Month: November 2012

Data Challenge Spotlight: WhyGDP?


“Data Challenge Spotlight” is a collaboration with the National Conference on Citizenship and GovFresh that highlights winners of the 2012 Civic Data Challenge. Follow the Civic Data Challenge on Twitter (@CivicData) and on Facebook.


WhyGDP? by Will Dekrey and Sean McDonald.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

We’re told American success equals economic growth. The data tells a different story: GDP doesn’t predict better lives, but civic measures do.

What problem does WhyGDP? solve for government and/or your community?

We created WhyGDP? to tell the story of an America paradigm (“Success = GDP”) that may not be able to deliver on its promises. The paradigms that a society holds (i.e, the pervasive, shared but often unstated assumptions) define the lanes of progress for systems, institutions and individuals in that society.

As Emerson eloquently wrote:

“Every nation and every man instantly surround themselves with a material apparatus which exactly corresponds to … their state of thought.  Observe how every truth and every error, each a thought of some man’s mind, clothes itself with societies, houses, cities, language, ceremonies, newspapers.  Observe the ideas of the present day … see how timber, brick, lime, and stone have flown into convenient shape, obedient to the master idea reigning in the minds of many persons … It follows, of course, that the least enlargement of ideas … would cause the most striking changes of external things.”

Changing paradigms is hard but not impossible. Pioneering systems theorist Donella Meadows, instructs would-be paradigm shifters to “keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm … keep speaking and acting, loudly and with assurance, from the new one.”

Republicans, Democrats and pundits feed the paradigm that success for America is inextricably tied to economic growth. WhyGDP? elevates examples of data sets that demonstrate areas where this paradigm is not serving us well — the data suggest that civic engagement measures are better predictors of happy, healthy individuals and communities than are measures of GDP growth.

WhyGDP? is a simple story meant to empower citizens of all walks of life to point out the anomalies of the “Success = GDP” paradigm in conversations about politics, the economy and their community. They can share the site itself via social networks and email, but we also hope they will bring a new line of thinking into discussions with friends and family. They can use WhyGDP? to ask critical and productive questions: “What does success look like for the United States of America?” and “To what long-term goals do we want to hold our government accountable and what short term metrics will we use to judge progress?”

What does having government collect civic data mean to you?

The more data we have, the better we will be able to understand how well our politicians and our policies are leading us towards a happier and healthier future. To continue our dedication — as Lincoln described it — to “the great task remaining before us … [of building a] government of the people, by the people and for the people,” we must have data to understand who we “the people” are, how we’re doing, and how well our government is serving our best interests.

What tools did you use?

WhyGDP? is a story with data at its core.

The story was built using the JavaScript impress.js library, which creates a 3D “story slider” environment similar to a Prezi presentation.

The data was aggregated and cleaned up in Excel and then imported into Tableau Public for analysis.

How can those interested connect with you?

You can find Will at @dekrey and You can find Sean at @sean_mcdonald and

Rebooting .gov

Three years ago in my first blog post here on GovFresh, I recommended the U.S. government centralize its web operations, something I believe applies to government at every level.

To some, this was absurd. One leading government IT “expert” called it the “worst idea ever.”

But what we’ve seen with much of .gov web operations is a disjointed ecosystem of interfaces, technologies and content strategy that evokes a lack of leadership or clarity in how the public sector should best serve citizens online.

From a follow-up post, here were my general recommendations:

  • Centralize all government Web operations under one agency
  • Hire a Chief User Experience Officer
  • Unify look/feel of all government/military Web sites
  • Hire talented writers and editors to produce quality content

This week announced the launch Inside Government that tracks the UK government’s progress consolidating its web ecosystem.

Its goal is simple:

Inside Government makes it simpler, clearer and faster to explore how government works, see who is working on what and stay updated when things change.

What’s incredible about this undertaking is that the UK government isn’t biting off the whole in one chunk. It’s doing it incrementally, one agency at a time. It’s building a simple interface to government that citizens need using an agile development process that will save taxpayer dollars and instill a sense of confidence citizens have in government. It shows is focused and understands citizens needs rather than constructing its online operations as if it were an organizational chart.

I’m a big proponent of the “government as a platform” approach advocated by Tim O’Reilly, but there needs to be a two-pronged strategy that includes government taking the lead on improving its own web ecosystem. is doing just that, and we will see more of this over time.

Read more about this here or watch the introduction video:

Data Challenge Spotlight: Visualizing Health Reform

Illinois Health Matters

“Data Challenge Spotlight” is a collaboration with the National Conference on Citizenship and GovFresh that highlights winners of the 2012 Civic Data Challenge. Follow the Civic Data Challenge on Twitter (@CivicData) and on Facebook.


Visualizing Health Reform from Illinois Health Matters

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

We are the go-to source for factual, easy-to-understand information on health care reform in Illinois.

What problem does Visualizing Health Reform solve for government and/or your community?

While a handful of reputable sites and media outlets examine health policy on a national/state level, very few do it on a community level. Our mapping tool takes complex public policy and translates it to real people.

What’s the story or inspiration behind creating Visualizing Health Reform?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed in 2010, is complex. We wanted to make it easy to see the ways in which Illinois residents will be impacted by the new health reform law so that businesses, health care providers and community groups can prepare.

What are its key features?

An interactive heat map of Illinois provides information on who is uninsured, where they live, and the impact of health reform on their ability to attain health care coverage in 2014. Data can be examined on three levels—state, regions and community. The tool is versatile – it can also be viewed “on the go” on a smartphone or tablet and PDF versions of the maps can be downloaded.

How can those interested connect with you?

Connect with Illinois Health Matters on our website at, Twitter (@ILHealthMatters), Facebook ( or email for specific data and customized reports on health care reform.

