Month: December 2013

Dave Eggers’ latest brings civic technology full ‘Circle’

Dave Eggers (Photo: <a href="">Commonwealth Club</a>)

Dave Eggers (Photo: Commonwealth Club)

Dave Eggers’ latest novel, “The Circle,” offers not-so-subtle social commentary on the increasing role technology companies play on our lives, for better or worse, and how our relationship with them could potentially impact what it means to be a citizen.

Circle is a fictional company that resembles a composite of Twitter, Facebook and Google led by a “don’t be evil” virtue. Its collection of data to better provide custom services and social media features that allows users to share information and build engagement rankings is at the front of Eggers’ commentary into the world of civic technology.

Transparency, collaboration, social clout, cultural obsession with validation via social media and FOMO, or fear of missing out, are central themes of Eggers’ commentary as well as the role all this plays in civic technology and our roles as citizens.

“The Circle” centers around protagonist Mae Holland, who joins the company as a customer service representative, but quickly becomes its public face by going “fully transparent” and livestreaming her own personal life, especially life as a Circler, to millions of viewers around the world.

The experiment quickly ventures into the gray area of privacy and technological hubris dictating what might be best for citizens with Circle, and its hundreds of millions of users, as the ultimate platform that could lead us all to a more perfect, direct democracy.

Our first encounter with civic technology begins with Congressman Olivia Santos, who becomes the first politician to take a step towards ultimate transparency by wearing a video camera medallion that captures her every move and interaction. Quickly, politicians from around the world follow suit.

“Now this new era of transparency dovetails with some other ideas I have about democracy, and the role that technology can play in making it complete. And I use the word complete on purpose because our work toward transparency might actually achieve a fully accountable government,” says Circle co-founder Eamon Bailey.

Bailey imagines a world of full engagement and Circle playing a central role, even the central role. The company’s ability to successfully develop a platform for social engagement and collaboration leads to its assumption (hubris?) that it can change the dynamics of participatory democracy overnight or, at least, “change at the speed our hearts demand,” as Eggers puts it.

“It tells you that the Circle has a knack for getting people to participate. And there are a lot of people in Washington who agree. There are people in DC who see us as a solution to making this a fully participatory democracy,” says Bailey.

One solution is TruYou, one of many Circle features:

“With TruYou, to set up a profile, you have to be a real person, with a real address, complete personal info, a real Social Security number, a real and verifiable date of birth. In other words, all the information the government traditionally wants when you register to vote. In fact, as you all know, we have far more information. So why wouldn’t this be enough information to allow you to register? Or better yet, why wouldn’t government–our government or any government–just consider you registered once you set up a TrueYou profile?”

Bailey suggests that adding features such as disabling your Circle account until you vote would be the equivalent of other compulsory civic requirements, such as registering for the draft, jury duty, getting a license before you drive, while Eggers posits, through another Circle co-founder who begins to question the ultimate goal of “full completion,” could also create the world’s first “tyrannical monopoly.”

There are anecdotes where users crowdsource the capture of a wanted criminal within minutes through Circle’s platform. Its petition and engagement tool Demoxie allows the masses, especially the disenfranchised, to voice their opinions for political consideration.

Through “The Circle,” Eggers brings to mass consumption the ideas and issues many of those who have followed the role technology plays on civics for some time.

“I tried to write a book that wasn’t so much about the technology itself, but more about its implications for our sense of humanity and balance,” says Eggers in a brief interview with his own publishing company McSweeney’s.

“The Circle” isn’t just about technology, but how we’re developing and using it and what that means for society in the future. It’s an important commentary into all of this, especially how it might influence the way we engage with government and the private companies that facilitate many aspects of our civic life.

Increasingly, the latter is playing an important role, and “The Circle” helps us consider and weigh those implications.

Continuing San Francisco’s national leadership on open data

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Today, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will take its final vote to approve my update to our city’s groundbreaking open data law. My open data ordinance, in its simplest terms, standardizes and sets timelines for the release of appropriate city government data.

I know that my update to our open data ordinance will help lead to further innovation and technologically driven services, solutions, platforms, and applications for civic issues and problems. Technology is not going to be the cure-all for every problem government faces, but it can certainly help to improve our resident’s quality of life in certain instances, while continuing to boost our local economy at the same time.

All across the nation, cities, counties, states, and even the federal government have and continue to take steps towards making appropriate government data available because open data has proven to spark innovation, drive greater efficiency and cost-savings in government, and fuel further economic development – as evidenced in the recent and steady growth in the civic startup sector.

