hardest problems. That’s what’s you guys (should) focus on at World Bank. Don’t get blinded by this shiny little iPhone app that’s going to get developed. That’s not the story. That is totally not in the game. So, what’s the game? It’s about having a body of people, a community of people, that are really passionate about your data, your problems and the solutions that the constituents you serve have.”

Full video of Peter’s FEDTALKS presentation here:

SF Mayor Newsom introduces legislation to open, centralize all city data

While it’s true that November 2nd will help shape the direction of our cities, states and country, this Thursday is also an important date for how government will look like and operate in the future.

On Thursday in San Francisco City Hall legislators will hear open data legislation introduced by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. The legislation if approved would make all non-confidential city data available to the public in one location — — whether it’s crime reports, bus arrival times or street sweeping schedules.

The law would codify an Open Data Executive Directive introduced by Mayor Newsom last year that asked City departments to provide data to the public and make it a permanent fabric of the City.

A Gov 2.0 Movement is Born

The Federal Government launched Data.Gov in 2009 to open government data to the public. With data from Data.Gov, the public can build applications, websites and mash-ups. San Francisco followed President Obama’s lead and launched a local version, a few months later with more than a hundred datasets.

San Francisco City leaders did not know what the public would do with the data, but believed that the public should have easy access to their data and that the City’s innovative citizens would build programs to bring government into the 21st Century.

Government as a Platform

Just weeks after the launch, new apps and websites started popping up. Developers built programs to help City residents find out when a bus was arriving, where to recycle hazaderous materials and show crime patterns in the city — all from data available on

Since the launch of there have been more than fifty apps created from the City’s data with many more in the works. But, this is just the beginning of Gov 2.0 in San Francisco and hopefully throughout the country. San Francisco legislators have the opportunity to create a whole new generation of civic leaders by making open data official policy in the City by the Bay.

If you support open data sign the online twitter petition and if you live in San Francisco show up for the fun on Thursday.

Government goes open source, GOSCONit!

GOSCON10Government technologists and open source advocates will have a meeting of the minds at next week’s Government Open Source Conference (GOSCON) in Portland, OR, October 27-28. The conference features a great program and speaker line-up (including our main man Gunnar Hellekson) and GovFresh is proud to support their great work.

Organizer Deborah Bryant, Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab Public Sector Communities Manager, talks about the importance of open source in government and the agenda behind GOSCON.

Why should government pay attention to open source?

The easy easy answer is that there’s a tremendous opportunity for the government to cut costs by using and releasing open source software. There’s the potential for various municipalities and agencies to reuse work already done by their counterparts (we’ll hear from agencies that have done just that, like the Tennesse/South Carolina collaboration creating law enforcement information sharing systems for hundreds of agencies). Reusing and sharing software between similar agencies not only cuts costs, it facilitates sharing of best practices, knowledge base, training and documentation.

What is GOSCON and its objective?

GOSCON is the Government Open Source Conference, an annual non-profit educational event produced by Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab. The conference is designed for government IT management as a place to learn from each others experience as well as industry in the successful development, adoption and use of open technology. Over time it’s turned into a significant platform for collaboration and brings together some of the best and brightest. The annual agenda supports making smart decisions about IT investments and finding ways to harness the power of collaboration with other cities, counties and states, at times in concert with the federal government, to share the costs and benefits of sharing software. It also provides a forum for discussion and planning on topics like operational policy and contracting.

This year GOSCON looks at open source software and collaboration as an enabler of leading Open Government and Transparency initiatives throughout the United States. Speakers come from all levels of government, from City Officials to Federal Agencies. Its rich history includes speakers like Aneesh Chopra, now Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Vivek Kundra, now Chief Information Officer of the United States, and Dugan Petty, Chief Information Officer of the State of Oregon. The conference has welcomed visitors from as far afield as Brazil, Sri Lanka, Japan, Ireland and Malaysia.

What topics will be discussed?

We’re going to talk about open source as a strategy to create significant and important systems, like a national health information network. We’re welcoming David Riley from the CONNECT project, a government run open source project that just received the Wall Street Journal Award for Innovation in Health IT. Among other things, David’s Keynote Address will discuss the fertile ground for public and private sector collaboration created when agency code bases are open source and there’s a stated goal of community building in a particular project.

Transparency and Open Data and the enabling role open source software has played is important this year. We’re excited that the the New York State Senate CIO, Andrew Hoppin, and members of his staff will be discussing the role that open source tools played in allowing their agency to become a more transparent, engaged legislative body.

Another key theme will be the use of open source to cut costs while increasing service to an agency’s clients. We have speakers from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the Naval Postgraduate School and the City of Portland, Oregon covering these topics.

We’re also convening some great conversations with folks from Civic Commons, Open Plans, Code for America, Open Source for America, and The Open Source Lab to begin unifying the conversation around a common platform for creating and sharing software for government. I’m hearing a lot of buzz around the federal government’s express intention to create a “government forge” from scores of people and organizations that would like to have a voice in that important initiative.

Who should attend and why?

The conference is designed for senior information technology management in the public sector; Chief Information Officers and other managers with a responsibility for Information Technology, their senior strategic planning, architecture, contract and procurement staff would all benefit from attending GOSCON 2010. Cross-state associations with common or shared business practices and problems will want to attend and consider collaborative development projects. This year, with an additional emphasis on open data, GOSCON is also an ideal event for advocates of open government and transparency. Why? Lots to learn, lots of people come to share. This is the place where lots of cross connections happen, where project partners are found, and where agencies are unvarnished in sharing their experience, successes and lessons learned alike.

