Month: April 2011

Hampton, Kott, launch SF Tech Dems to influence state policy

Suki Kott

Suki Kott

Today, Suki Kott and I formally launched SF Tech Dems, a new political club aimed at shaping tech policy in the SF Bay Area and throughout California. In my years of government reform advocacy, it’s become exceedingly clear that political action and influence is required to achieve the goals of the Gov 2.0 movement. Government procurement and contracting is a mess; agile innovation and open data lack policy framework; elected champions of civic technology and open government are few and far between, and politicians often give little more than lip service to principles of transparency, collaboration, participation and efficiency in government. It is essential for Gov 2.0 advocates to take on the political system in terms of one-issue advocacy.

Kott is a tech policy enthusiast familiar with campaigns and the inner workings of City Hall. She’s also in the Emerge program, which trains Democratic women to run for office – Emerge America is aiming to change this horrible statistic: the U.S. ranks 84 in the world for women in elected office, behind China and Pakistan. Other charter officers of SF Tech Dems are Jen Drake, also a campaign and City Hall veteran, as VP of Creative, and Realtor and tech and marketing organizer and blogger Jonathan Fleming as VP of Community Affairs. Brigette Hunley, chair of the California Democratic Party’s Computer & Internet Caucus is the first member of the SF Tech Dems’ Advisory Board.

“I am honored to serve on the advisory board of SF Tech Dems, San Francisco’s newest Democratic club,” Hunley said. “This new club will help the CDP Computer & Internet caucus accomplish our mission on a local level in the Bay Area.”

The CDP Internet Caucus was formed to harness the power of the internet and communication technology to further Democratic ideals, issues, and legislation; to assist Democratic Clubs and Assembly Districts; and to elect Democratic candidates, and Hunley was reelected as chair in Sacramento on Friday during the annual Democratic convention.

SF Tech Dems will raise and spend funds to ensure that civic technology, open government and Gov 2.0 ideals are well-represented on the agendas of Democratic candidates in San Francisco and California. The Tech Dems will also endorse and sponsor legislation related to technology policy and good governance. The club will seek official party charter as a San Francisco organization, and will hold its first in-person membership and fundraising drive in late May.

SF Assemblywoman Fiona Ma

SF Assemblywoman Fiona Ma

SF Assemblywoman Fiona Ma was instrumental to the creation of the SF Tech Dems, identifying a lack of local groups supporting the Computer & Internet Caucus.

“I am proud to support the San Francisco Tech Dems,” Ma said. “With Silicon Valley as well as the other hubs all around California, we need to do all we can to promote technology, to promote open technology, as well as encouraging people to vote and to be educated on what happens in California, how we generate revenue, how we are going to remain competitive to ensure that we can get our of our fiscal crisis. Technology is one of the keys: we are a leader, we need to remain a leader.”

(Ma photo by Charles Nguyen; Kott photos by Adriel Hampton)

Yes, I’ll give feedback: My satisfaction with ForSee Results is at an all-time low

ForSee ResultsThere are a number of fundamental problems I have with ForSee Results issuing quarterly citizen satisfaction reports of federal government Websites.

Here are a few:

  1. In general, I don’t think the reports add value to the government Web community and, if anything, are misleading, because there’s not enough information provided to glean anything helpful for best practices or lessons learned. For the most part they’re a brilliant public relations strategy, especially when nearly every Beltway media company picks up the story.
  2. They are a federal government vendor and are less likely to release less-than-positive results about an agency’s Web practices.
  3. They are opportunistically leveraging their brand/logo on federal government Websites that gives these reports a misleading level of credibility.

While the reports differ on numbers, most of it positive and general, the press releases come to the same conclusions.

January 2011:

Although the private sector scores better, on average, than federal websites, the best-scoring federal websites outperform the best-scoring private-sector websites.

April 2011:

Private-sector websites score better, on average, than federal websites, but the best-scoring federal websites outperform the best-scoring private-sector websites, including Amazon, Netflix, and Google.

Wow. Almost verbatim.

Even the referenced expert in each is the same, with nearly the same comments.

January 2011:

“Not only must the government do a better job satisfying citizens, but it will likely have to do so with fewer resources in the years ahead,” said Professor Claes Fornell, head of the ACSI and author of The Satisfied Customer. “High unemployment, declining tax receipts and growing deficits are stretching government budgets thin. Much like private sector companies during the recession of 2008 and 2009, government must find innovative ways to provide better service with less.”

