Month: March 2013

Open government’s double standard

Open Government

Despite open government calls for performance metrics and financial transparency in government, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of this for the movement behind it.

Over the past four years I’ve followed the contests, challenges, apps, projects, hackathons and people, and there’s been tens of millions granted to organizations and individuals with little structured insight into the movement’s inner workings or even its return on investment.

There’s no visualization or centralized, accessible open data platform that highlights how much is granted to whom, and how these individuals are affiliated with one another. There’s no Influence Explorer or Clear Spending for open government. There’s no regular feedback loop or “OpenGovStat” review that publicly reviews satisfaction or effectiveness to evaluate whether these efforts are solving issues of real importance.

Perhaps we make the assumption that because this is open government “the movement,” it is free from politics, connections or influence, but even the most well-intentioned people and professions fall victim to these traps, especially when unchecked.

As we watch the Knight Foundation News Challenge process begin to allocate millions of dollars to open government efforts, I’d like to see them “double down” on viability and financial clarity within the movement.

Here’s my “GovFresh Challenge” to open government movement leaders and those who fund it: heed your own philosophical approach to metrics and transparency and be more open and collaborative in providing better insight into how you’re leveraging resources.

By doing this, the movement as a whole is better able to assess what’s working and what’s not so that millions more aren’t wasted on pet rocks or efforts that, as they say in government, are non-mission critical. We’ve seen too many projects come and go with a sense of naivete, fanaticism and meme-making to not begin to honestly and publicly evaluate their effectiveness, learn from their mistakes and openly contribute to a better approach.

There’s a solid case to be made on open government’s return on investment. It’s now time for the movement to be more true to itself so we can better evaluate its own ROI.

I hope the open government movement takes me up on my challenge.

I don’t have millions to hand out, but I can guarantee you everyone will win.

San Francisco makes open data city policy

SF Mayor Ed Lee introduced open data legislation on October 15 that would create a chief data officer and promote the use of open data in city government. (Photo: City of San Francisco)

SF Mayor Ed Lee introduced open data legislation on October 15 that would create a chief data officer and promote the use of open data in city government. (Photo: City of San Francisco)

Today, open data and its power to transform a city and a nation by engaging tech savvy citizens will be on display at San Francisco City Hall. And just as importantly, companies that have been successful because of forward thinking open data policies will testify to our elected leaders about its importance. As a founder of one of these sustainable companies, Appallicious, I am proud to be speaking on behalf of the open data movement.

After hearing testimony from myself and others in the open data industry, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will review and vote on new legislation that will strengthen the city’s open data initiatives and allow San Francisco to appoint a Chief Data Officer (CDO) to manage the City’s open data efforts.

More than three years ago the City of San Francisco launched, the city’s one-stop shop for government data. San Francisco was the first city to follow the federal government’s open government effort, when it launched Since then, more than 70 apps have been developed for city residents by civic innovators and companies– countless other cities and towns have been inspired to follow San Francisco’s lead and have enacted similar policies, providing residents with greater accessibility to government data.

San Francisco’s open data efforts have helped spur the creation of apps for citizens that makes it easier for residents to receive government services, actively participate in city policy and have saved the city a substantial amount of money. Behind these open data apps are new, civically minded companies, and a new industry that is starting to emerge in the land of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.  Companies like Appallicious100PlusRoutesy, and Zonability, that would not have been possible just a couple years ago are popping up in cities all over the country supported by amazing organizations like Code For America.

Back in October 2012, I was proud to join San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor David Chiu and San Francisco Rec & Park GM Phil Ginsburg as they introduced the revised open data legislation. These Gov 2.0 leaders used the event to highlight companies like Appallicious that are using open data to create apps and re-imagine our city. They launched the San Francisco Rec & Park app that Appallicious created using over 1,000 datasets for parks, playgrounds, and dog parks, along with transportation datasets so residents can get directions to all of the City’s attractions. All of these datasets are available on

The SF Rec & Park app makes it easy for anybody to find city parks, playgrounds, museums, picnic tables, gardens, restrooms, news and events and more in the palm of your hand. Information is displayed with descriptions and pictures on a GPS enabled mobile map.

The SF Rec & Park app, which was recently named by Mashable as one of 7 open data apps every city should have, also will soon make it easier for residents to make reservations for a soccer field or picnic table, or apply for a permit when they need to host an event in a public park. All of this will be available through a mobile device or on the web, saving taxpayers and government workers time and money. No longer will you have to wait on hold or send multiple emails to confirm a picnic table reservation for a birthday party.

Open data apps like this are only the beginning of something much bigger that is being made possible by open data policies and government leaders that get its importance.

On his first day as President, Obama signed the memorandum on Transparency and Open Government to spur innovation at the Federal level for private sector development. This move inspired progressive cities like San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia to create their own open data legislation at the local level.  This has led to an emergent new industry, unparalleled innovation, job creation, revenue, and collaboration between government and the private sector not seen since President Reagan’s decision to open up the Global Positioning System in the 1980s.

Organizations like Code for America and Citizenville, as well as private companies like Appallicious and the SF Rec & Park app are living, breathing examples of the new industry first created by President Reagan in the 1980s and rejuvenated by President Obama.

