Month: June 2016

icitizen wants you to stay informed, engaged beyond the voting booth

icitizen
icitizen re-launched in January 2016 with a broader goal, to change how we communicate on civic issues, connect with our communities and “promote meaningful change.” icitizen’s Jacel Egan shares the vision for its future.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

icitizen is a nonpartisan app where citizens promote/stay informed on issues and vote in polls sent to policymakers to create change in their communities.

What problem does icitizen solve?

We connect citizens to the information, organizations and elected representatives most relevant to them. Through icitizen, citizens easily promote and stay informed on important issues and vote in polls to create meaningful change.

Anonymous poll results and public opinion data are shared with representatives, organizations, companies and other stakeholders to inform policy. Using representative sampling based on U.S. Census targets, our polling services help policymakers drive sound, data-driven decisions.

We help strengthen community relationships, facilitate open government and support partnerships between policymakers and the people they represent.

What’s the story behind starting icitizen?

icitizen was originally founded in 2012 by Duncan Dashiff out of frustration with our current political process and the disconnect in communication between citizens and elected representatives. We envisioned a nonpartisan civic engagement app where people could find information, be heard and work together with their representatives to create an impact in their communities.

In January 2016, icitizen was relaunched with a broader vision to help citizens, representatives, candidates, organizations, schools and companies strengthen their relationships with their communities and one another.

Our mission is to transform the way people communicate on civic issues, connect with their communities and promote meaningful change.

What are its key features?

Issue Cards are created by citizens, elected representatives, organizations and icitizen. They’re posed in the form of statements and users can cast their support or opposition.

Issue Cards serve two purposes:

1) For citizens to gain support for issues they would like addressed in their community
2) For representatives and organizations to gather sentiment on a specific issue or policy

Straw Polls are created by elected representatives, organizations and icitizen to gain insight into public opinion. They’re posed in the form of questions and intended to gather sentiment from citizens on trending issues or legislative policies.

Rep/Organization Cards are profiles for elected officials, organizations, schools and companies to help them better connect with their communities. On their profiles, they have district rankings, priorities, contact information and more. In future iterations, they’ll also be home to voting records, sponsored bills, committee assignments, etc.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

icitizen will always be free for citizens. We also work with organizations, schools, elected representatives, candidates and companies to help them better connect with their communities. Through our polling services and analytics, they can receive aggregated, anonymized data and demographics on public opinion. We charge based on how detailed or targeted the data request is.

How can those interested connect with you?

If Clinton is president, she’ll expand USDS, federal open source and open data efforts

Hillary Clinton released her technology and innovation agenda that promises to expand the U.S. Digital Service and agency-specific digital teams, encourage the continued adoption of open source and open data and bring a more user-friendly approach to federal government operations.

“Hillary believes that, beyond enabling innovation and economic growth, we should look to technology and data to provide better services to the American people, and make government smarter and more effective,” states the post announcing the agenda.

Here is the excerpt of her vision for a “smarter and more innovative government”:

