Month: May 2012

What happened to Manor?

Ines Mergel asks a great question about a government 2.0 icon emblematic of the potential local open government had in its nascent heyday way back two years ago:

What happened, Manor?

For those unfamiliar with Manor and its young gun superstar and former CIO Dustin Haisler, Manor was symbolic of the “small town startup” that could strategically leverage modern technology to better serve citizens and run more efficiently while still keeping IT costs to a minimum. Haisler leveraged QR codes, WordPress, Google Apps, engagement platforms and other experimental technologies that brought Manor into the digital 21st century.

Today, that Manor is gone.

Haisler eventually left for the real startup world, and it appears the baton was either not properly handed off or just dropped altogether.

I asked Haisler about this, and here’s his reply via email:

I think this shows the need for a few things:

(1) Forming a social norm around innovation and experimentation in government, which requires significant measurement and reporting in order to combat the risk that comes along with a change in administration.

(2) Government innovation programs should not be run solely from within City Hall. There should be controlling interests from community stakeholders (businesses, non-profits, academia, etc.)

(3) The need for education. Current and future leaders of government agencies need to be educated on the business value that comes from using participatory technologies within government.

This presents a unique opportunity to reinvent civic innovation within Manor (where I still live) from a truly grassroots perspective driven from the community.

Design is inherently subjective, so it’s difficult to argue whether the new site is prettier than the previous version, however, there are several non-aesthetic components now missing from Manor’s previous “beta city” vision that should be standard in all new government websites:

  • no integrated content management system (it appears they’re now using Google Blogspot to post site updates, but these are separate from the site’s primary pages)
  • less prominent social media accounts (previously, Manor had a Facebook, Twitter and Flickr presence, but now only Facebook is accessible, albeit hidden)
  • no commitment to open source (previous WordPress theme was developed and made freely available to any government)
  • no site search
  • no accessible email or online contact form
  • no open data portal
  • no open 311 reporting
  • URLs no longer mapped to domain
  • basic disregard of 508 compliance

I’m not familiar with Manor’s current operations and technological leadership but, judging by its new website, I concur with Mergel that “they apparently went back in time and put up a horrific website in a design that reminds me of the early days of the Internet.” (disclaimer: I helped set up and design the previous version)

Whatever the reason for the set-back, there’s a lesson to be learned in how to better transition an IT environment developed by a tech-savvy CIO to leadership that appears to be less informed on today’s technological standards.

Most importantly, it’s seems there’s an opportunity here for the Gov 2.0 community to come together and address how small towns manage IT sustainability and help those that are less tech-savvy better understand and implement strategic, experimental and open technologies.

How can we do this?

California controller names Tina Lee to innovation post

Tina LeeCalifornia Controller John Chiang has appointed Tina Lee as Director of Outreach and Innovation to help his office better engage with the state’s citizens, non-profit and community organizations and businesses.

According to the announcement, Lee will lead engagement efforts in Northern California and advise Chiang on ways to increase government transparency and operational efficiency.

Lee previously served as Director of Innovation and Learning for ZeroDivide Foundation. Prior to ZeroDivide, she was an Emerging Technologies Team Fellow in the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Technology.

Lee can be reached via email at or follow her on Twitter @CA_SCO_Tina.

iPads and voter registration usability

Open Source Digital Voting Foundation’s John Sebes writes about watching new citizens complete voter registration application forms and the associated usability issues, especially for older, less tech-savvy demographic.

“For these people, the application form might well be daunting: two pages of instructions in small font in addition to a form with little boxes that are hard to read for anyone, much less a user of reading glasses. And for those who actually read the instructions, there is some real confusion over whether you can vote if you lack a driver’s license or SSN. (I expect that some people lacked one or maybe both.) More vexing, the elections department people told me how conscious they were about people’s need for help in doing the application form correctly, and having to deal with more paperwork, and having to take the initiative to walk over to speak to more government people, in order to get the help.

In fact, one of them said that they wished they had the voter registration form on an iPad, and each of them could work the crowd with iPad in hand to get people filling the form with as large print as needed, in whatever language was convenient, with as much online assistance as possible, and no pages of daunting instructions.”

Full post.

America’s coolest mayor

This is the first time I’ve heard of Harvard-educated, professional wrestler look-alike and Braddock, Pennsylvania, mayor John Fetterman, featured in this episode of Hulu’s “A Day In The Life” series. The Guardian has called him “America’s coolest mayor.”

An incredible story about someone who probably could’ve done anything he wanted with his life, but instead decided to help rebuild a fading community.

(HT Dustin Haisler)

Fostering civic innovation in California

Alissa BlackAlissa Black joined the New America Foundation in April to lead the newly-formed California Civic Innovation Project, focused on “identifying best practices to improving service delivery, opening new channels for public voices, and bridging the state’s digital divides.”

Black previously served as government relations director at Code for America and has worked for New York City and San Francisco governments, including developing and deploying SF’s Open311 citizen reporting system.

What is the CA Civic Innovation Project and your new role in this?

I’m very excited to be leading the California Civic Innovation Project (CCIP). CCIP promotes innovations in technology, policy and practice that deepen engagement between government and communities throughout the state. Through research and information-sharing, CCIP builds communities of practice within California’s local governments and identifies best practices to improving service delivery, opening new channels for public voices, and bridging the state’s digital divides.

Healthy knowledge sharing networks, both formal and informal, are essential to the diffusion of innovation in local governments. CCIP’s research in the area will contribute to more a comprehensive understanding of how local governments can better share technology, policies, and practices. Additionally, CCIP will engage with local governments to develop an innovation process grounded in public-private collaboration and community engagement.

What are the biggest challenges in getting government to engage with citizens and how does it overcome this?

The most daunting challenge any large organization could face is culture change, and that really is the underlying barrier to governments’ deeper level of engagement with the community. Local governments operate in an environment that is heavily siloed, so much so that employees in one department do not interact with employees in other departments. The culture of operating in silos disincentivizes government employees from collaboration, both internally and with the public. There are a number of cities in California that have overcome the silo barrier and engage with their communities.

Days of Dialogue, created by former Los Angeles Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, brings together civic leaders, government officials, and the general public to engage in dialogue on issues that divide the community. Other California municipalities have been successful forming partnerships with community groups to support civic engagement. The partnerships offer the advantage of engaging a pre-existing network and tapping into the expertise and resources of local partners.

What are the best examples of innovative uses of technology with regards to enabling better citizen participation?

A few examples come to mind:

  • Open311 is one of the best examples of government innovating to not only improve access for residents, but also to create an ecosystem for developers to build mobile apps and consumers to access government data.
  • Another example that I consider innovative, simply because the technology we consider ubiquitous is often absent in government, is the use of video conferencing in Nevada County, California. The county government began offering video conferencing for service intake and court filings, saving residents time and making county services more accessible.
  • Participatory budgeting is an exciting way to involve the public in better understanding the local budgeting process, but more importantly I believe, raising public awareness of the trade-offs that need to be made when preparing a budget.

How can those interested in your work connect with you to learn more (website, social media, contact info, etc.)?

You can find out more about the California Civic Innovation Project at

I’m currently looking for policy interns so if you’re interested in learning more about the opportunity you can reach me at blacka (at) You can follow me on Twitter at @alissa007 and @NewAmericaOTI.

Listen to Black’s interview on the CAFwd Radio Show: