Author: Brian Purchia

Hope, change and tech

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

It’s Tuesday morning. The Muslim travel ban is four days old. Stories of refugees coerced into signing away their green cards, children separated from parents, doctors denied entry into the land of the free dominate the airwaves. Protests have erupted in airports from SFO to JFK. Court orders are ignored. Chaos reigns.

There are moments in one’s life when you know everything has changed.

I hop on a video chat with the founder of CrowdJustice. The plan had been to roll out the crowdfunding platform for public interest legal cases in the U.S. in a couple weeks. We decide to speed that up and launch in 18 hours. There are two brothers fleeing war in Yemen that were headed to Michigan to reunite with their father. Instead they are forced to give up their visas at Dulles and put on a plane to Djibouti. They need help. The site that turns “legal cases into publicly funded — and backed — social causes” takes on their case.

While moments of darkness have been the soundtrack for much of the year, two trends have given me a lot of hope. People that have never been politically active are showing up at town halls and peaceful protests around the nation in record numbers. And, a new generation of civic-minded tech entrepreneurs are taking center stage — helping empower people with modern online tools and working to fix structural problems to make our government more transparent and accountable.

Both the Trump and Bernie movements tapped into a very real feeling that Americans are being left behind. That they’re stuck on the sidelines and nobody is listening. Many in the technology industry have been working on these issues for years and more are joining since the election. This is an exciting moment to be at the intersection of technology and government.

Countable has made contacting your elected officials and keeping tabs on policies as easy as swiping left or right. The app, which launched in 2014, has suddenly shot up to #2 in the app store in the past month.

California has recently announced a new digital services team to streamline bureaucracy and lead a user-centric revamp of the child welfare system in the world’s sixth largest economy.

A new data collection tool on police use of force — developed by data scientists from Bayes Impact in collaboration with police officers — is shining a light on some of most serious issues facing our country.

The city of New York unveiled the first images of its 258,000-square-foot civic tech hub late last month. Civic Hall will be located in the heart of Union Square. And a new VC, Ekistic Ventures, is looking exclusively for ideas and young companies to invest in to help improve our cities.

The Silicon Valley-based startup OpenGov has seen a surge in interest from state and local governments for its cloud-based software. The Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup is revolutionizing budget planning, improving internal data management, and making critical information accessible to citizens and elected officials to modernize government.

Tech has even managed to bridge the partisan divide. Working with the NAACP, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., and former state Senator Sam Blakeslee, R-Calif., announced the national expansion of a new online video platform for state government, Digital Democracy, which empowers advocates, journalists and everyday citizens.

Our democracy and our institutions are being tested. But an engaged citizenry and a new tech industry are giving me a lot of hope. The power of activism empowered by technology is clear and we are seeing results that matter. Less than a week after the Yemeni brothers were illegally forced out of the U.S., the Virginia attorney general and governor joined their cause. Their stories became national headlines as part of a bigger movement for justice. The 19- and 21-year-olds won their case and are now starting new lives in Michigan with their father.

Bring the IT Dashboard to San Francisco

San Francisco City Hall

(Photo: Wikipedia)

San Francisco has led the nation with Gov 2.0 innovations, like Twitter311 – connecting the City’s 311 Call Center to Twitter — allowing residents to contact the City about potholes, graffiti and interact with government in real time with a tweet, DataSF.org – the City’s one stop shop for government data that has empowered developers to create incredible apps that bring city data to life, and Open311 the first national API in government.

These initiatives are saving the City money, bringing more people into the political process and inspiring other communities to do the same. But, San Francisco like other cities is just scratching the surface.

There is much more that can be done immediately in San Francisco and communities all over the country to make government more efficient and transparent using technology.

One way to improve transparency is to make it as simple as possible for various San Francisco departments to share with the public and each other how much and what they are spending on technology. We know San Francisco’s government spends millions of dollars annually on technology, but it is extremely difficult for various departments — let alone citizens to easily access this information. However, there is a solution that is freely available today.