Stay tuned, a whole new industry is starting to take form powered by open data on a local level, creating jobs, revenue, and never before seen citizen and government.

If your city is new to the open data movement, please ask your elected leaders to take the Citizenville Challenge and bring open data policies and innovation to your community. And take a second to support the open data movement by applauding Appallicious’ submission to the Knight Foundation News Challenge and others that are transforming the way government and citizens engage and communicate.

Corrections: “Open Government Act” was changed to “memorandum on Transparency and Open Government.” Reference to “Open GPS” was changed to “Global Positioning System.”

Big feet: Walkonomics wants to crowdsource the friendliness of the world’s streets


Walkonomics founder Adam Davies shares the vision for crowdsourcing street friendliness.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

The new Walkonomics mobile app rates and maps the pedestrian-friendliness of every street in San Francisco, Manhattan and England!

What problem does it solve for government?

Local and national governments are increasingly becoming aware of citizens and businesses demand for walkable streets and areas. Walkable streets bring many benefits including increased home values, higher footfall for business, reduced CO2 emissions, healthier residents, lower levels of obesity, less crime and fewer road accidents.

Identifying, measuring and improving a streets walkability is not always easy, and it can be hard to know where to start. Unlike other walkability apps that just measure how many destinations are within walking distance, Walkonomics uses open data and crowdsourcing to rate each street for eight categories that actually affect how pedestrian-friendly a street is.

These categories include:

  • Road Safety
  • Crossings
  • Sidewalks
  • Hilliness
  • Navigation
  • Fear of Crime
  • Smart and Beautiful
  • Fun and Relaxing

Users can add their own reviews and even suggest ideas for improvement. With more cities being launched soon, Walkonomics provides a great tool for government to analyse, engage and improve walkability in their city or region.

What’s the story behind starting Walkonomics?

Walkonomics was founded and launched as a web-app in 2011, by Adam Davies, a sustainable transport consultant based in the UK, the Android App was launched in October 2012, and the iPhone App has just launched. The idea behind Walkonomics is to harness the power of open data and crowdsourcing to rate the walkability of every street in the world. It came out of a frustration with existing walkability apps and the lack of real information about which parts of different cities are walking friendly, particularly when looking for somewhere to live or a holiday location.

What are its key features?

Users can:

  • Check the walkability of nearby streets and areas;
  • Search by location, place name or post code;
  • View search results on a map with colour-coded markers;
  • Discover new walk-friendly areas and streets;
  • Instantly get detailed walkability reviews and ratings of streets based on real data and people’s views;
  • Add your own ratings, reviews and ideas for improvement;
  • Undertake walkability audits and crowdsource local people’s ideas for improving streets.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

The Walkonomics App is free to download and use.

How can those interested connect with you?


Please take this open data survey

Steve Reitano is conducting an open data research project as part of his academic work at Royal Roads University in Canada.

You can help him by completing his open data survey.

Here’s part of the email I received from Steve:

My name is Steve Reitano, and I am conducting a research project on the benefits of Open Data. I am writing to request your help with my project by asking you to complete my survey and to please share my request with your members.

To complete the survey, please go to the following URL:

The purpose of this research project is to conduct a cost-benefits analysis that will identify the advantages of an Open Data Portal. It is a requirement for my Master’s Degree in Executive Management at Royal Roads University.  Additional information for my final research report will also be drawn from interviews and/or focus groups with Open Data experts from both government and the private sector. I will be sharing my findings from my research activities at the following URL:

In addition to submitting my final report to Royal Roads University in partial fulfillment of my degree, I will also provide it to officials from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat who are responsible for the Government of Canada’s Open Data portal ( It is my hope that the report may help public organization’s make sound and informative decisions for extending their Open Data initiatives, and hopefully create a more cost effective, transparent, efficient and responsive government.

Start the survey here

FreshWrap: Citizenville, EU and Japan data portals, NYC BigApps

Here’s what made my radar this week. Share your open government news in the comments.

Code for America is starting a weekly hack night at its San Francisco headquarters.

Lessons learned from the Kenya Open Data Initiative.

Four lessons learned launching Code4Kenya.

Emer Coleman is leaving UK’s Government Digital Service. Here’s what she learned.

I really enjoy TechPresident’s weekly podcast, especially this week’s critique of Gavin Newsom and his new book Citizenville from Sarah Lai Stirland.

See also Beth Noveck’s review of Citizenville.

For these urban mechanics, city hall is a place to experiment.

Vegas Hack disrupts open data.

Japan launches an open data portal.

The EU also launched an open data portal, powered by CKAN.

San Diego’s open government department has its limits.

Open Data Day 2013 wrap-up from Open Knowledge Foundation.

OKF will host an Open Data on the Web Workshop April 23-24 “to discuss how we can realize the promise of open data on the web.”

Philadelphia publishes an open data guidebook For city departments.

From Fairy Tale to Reality: Dispelling the Myths around Citizen Engagement”

NYC BigApps is coming soon.

Is New York City the best place in the world for open data? Find out March 7.