April 2011:

“As private sector sites continue to innovate and improve, user expectations will increase across the board, said Professor Claes Fornell, head of the ACSI and author of The Satisfied Customer. Satisfaction with e-gov is near an all-time high, but with trimmed resources it will be more difficult for government agencies to maintain a successful web presence.”

I’d elaborate if I had more time, but I don’t. Rather than rant, here are some productive, constructive next steps for ForSee Results and their federal government clients:

  1. Open up the raw data of the surveys for others to evaluate and make their own conclusions.
  2. Remove your logo from the .gov pop-ups requesting customer feedback.
  3. Stop issuing rinse/repeat press releases and meaningless reports that serve only to get public relations (although it’s a brilliant strategy).
  4. Don’t make me fill out a form to access this information. As a taxpayer, I’ve already paid for it.

That’s my citizen feedback. I hope ForSee and its government clients listen.

If not, we may just have to issue a quarterly rant.

YouTown: Local gov on the go

YouTownYouTown is a mobile application that wants to make it easier for you to access your local government information all in one place. Municipalities can sign up for free, input their open data and RSS feeds and immediately begin pushing updates to citizens’ mobile devices, and 25 U.S. cities are currently using the service. Founder and CEO Michael Riedyk discusses his company’s work.

What is YouTown?

YouTown is an all-in-one mobile platform that allows government agencies to get mobile within a day. Agencies just have to create a YouTown account and can start adding their open data feeds (like their RSS feeds, Calendar feeds, Maps and Services).

When citizens download the app, they gain access to all this published information including local maps, news, events and services. From council meetings to festivals, from sanitation schedules to sporting events, people have the information they need at their fingertips no matter where they are. Mobile is overtaking other forms of communication, so it just makes sense for cities to publish their data this way.

What problem does it solve?

Cost-effectiveness is a top consideration for most agencies in today’s economic climate. Many do not have the time or funds to invest in app development to make city information mobile. For those that have been able to introduce mobility, fragmentation is a problem: an app for public works, an app for the city’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, an app for the Chamber of Commerce, and so forth. YouTown puts it all together on one screen. It takes 60 seconds to sign up for YouTown, and it’s free. Agencies can also opt for one of several affordable subscription fees to get access to more features. Most citizens are already using their mobile devices for weather, e-mail, music, social networking and other day-to-day activities. YouTown integrates local government into that framework.

How does it make life easier for governments?

YouTown makes life easier for agencies looking for the “next step” in open data and mobile government. It takes the guesswork out of providing this mobile information to citizens. Just sign up and begin uploading feeds, articles, maps, calendars, datasets and more. YouTown is simple enough that any agency employee with basic technical understanding can handle the admin. This makes it ideal for small towns and booming cities alike. It is a one-of-a-kind platform that solves the problem of opening government data to citizens in a mobile, intuitive way.

What did you learn during the development process?

The Beta program was organized as a “co-creation” innovation process. From the very beginning, YouTown developers partnered with over 25 government agencies across the US to gain feedback and ideas for the app.

Crowd-sourcing was a key factor as developers reached out to citizens to discover their priorities for mobile government. The beta cities/counties were consulted in every step of the process, from the first sketches till the beta test.

One of the biggest challenges of the Beta process, although YouTown was built on open standards, was the different interpretation and errors that surfaced with the standards across multiple agencies and caused tech issues. After ironing out the bugs, and combining the feedback of citizens and agencies, YouTown emerged as a more intuitive and functional platform to take government/citizen communication to a whole new level.


Blockboard puts the whole neighborhood in your hands

BlockboardBlockboard is the latest start-up building a location-based mobile application that aims to give you a hyperlocal view into everything happening in your neighborhood. The iPhone app is currently available in ‘alpha’ for San Francisco’s Mission District residents (request an invite) and will expand into other neighborhoods in the coming months.

The company is led by tech veterans Stephen Hood (, Dave Baggeroer (Stanford Institute of Design), Josh Whiting (Craigslist) and Ian Kallen (Technorati) and backed by well-known angel and venture capital investors, including Battery Ventures, Mitch Kapor, Founder Collective, Harrison Metal, Joshua Schachter, Josh Stylman and Tom McInerney.

Co-founder Stephen Hood shares insights into the new venture and its plans for the future:

Give us the elevator pitch

Blockboard is the app for your neighborhood. It’s a mobile bulletin board that uses your iPhone (and soon, your Android phone) to connect you with your neighbors. If it’s about your neighborhood, you can find it or post it on Blockboard.

