Month: May 2011

Turn and hack the change

Hack for Change announced it will host a Hack for Change contest June 17-18 to build “apps for social good.” The event will be held at’s San Francisco headquarters. Winners will receive $10,000 in seed funding.

The contest, held in partnership with Code for America and Mashable, “looks to accelerate a growing movement of using the web to transform advocacy, philanthropy, government, and politics.”

“The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the world’s top web designers and developers — many of whom would like to use their skills for social change, but have not been asked,” said Ben Rattray, the founder of “Hack for Change is looking to tap into the tech community to help build apps that change lives and to provide an easy first step into the technology-for-good movement.”

Sign up or submit app ideas here.

Building a scalable open government process

Much of the energy and effort around open government to date has literally been hacked together or leans towards a reactive, transparency watchdog approach to making government more extroverted.

This is understandable. Any new growth area has its experimental phase and, in order to discover what works, you must try everything. After two years of open government (yes, others have been doing this much longer), we’re at a point where we’ve tried a number of tricks, and it’s time to assess what works and what doesn’t.

We’ve reached the point in the movement where hacking for hacking’s sake and professional finger-pointing has reached its capacity to affect sustainable change in government. Both of these aspects have their merits (the former much more so than the latter), but it’s time to think critically about what effort is being put forward, start assessing the return on investment and institute proactive processes for a scalable approach to open government.

It’s now time to be big picture proactive and results-oriented.

When Brian Purchia and I came up with the idea for SFOpen 2011, a San Francisco mayoral candidates forum focused on open government issues, we both agreed on the importance of building on something much bigger than one event. We wanted to build a process that educated and assisted the San Francisco mayoral candidates to the fundamentals of open government.

For starters, as part of SFOpen, we created an Open Government Pledge for the candidates. While it’s not perfect and doesn’t address specific deliverables, it’s the beginning of what should be a fairly straightforward process for every elected official.

As we’ve progressed with the planning, we realize there are a number of other items that can be compiled into an “Open Government Toolkit” that begins with the candidate and follows him/her through the election and into office. Now we’ve started thinking about what a comprehensive kit should include and how to best go about building this.

For starters, here are some ideas:

  • Candidate Open Government Pledge
  • Candidate Open Government Report Card
  • City Open Government Directive
  • City Open Source Procurement Policy
  • City Open Data Implementation Guide
  • City OpenAPI Guide
  • Civic App Contest Guide

So, what does an open government process and toolkit look like to you? As we begin to build this out, we’re looking for ideas on how we can move this forward and how others would like to help create it. Please share your thoughts and feedback in the comments.

Open government can scale. We just need to think big picture, work together and help make it easier for elected officials and public servants to execute on.

SF Mayoral Candidates: An Open Government Pledge for San Francisco

In an effort to make it easier for local governments to better implement open government policies, a group of dedicated advocates recently created a sample Local Open Government Initiative (LOGI), modeled after the one initiated by President Obama for the federal government in January 2009. Supporting LOGI organizations included CityCamp, OpenColorado, Code for America, OpenPlans and Sunlight Foundation.

As part of our work around SFOpen 2011, with the help from the above, we’ve adapted the LOGI in the form of a pledge, and we’re formally asking all San Francisco mayoral candidates to make ‘An Open Government Pledge for San Francisco’ (see below).

This is the first step in a process to work with the candidates to help them better embrace the principles of open government. We’re reaching out to each of them and will update this post with commitments (they can also add in the comments).

Update: Candidates committed (ordered by response time):

San Francisco Mayoral Candidate Commitment to Open Government

Open government is the movement to improve government by making government more transparent, participatory, collaborative, accountable, efficient, and effective. Open government will help build the public’s trust and satisfaction in government, will improve government’s delivery of services, and will create new opportunities for innovation.

I, _______________________, commit to support the following principles of open government:

Transparency: To increase accountability, promote informed public participation, and create economic development opportunities, the city shall expand access to information
Participation: To create more informed and effective policies, the city shall enhance and expand opportunities for the public to participate throughout decision-making processes.
Collaboration: To more effectively fulfill its obligations to citizens, the city will enhance and expand its practices of cooperation among city departments, other governmental agencies, the public, and non-profit and private.