My law modifies and standardizes the city’s open data standards, ensuring for data released in machine-readable formats; sets timelines for city departments for the release of appropriate city data sets; creates a mechanism for city staff and agencies to interact with the public and entrepreneur community for the prioritization of releasing city data sets; and makes San Francisco the first city in the nation to be tasked with developing a strategy to give residents access to their own government held data.

There are examples here in San Francisco and nationally that show open data used in practice, and how open data can help accomplish all of the positive benefits mentioned above. Whether, it is Yelp’s recent partnership with the city to post public health scores to their website for city restaurants to help residents make healthier choices, to residents being able to use the acclaimed San Francisco Recreation and Parks App, which helps residents and visitors find park and recreation locations, make picnic table reservations, and allows for tickets for concerts, art exhibits, and other events to be purchased straight from a mobile device.

The standardization of the city’s technical open data standards, which ensures that data will be available for use in machine readable format that are non-proprietary, is key to unlocking the true potential and value of appropriate data sets that the City holds. A recent report from Mckinsey&Company states that open data can help unlock $3 trillion to $5 trillion in economic value worldwide annually across seven distinct sectors. A new economy with this great of potential is something that should not be ignored.

My ordinance also creates tighter deadlines for city departments to follow in the release and update of appropriate government data. Tighter deadlines regarding the release of open data sets creates certainty that will be extremely beneficial to the public and entrepreneur community. With more certainty, entrepreneurs and the public will be able to better plan around their individual ideas and implementations of our city’s open data sets that will be the base of the next product, service, or application that helps to benefit all San Franciscans.

The inclusion of timelines regarding the release of appropriate government data sets was not an arbitrary decision. It was a decision based in practice and from testimony we heard from the public and entrepreneur community. Yo Yoshida, CEO and Co-founder of Appallicious, was even quoted as saying “We look forward to putting some teeth into the open-data movement through this legislation. We do have some snafus with some departments not being able to release it quick enough to give the developers the ability to create products from this and create industry and jobs and move the movement forward.”

My ordinance also creates a better mechanism for the public and entrepreneur community to interact with city staff and departments who will be responsible for cataloging, updating, and uploading appropriate government data sets. By mandating each data set have the contact information of the staff that uploaded the data (phone and email) associated with the data set, any interactions between the two parties will be sure to spark creativity and discussion regarding potential high value data sets, so that the next amazing products and services will just be on the horizon.

Lastly, my ordinance would make San Francisco the first city in the nation to develop a strategy for giving residents access to their own government held data. The addition of this requirement in my ordinance believes in a growing national movement that is calling on all levels of government to give residents access to their own data for their own use. If it is yours, we should give it back to you – simple as that.

San Francisco Magazine called my ordinance the “Super-Boring City Law That Could Be Huge.” I guess open data may be boring to some, but I would tell you it depends on who you ask. It is definitely not boring when the transformative potential of open data is known to increase government efficiency and accountability, fuel further economic development, and create an atmosphere that encourages innovation, discovery and growth.

Government contracting: Business size and the implications of cheating

Acquiring government contracts is hard work. So, when some businesses hear that there are set-aside federal contracts that are awarded specifically to small businesses, is it any wonder that some businesses try to misrepresent their size to try and win a bid? Especially since small businesses were awarded around $96 billion dollars in federal contracts for 2011.

Business size

In order to be considered a small business, a company must have a certain amount of employees (depending on the industry) and make under a certain income bracket annually (also dependent on industry). So, for example, a company in the tech industry would have a larger maximum income bracket than a cleaning service.

Size protests

Since the competition for bids is increasing, there have been more and more protests. A protest is an action taken by a company that feels it lost a contract to a business that does not meet business size regulations. In May of 2012, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, there was a $7 million contract for an order of Coast Guard cutters (type of boat).

The company MTN Government Services won the bid. However, the company TrustComm filed a protest stating that MTN Government Services didn’t meet the size qualifications of a small business. TrustComm was right to file a protest, because after nine months of investigation by the Small Business Administration, they determined that MTNGS was indeed not a small business.

The SBA is so backed up with paperwork that any protest takes an exorbitant amount of time to investigate. So long, in fact, that by the time the SBA figured out the MTNGS wasn’t a small business, the Coast Guard was already testing the cutters and if the contract were pulled from MTN the costs would outweigh the benefit of awarding the contract to a small business.

This is unfortunate for small businesses who take the time and energy to comply with SBA regulations in order to take part in the set-aside government contracts for small businesses. The SBA, in order to help regulate non-small business from competing with small businesses, did make size protests a viable option for small businesses to help with the situation, but with such a massive backlog, a protest – as exemplified by MTNGS – does little if businesses that take advantage of regulations don’t get penalized.


While the dealings with MTNGS and TrustComm seem like a simple business misunderstanding, cheating on government contracts goes much deeper. Besides the normal amount of set-aside for small businesses, there are set-aside contracts for small businesses that are owned by underrepresented populations. So, there are contracts specifically available for women-owned, veteran-owned, service-disable veteran-owned, and minority-owned small businesses.

There are also advantages to winning contracts if your business is located in a certified Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone). A business has to self-certify itself in order to qualify for these labels. As you could probably guess, big businesses have also tried taking advantage of these self-certifications. The SBA does screen these self-certifications, but again the backlogs make it impossible for the SBA to keep the businesses honest until another business files a protest.


These are the type of loopholes that business owners are taking advantage of. This is harmful to small businesses who are attempting to play fair, but get the help they need to stay competitive. The responsibility neither lies solely on the government or businesses, but both need to take steps to fix the problem. There’s no point in trying to keep disadvantaged businesses competitive if it only enables other businesses to take what they didn’t earn.

Luckily, there are some solutions that are being discussed and will soon be implemented. From stricter guidelines to “open-book” clauses, the government is working to keep government contracting honest.

OpenOakland 1.5: A year and a half in review

Oakland (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Oakland (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

As we close out the year, I wanted to reflect on a few things to put our work in perspective and also to lay out the vision for where we want to go in the new year. 2013 was a great year for civic innovation in Oakland. It was a great year for the growing movement to open up government and to build towards a future where our local government is truly by the people, for the people and of the people in the 21st century. But we still have much to do and much to learn. I’m excited about both of those realities.

OpenOakland was created to fulfill two main goals – to provide a backbone level of support for civic innovation in Oakland, and to support our local government in being more open, more agile and more engaged. Both Eddie Tejeda and I believe that the approach taken by Code for America is perhaps the strongest, smartest way to achieve truly open government in the USA, and we’re proud to be part of a national movement to transform how government works and is how we as citizens and residents interact with government.

We believe that leadership is best done through supporting others to change, by providing a vision of what could be and by helping others move along that path. OpenOakland was our idea to make that vision a reality and so far hundreds of people across Oakland have been inspired to be part of that journey too – we all want our government to be great- we want to have a positive, trusting relationship with our city hall and the people working inside. It seems that our approach is yielding fruit in a very small period of time.

We are often perceived as simply technologists who are interested in the technical solution. While many of our members are technically gifted, we are not about the technology – the advantage that technologists offer however is the ability to know what is possible. Take this year’s acclaimed app built by Adam Stiles and Shawn McDougal with support from the city’s Budget Advisory Committee and others:

This app demonstrates so much of what we’re building.

Conceived at a hackathon, we offered to help incubate and support the completion of this game changing app. It required the city to release the raw budget in a raw data format for the first time ever – a serious change in attitude from a city hall frequently seen as closed and uncooperative. In releasing this data, the city enabled the development of an incredibly powerful application that would never have been conceived of nor built in city hall. Our team has learned a lot through the launch of this app and has been largely responsible for the increased focus on the city’s budgeting process and the push for increased transparency and engagement in future budget preparation. We’ve helped to change city policy, empower people to ask informed questions and enriched the discussion with trustworthy information.

And we’ve helped open the budget data for the first time.

This is what we’re about – technology to change behaviors and to create new possibilities.

In June we participated in a national event called the National Day of Civic Hacking, co-sponsored by the White House. While other cities were hacking on new apps, we knew there was an opportunity to do something different in Oakland. An app and an idea struck us as being perfectly suited to Oakland- something called Honolulu Answers. It was built by a Code for America team and it consisted of an app and an approach. This app was, like all of our work, open source. That means anyone in the world can take the raw code and reuse it however they like. Likewise, the team shared their method to build it.

In Oakland, we held an event called ReWrite Oakland – while a geeky play on words, we wanted to build this new web app for our city and we invited the city to participate in building it. Seventy people joined us at the HUB Oakland to create a new resource for all of our city: was the result.