In 2009, President Obama rolled out the IT Dashboard to shed light on $80 billion in federal IT spending. The Dashboard tracks government technology expenditures — allowing the public to monitor how their money is being spent. Earlier this year, it was estimated that the IT Dashboard had saved the federal government $3 billion by eliminating or reducing unnecessary tech expenditures.

In March 2011, the White House working with Code for America and Civic Commons made the technology behind the Dashboard freely available for any government to use. Now, any city or state can implement the IT Dashboard in their community, but nobody has yet.

A new report released today on technology’s role in civic engagement and local government in California from the New America Foundation/Zócalo, Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West and the James Irvine Foundation stresses the need for innovations like the Dashboard, saying “while cost savings are critical, tools and standards for measuring communities’ information needs — and the inclusivity and effectiveness of the projects being proposed — are needed as well.”

The City By the Bay should lead by example and implement the IT Dashboard to save money and increase civic engagement. But, any city or town can do the same. Ask your elected officials to bring the IT Dashboard to your community. I’ve started an online petition calling for San Francisco City leaders to bring the IT Dashboard to San Francisco’s City Hall.

It’s time our political leaders ramped up the use of 21st century tools that are freely available to make our government more transparent — this will help restore trust in its institutions and empower a new generation of leaders.

If you are in the Bay Area and want to learn more about open government and the newly released report, “Hear Us Now? A California Survey of Digital Technology’s Role in Civic Engagement and Local Government” join me at Stanford on October 26th for a discussion about the report with Gov 2.0 leaders. It’s free, just like the IT Dashboard. You can RSVP here.



A vote for open data in San Francisco

Last week’s election brought a new party to power in our nation’s capitol and shook up the political landscape in San Francisco. With Mayor Gavin Newsom’s ascension to Lt. Governor of California there is a job opening in City Hall. His election has officially kicked off a process to name an interim mayor and who it’s going to be has been the buzz of the City for well over a year.

With all the changes happening in the City, it is important to make the open government efforts Mayor Newsom has worked so hard to implement a permanent part of City government.

Last year he issued an Open Data Executive Directive asking City departments to provide data to DataSF.org, the City’s one stop location for government data.  To facilitate continued public access to City government, Mayor Newsom introduced Gov 2.0 legislation earlier this year.

Gov 2.0, Please!

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee took a big Gov 2.0 step forward last month when they voted in favor of Mayor Newsom’s open data legislation and sent it to the full Board with recommendation.  Supervisor Eric Mar and many others have lauded the new policy, highlighting how it will lead to innovation that will improve San Franciscans’ quality of life at no additional cost to taxpayers.

There is already proof of the value of open data in San Francisco.  More than 50 apps, websites and other mash-ups have been created since the launch of DataSF.org in August 2009.  My personal favorite is the EveryBlock service requests feature that rolled out shortly after DataSF.org went live.  EveryBlock built a website that allows visitors to see what people are calling San Francisco’s 311 Customer Service Center about.  Issues are broken down by request type (graffiti, street sweeping, tree maintenance), day, and neighborhood. The site helps visualize what City services San Franciscans are asking for and increases transparency by showing what has been fixed.

Vote for Open Data

Tomorrow, Mayor Newsom’s open data legislation will be in front of the full Board of Supervisors. They have the opportunity to make open data the law in San Francisco.

On the verge of this historic movement, let’s take a look back at how the Gov 2.0 movement started in San Francisco with a tweet to Mayor Newsom about a pothole and where it is going.  Here’s a presentation I gave at U.C. Berkeley last month about open government efforts in San Francisco:

If you support open data sign the twitter petition and if you live in San Francisco contact your supervisor. Then join Gov 2.0 leaders at SF Beta on Tuesday night to hopefully celebrate and talk about the future of DataSF.org.

SF Mayor Newsom introduces legislation to open, centralize all city data

While it’s true that November 2nd will help shape the direction of our cities, states and country, this Thursday is also an important date for how government will look like and operate in the future.