With the rise of new technologies and an increasingly connected population, a growing pressure has been placed on government leaders and government entities to adopt these open government principles. I will take steps to ensure San Francisco meets these demands and supports citizens’ needs.

By supporting open government efforts, San Francisco will build on and enhance opportunities for citizens to inform government; will further develop the city’s transparency and accountability; and develop a platform to support innovation.

Furthermore, I will support developing a legal framework to support open government, and I will ensure open government efforts are appropriately funded and managed, which will help build a culture of open government.

San Francisco is already a leader in supporting innovation through sharing government data and is a leader in the open government movement.

I will ensure the city and all of its departments continue in this direction to create the model of local open government.

I commit to working with city officials and the public to ensure open government and innovation continue to grow in San Francisco.

SF government chooses Microsoft’s cloud for email

Updated to include contract details and comment from SF Department of Technology representative.

The City and County of San Francisco announced it has selected Microsoft Exchange Online to host its 23,000 employee email system. Migration has already begun and will continue over the next 12 months, according to a Microsoft press release.

According to the contract, total payment over a 3-year term is $4,424,913.42.

An SF Department of Technology representative followed up via email with me with the following comment on the bid process:

Solutions from Microsoft, Google, and Lotus Notes were all considered as part of a long internal process that included input from CIO’s from various City departments, with final policy and project approval from the Committee on Information Technology (COIT). At the end, a Microsoft-based solution was agreed upon, and the City solicited and received multiple bids through a competitive process the City has in place for IT procurement.

SF Chief Information Officer Jon Walton:

“By moving to the Microsoft platform, we not only get immediate improvements to our system, but we gain a disaster-resilient system that provides the most modern information tools, with solid support provisions that can scale with the needs of our constituents.”.

SF Mayor Edwin M. Lee:

“A key part of serving a community as diverse and vibrant as ours starts with making the right investments in information technology. It is our responsibility to make decisions that are fiscally responsible, forward-looking, and improve the services that city and county employees provide to our constituents.”

City and County of San Francisco Microsoft Exchange Online Contract(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

Thumbnail image via kevindooley.

New Gov2 TV launches ‘for what’s hot in open government from around the world’

Gov2 TV, a new television show focused on Gov 2.0 and open government, launched this week. The show, hosted by Walter Schwabe, featured O’Reilly Media Government 2.0 Washington Correspondent Alex Howard and Our Say Australia Communications and Community Manager Linh Do in its inaugural episode.

“Gov2 on fusedlogicTV will aim to be your weekly live and on-demand source for what’s hot in Open Government from around the world,” said Schwabe announcing the show.

Here’s the first episode:

Building the ‘Next Generation Democracy’

Next Generation Democracy: What the Open-Source Revolution Means for Power, Politics, and ChangeI’ve been meaning to post something about Next Generation Democracy: What the Open-Source Revolution Means for Power, Politics, and Change for a long time now, but just haven’t had the time. Before I pass it on to someone else, I wanted to share quick thoughts, because a book like this is important for the open government movement and makes the subject of how technology can change the way government works more accessible.

I highly recommend open government advocates and public servants, and anyone else interested in how open source and crowdsourcing can and are impacting government and democracy, read this. While it skews towards a focus on millennials and borrows a number of examples from the sustainability movement, which may not resonate with some, it gives great insight into real-world case studies of how technology is being leveraged to better connect government with citizens. Its narrative approach is a great companion to O’Reilly’s more deep-dive book Open Government (which I also highly recommend).

Buy it on Amazon or visit the book’s Website for more information.

Here’s an interview with author Jared Duval:

Bring participatory budgeting to San Francisco

Would the government work better if you had more say?

At Reset San Francisco, we think the answer to that question is absolutely yes, which is why we were so excited when the folks behind the movement for Participatory Budgeting paid a visit to City Hall last week.

Don’t let the boring name fool you – this is really powerful stuff. At its core, Participatory Budgeting is about educating and engaging everyday residents to make important decisions about government priorities.

The movement is winning headlines for experiments in China, where a provincial town educated and empanelled a representative sample of residents to make important budget decisions. It has been tried in Chicago’s 49th Ward – led by Alderman Joe Moore – to make decisions about how to spend more than $1 million in discretionary infrastructure funds. We think it is time to try it here in San Francisco.