Attendees will be treated to in-depth explorations of Open technology strategy, policy, acquisitions, operations, organizational readiness, exemplary projects and use cases in our breakout sessions. Conference content includes lessons learned in the development and integration of open source solutions into agency environments, exposure to projects and existing software applications and services, and opportunities to establish and foster relationships for collaboration around shared interests. GOSCON offers a place for government and industry luminaries and to gather, present and network with representatives from both public and private sectors, in a non-commercial setting.

Learn more about GOSCON at or follow on Twitter at @goscon.

‘Integrated’ is the new ‘open’ for government

37signals points out Apple’s use of the word ‘integrated’ as opposed to ‘open’ in the ongoing ‘open’ versus ‘closed’ debate (Apple changes words in order to change the debate), and it has important relevance to the open government movement.

Here’s what Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at a recent shareholder meeting:

We think the open versus closed argument is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue, which is, “What’s best for the customer – fragmented versus integrated?” We think Android is very, very fragmented, and becoming more fragmented by the day. And as you know, Apple strives for the integrated model so that the user isn’t forced to be the systems integrator. We see tremendous value at having Apple, rather than our users, be the systems integrator. We think this a huge strength of our approach compared to Google’s: when selling the users who want their devices to just work, we believe that integrated will trump fragmented every time.

…So we are very committed to the integrated approach, no matter how many times Google tries to characterize it as “closed.” And we are confident that it will triumph over Google’s fragmented approach, no matter how many times Google tries to characterize it as “open.”

Government is very fragmented (I’ve discussed this here before) and that’s part of the problem with the open government message. We can create more disparate .gov citizen Websites or mobile applications, but what citizens want at the end of the day is integration.

I’ve said before government needs a Chief Marketing Officer, but what it really needs is a Chief Experience Officer.

Government may not be a business, but it should think more like one when it comes to citizen adoption (satisfaction), especially given a recent study that Americans give low marks to Obama transparency effort at agencies. It’s no surprise Facebook has 500 million users or that Apple’s iPhone is so popular and responsible for a large percentage of mobile app downloads. Both are simple platforms that easily integrate everything we need in our daily lives.

Government would do good to excerpt Jobs and make his statement their own:

When selling the citizens who want their government to just work, we believe that integrated will trump fragmented every time.

When government becomes more integrated, citizens will see it as more open.

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?


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 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


  • Code For America
  • OpenPlans
  • Gov 2.0 Radio


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

West (Coast) Wing: Washington needs a Silicon Valley office

Two articles today from O’Reilly Media’s Alex Howard (US CTO pitches open government, innovation and health IT to Silicon Valley) and Politico’s Tony Romm (D.C. crowd’s path to Silicon Valley) touch on how the Beltway is reaching out to Silicon Valley’s tech community. Howard’s pieces revolves around U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Department of Health and Human Services CTO Todd Parks ‘DC to VC‘ visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, and Romm’s is more of a ‘Silicon Valley as political ATM’ angle.

As tech firms beef up Washington, DC, offices to strengthen relationships with federal agencies and legislators around sales, policy and legislative issues, it’s now time for Beltway insiders to be proactive and reciprocate the gesture.

The White House can host luncheons with tech CEOs and fly in for local tech events, but the only way it will grok Silicon Valley and its tech community is to connect in real life, understand what’s happening around technology and help translate that 3,000 miles east. As technology and social media become a mainstay in how government works, Washington would do well to open a West Coast office, soak up the culture, technology, innovation and help facilitate all this back to headquarters. With companies like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google (to name just a few) a stone’s throw from one another, there’s huge potential to bridge the The Great Gov 2.0 Cultural Divide.

‘West (Coast) Wing’ has a nice ring to it.

Small(town) is beautiful and the manor.govfresh wrap-up


E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful neatly summarizes my beliefs on how society should work and provides the most appropriate slogan for the way I approach much of my life.

‘Small is beautiful’ best describes manor.govfresh, held this past Sept 20-21, in Manor, TX, and exemplifies where I believe we can have the most impact on changing how government works and where the open government community should turn its focus. The theme around manor.govfresh was government and technology, but the underlying premise was learning how we can strengthen community at its most local. So much is discussed at the federal, state and major metropolitan levels that we see small-town America as an after-thought. It’s not sexy, but it’s where change can happen faster and have a more immediate impact on citizens.

manor.govfresh was a special event for me personally and professionally, and I want to thank the City of Manor, TX and the Manor Independent School District for letting GovFresh (and me) play a little part in your big role in changing the face of government.

I also want to thank ‘Team manor.govfresh,’ including Dustin Haisler, Geovanna Ricaldi, Mark Headd, Kevin Curry, Sara Moore, Bob Greenberg, Sid Burgess, Margarita Quihuis and Andrew Krzmarzick for your time and hard work in planning everything. You guys helped put on a big-time event in small-town America and believed in its importance from the beginning.

Much of what was reported real-time came from Alex Howard, and I can’t thank him enough for making the trek, re-introducing me to Scotch and being a great friend.

manor.govfresh highlights include making over City of De Leon, having U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck attend and speak, getting a warm welcome each morning from the Manor ISD student choir and band (video below), connecting in real life with people I greatly admire in the open government community and, of course, getting a key to Manor.

More manor.govfresh coverage and discussion here:

Thanks again to everyone who participated in such a wonderful event. Until next time …