For example, you can:

  • Ask a question of your neighbors (we’ll notify you when someone answers)
  • See and post interesting photos from around the neighborhood
  • Read the latest neighborhood news as reported both by the best local blogs and by your own neighbors
  • Report graffiti, litter, or other problems to the city (we’ll automatically submit it to San Francisco’s 311 system and follow-up on the status)
  • Use our neighborhood directory to get those impossible-to-find city phone numbers, find the nearest police station, or connect directly with your elected representatives.

We just launched a small pilot project a couple of weeks ago for the Mission District here in San Francisco, and will be adding more neighborhoods soon.

Why does this matter?

In this age of social networking, we now spend so much time talking to people who are far away that we’ve forgotten how to talk to the person next door. Many of us simply don’t know our neighbors any more. We are living together, and yet alone.

While we may not always want to be friends with our neighbors, we have a lot to gain in having a connection. We all face real issues everyday in the communities where we live. Some are big, like safety, government, and sustainability. Some are smaller, like figuring out what’s going on in my neighborhood tonight or trying to get a streetlight fixed. How are we going to solve these problems on our own?

At Blockboard we believe that technology – and smartphones in particular – can help reconnect neighbors and empower them to improve their neighborhoods, and that’s our goal in a nutshell.

What’s your strategy for expanding to different neighborhoods and cities?

We’ve purposely started with a single neighborhood (the Mission) so that we can build something that is very relevant and useful to the people who live there. Our next step will be to expand to a wider variety of neighborhoods in San Francisco. We expect that Blockboard will evolve a little differently for every neighborhood and city it services, and we’ve built our technology to allow for that. Once we’ve reached a certain level of usage in San Francisco we will begin to look at other cities… but first things first!

What are your plans for revenue?

Our only focus right now is making sure that Blockboard is useful to people and makes a positive impact in San Francisco. If we build the product we’re envisioning we’re confident that we can monetize it in a way that also benefits the communities it serves.

Twelve months from now, what does Blockboard look like? How are we using it?

In twelve months we expect that Blockboard will be active in every neighborhood of San Francisco and will be used in ways we probably can’t even imagine right now. It’s our hope that each neighborhood will make Blockboard “their own” and will use it to address their own unique needs and challenges.

Connect with Blockboard on Twitter.


San Francisco mayoral candidates to share their open government ideas at SFOpen 2011

SFOpen 2011

Today is a big day for open government everywhere, especially San Francisco.

I’m pleased to announce that eight major San Francisco mayoral candidates will participate in SFOpen 2011, a townhall forum focused specifically on open government, citizen engagement and leveraging technology to build better government. The event will be held June 16 at Automattic (home of WordPress) and will be moderated by tech legend Mitch Kapor.

Participating candidates include Michela Alioto-Pier, David Chiu, Bevan Dufty, Tony Hall, Dennis Herrera, Joanna Rees, Phil Ting and Leland Yee.

As part of this announcement:

  • Candidates will begin blogging their ideas on the newly-launched sf.govfresh, where fellow candidates and citizens will have the opportunity to engage with them openly and directly.
  • We’ve started an idea platform, SFIdeas, so that citizens can share their ideas for San Francisco.

At a time when government needs to leverage the power of collaboration, this is an excellent opportunity for candidates to show their commitment to the principles of open government. It’s an opportunity for open government to be a major discussion topic right at the beginning of the political process. Hopefully it will serve as a model for candidates and open government advocates everywhere.

This wouldn’t have happened without the great work of Brian Purchia and the support of, Automattic, Third Thursdays SF, Gov 2.0 Radio and CityCampSF.

So, learn more about SFOpen 2011, the candidates, start sharing your ideas for new San Francisco and stay tuned for a great discussion on the future of one of the world’s leading open cities.

Integrated, Open, Inspiring – Let’s Do It SF!

Let's Do It SF!

The San Francisco’s City Attorney’s Office (where I work) has launched an anti-blight initiative that wraps consumer tech, city services and a local-global approach to volunteerism in a multi-channel social media package. The “Let’s Do It SF” campaign aims to provide people who live and work in San Francisco with City Attorney-sponsored hands-on training in using the free SeeClickFix mobile app to report graffiti vandalism and illegal dumping, while highlighting core city services and volunteer opportunities.

“What we are doing in San Francisco with the Let’s Do It SF! initiative, along with the use of smart phone technology, will enhance neighborhood beautification and show the power of collective civic action,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

San Francisco is one of three cities – with DC and Boston – to fully embrace Open311, a standardized application programing interface (API) developed in cooperation with the NY non-profit OpenPlans. SeeClickFix has also been a core participant in the standardization effort (see the development wiki). Open311 allows consumer-focused apps like SeeClickFix to interface directly with the City’s issue ticketing system, creating both efficiencies and new resources from the developer community. The City’s 311 department highlights several apps developed using Open311, and the Let’s Do It SF site features an interactive citywide map of blight issues reported to the non-emergency call center.

