Author: Adriel Hampton

The openwashing of

Photo: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Photo: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Perhaps the old saw “lipstick on a pig” is the best description for the information technology fiasco that was on October 1, 2013.

A project hyped in open government circles for its innovative content delivery architecture and use of open source frameworks became almost unusable for the first week of the launch, as the beautiful website failed more often than not when clicking through to the “Log in” link.

Or maybe the best way to describe the rollout of the site is “openwashing.”

Behind a thin veneer of Jekyll, a simple yet-elegant GitHub repository and a hot boutique consulting firm, was upon launch a bloated and badly designed project reportedly led by a giant government contractor.

In March, Development Seed, the brilliant DC team behind MapBox and active on projects such as the Google Election Center, was touting the initial site as “completely new and open source.”

“We’re going to build it and then buy insurance through it,” the firm’s co-founder said in a June profile of the project. Development Seed reposted parts of that profile on its blog, including a key quote from Bryan Sivak, the Health and Human Services chief technology officer:

“The goal is get people enrolled. A step to that goal is to build a health insurance marketplace. It is so much better to build it in a way that’s open, transparent and enables updates.”

But last week, as angry reports flooded out about folks unable to navigate the sign-in and marketplace features of, HHS and its subagency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, weren’t commenting on what went wrong. On Friday, Reuters reported that CGI, a sprawling professional services contractor out of Canada that delivers everything from payroll setup to websites and turns up in $1.15 billion in contracts with a simple search on, was responsible for the site.

Greenwashing describes misleading and deceptive practices meant to “green up” corporations and their business practices to gain public approval. Green PR has gained popularity along with public support for the environment, so I guess it’s to the open government movement’s credit that we regularly see openwashing at all levels of government (read here for a thorough critique of openwashing in government).

Openwashing in government is spin that deceptively promotes IT projects and policies as “transparent” and “innovative” when actual practices and spending are not.

It’s openwashing when President Obama claims his is the “most transparent administration in history” while ushering in an era of ubiquitous government-sponsored digital spying on private citizens and regularly rejecting Freedom of Information Act requests.

It’s openwashing when the mayor of San Francisco gives large tax breaks to the portfolio companies of one of his biggest campaign backers and calls it “tech policy.”

And it’s openwashing when the tech head of a giant federal agency rolls into SXSW talking about innovation while the guts of his biggest web property are rotten on launch.

Gov 2.0 Radio: Web Manager Kristy Fifelski

Kristy FifelskiKristy Fifelski of and Web Manager joins us on Gov 2.0 Radio to discuss Reno’s planned inaugural civic hackathon, her GovGirl video series, the upcoming National Association of Government Webmasters conference and the new



Bring DontEat.At to San Francisco and save public health dollars


In a powerfully argued post at GovLoop back in January, Canadian open data advisor David Eaves offered a solution for saving millions in public health costs: create data standards around restaurant healthfulness inspection scores and incorporate them into consumer-oriented websites like Yelp and OpenTable.

Last night on Gov 2.0 Radio, Allison Hornery of CivicTEC in Sydney pointed to a new app by New York University computer science student Max Stoller that mashes up NY health inspection data with Foursquare, and provides a text message warning if the restaurant isn’t making the grade. It’s called DontEat.At.

I’d really like to see Yelp, OpenTable and Facebook step up to the plate and take on this important public health goal in San Francisco. We’ve got the data, and is already using it in a user-friendly map. Incorporating it into restaurant sites and apps would make this data more accessible, and more likely to reduce public health risks.

While we’re waiting for Yelp and OpenTable, I’d love to see Max bring his app here.

Max, if you’re reading, here’s the raw data.

Hampton, Kott, launch SF Tech Dems to influence state policy

Suki Kott

Suki Kott

Today, Suki Kott and I formally launched SF Tech Dems, a new political club aimed at shaping tech policy in the SF Bay Area and throughout California. In my years of government reform advocacy, it’s become exceedingly clear that political action and influence is required to achieve the goals of the Gov 2.0 movement. Government procurement and contracting is a mess; agile innovation and open data lack policy framework; elected champions of civic technology and open government are few and far between, and politicians often give little more than lip service to principles of transparency, collaboration, participation and efficiency in government. It is essential for Gov 2.0 advocates to take on the political system in terms of one-issue advocacy.