What we did was more than just build a new web app in collaboration with the city – we showed that how the city acquires and considers technology can be different, better, smarter. An open source app and a ton of residents time created a website far more accessible to regular people than the city’s current site. We will be holding ReWrite evenings across the city in 2014, giving more Oaklanders the chance to help build something together.

As this article gets published, we’ll also be launching a new app built with a city project in mind. was a suggestion form the city’s environmental services team – they saw the success of the Adopta apps used in other cities and asked us to help bring that app to Oakland. The result is another open source website that helps Oaklanders contribute in a small but meaningful way to their city. If we can help to clear out blocked drains when it floods, our public works crews can stay focused on fixing all those potholes we love to hate.

We’ve also been hard at work on building an app that breaks down the old barriers between city council and the public- the dreaded Council agenda PDF nightmare. Led by Miguel Vargas, this app allows regular people to easily find information about discussions and topics hitting council and other meetings in the city. It will allow people for the first time to stay on top of matters that relate to them, without the painful process of digging through dozens of lengthy PDF documents. Our hope is that this makes our council more open and with solid outreach on our part, changes the way people choose to be passive consumers or engaged citizens.

With our community we’ve also built some simple apps, based on other great open source projects in other cities, that help residents find services and connect to their local networks: helps parents find free early childhood education and care. lets easily people find their local Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council.

We also continue to provide technical support for the amazing project – your very own wiki for the town! One of our first projects, this has spun off into a dynamic community and is a great resource to share what you know about your city.

Late this year we also participated in the first ever crowdsourced legislation in the City of Oakland. Lauded by the Sunlight Foundation as a promising practice for other cities to follow, we joined dozens of people from across the city and the country to help form the strongest possible new language for the city’s open data resolution, which passed the city council with no dissension. This new resolution requires our city to develop a comprehensive plan to build out the open data efforts across all departments.

Providing a strong sustaining force to the efforts underway already (which we successfully pushed for in 2012 also), this will set our city on a strong path for the future where researchers, developers, analysts and even city staff have simple, legal access to the valuable data the city produces already. We see this as an important factor in changing the status quo regarding staff and electeds attitudes towards transparency- when the expectations for city information becomes “open by default”, our leaders will be operating on a very different platform than in the past.

As with our Open Government Pledge in 2012, we will once again be taking up the challenge to convince our next round of city leaders to support the concept of open government. We aim to hold a mayoral candidates forum focused on issues of technology, transparency, engagement and procurement.

Clearly what we’re doing is geeky and optimistic. We think this work matters to the entire city, and we’ll be making a lot of effort to connect with organizations and people across this great city in 2014. While our focus has been on building relationships with and changing how things are done inside city hall, we almost forgot that “by the people” is bigger than just those who take the time to join us in city hall for our hack nights and other events.

When we formed, we established values of engagement with our city and diversity in our membership and leaders. 2014 presents us with the chance to engage more widely and to share this vision with those who want to participate.  While the technology sector is often an exclusive space, we will be putting in hard work to create a truly inclusive movement in Oakland.

Although not the work of OpenOakland itself, it would be remiss to not mention the powerful new public records system that our Code for America fellowship team built. Available now at, this system provides both a streamlined way for the city to manage and respond to public records requests, it also provides the public with an incredible view into what is being requested. Again this demonstrates how we think – interfaces to government should be designed for the users, should be beautiful and easy to use, should serve the business needs of city staff and should provide an open view for the public.

What has this cost? The simple answer is that all this has been accomplished by an organization with no budget (besides the pizza fund Code for America provides – and that is important) and no staff. Our work has been produced by people with a desire to see our city become stronger, smarter and more open. As leaders of this group, we’ve tried to support as many people as possible in doing things that brings innovation to city hall and creates more beautiful, accessible ways for people to interact and engage with our government. Our events have relied on generous sponsors, but other than their support, OpenOakland to date represents what is possible when people who love their city get together, collaborate and innovate for the good of all.

We need to trust in government again, we need to respect public service, we need a government that is open and serves all people equitably and justly. We also need our government to be able to innovate, to take measured risks and to provide better ways for residents to interact with officials and elected members. This is what we’re about.

We’re excited about what 2014 has in store, and we welcome your feedback on our efforts as well as your partnership to make this vision a reality.

Submit your nominations for the 2013 GovFresh Awards

2013 GovFresh Awards

I’m excited to announce the 2013 GovFresh Awards celebrating and honoring the greatest civic innovators and innovations of 2013.