  • Make Government Simpler and More User Friendly: The federal government too often operates with websites designed from another era. They are too complicated, too hard to use, and rarely designed for mobile phones or tablets. After the rocky release of Healthcare.gov, the Obama Administration launched the U.S. Digital Service, with a small group of technologists in the White House and the vision of deploying small technology teams throughout federal agencies. The U.S. Digital Service is already delivering results—making it easier for students and their families to compare college options, and easier for applicants to file immigration forms. But USDS and similar programs are only in their infancy. Hillary will:
  • Make Digital Services a Permanent Priority for Federal Agencies: Hillary will make the USDS and other digital services a permanent part of the executive branch to ensure that technical innovation becomes an ongoing feature of American governance. There should be a constant flow of technology and design experts working to make it easier for Americans to get affordable health insurance, apply for student loans, or get the veterans benefits they deserve.   Hillary will expand dedicated Digital Service teams throughout federal agencies (including civil servants and outside experts), and ensure that CIOs are part of this innovation agenda. She will maintain support for other federal tech programs—18F, Innovation Fellows, and Innovation Labs—and look to them to develop a coordinated approach to tackling pressing technology problems. She will also explore ways to leverage these capabilities to help our state and local governments with their own tech issues and agencies.
  • Transform the Top 25 citizen-facing Government Services: Hillary will charge the USDS with transforming and digitizing the top 25 federal government services that directly serve citizens. For each one, the USDS would redesign them to meet the needs of citizens in the 21st century; publish detailed performance and customer service metrics, including creating a “Yelp for government” that allows for easy citizen rating; and embrace the industry best practice of continuous site improvement. Hillary will make sure that government delivers on results for citizens.
  • Eliminate Internal Barriers to Government Modernization: The federal government uses cumbersome processes for buying information technology and hiring technical experts. And it has outdated laws and rules which impose internal impediments to building modern digital services—i.e., it can take many months to make simple changes to a website or get a digital form approved. Hillary will streamline procurement processes and get rid of unnecessary internal red tape that prevents government from developing intuitive and personalized digital experience that they have come to expect from great consumer internet companies.
  • Use the Best and Most Cost Effective Technology: The federal government spends nearly $90 billion in information technology but the American taxpayer doesn’t get $90 billion in value. Hillary will make it easier for the federal government to find, try, and buy innovative technology—including open source software. She would also break large federal IT projects into smaller pieces, so it will be easier to stop projects that are over budget or failing to meet user needs, and also more feasible for small and medium-sized businesses to support public service projects.
  • Open up More Government Data for Public Uses: The Obama Administration broke new ground in making open and machine-readable the default for new government information, launching Data.gov and charging each agency with maintaining data as a valuable asset. With more accessible datasets, entrepreneurs can create new products and services, citizens can evaluate more effectively how the government does it job, researchers can look for new insights – and government can work better. Hillary will continue and accelerate the Administration’s open data initiatives, including in areas such as health care, education, and criminal justice. She would fully implement the DATA Act to make government spending more transparent and accountable to the American people, improving USASpending.gov so that Americans can more accurately see how and where their taxpayer dollars are spent. She would also bring an open data approach to regulation—making it easier for businesses to submit structured data instead of documents, and bringing greater transparency to financial and other markets so that regulators, watchdog groups, and the American people can more easily identify fraud and illegal behavior.
  • Harden Federal Networks to Improve Cybersecurity: U.S. government networks have long been subject to intrusions from hackers with various affiliations and objectives.  Hillary is committed to increasing the security of our government networks, making it harder for hackers to gain unauthorized access.  She will prioritize the enforcement of well-known cybersecurity standards, such as multi-factor authentication, as well as the mitigation of risks from known vulnerabilities.  She will encourage government agencies to consider innovative tools like bug bounty programs, modeled on the Defense Department’s recent “Hack the Pentagon” initiative, to encourage hackers to responsibly disclose vulnerabilities they discover to the government.  And she will bolster the government’s ability to test its own defenses by increasing the capacity of elite, cleared government red teams to help agencies find and fix vulnerabilities before hackers exploit them.
  • Facilitate Citizen Engagement in Government Innovation: The Obama Administration has encouraged agencies to use new approaches to improve their functions and better serve the American people. In turn, agencies are now using “incentive prizes” to uncover creative solutions from citizen solvers, Idea Labs to empower front-line employees, and flexible procurement authorities to engage startups. Hillary will champion these strategies, putting innovation at the heart of her management agenda. She will direct the members of her Cabinet to increase the number of federal employees that identify and implement new ideas from citizens and businesses to help government serve the country more effectively.
  • Use Technology to Improve Outcomes and Drive Government Accountability: Advances in data analytics, presentation, and communications have driven a transformation in how modern businesses track their performance, both internally and externally. Data-driven dashboards that present an organization’s goals and their performance against those goals are increasingly the norm, as is the open communication of this performance data to the entire organization. The Obama Administration embraced this management approach by creating performance.gov, which presents goals and progress for major government agencies. Hillary will also embrace this practice of prioritized goal setting and performance tracking for the federal government. Her agenda and priorities would be clearly articulated on performance.gov; progress against these goals would be demonstrated, using up-to-date, real time data; and issues blocking progress would be presented, along with action plans to address them. By promoting this high type of transparency and accountability, and leveraging technology to do so in a real-time manner, citizens will develop greater confidence that their government is working for their common good.

Read Clinton’s technology and innovation agenda.

Defining civic tech

Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about Omidyar Network’s recent report, “Engines of Change,” and the need to better label and define the movement happening around civics and government with respect to technology.

We’ve seen terms like e-gov, Gov 2.0, open government, govtech, open data and other iterations and variations over the last few years, and there always seems to be confusion over what to call the work civic hackers, public sector technologists and civic-focused entrepreneurs collectively do.

The report has been helpful (to me) in providing larger context as to why “civic tech” is appropriate to coalesce around and has convinced me to adopt it within the work I do, both here at GovFresh, but also ProudCity.

There have been numerous attempts to define this, but Omidyar’s is concise yet comprehensive:

any technology that is used to empower citizens or help make government more accessible, efficient, and effective

But more than the simple definition, this chart of the subset — “Citizen to Citizen,” “Citizen to Government,” “Government Technology” — is what provided clarity for me:

civictech

Source: Omidyar Network

I do think, however, much like we’ve seen with “green” terminology inside the environmental movement, we need to better define principles around what differentiates the genetically modified versus natural versus organic civic technology.