Let’s Do It SF also uses SeeClickFix’s “watch area” feature to highlight individual supervisor districts in synch with Department of Public Works-sponsored Clean Team volunteer events in those districts. SCF customized their map widgets for the initiative to highlight issue reporting categories that map to Open311.

“The civic tech initiatives in SF are starting to get some real use through apps connecting with 311,” said SeeClickFix CEO Ben Berkowitz. “We’re excited about Let’s Do It SF! because it enables citizens to fix some of the concerns they are voicing through these apps on their own. It’s time for citizens to use online tools to improve communities offline … we’re sure your Farmville crops will still be there when you return.”

The anti-waste campaign “Let’s Do It” began in 2008 when a small group of Estonians organized volunteers to geo-map all of the illegal dumping in their country – and, in one amazing day of action with 50,000 participants, cleaned it all. The San Francisco Let’s Do It initiative urges local volunteers to also sign up for the North American portion of World Cleanup 2012, in which the original Estonian organizers aim to clean up 100 countries with similar massive mapping campaign and single-day actions.

The City Attorney’s Office teamed up with 311, DPW and SF Environment to bring together a host of City and partner services and public awareness resources in Let’s Do It SF. These include:

311 services on the Web, Facebook and a range of mobile apps;

DPW’s “Don’t Leave It On the Sidewalk” campaign;

SF Environment’s EcoFinder and SFRecycles;

Recology’s RecycleMyJunk; and

DPW’s Clean Team volunteer program.

“Public Works encourages the public to learn more about free and low cost resources for the collection of unwanted items and to also get involved through our community service volunteer programs,” said DPW Director Ed Reiskin.

Let’s Do It SF emphasizes true Gov 2.0 spirit in its development and collaborative multi-agency approach to taking on issues of blight in San Francisco neighborhoods. It includes a robust social media element, including:

Let’s Do It SF on Facebook;

Streaming tweets from Let’s Do It SF and from DPW Deputy Director Mohammed “Mr. Clean SF” Nuru;

Open-source Web development and Creative Commons licensing; and

Flickr photos from the Let’s Do It World pool.

User generated government

Reset San FranciscoSan Francisco-based campaigns and causes are already among our nation’s leaders in adopting Web 2.0 tactics. But the real progress will come when these new technologies are used to do more than win elections – but when they are employed to improve the quality of our government and the quality of our lives.

That’s what is all about. We’re building a community of San Franciscans who believe that new technologies – and the tens of thousands of people they bring into the political process – can help make city government as creative and effective as the rest of our city.

We’ve already organized nearly 2,000 members – and we’ve brought together hundreds of dedicated San Franciscans at a series of brick and mortar events. If you are reading this in time – you can get a great idea of what we are all about at our Solutions Palooza event this Saturday April 16 at 11:00am at Horace Mann Middle School in the Mission. And if you miss that event, stay in touch at for our ongoing series of community events and our daily news, views and actions online.

From Web 2.0 to Gov 2.0

At Reset, we believe that something has been missing from the political and policy debate – real data. And we believe tens of thousands of San Franciscans have been missing the chance to hold our government to the highest standards because they just don’t have the tools to make their voices heard.

That’s why we’re committed to doing more than making sure more data is available but also using that data to improve our quality of life. And we want to make sure many, many more people can participate in improving city government.

So we think it’s great that we have apps that show us how late our bus is going to be. But the breakthrough will come when the Municipal Railway uses GPS to keep the buses and streetcars from bunching together – so transit is on time.

Politicians using YouTube to spread the word about government innovation is an important first step. But we are proposing using YouTube to let more San Francisco residents inform and improve local government. Our YouTube petition idea is just one example of how we think better technology means more robust democratic participation, which will drive government innovation.

Creating a 311 system that lets San Franciscans call, tweet or email problems or complaints is a powerful innovation. But the true breakthrough will be when we hold our government accountable to this data – and make it a day-to-day part of management.

What Reset San Francisco Is All About

That’s the goal of Reset – using a campaign setting to bring tens of thousands of new San Franciscans into the government and political process.

But victory for one candidate isn’t enough. While we are still small – our ambitions our lofty. We don’t just want to change how candidates campaign. We want to change how elected officials govern in ongoing consultation with this educated and empowered community.

We hope you’ll check it out and get involved at