Here’s a great video of the Chicago experiment:

Does it remind you of something? To us it looks almost exactly like our own Reset San Francisco community meetings where we bring residents together to look for solutions to San Francisco’s challenges.

Beyond Gov 2.0 press releases and toward real power for residents

San Francisco is pretty good – maybe even the very best – at adopting the rhetoric of Gov 2.0. But are we embracing the core reality – giving residents more real power? What would happen if we had more say over how San Francisco’s $6.5 billion budget is spent?

Would you have made the decision that MUNI just did to spend $100,000 on an outside public relations firm – or would you have invested that money to make sure the 38 Geary, N Judah, 22 Fillmore or your own MUNI bus or streetcar was on time more often? If you had more say over the budget – do you think the Clipper Card would be such a disaster?

If you were in charge of the school budget, would you invest more in San Francisco neighborhood schools?

What about the infrastructure budget? Would there be so many potholes if you were in charge? Would there be more bike lanes? Would the city be so dirty?

Right now most of these decisions are made for us at City Hall – and usually after just hearing from a narrow group of people who have time to come testify. What would happen if more San Franciscans made these important decisions?

At Reset we think the answer is that we would get better decisions – which is why we are so inspired by these new models of getting residents involved in improving their own communities.

Bring DontEat.At to San Francisco and save public health dollars


In a powerfully argued post at GovLoop back in January, Canadian open data advisor David Eaves offered a solution for saving millions in public health costs: create data standards around restaurant healthfulness inspection scores and incorporate them into consumer-oriented websites like Yelp and OpenTable.

Last night on Gov 2.0 Radio, Allison Hornery of CivicTEC in Sydney pointed to a new app by New York University computer science student Max Stoller that mashes up NY health inspection data with Foursquare, and provides a text message warning if the restaurant isn’t making the grade. It’s called DontEat.At.

I’d really like to see Yelp, OpenTable and Facebook step up to the plate and take on this important public health goal in San Francisco. We’ve got the data, and is already using it in a user-friendly map. Incorporating it into restaurant sites and apps would make this data more accessible, and more likely to reduce public health risks.

While we’re waiting for Yelp and OpenTable, I’d love to see Max bring his app here.

Max, if you’re reading, here’s the raw data.

Happy birthday: GovFresh turns 2

Today is GovFresh’s second birthday, and I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone and take stock of all that we’ve been part of since its inception.

Code for America founder Jen Pahlka and I had coffee a few days ago, and I left realizing I’ve never itemized the work that’s been done via GovFresh which, for my own sanity and inspiration, I’d like to do now.

All of what we’ve been part of has involved people who care and have great passion for improving our civic culture. Every day I get to talk and meet with great people doing great work, and it inspires me to work harder to try keeping up.

‘Good government’ isn’t good enough to them. These people going for great.

With the help of many, here’s what I’m proud to have been part of over the past 2 years:

  1. Founding/supporting the first major metropolitan open government mayoral forum SFOpen 2011 (with Brian Purchia).
  2. Founding/supporting monthly San Francisco civic tech meet-up Third Thursdays SF (with Adriel Hampton).
  3. Launched gov20.govfresh powered by Alex Howard, one of the best government technology journalists in the field.
  4. Designed CityCamp brand and WordPress theme (.zip) and worked with founder Kevin Curry to make CityCamp an open source brand.
  5. Serve as Web host for CityCamp, CityCamp San Francisco, CityCamp London, CityCamp Colorado, CityCamp Edmonton and Third Thursdays SF.
  6. Helped makeover the City of DeLeon, TX.
  7. manor.govfresh (with Dustin Haisler)
  8. sf.govfresh (with Adobe Government)
  9. Founded Gov 2.0 Hero Day.
  10. Created free government WordPress theme.
  11. Helped the City of Manor, TX, launch its first open source Website.
  12. Logo/branding and/or Web design for CityCamp, Gov 2.0 Radio, OpenGov West, GovTwit.

Including starting GovFresh, many of the stories I have about the above involved little deliberation and planning. I’ve always felt it’s important to just do something and go into non-stop iteration mode.

While I don’t have much free time, I’m always open to working with people to help grow what I feel is an important cause. Please feel free to reach out to me with questions, ideas, sponsorship dollars and coffee and iTunes gift cards and free babysitting.

Thank you and happy birthday!