CodeAcross 2014

Our hackathon beat photographer, 5 year-old Elias Fretwell snaps a picture of Code for America’s Jack Madans summing up the vibe at OpenOakland’s CodeAcross 2014 event today.

San Francisco mayoral candidates at SFOpen 2011, June 16. (photo by GovFresh)

Why the next SF mayor needs to understand open government

In August of 1993, San Francisco officially adopted the Sunshine Ordinance, a law that allowed any citizen to request city documents, records, filings or correspondence, attend meetings of any group that meets with the Mayor or city department heads and make any meeting of the governing bodies of certain local, state, regional and federal agencies attended by City representatives public.

Reset San Francisco

Time to Guarantee Universal Internet Access for All San Franciscans

We know our city government can be smarter, faster and more democratic by adopting many of the web-based tools that are now transforming our region’s economy.

But as we implement these Gov 2.0 strategies, there is a foundational principle that must be addressed – every single San Franciscan is entitled to the full service of government, not just for those 80% of households with access to the Internet.

That’s why it is time for the City to Guarantee Universal Access to the Internet for every single San Franciscan.

The small cost of this investment will pay for itself many times over, as it will allow us to create a true E-Government while expanding Internet access – the most fundamental tool for our new economy – to all of our residents.

Better and Less Expensive

Web-based tools are already making our government faster – but they can make it dramatically more efficient as well. An increased level of efficiency could mean both more services – and less cost – if we fully embrace the possibilities of a web-based government.

In the past two decades, the companies that survived and thrived did so because they became dramatically more efficient. While some of this efficiency came unfairly at the expense of workers and their families, much of it also came from wholesale adoption of web-based technologies that improve service while lowering costs. And in fact, data tends to show that the more efficient a company is – the higher the wages and benefits it provides.

Netflix, for example, virtually put Blockbuster out of business because it provides customers with a better product at a reduced cost. Everybody but Blockbuster wins in this equation – and so long as Blockbuster employees are retrained for new jobs and treated fairly – everybody wins in the end by using new technologies to create more efficient delivery of goods and services.

That works in business. But it won’t work in government until every single person has guaranteed access to reliable and high-speed Internet service. It is fine for Netflix to target their marketing to the 80% of the population with access to the Internet. Government can, should and must reach everyone.

That’s why Guaranteed Universal Access in San Francisco is the foundational step to true Government 2.0 reform. When everyone has access, we can truly take advantage of Web 2.0 tools to make government dramatically more efficient.

Not Just Better, More Democratic

Across the world, “crowdsourcing” is being offered as a way to create better products, better user experiences and better outcomes for organizations.

Democracy is the original experiment in crowdsourcing, and it is still working pretty darn well. But it would work even better if every resident had the chance to offer their opinion and contribute their expertise.

Of course, that is fundamentally what elections are all about. But in the four years between elections, politicians make hundreds of decisions that could be improved if we heard from more people.

Right now, our system of resident input is skewed because nearly every single city board and commission meets during the day – when most folks are at work or school. It’s no wonder that most of the testimony heard seems to come from people who have a direct self interest in the outcome.

Guaranteed Universal Access to the Internet would mean rapid adoption of applications like the YouTube Testimony I have proposed, which lets any resident weigh in on a topic using free technology, even if his or her schedule prevents them from coming down to City Hall.

This is just one idea among hundreds that have been proposed as part of a growing Gov 2.0 movement. But to fully realize this potential, we can’t leave any household behind. That’s why we need Guaranteed Universal Access to the Internet.

The Telephone Precedent

We have been here before. For example, when the telephone became such a prevalent technology that it was essentially a requirement, the federal government stepped in with a Universal Service legislation to make telephone service available and affordable to virtually all Americans.

Telephone providers now pay a small fee that subsidizes phone costs for low-income Americans. A small part of this fee also goes to extend broadband Internet access, but in a much more limited fashion.

First in Finland

One nation is already leading the way in Guaranteed Universal Access to its residents. In 2009, Finland became the first country to make broadband access a legal right. One inspiring detail about the Finnish move to Universal Access is that it took the country only 9 months to start to implement the law (service began July 2010 with full goals to be meet by 2015).

Finland does not subsidize the plan, rather they require all broadband companies to be able to hook up customers should they so desire. It is worth noting that the law only pertained to broadband access, not if it would be reasonably priced.

The UN Calls Access “A Human Right”

Just this past week, a United Nations report declared Internet access a basic human right. The report focused on the democratizing potential of the unfettered exchange of information and ideas.