The next step for the civic tech movement is to better frame what’s expected of the core technologies that drive it, specifically open source and open data. While there are many companies operating under the civic tech umbrella, we’re still a far cry away from most operating under sustainable civic principles.

How many civic tech companies can say they operate with a true open ethos? Unfortunately, not that many.

Today, much of what we have is genetically modified civic technology.

After thinking more on Omidyar’s report, I’m putting the civic tech sticker on my computer (who has one?) and look forward to continuing to encourage and champion those under its umbrella to actively adopt a more sustainable approach to its growth.

Only then will the definition of civic tech have true meaning.

City enthusiasts, innovators: Register for BRIDGE SF

Golden Gate Bridge (photo: Luke Fretwell)

Golden Gate Bridge (photo: Luke Fretwell)

San Francisco Bay Area city enthusiasts and innovators can now register for BRIDGE SF, “a collaboration of public, private, non-profit, and academic institutions coming together to challenge assumptions, develop skills, share best practices, and build partnerships that drive innovation for a better tomorrow.”

The conference, held in multiple areas around the Bay Area over four days, will foucs on topics such as smart cities, mobility, Internet of things, sustainability, resiliency, economic development and arts and culture.

BRIDGE SF is a collaboration between the San Francisco Mayor’s Office, the University of California, Berkeley and City Innovate Foundation.

Learn more and register.

FAA seeks chief data officer

Photo: White House / Pete Souza

Photo: White House / Pete Souza

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking for a chief data officer.

From the listing:

The Chief Data Officer (CDO) supervises a high level staff comprised of chief scientific advisors for software integration, engineers, and risk management officers and provides executive direction and high level leadership to the FAA with responsibility for oversight of the work related to strategically managing and exploiting the information assets of the agency and the integration of that information into the National Airspace System. Develops and delivers business and strategic plans for enterprise-level data initiatives, analyzes integration progress, engages in industry and research activities, and maintains liaison with internal and external stakeholders.

The CDO focuses on the opportunities, threats, capabilities and gaps related to managing information as a strategic asset and potentially a liability. The position encompasses an offensive and defensive posture: the CDO must create value by unlocking and sharing data and information in ways that will spur innovation inside and outside the agency, and must manage risk inherent in massive and fast-changing data resources through effective governance. The CDO is an innovator who explores new ideas, creates new offerings, and brings transformative initiatives to internal and external stakeholders. This position requires initiative, exercise of independent judgment, and considerable diplomacy, in a wide variety of situations.

The CDO is responsible for leading and coordinating activities with other applicable components of the FAA. To do so, he or she works in concert with the Associate Administrator for Nextgen, the Air Traffic Organization’s Chief Operating Officer, and the Office of Finance and Management’s Chief Information Officer (CIO).

The CDO continually interacts with other high level executives both inside and outside of the FAA and the Federal government. These include key officials of the FAA lines of business and staff offices, directors of research centers, high level representatives of other Executive Branch agencies, members of Congress, and members of Congressional staffs. The incumbent also represents the agency internationally at forums to advance the FAA’s goals in the area of Information Management.

Salary is $124,900 to $175,700. Application deadline is July 12.

Apply.

GAO needs a better digital strategy. Here’s how 18F and USDS can help.

gao.gov

Source: gao.gov

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report on the fiscal and administrative state of 18F and the U.S. Digital Service, both established to make federal government digital services work better for users, and it appears the agency could use some help from the two on its own website, gao.gov.

Here are four ways GAO’s digital operations must be rebooted to meet the needs of today’s web user, and how 18F and USDS helped us better understand all of this.

HTTPS

The GAO website is not secure for users visiting gao.gov.

As 18F has emphasized, HTTPS protects visitor privacy with a secure, encrypted connection and is an important practice for .gov domains to adhere to.

The move to HTTS for all .gov websites began more than a year ago, yet gao.gov still remains unencrypted.

Fortunately for GAO, 18F and USDS created a number of HTTPS resources for governments and agencies having difficulty understanding its importance and quickly adopting it.

Mobile-friendly

The GAO website is not mobile-friendly.

Whether it’s a phone, tablet or laptop, gao.gov doesn’t adapt to the device you’re using. As billions of people around the world are now using mobile devices to access information, it’s requisite that all government websites are mobile-friendly so their services are accessible to everyone.

Fortunately for GAO, 18F and USDS created the U.S. Web Design Standards that makes it easy for anyone creating government websites to build mobile-friendly sites (including accessible color schemes, which GAO does a mediocre job on).

