Month: October 2011

The opportunity for civic startups

Excellent Civic Startups presentation from Civic Commons Managing Director Nick Grossman. My only comment on the slides is that there tends to be an emphasis on a core group of civic start-ups, which makes it seem as if there’s little momentum in this space. Would be great to see others highlighted beyond these.

How civic entrepreneurs and developers can share your work with GovFresh readers

I regularly get emails from start-ups, entrepreneurs and developers asking us to feature new products or apps on GovFresh. I’m always happy to support new ventures but, because of resource constraints, am sometimes unable to respond in a timely manner, if at all.

To resolve this, here’s a standardized questionnaire for those of you building new, civic-focused products or services aimed at helping change the way government works. Email your answers to press at govfresh dot com, and we’ll follow up with additional questions if appropriate.

NOTE: Please refrain from using cliche sales and marketing pitches.)


  • Give us the 140-character elevator pitch. (Ex: [your product] …)
  • What problem(s) do(es) [your product] solve for government?
  • What’s the story behind starting [your product]? (When did it launch? Who are the founders? How did you come up with the idea? Etc.)
  • What are its key features?
  • What are the costs, pricing plans? (if applies)
  • How can those interested connect with you (Website, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.)?
  • (Additional links to video overviews, screencasts or product images are also also helpful.)

Thank you.

MC Hammer: ‘These tools create a level of transparency that sometimes can be uncomfortable’

O’Reilly Media’s Alex Howard interviewed musician and tech entrepreneur MC Hammer at the 2011 Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco where, towards the end, Hammer talks about the impact social media, mobile and crowdsourcing have on government.


“Local governments, they’re not good at engaging the public at large. They’re still finding their feet with respect to using these platforms and dropping their guards and stop being afraid of social media, because remember, these tools create a level of transparency that sometimes can be uncomfortable. You no longer dictate the corporate message to the community, but the community speaks back, and they voice their opinions.”

Bring the IT Dashboard to San Francisco

San Francisco City Hall

(Photo: Wikipedia)

San Francisco has led the nation with Gov 2.0 innovations, like Twitter311 – connecting the City’s 311 Call Center to Twitter — allowing residents to contact the City about potholes, graffiti and interact with government in real time with a tweet, – the City’s one stop shop for government data that has empowered developers to create incredible apps that bring city data to life, and Open311 the first national API in government.

These initiatives are saving the City money, bringing more people into the political process and inspiring other communities to do the same. But, San Francisco like other cities is just scratching the surface.

There is much more that can be done immediately in San Francisco and communities all over the country to make government more efficient and transparent using technology.

One way to improve transparency is to make it as simple as possible for various San Francisco departments to share with the public and each other how much and what they are spending on technology. We know San Francisco’s government spends millions of dollars annually on technology, but it is extremely difficult for various departments — let alone citizens to easily access this information. However, there is a solution that is freely available today.

In 2009, President Obama rolled out the IT Dashboard to shed light on $80 billion in federal IT spending. The Dashboard tracks government technology expenditures — allowing the public to monitor how their money is being spent. Earlier this year, it was estimated that the IT Dashboard had saved the federal government $3 billion by eliminating or reducing unnecessary tech expenditures.

In March 2011, the White House working with Code for America and Civic Commons made the technology behind the Dashboard freely available for any government to use. Now, any city or state can implement the IT Dashboard in their community, but nobody has yet.

A new report released today on technology’s role in civic engagement and local government in California from the New America Foundation/Zócalo, Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West and the James Irvine Foundation stresses the need for innovations like the Dashboard, saying “while cost savings are critical, tools and standards for measuring communities’ information needs — and the inclusivity and effectiveness of the projects being proposed — are needed as well.”

The City By the Bay should lead by example and implement the IT Dashboard to save money and increase civic engagement. But, any city or town can do the same. Ask your elected officials to bring the IT Dashboard to your community. I’ve started an online petition calling for San Francisco City leaders to bring the IT Dashboard to San Francisco’s City Hall.

It’s time our political leaders ramped up the use of 21st century tools that are freely available to make our government more transparent — this will help restore trust in its institutions and empower a new generation of leaders.

If you are in the Bay Area and want to learn more about open government and the newly released report, “Hear Us Now? A California Survey of Digital Technology’s Role in Civic Engagement and Local Government” join me at Stanford on October 26th for a discussion about the report with Gov 2.0 leaders. It’s free, just like the IT Dashboard. You can RSVP here.

Government IT leaders should blog more

When I talk to city and local government technology leaders about their challenges and lessons learned, I’m often surprised they don’t openly and regularly share their experiences with the civic technology community or, in general, the citizens they serve.

Reasons include time or political constraints or that they don’t have an outlet to do so. There’s either no official platform for them to blog or they lack the resources to create one. While there are some chief technology officers and chief information officers who occasionally write for established government IT publications, there is an unfortunate lost opportunity in the lack of regularity here.

Federal agency CIOs have an official site ( dedicated to this. Locally, there are a handful, such as Seattle CTO Bill Schrier, who keeps a personal blog focused mostly on government technology issues.

There are a number of local IT leaders doing fantastic work that should be openly presented and discussed from a first-hand perspective. If more did this, it would not only help validate their work, potentially help increase their political clout, but also encourage others to follow suit or, even better, have a point of reference for launching similar initiatives.

Whether it’s on GovFresh, your personal blog or official government website, set a regular schedule, create a content strategy and take the initiative to share your experiences. Your colleagues and the citizens you serve will appreciate the effort, and I can assure you your influence and leadership within the government IT community will grow exponentially and immediately.

If you’re a city or municipal government IT executive interested in sharing your ideas, questions, projects or lessons learned on GovFresh, please feel free to email me at

Code for America announces 2012 Fellows

Code for America Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka announced its 2012 fellows today at the Code for America Summit in San Francisco. Twenty-five fellows were selected from more than 550 applicants.

“We are honored to have had such an amazing response to our call, and it means that we couldn’t be more proud to name these cities and fellows our partners in 2012,” wrote Pahkla in a blog post.

CfA 2012 partner cities include Austin, Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu, Macon (Ga.), New Orleans, Philadelphia and Santa Cruz (Ca.).