It also points out that even in democratic societies, an informed and engaged population holds governments accountable.

As the former Executive Director of the Asian Law Caucus, I also have firsthand experience with the civil rights issues created by our continued digital divide. The UN calls Universal Access a human right in the global context. Here at home, it is truly a civil right.

And the indisputable reality is that San Franciscans cannot participate fully in our government, in our education system or in our economy without access to the Internet.

Free WiFi Movement

As is so often the case, San Francisco has long provided leadership on this important issue. In fact, our city even overwhelmingly voted in 2007 to support the concept of free high-speed WiFi for all San Franciscans.

Since then, there have been numerous steps in the right direction. The City’s Housing Authority has begun to install free high-speed WiFi in city-owned housing projects. And various hotspots around the city – from the airport to Union Square – have been established.

Of course, local businesses are also providing free WiFi, from big chains like Starbucks to the locally owned corner coffee shop.

But while all of these moves are beneficial – the time has come to go from small steps to final leaps. To transform our government, make it more efficient, and make if more democratic and responsive – we need Guaranteed Universal Access.

A Plan for Universal Access

The basics of Guaranteed Universal Access are simple – every household in San Francisco should be guaranteed affordable high-speed access to the Internet and a way to access it.

The structure of such a plan should be as varied as the Internet itself. The city should invest in free WiFi in every neighborhood. The City should make available its own dark fiber network in exchange for no-cost or low-cost service to San Franciscans. The city should subsidize on a sliding scale laptops or tablets for those families that could not otherwise afford them. And we should consider actually using the franchise fees we now collect on telephone service and from our cable providers for this important purpose.

An Investment that Will Pay for Itself

People who say government should “run like a business” usually are not focused on the fact that our motive is not profit – it is to provide service.

But we can take a page from businesses – and use some basic tools to better understand what investments we should make. And the basic tool of a modern business is a Return on Investment (ROI) calculator to answer the question – what return can we expect for our investment?

Because service rather than profit is our motive – I think it is fair to make such decisions through the prism of a Civic Return on Investment Calculation. For example, if the city invests $10 million per year to guarantee Universal Access, what return could we expect on that investment?

The big picture is well understood. If we can truly capture the efficiencies of Web 2.0 and bring them to a San Francisco Government 2.0 – the immediate cost savings would be well in excess of $10 million per year.

Take just one example. In my own office, we spend approximately $100,000 for each yearly notice mailing. If every resident had guaranteed access to the Internet, such an expenditure would not be necessary. Not only would an electronic notice be more effective in the sense that it could be available online in many languages, carry links to follow up questions, and allow for instant feedback – but also it would be largely “free.”

My Assessor-Recorder’s Office is just one of scores of city departments and agencies. Just last week, I received a multi-page and colorful mailing from the San Francisco PUC updating me on its water improvement project. This is a fine public service – but a costly one. The same information emailed to me, or posted on the city’s website, would not only be much less costly, but also it would also be more useful.

As election season rolls around, we all can expect those phone-book sized sample ballots, the cost of which is many millions per election. The same information provided online would be more useful – and much less costly.

The savings add up. We could save well over $10 million in printing and mailing costs each year – but these savings are only possible through Guaranteed Universal Access.

The Civic Return on Investment

By creating Universal Access, we will do more than save money in the first year alone and every year after that. We will help city government become a platform for innovation – in City Hall and far beyond.

As progressive as our city tends to be in most respects, our city government itself is conservative in its approach to change. The rapid pace of web technologies could help speed up the necessary changes we need in city government – making us more effective, more responsive and less costly.

And a better government is just the start on the Civic Return on Investment. Access to the Internet is not a luxury anymore. Could you imagine looking for a job, doing your homework, researching how to cast an intelligent ballot without access to the Internet?

Here we are in San Francisco claiming to be the capitol of the world’s digital economy. Yet a significant number of our residents can’t access this new economy because they have no reliable access to the Internet.

We can change that. We can save money while doing more as a city government. And at the same time we make our economy larger and more inclusive by guaranteeing Universal Access to the Internet.
How Should We Proceed

As one of the co-chairs of the city’s Solar Task Force, I saw the power of crowdsourcing expertise. We brought together community leaders and experts, and the result was the extraordinarily effective GoSolarSF program.

We should Crowdsource this task in the same way. Starting with bringing together the experts – but including the entire community through Web 2.0 tools. We should go forward with the full recognition that there will be a yearly cost. We should go forward by calculating the full financial and social benefits returned for that investment.