Update:

Alex Howard notes that GAO has a separate mobile version (launched in 2010) of its website and an app (launched in 2012). While these were great technological enhancements at the time, they no longer meet today’s standards around responsive design and streamlined development practices.

Rather than building one site that adapts to all devices, GAO has created two development environments and duplicated development costs.

While an app is certainly mobile, it doesn’t qualify in this case, as it’s a secondary outlet to the website.

Open data

GAO does not have a comprehensive open data strategy.

While the site provides a great list of RSS feeds, not all reports are in data-friendly formats (all are, however, in PDFs). There also appears to be no public application programming interface (however Sunlight Foundation has created one via its Sunlight Congress API).

Unsurprisingly, GAO’s report on 18F and USDS isn’t available through an open, accessible, digital format.

Fortunately for GAO, while not directly created by 18F or USDS, but done by many who now serve in each, there is Project Open Data to help it get started on executing an effective open data strategy.

Analytics

GAO doesn’t participate in the federal government’s Digital Analytics Program.

As the agency that provides oversight on federal government activities, it would be great to have more transparency into its website analytics.

Given that gao.gov is already using Google Analytics, and familiar with its tools, this is easily resolved with a simple snippet of code provided by DAP.

Thoughts

I get nervous when policymakers take a myopic approach to assessing technology, especially in a politically charged environment like Washington, D.C., where there are behind-the-scenes personal and business relationships that impact motivations around critiquing new initiatives like 18F and USDS.

I especially get nervous when an agency charged with overseeing federal government technology practices fails the digital test.

If GAO is serious about modernizing its own digital strategy, 18F and USDS can surely help.

Omidyar releases civic tech report, specific calls to action

Engines of Change

Omidyar Network has released “Engines of Change,” a report on the state of civic technology in the context of 21st century social movements that includes specific calls to action for organizations, governments, cities, practitioners, startups and investors that can help grow and sustain its impact.

The report, done in partnership with Purpose, is based on research conducted in 2016 with data based on meet-ups, social media conversations, GitHub contributions and venture funding, and provides a framework in which to view the momentum around civic technology. It incorporates Purpose’s Movement Measurement framework, a “methodology that uses big data to analyze social change,” that encompasses six criteria (Scale and/or Growth, Grassroots Activity, Sustained Engagement, Shared Vision, Collective Action, Shared Identity).

From Omidyar Network Investment Partner Stacy Donohue:

“So why consider viewing civic tech using the lens of 21st century movements? Movements are engines of change in society that enable citizens to create new and better paths to engage with government and to seek recourse on issues that matter to millions of people. At first glance, civic tech doesn’t appear to be a movement in the purest sense of the term, but on closer inspection, it does share some fundamental characteristics. Like a movement, civic tech is mission driven, is focused on making change that benefits the public, and in most cases enables better public input into decision making. We believe that better understanding the essential components of movements, and observing the ways in which civic tech does nor does not behave like one, can yield insights on how we as a civic tech community can collectively drive the sector forward.”

Civic tech, as defined by the report, is “any technology that is used to empower citizens or help make government more accessible, efficient, and effective.” A subset of this includes “Citizen to Citizen,” “Citizen to Government,” “Government Technology” technologies.

Findings in a nutshell:

The main take-away from this research is a need for a coherent and clearly articulated vision and sense of shared identity for civic tech. If the sector can work together to deliver this, it will help attract more participants to the sector – the more people understand what we mean when we say civic tech, the more they may see their work and interests reflected in it and will be interested to actively “join the movement”.

Download “Engines of Change” (.pdf) and visit the website.

Now reading: ‘Delivering on Digital’

Delivering on DigitalI’m reading Bill Eggers’ new book, “Delivering on Digital: The Innovators and Technologies That Are Transforming Government,” and wanted to share that it’s now available for purchase.

Accompanying the release is a great compilation of digital government “playbooks” on the book’s website.

FCW has an early review and better synopsis than I can give at the moment.

Eggers, executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Government Innovation, is also the author of “The Solution Revolution: How Government, Business, and Social Enterprises are Teaming up to Solve Society’s Biggest Problems,” “If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government,” “Governing by Network: The New Shape of the Public Sector ,” “The Public Innovator’s Playbook” and “Government 2.0: Using Technology to Improve Education, Cut Red Tape, Reduce Gridlock, and Enhance Democracy.”

Buy “Delivering on Digital” on Amazon.

New online course: Agile for the government product owner

Agile Government Leadership has launched a new online course focused on the government product owner and will host a webinar on June 16 to give an overview and answer questions.

The course, Agile for the Government Product Owner, part of the AGL Academy, is free and self-guided.

As I’ve mentioned here before, the product owner is one of the most important, if not the most important, positions in government technology.

Register for the introductory webinar.