Where are the women in e-government, tech policy and politics?

The question has again been asked, where are the women leaders and innovators in e-government, digital diplomacy, online politics, tech policy and related?

Answer: we’re everywhere, from local government to global NGOs, although it’s not always easy for journalists and other researchers to find this information. I’ve twice undertaken the task of listing women and it looks like it’s that time again. This time, we want to crowd source our results beforehand to make sure we include as many women as possible.

In 2010, we published the “100+ Women in Government & Technology” list here at GovFresh and previously in 2008, I made a similar list at The Political Voices of Women, “Women Leading in Technology and Politics or Policy.” The area has only grown. Due to recent criticism of only one woman being included in TechCrunch’s list of “The 20 Most Innovative People in Democracy 2012” and backlash for the original Mother Jones list of “Men Who Stare at Votes” article including zero women (later updated and changed to include women in “Meet Obama’s Digital Gurus“), many of the people I interact with daily in this context – women and men – have argued that it’s time for another more comprehensive list.

In the comments section below, please enter names, affiliations and TwitterIDs, links to bios, etc. for any women you recommend to add to our updated list. As a special nod to Veterans Day, please include any women who are serving or have served in the military. Thank you!

Data Challenge Spotlight: The Art of Community Wellness

The Art of Community Wellness

“Data Challenge Spotlight” is a collaboration with the National Conference on Citizenship and GovFresh that highlights winners of the 2012 Civic Data Challenge. Follow the Civic Data Challenge on Twitter (@CivicData) and on Facebook.


The Art of Community Wellness

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

Our video uses civic health data to demonstrate the importance of arts education to communities, civic involvement and overall wellbeing.

What problem does “The Art of Community Wellness” solve for government and/or your community?

Arts education and its connection to community health touch on a variety of civic concerns. We see our video being particularly useful for those who instruct, organize, and fund educational programs for children. The video raises awareness not only of the importance of arts education for the future, but of the role it already plays in the world around us. We hope that it will prove a catalyst for broader public appreciation of the importance of the arts as part of a well-rounded citizenry.

What does having government collect civic data mean to you? 

Civic data is critically important for helping all of us understand how we’re engaging with our communities and our government. That knowledge (or lack of it) loops back into decisions about commerce, infrastructure, education, and lots of other areas that affect us on a daily basis. But sometimes it’s hard to know what you’re looking for and how to make sense of it. That’s what our project was all about: asking a meaningful question, exploring the data, understanding the story behind the numbers, and then telling that story in an accessible way. We found that it really takes people from all kinds of backgrounds – not just data scientists and not just storytellers – to make that happen.

How can those interested connect with you?

All team members are employees of Razorfish Healthware in Philadelphia. We’re on Facebook at and Twitter (@PHI_Global). If you’d like to get in touch directly, send an email to


Revelstone brings ‘Moneyball’ to government

GovFresh highlights the products and start-ups powering the civic revolution. Learn how you can get featured. Note: This is not a product promotion or endorsement.


Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

Revelstone provides a web-based performance analytics and benchmarking platform to help local governments manage better.

What problem does Revelstone solve for government?

The economy has been harsh on local governments, and municipal leaders are being asked to do more with fewer resources. Revelstone Compass provides the analytical tools to identify areas to become more cost effective and efficient, helping them to answer three basic questions:

  • How are we doing?
  • What could we be doing better?
  • How can we learn from our peers to improve?

What’s the story behind starting Revelstone?

We (co-founders of Revelstone) have spent the last 20 years of our careers working in the private sector with Fortune 500 companies implementing performance management systems. As the economy became challenged over the past few years, we started to realize that governments lacked the tools and, more importantly, information about their performance, to make difficult budget decisions which impact services to citizens. We are excited to help local governments all across the country manage better with performance analytics, benchmarking and peer learning.

Revelstone Compass was launched in July 2011 and some of our customers include:

  • Woodbridge, NJ
  • Millburn, NJ
  • Princeton, NJ
  • Wyoming, OH
  • Upper Uwchlan, PA

What are its key features?

Key features of Revelstone Compass include:

  • Pre-defined measure catalog specific to local government
  • Data capture, reporting and analysis
  • Real-time benchmarking
  • Peer learning and sharing of best practices
  • What are the costs, pricing plans? (if applies)
  • Revelstone Compass is sold with a low-cost monthly subscription.

How can those interested connect with you?




Improve San Francisco from inside City Hall

Recognizing that good ideas are found outside City Hall, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is giving you an opportunity to join him and his team of innovators inside City Hall.

Inspired by the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, Mayor Lee recently launched the Mayor’s Innovation Fellowship Program that will allow qualified individuals to manage high impact projects within City government. This exciting initiative, the first of its kind for a City government, is in partnership with City Hall Fellows, a program that brings great minds from all sectors to help San Francisco tackle some of its most difficult issues.

The Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation will host Mayor’s Innovation Fellows for nine-month terms, beginning January 7, 2013. Fellows will be matched, based on their interests and skills, to one of four focus areas:

Once onboard, fellows will be tasked with managing high-impact projects that result in real solutions to challenges being addressed at City Hall. They will have the opportunity to participate in hackathons, meet with start-ups, and collaborate with residents — all with the aim of creating a more innovative, responsive and efficient government and ultimately, a better San Francisco.

We are taking a unique approach to engaging both the public and private sectors in the Fellowship Program. Applications can be received through the City Hall Fellows program and also mid-career professionals will have an opportunity to join the Sabbatical Program, in which external organizations send the Fellow to City Hall for a duration of time. This unique structure ensures that government has access to the brightest minds in the private sector.

Learn more about the Mayor’s Innovation Fellowship Program and apply here: The deadline to apply is November 8th.