Kott is a tech policy enthusiast familiar with campaigns and the inner workings of City Hall. She’s also in the Emerge program, which trains Democratic women to run for office – Emerge America is aiming to change this horrible statistic: the U.S. ranks 84 in the world for women in elected office, behind China and Pakistan. Other charter officers of SF Tech Dems are Jen Drake, also a campaign and City Hall veteran, as VP of Creative, and Realtor and tech and marketing organizer and blogger Jonathan Fleming as VP of Community Affairs. Brigette Hunley, chair of the California Democratic Party’s Computer & Internet Caucus is the first member of the SF Tech Dems’ Advisory Board.

“I am honored to serve on the advisory board of SF Tech Dems, San Francisco’s newest Democratic club,” Hunley said. “This new club will help the CDP Computer & Internet caucus accomplish our mission on a local level in the Bay Area.”

The CDP Internet Caucus was formed to harness the power of the internet and communication technology to further Democratic ideals, issues, and legislation; to assist Democratic Clubs and Assembly Districts; and to elect Democratic candidates, and Hunley was reelected as chair in Sacramento on Friday during the annual Democratic convention.

SF Tech Dems will raise and spend funds to ensure that civic technology, open government and Gov 2.0 ideals are well-represented on the agendas of Democratic candidates in San Francisco and California. The Tech Dems will also endorse and sponsor legislation related to technology policy and good governance. The club will seek official party charter as a San Francisco organization, and will hold its first in-person membership and fundraising drive in late May.

SF Assemblywoman Fiona Ma

SF Assemblywoman Fiona Ma

SF Assemblywoman Fiona Ma was instrumental to the creation of the SF Tech Dems, identifying a lack of local groups supporting the Computer & Internet Caucus.

“I am proud to support the San Francisco Tech Dems,” Ma said. “With Silicon Valley as well as the other hubs all around California, we need to do all we can to promote technology, to promote open technology, as well as encouraging people to vote and to be educated on what happens in California, how we generate revenue, how we are going to remain competitive to ensure that we can get our of our fiscal crisis. Technology is one of the keys: we are a leader, we need to remain a leader.”

(Ma photo by Charles Nguyen; Kott photos by Adriel Hampton)

Integrated, Open, Inspiring – Let’s Do It SF!

Let's Do It SF!

The San Francisco’s City Attorney’s Office (where I work) has launched an anti-blight initiative that wraps consumer tech, city services and a local-global approach to volunteerism in a multi-channel social media package. The “Let’s Do It SF” campaign aims to provide people who live and work in San Francisco with City Attorney-sponsored hands-on training in using the free SeeClickFix mobile app to report graffiti vandalism and illegal dumping, while highlighting core city services and volunteer opportunities.

“What we are doing in San Francisco with the Let’s Do It SF! initiative, along with the use of smart phone technology, will enhance neighborhood beautification and show the power of collective civic action,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

San Francisco is one of three cities – with DC and Boston – to fully embrace Open311, a standardized application programing interface (API) developed in cooperation with the NY non-profit OpenPlans. SeeClickFix has also been a core participant in the standardization effort (see the development wiki). Open311 allows consumer-focused apps like SeeClickFix to interface directly with the City’s issue ticketing system, creating both efficiencies and new resources from the developer community. The City’s 311 department highlights several apps developed using Open311, and the Let’s Do It SF site features an interactive citywide map of blight issues reported to the non-emergency call center.

Let’s Do It SF also uses SeeClickFix’s “watch area” feature to highlight individual supervisor districts in synch with Department of Public Works-sponsored Clean Team volunteer events in those districts. SCF customized their map widgets for the initiative to highlight issue reporting categories that map to Open311.

“The civic tech initiatives in SF are starting to get some real use through apps connecting with 311,” said SeeClickFix CEO Ben Berkowitz. “We’re excited about Let’s Do It SF! because it enables citizens to fix some of the concerns they are voicing through these apps on their own. It’s time for citizens to use online tools to improve communities offline … we’re sure your Farmville crops will still be there when you return.”