On Thursday in San Francisco City Hall legislators will hear open data legislation introduced by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. The legislation if approved would make all non-confidential city data available to the public in one location — DataSF.org — whether it’s crime reports, bus arrival times or street sweeping schedules.

The law would codify an Open Data Executive Directive introduced by Mayor Newsom last year that asked City departments to provide data to the public and make it a permanent fabric of the City.

A Gov 2.0 Movement is Born

The Federal Government launched Data.Gov in 2009 to open government data to the public. With data from Data.Gov, the public can build applications, websites and mash-ups. San Francisco followed President Obama’s lead and launched a local version, DataSF.org a few months later with more than a hundred datasets.

San Francisco City leaders did not know what the public would do with the data, but believed that the public should have easy access to their data and that the City’s innovative citizens would build programs to bring government into the 21st Century.

Government as a Platform

Just weeks after the launch, new apps and websites started popping up. Developers built programs to help City residents find out when a bus was arriving, where to recycle hazaderous materials and show crime patterns in the city — all from data available on DataSF.org.

Since the launch of DataSF.org there have been more than fifty apps created from the City’s data with many more in the works. But, this is just the beginning of Gov 2.0 in San Francisco and hopefully throughout the country. San Francisco legislators have the opportunity to create a whole new generation of civic leaders by making open data official policy in the City by the Bay.

If you support open data sign the online twitter petition and if you live in San Francisco show up for the fun on Thursday.

An open source union movement

Earlier this year, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ignited an open source movement in government when the city approved the nation’s first open source software policy. Now, another movement — labor may be getting behind this effort. I have been asked to speak with Local 21 of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE/AFL-CIO) today about Gov 2.0 initiatives I helped lead for Newsom and why unions should embrace open source technology.

Open source saves union jobs

San Francisco’s legislation came about from a combination of factors, but the primary one was the City wanted to save money without laying off employees. Reducing the millions of dollars that were being spent on software licensing fees and other proprietary software was a no brainer for city leaders facing a half a billion-dollar budget deficit.

The first-of-its-kind policy requires that open source be considered equally to commercial products when buying new software. Instead of paying software-licensing fees year after year, under the direction of the City’s CIO, Chris Vein, and the Department of Technology the City opted to train employees with new skills.

San Francisco decided to invest in people and a new open source government.

It all started with a tweet

Last week, former Local 21 President Richard Isen (an app developer for the City of San Francisco) and I were talking about what I should talk about later today. He reminded me how the open source movement in San Francisco government started with a tweet.

Eighteen months ago, Mayor Newsom was at Twitter headquarters for a conversation about technology in government. During the town hall Newsom received a tweet about a pothole. He turned to Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams and said let’s find a way for people to tweet their service requests directly to San Francisco’s 311 customer service center.

Three months later, San Francisco launched the first Twitter 311 service, @SF311 allowing residents to tweet, text, and send photos of potholes and other requests directly to the City. As it turns out, Isen was the app developer on the project.

Working with Twitter and using the open source platform, CoTweet Isen turned @SF311 into reality. Normally, the software procurement process for something like this would have taken months. Instead from idea to implementation it took less than three months. Oh and the latest reports show @SF311 is saving the city money in call center costs.

Security in open source

Craig of Craigslist always reminds me when talking about open source to highlight the added security and stability of open source over proprietary software. I won’t get into it here but I recommend reading Sun Microsystems President & COO Bill Vass’ blog about the topic, “The No. 1 Reason to Move to Open Source is to IMPROVE Security.”

Unions for open source

Since the launch of @SF311, San Francisco has continued to utilize open source software to expand city services while reducing costs and implementation times from DataSF.org to the first national API for government. Meanwhile, open source legislation has spread from California to Vermont.

Unions should join the Gov 2.0 effort and make the open source movement their own. Demanding that more local governments pass open source legislation will save taxpayers money and protect union jobs.