Month: April 2012

Help government communicate better

Measured Voice President Jed Sundwall writes “Why We’re a Civic Startup” on the company’s blog to highlight why it applied to the Code for America Accelerator program.

Kudos to him for openly acknowledging Measured Voice’s application, but also articulating a mission-driven motivation, which I believe is important for any business, especially those serving government.

More importantly, Jed sheds light on a fundamental civic need, but also one where there’s currently little market competition: helping government better communicate to citizens.

Jed and I have talked about government communications at length, and I’ve written about this in the past. Unlike founders of many civic startups, he has worked closely with government and gets its culture and inherent challenges. He is truly serious and passionate about this, especially as it pertains to how government can best leverage social media.

From his post:

While there are many social media management tools, none are focused on government, and none focus as closely as we do on the most important component of government social media communications: clear, strategic messaging. As more government organizations are pushed to communicate via social media, we aspire to be the tool agencies choose to develop professional, mission-driven, social media communication teams.

Our wildest ambition is to help improve the clarity of language used in public facing government communications.

and:

Our #1 goal as a company is to do work that we’re proud of. If we can help government organizations communicate more effectively with citizens, we’ll improve millions of people’s experiences with the government. The chance to work on these kinds of problems is what gets us out of bed in the morning.

Much of the Gov 2.0/open government movement focuses on data, transparency, open source, apps and other technology solutions without addressing the fundamental challenge of effectively informing the common citizen and meeting them where they are, which more often these days is through social media. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard local government representatives say they know they need to get on Twitter or Facebook, but have no understanding of where to begin.

As we build more agile, affordable technology solutions for government, let’s also focus and allocate resources on helping it better communicate to citizens.

Instead of butting heads, citizens and government can start mixing minds

MindMixer

MindMixer is working with the San Francisco, Los Angeles and other local communities to help crowdsource ideas for civic improvement. CEO and Co-Founder Nick Bowden discusses his venture and the value of government-citizen collaboration.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

A simple web and mobile platform that generates a broader audience and creates effective and measurable citizen participation.

What problem does MindMixer solve for government?

Cities struggle to engage a cross section of the community on a variety of topics at a reasonable cost. MindMixer solves that problem by providing a robust engagement platform that allows citizens to participate on topics where they have an interest.

What’s the story behind starting MindMixer?

MindMixer launched in March of 2011 as an answer to the long-standing problem of decreasing citizen involvement in local decision-making. Nick Bowden and Nathan Preheim founded the company as former urban planners frustrated with consistently low turnout at public meetings.

What are its key features?

MindMixer believes strongly that idea submission is only one aspect of the participation process. In addition to basic crowdsourcing functionality, MindMixer also offers prioritization tools, interactive budgeting tools, map-based inputs, and online surveys. Additionally, MindMixer employs a unique community-based reward system. Participants earn points for quality participation and can in turn “cash” those points in for civic rewards.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

MindMixer offers a range of affordable pricing options from $3,000 – $25,000 for a 12 month period. Pricing is largely dependent on the size of the municipality.

How can those interested connect with you?

Raise Your Voice wants to help citizens better engage with legislators

Raise Your VoiceRaise Your Voice founder Dan Busse shares how his new civic venture wants to change the way citizens and legislators engage with one another.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

We are a tool, placed in online news and blogs, that promotes open dialogue between citizens and legislators in response to current issues.

What problem does Raise Your Voice solve for government?

By enabling average people to quickly and easily voice their opinions to their elected officials – from the news, when they’re most inspired – officials get a larger sampling and a better, unfiltered understanding of how their constituents feel.

What’s the story behind starting Raise Your Voice?

I conceived Raise Your Voice during the debates on health care reform. As an Emergency Physician, I grew increasingly frustrated watching the town hall meetings, well meaning attempts at open dialogue, were hijacked by special interests and degenerated into shouting matches. It became clear to me that there were too many layers – pundits, interest groups, and media, between people and their elected officials, so I designed Raise Your Voice to give the average citizen direct and easy access. I placed it in online news, because that’s where people are most inspired to act. We got some small funding and launched in November 2011.

What are its key features?

Our main attribute is that, in being placed in online news and blogs, we make ourselves available when people are the most inspired about current issues (who hasn’t yelled at the news?).

Other key features include:

  • an address book that includes federal, state, local, and county officials (since all politics is local)
  • a “widget configurator” that allows people to generate and download the javascript code to place our button on their sites
  • the ability to share their communications throughout their social networks
  • we are working on integrating an advocacy platform, so people writing about an issue can see other groups working in their area (i.e. I write about logging and the spotted owl then see links to the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society sites)
  • we have a multitude of features we are working on to make interaction easier; all aimed at opening up government.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

We are free.