The anti-waste campaign “Let’s Do It” began in 2008 when a small group of Estonians organized volunteers to geo-map all of the illegal dumping in their country – and, in one amazing day of action with 50,000 participants, cleaned it all. The San Francisco Let’s Do It initiative urges local volunteers to also sign up for the North American portion of World Cleanup 2012, in which the original Estonian organizers aim to clean up 100 countries with similar massive mapping campaign and single-day actions.

The City Attorney’s Office teamed up with 311, DPW and SF Environment to bring together a host of City and partner services and public awareness resources in Let’s Do It SF. These include:

311 services on the Web, Facebook and a range of mobile apps;

DPW’s “Don’t Leave It On the Sidewalk” campaign;

SF Environment’s EcoFinder and SFRecycles;

Recology’s RecycleMyJunk; and

DPW’s Clean Team volunteer program.

“Public Works encourages the public to learn more about free and low cost resources for the collection of unwanted items and to also get involved through our community service volunteer programs,” said DPW Director Ed Reiskin.

Let’s Do It SF emphasizes true Gov 2.0 spirit in its development and collaborative multi-agency approach to taking on issues of blight in San Francisco neighborhoods. It includes a robust social media element, including:

Let’s Do It SF on Facebook;

Streaming tweets from Let’s Do It SF and from DPW Deputy Director Mohammed “Mr. Clean SF” Nuru;

Open-source Web development and Creative Commons licensing; and

Flickr photos from the Let’s Do It World pool.

Best in SF government social media

The City of San Francisco over the last two years has aggressively embraced social media for marketing of government programs and initiatives, citizen engagement, and two-way communications. An important task for the next mayor is not only to preserve the vibrant ecosystem left by one of the U.S.’s most tech-savvy mayors, but to continue to advance government innovation in one of the world’s most tech-savvy cities.

Let’s take a quick look at some of San Francisco’s crowning social media achievements, with an eye for growth:


More than 50 SF agencies and officials use Twitter for citizen engagement and government marketing, not including political accounts. While none approaches the 1.3 million followers of the former mayor, several of the accounts – including those of citywide officeholders and popular city museums – have several thousand followers each. The robust official Twitter activity makes San Francisco one of the top municipalities in the world for microblogging – it even takes service requests by tweet. The City could take its Twitter use to the next level through improved integration with official City websites and listening campaigns aimed at identifying and responding to public concerns.

Contests and Video

SF’s Public Utilities Commission created a positive stir around its goals of getting more residents to drink tap water and use reusable bottles with its “I Love SF Water” YouTube campaign. Here’s the winning entry:

SF agencies have slowly embraced social media-fueled contests to generate interest in their missions, and can take it up a notch through use of location-based apps and creation of a universal template and aggregation site for official contests, similar to the U.S. GSA’s

The former mayor was known for marathon YouTube videos, and one mayoral candidate has proposed YouTube for submitting official public comments. Including on-the-record video and text commenting is status quo technology for the City’s current public meeting webstreaming – it just takes a leader willing to turn it on.

Facebook and 311

311 FacebookThe City’s Facebook page is a monster with more than a quarter millions fans and heavy interaction from fans of our beautiful metropolis. In a recent addition, it includes on-site integration with SF 311, the City’s central agency responsible for taking and processing non-emergency service requests. Creating a citywide social media best-practices sharing forum and neighborhood-oriented trainings on multi-media access to City services would leverage this Facebook clout to enhance other social media efforts. The City might also consider allowing direct access to expert staff through Facebook, similar to the efforts of the U.S. Geographical Survey. A conversation with Drupal founder Dries Buytaert

 Dries Buytaert

Dries Buytaert Drupal and Acquia CTO and Co-founder Dries Buytaert and Acquia Vice President, WW Business Development Tim Bertrand join Gov 2.0 Radio to discuss Drupal and open source in government.



(photo by Joi)

Fire chief discusses how new app lets community help save lives

Fire Department

Be A Hero: San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District Chief Richard Price shares the latest on a new app that links trained volunteers with heart attack victims using GPS-enabled smart phones. Chief Price tells Gov 2.0 Radio that volunteer developers from Workday are building out a software development kit for the project, while a foundation will help implement and provide support for agencies in the U.S. and around the world. Learn more and register interest in the Chain of Life 2.0 project here.