But most of all – we should go forward now. The time has come to transform our city government and to transform lives in our city by bringing full and equal access to the Internet for all San Franciscans.

Reset San Francisco

Bring participatory budgeting to San Francisco

Would the government work better if you had more say? At Reset San Francisco, we think the answer to that question is absolutely yes, which is why we were so excited when the folks behind the movement for Participatory Budgeting paid a visit to City Hall last week.

Reset San Francisco

User generated government

San Francisco-based campaigns and causes are already among our nation’s leaders in adopting Web 2.0 tactics. But the real progress will come when these new technologies are used to do more than win elections – but when they are employed to improve the quality of our government and the quality of our lives.

My Gov 2.0 Hero: Gabe Klein

I want to nominate Gabe Klein, our Director here at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). I know, very self-serving, but Gabe is still very deserving of recognition as a Gov 2.0 Hero. He has made it a priority to make the agency more transparent and to improve communications with our customers, and he has pushed us to utilize every tool at our disposal to do that.

My Gov 2.0 Hero: Carolyn Lawson

The enormousness of California’s government open data makes it an amazing resource as well as being difficult for citizens to find what they need. By opening up the state’s data with a custom search engine for the various data formats, the usefulness of our government open data increases tremendously.

Lucas Cioffi

My Gov 2.0 Hero: Lucas Cioffi

Lucas Cioffi is the CEO of Online Townhalls, Inc., and founder of the Open Government Directive Workshop Series. The OGD Workshop Series is an inter-agency collaborative event hosted by a different federal agency each month. These self-organizing workshops help the public sector’s OpenGov community coordinate from the bottom up and make the critical transition from good to great.

My Gov 2.0 Hero: Ted Hsieh

It’s easy for one to say “Hey, on this website, wouldn’t it be cool if X?” where X is any given outcome of random neuronal firing in the brain of someone that might call themselves a New Media Strategist.

It’s a whole other thing altogether to make X a reality, to turn that idea into a tangible product. At HHS, that’s where Ted Hsieh (sounds like Shay) comes in. You won’t find him on Twitter nor GovLoop nor many meet-ups, but Ted has been called a ninja and a Jedi Knight. That’s right: He’s a Ninjedi Knight. As the lead developer for the US Department of Health & Human services, he takes all the crazy ideas that push and challenge our technological infrastructure, talks them out, adds a little magic and pumps out technical solutions to meet the needs of HHS web communicators. And he does it quickly. Like really quickly. (That’s where the magic comes in.)

Leveraging Social Media for Change

Stephen Goldsmith’s new book, The Power of Social Innovation: How Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Networks for Good, written with Gigi Georges and Tim Glynn Burke, offers tools for innovative government and nonprofit professionals to develop and scale their new solutions to public problems. The book is based on Goldsmith’s experience as chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service for nine years under Presidents Bush and Obama, mayor of Indianapolis, and Professor of Government at Harvard Kennedy School. Relying also on interviews with more than 100 top leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors, The Power of Social Innovation features illustrative case studies of civic leaders and entrepreneurs and the catalyzing role each plays in transforming a community’s social service delivery systems. The excerpt below—taken from Chapter 5 “Animating and Trusting the Citizen”—highlights innovative ways that private citizens, nonprofits and government officials are using digital media to “crowd source” or otherwise engage their communities in decision making and actual participation in solving their shared challenges.

BREAKING: GovFresh acquired by BBI, Inc.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – GovFresh founder Luke Fretwell announced today he has sold GovFresh to Rosslyn, VA-based federal contractor BBI, Inc., for [REDACTED]. Effective immediately, he joins the firm as Chief Innovation & Engagement Officer and will actively recruit top government and military officials to BBI’s executive team and advisory board, including [REDACTED], [REDACTED], [REDACTED], [REDACTED], [REDACTED], [REDACTED] and [REDACTED].

GovLoop Member of the Week: Luke Fretwell

Originally posted on GovLoop by Andrew Krzmarzick

If you’ve seen a series of posts called “Gov 2.0 Heroes” here on GovLoop, then you probably know about Luke Fretwell’s launch of GovFresh just a few months ago. GovFresh is a great website with a comprehensive list of feeds from scores of government agencies. In addition, Luke is providing thought leadership and innovative new content with the “What Does Government Mean to You?” video project.

Since Luke has been highlighting a lot of other individuals around the Government 2.0 space with his “Heroes” feature, let’s turn the tables on GovFresh to hear his story. Enjoy the GovLoop version of “Gov 2.0 Hero: Luke Fretwell.”

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