How can those interested connect with you?

Gov 2.0 strikes a pose

Source: vogue.com

Source: vogue.com

Congratulations to New York City Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne on her Vogue magazine profile.

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.”

and this:

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.

Full story.

Code for America launches accelerator to ‘turbo-charge’ civic startups

Code for America AcceleratorCode for America officially launched its Code for America Accelerator to “‘turbo-charge’ select civic startups by providing them an opportunity to amplify market awareness of their product, to access a wealth of business training and advice, and to be introduced to a broad network of potential investors and civic leaders.”

The 4-month program program begins August 2012, and application deadline is June 1.

How it works (from CfA):

  • Three to five companies will be selected to participate in the program
  • The program will run for four months, beginning August 1, 2012
  • Each team will be granted $25,000 in funding as well as access to CfA office space for the term
  • Teams will receive guidance from high-profile civic and industry mentors and advisors
  • Teams can reside anywhere in the country, but will gather in San Francisco one week a month for “retreats” featuring intensive training and networking

Apply here.

CivicSponsor helps citizens crowdfund their public spaces

CivicSponsor

Source: civicsponsor.com

CivicSponsor wants to change the traditional way we fund our public spaces. Here, its three co-founders outline how their new venture aims to help citizens and public servants think outside the taxpayer box.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

CivicSponsor opens channels in your local government so that you can directly, transparently crowdfund public projects in your community with tax-deductible dollars.

What problems does CivicSponsor solve?

As local governments face massive budget cuts, they leave constituents with only two choices: pay more taxes or get no more projects (likely get cuts). CivicSponsor offers a third option: make elective (not forced) contributions that are earmarked, transparent and audited and that only can be used for new, discrete physical projects. We only work on projects that have no other options: either the local government raises new money, or the projects simply can’t be built. CivicSponsor markets the projects, collects the funds, brings corporate sponsors to the table, and provides the tools to offer transparency and measurement of use of funds in clear terms: square feet of public space built, hours of education funded, etc. Our first project is live on our site at www.civicsponsor.org, where we are raising the necessary funds to build athletic facilities at four middle schools in East San Jose.

What are its key features?

We work with the governments directly. Folks can raise money on other platforms; there are plenty around. But none of the others are officially connected with local government. That makes all the difference when you need to offer a tax deduction (we’re for profit) and you need the funds to be earmarked for specific projects. You can’t simply hand funds to government and tell them how to spend it; general fund contributions won’t work that way. You need governments on board from the start, and we know how to close them. Also, we have a corporate sales function that brings big companies on board with these projects in visible, positive public/private partnerships. Companies are more and more realizing the power that investing in their community can have for recruiting, sales, marketing and other efforts. We sell these projects not as philanthropy, but as crucial community outreach that affects the bottom line in a number of ways. No other site does all of the above.

What’s the story behind starting CivicSponsor?

Our three co-founders had been thinking individually about how to save our home towns ever since the recession hit in 2008. Local governments control the public assets we interact with on a daily basis: the park next door, the school our children attend, the streets we bike on. And as grants and subsidies dry up at the federal and state level, the projects that get cut tend to be the local ones, the ones we see and touch and use every day. It didn’t seem appropriate to stand by and watch this happen, so we put together a plan to bring new, private sector dollars to public projects. We knew that to get more money from individuals and businesses, we needed to offer something more, and it turned out that folks we

For GovHub, all politics is personal

GovHub

Source: GovHub

When no one in Nick Gaines’ UC Berkeley freshman political science class could answer the question “Who is your state senator?,” he tuned in, dropped out and started GovHub with co-founder Adam Becker. Here, Becker shares more about their pursuit of the American dream and how they want to help citizens better engage with their elected officials.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

GovHub provides a personalized platform for citizens to learn about and interact with their officials in each level of government.

What problems does GovHub solve?

For government officials:

  • Lack of name recognition
  • Antiquated, costly public opinion polls
  • Inefficient methods for communicating with their constituents

For citizens:

  • Hard to actually find who represents you in each level of government (to find out who my city councilperson is, I have to click through about ten pages on my city’s website, including a 2mb PDF file)
  • Once you know who represents you, no good way to see what they’re doing in office
  • Communication with representatives often feels futile and is hard to get a personalized response from

What are its key features?

  • Enter your address and see the officials that represent you at each level of government.
  • See their profiles, voting records, social media updates.
  • Interact with them on our discussion board, which uses crowdsourced moderation to determine the issues that are most important to an official’s constituents. (We have Kriss Worthington from the Berkeley City Council doing our first Q+A on April 12th.)

…and some really neat things planned for the future.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

GovHub will always be free for its users. In the future we plan to charge government officials (and candidates) for the different services that can connect them to their constituents.

How can those interested connect with you?