From now until December 14, anyone can submit an entry and vote on submissions. A panel of judges from around the world will then select winners from the top three vote-getters in each category. Winners will be announced December 18.

As with all awards programs, there will be a select few winners, but what I’m most interested in is learning about all the great work that was accomplished in 2013. Because the nominations process is open and visible to the public, my hope is that the civic innovation community, journalists and citizens will get a big picture take on 2013.

Learn more or add and vote on your nominations:

Good luck!

Is California forcing state agencies under one private cloud?

Golden Gate Bridge (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Golden Gate Bridge (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Update: A DGS representative notified us that these restrictions will be lifted “ballpark in the next few months” once the state has updated its cloud computing terms and conditions policy, which is currently under review.

The California Department of General Services is issuing a list of stipulations to cloud computing vendors that forces them into an agreement to not sell their services to state agencies, according to a document obtained by GovFresh.

The document, titled “Acceptance of Terms Related to Cloud Computing Solutions Under the CMAS [California Multiple Award Schedules] Program,” outlines four stipulations that, if not adhered to, “may result in contract termination.”

Those stipulations include:

  1. CMAS contractor guarantees that it will not sell cloud products or services to California State agencies through the CMAS program.
  2. CMAS contractor agrees not to process California State agencies’ CMAS purchase orders that include cloud computing software and/or vendor related services and to alert the CMAS Program administrators when such an order has been received.
  3. CMAS contractor agrees to refund in full any payments resulting from a sale of a cloud product or service to California State agencies under a CMAS contract whether or not cloud products or services are purchased willfully or inadvertently.
  4. Contractor’s non-compliance regarding the sale of cloud products or services may result in contract termination.

Attempts to obtain comments from DGS and the California Technology Agency remain unanswered.

California is currently developing its own private cloud, called CalCloud, that is expected to launch in early 2014.

“California is in the cloud,” California Chief Information Officer Carlos Ramos said Monday at a government technology and innovation event hosted by TechWire. “We’re moving into the cloud very rapidly, but we do have to move a little bit gingerly.”

Prior to Ramos’ talk at the same event, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom was critical of the state’s progress and unwillingness to pursue innovative approaches to technology, especially the cloud.

“By 2016, it’s estimated that the bulk of IT spending in business will be on cloud computing platforms and applications, according to the IDC Worldwide and Regional Public IT Cloud Services forecast,” wrote Newsom recently on Huffington Post. “Yet many in California government still resist cloud computing even as the federal government and states including Colorado adopt cloud-first priorities.”

USDOT seeks CTO, deputy CIO

The U.S. Department of Transportation is looking for a chief technology officer and a deputy chief information officer.

Salary for both positions is $119,554 to $172,500.

From the CTO listing:

The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) provides technical advice and support to the Department of Transportation’s Chief Information Officer (CIO). The CTO is responsible for maintaining continuity in the organization through knowledge of Departmental Information Technology (IT) initiatives. The CTO will manage and oversee the Department’s IT resources in a manner consistent with Departmental missions and program objectives. In addition, the CTO is responsible for ensuring all technology solutions are consistent with applicable laws, regulations, principles, and standards. The CTO will manage the Business Technology & Governance and Technology Strategy & Modernization activities within the OCIO. By managing an enterprise approach to technology integration, the CTO will ensure a standardized approach to selecting, integrating, cataloging, and retiring approved technology solutions. The CTO will chair the Technology Control Board (TCB), a voting body with representatives from all the Department of Transportation components.

Knight: More than $430 million invested in civic tech since 2011

Growth of Civic Tech (Knight Foundation)

Growth of Civic Tech (Knight Foundation)

A new report from the Knight Foundation, “The Emergence of Civic Tech: Investments in a Growing Field,” finds more than $430 million dollars was invested in civic-based technology companies and organizations from January 2011 to May 2013.

According to the report, investments from 177 private capital firms and foundations went to 102 civic tech companies and organizations during that time.

Organizations that received the largest amounts of funding include Airbnb ($118M), NextDoor ($40M), Waze ($30M), CouchSurfing ($22M), Zimride ($21M), Getaround ($19M), Open Data Institute ($16M), ($15M) and Sunlight Foundation ($15M).

Of note is that none of these companies have an open source component and none are focused on actually helping government become more efficient.

As a category, “peer-to-peer local sharing” companies comprise more than half of the funding ($233 million).

Knight also created an interactive feature to help visualize the data.

Full report: