Author: Dustin Haisler

Enabling the civic social layer

Over the past few months, I’ve been seeing different models of ‘digital’ or ‘smart’ cities. Many of these models are heavily centered on the re-engineering of technical or physical layers of infrastructure.

In addition, these layers and their supporting processes are re-engineered through a top-to-bottom approach. After each layer has been ‘digitized’ and re-engineered, there are a series of business intelligence functions that are performed to validate that the fix is performing as designed.

There’s one thing missing from this approach: People

The best way to tap the social layer is by not just listening to the collective wisdom of people, but enabling them to act upon it. In order to enable the collective wisdom of people, we must create a (case-by-case) strategy for people to be actors and sensor of change.

People can be actors of sustainable change

Background: Sustainable change is driven by bottoms-up participation and collaboration. We use bottoms up approaches to elect our representatives, why not use the same model to enact change. Depending on the situation, this could leverage mechanism of crowd labor or funding. Sustainable change is not driven by empowering voices- it’s all about action.

What’s needed: Historically, challenges are shaped from the top-down, which provides the crowd a flawed view of the real issue. As a result, we need to empower people (citizens) to identify and shape community challenges. Next, we need to give them the ability to help lead change, whether through crowd-labor or crowd-funding; people yearn for a way to do more than just go to a website.

People can be sensors to validate change

Background: Business intelligence tools are helpful at giving us a big-picture overview; however, people provide a more accurate view of change on the ground. We can invest lots of money in fancy dashboards that give us the ‘big-picture’ or we can have a conversation with real people that are effected by the change.

What’s needed: We need online & offline components to collect, measure and analyze feedback from people. If something’s not working, we need do more than just collect complaints – we need to collected structure feedback on what can be improved. People, in themselves, can create adaptive business processes.


Enabling the civic social layer is about doing more than listening – it’s about action. We’re now at a point within the Government 2.0 movement where we must empower and enable the wisdom of the crowds to drive action. People are the most important aspect of a conversation, but what they say is only valuable if it can be acted upon.

Gov 2.0 guide to a city makeover

My name is Dustin Haisler and I’m the Assistant City Manager and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the City of Manor, Texas.  Manor is a small community, located just east of Austin, of approximately 6,500 citizens. More recently, Manor has received a lot press for some of our innovative projects; such as our QR-code program, citizen idea portal, and pothole reporting system.  In fact, we are in such a state of continuous improvement that we even added the word ‘beta’ to our city logo.

Over the past year, it’s been my pleasure to be one of the many evangelists of these new citizen-empowering technologies for government agencies across the country.  In the process, I’ve realized that there are many bureaucratic constraints, fears and misunderstandings about how these technologies fit within municipal government.  Further, I understand that type of innovation within government is sometimes seen as a risky concept; however, I would argue there is a science to what we do in Manor that can and should be replicated by other municipalities.

So let me brake down what we’ve done by starting at the beginning.  Manor’s innovation journey began like most- out of a means of survival.  With dwindling revenues and rising costs, we faced a significant challenge to continue providing the services our citizens demanded.  As a result, we were faced with two choices: finance industry solutions over a period of time or leverage what we have to make our own.  We chose the latter.  Now it’s difficult to leverage 34 employees beyond their current capacities, but we  do have 6,500 citizens that are each an expert in something.  It was time to tap the wisdom of the crowds.

Almost five years later, we have overhauled every department within our agency, actually reducing our information technology budget, with our citizens helping drive the change.  My next goal was to help educate other cities that they could achieve the same thing.  During this process, I continued to hit the same roadblocks, around the lines of “I don’t know where to start!”

In talking through this frustration, Luke Fretwell, the founder of GovFresh, and I decided we were going to do something to help catalyze a municipal innovation movement.  We had both been to numerous conferences that were very inspiring to the participants, but lacked the action-oriented approach needed to make things happen.  As a result, manor.govfresh was born with the intention of demonstrating that everything we had done in Manor could be replicated by other cities.  We determined that the best way to demonstrate this was by performing a makeover on another city.  Essentially, we took every citizen engagement technology we use in Manor (plus some) and applied them to America’s next ‘beta’ city, the City of De Leon, Texas.  The most amazing aspect of the makeover is that we did it in under a month.

So what does a Gov 2.0 makeover look like?


For the website portion of the makeover, we used a free web technology that is typically used for blogs, called WordPress, along with the free GovFresh Gov 2.0 template, to make it easy for De Leon staff members to maintain and keep their citizens up-to-date.  Price: Free + Hosting (Approximately $54.00 per year).

Idea Suggestion

In order to channel new ideas, we deployed a Spigit platform to apply a structured and transparent process the citizens of De Leon to suggest new ideas.  In addition, citizens are rewarded for their participation, through game-mechanics, to make the process sustainable.  Price: Starts at $499.00 per month.


QR-codes are a type of barcode that can be read with most newer model camera phones.  Using can download a free application and simply scan the barcode using the camera on their phone.  Once a code is scanned, their phone will display the information that was linked within it.  For the De Leon QR-code program, we used a free online creator and a local sign printing company to provide a physical hyperlink for 35 points-of-interest throughout their community.  Price: Free (Just the cost of printing).

Open Data

In order to make public information more accessible to citizens, we deployed a Socrata platform to allow citizens to view and analyze public information on a deeper level without the need of an open-records request.  In addition, local developers now have access to make web applications that tie-in to these data sets.  Price: Free Version Available (Plans start at $499.00 per month).

Citizen Reporting (311)

To encourage citizen reporting, we deployed SeeClickFix to empower citizens to help ‘fix’ their community from a variety of channels including a dedicated mobile application, toll-free phone number, e-mail and embeddable web application.  Price: Starts at $40.00 per month.

Crime Reporting

Using CrimeReports, we took the City of De Leon’s public crime data, that was not accessible online, and embedded it within an easy to understand visual map.  Price: Starts at $99.00 per month.

E-Forms & Processes

Using Firmstep, the City of De Leon now has electronic forms and applications that are apart of a bigger electronic process.  This means that city forms can be processed without ever needing to print them out. Price: Starts at $300.00 per month.

Social Media

We setup the City of De Leon with a Facebook and Twitter account to better engage with their citizens using online platforms where the conversations are currently taking place.  Price: Free.

Records Retention (Online)

In order to maintain and comply with records retention laws, we used PageFreezer to auto-archive all of the City of De Leon’s online activities. Price: Starts at $199.00 per month.

Mobile Application

The City of De Leon will also have access to the first location-based-service application for government (Think of Foursquare for government). This application will empowers citizens to interact with their city no matter where they’re at.  Price: Free (Extra features are available).

Internet Telephone System

Developed just for this conference, the City of De Leon now has access to the MuniVox Internet phone system (VoIP). MuniVox makes it easy for small local governments to implement a sophisticated phone system using open-source software.  Price: Free.

E-mail/Document Management

Using Google Apps Standard Edition, the City of De Leon has access to a very cost-effective and robust e-mail and document management system.  Price: Free (Up to 50 users).

Project Management

Using Manymoon, with direct integration to Google Apps Standard Edition, the City of De Leon can better manage their daily operations and tasks.  Price: Free.

Are We There Yet?

Nope, and we will never fully arrive. In the spirit of being in a continuous state of

improvement (‘beta’), we can never fully arrive. Technology and citizen services

will continue to change and we must always be listening.  I hope that what we did inspires you to go ‘beta’ and embrace technologies that can revolutionize the way you interact with your citizens.

There is a guide available on the BetaCities website with more detailed information for other cities interested in deploying these technologies.

Special thanks

Luke and I didn’t pull this makeover off on our own. We built this with the help of our community. Along with the partners listed above, and our planning committee, supporters and sponsors should get most of the credit for making this vision a reality:

Planning Committee

  • Mark Headd
  • Geovanna Ricaldi
  • Kevin Curry
  • Sara Moore
  • Robert Greenberg
  • Andrew Krzmarzick
  • Sid Burgess
  • Margarita Quihuis
  • Pam Broviak


  • Code For America
  • OpenPlans
  • Gov 2.0 Radio


  • Spigit
  • OpenPlans
  • Manor ISD
  • Manor Education Foundation
  • Bluebonnet Electric
  • BLGY Architecture
  • Bridge Born
  • G&H International Services, Inc.

My Gov 2.0 Hero: Phil Tate

Phil Tate

Manor, Texas has received lots of recognition for the innovative technologies that have come out of it, but many people don’t know all the individuals that are responsible. My role as Assistant City Manager and CIO is to steer the development of emerging technologies in Manor, but the real hero is our City Manager, Phil Tate.

Phil is a Gov 2.0 Hero because he chooses to say “yes” to new emerging technologies that allow us to be more efficient and transparent. It would be so easy for a city manager to say “no” to new ideas and concepts, but Manor has been fortunate to have such a progressive leader with the drive to serve citizens and instill government accountability.

My Gov 2.0 Hero: Luke Fretwell

Luke FretwellOne of the first people that came to mind as a Gov 2.0 Hero doesn’t even work for the government.

With this said, this individual has had a profound impact on government through his immense drive and passion to make the government a better place. Luke Fretwell is the creator of GovFresh, which has become a very important resource for agencies and citizens interested in how technology is reshaping government of all levels. Luke recognizes individuals making their mark in government as Gov 2.0 Heroes, but I think it’s time that his efforts get recognized. Luke, thank you for being a real Gov 2.0 Hero, and inspiring me to press forward no matter how difficult the challenge may be.

Why government should go beta

City of Manor BetaIn the spirit of innovation, we are happy to announce the launch of the City of Manor in open beta. Manor launched in alpha in March of 1913, and has been operating as such for the last 97 years.

What does open beta mean?

Open beta is the stage of product release where the alpha product is released to a larger community group, usually the general public, for feedback. The testers report any bugs that they found and sometimes minor features they would like to see in the final version.

How will Manor operate in open beta?

Manor has become a model for municipal innovation and we understand that our model must continue to change and adapt to forces at work within our community. We want our citizens to be able to respond to our agency like individuals testing out a beta product (beta-testers). If they see a problem- they can report it. If they have an idea- they can submit it. If they have a question- they can ask it.

What’s next?

We think it is in the benefit of other cities to operate in open beta. We want to demonstrate that it is OK to say to our citizens, ‘that we’re re-inventing ourselves with your help.’ Operating in beta does not degrade the permanence of your established city, it only adds value by demonstrating to your citizens that your listening and acting what they have to say.

More information about how you can participate is forthcoming.

What’s missing from Gov 2.0?

What missing from Gov 2.0?

The answer: Education.

Like most agencies, we have done a significant amount of research at the City of Manor to determine how we could best use new technologies to interact and engage our citizens. In the process, we have discovered that there is one element that is quite often overlooked within the Gov 2.0 movement- education. Citizen and employee education is critical to the adoption of new technologies because the technology will not be used if it is misunderstood.

So now the big question, how do you educate employees and citizens?

For employees

We deploy and train employees on new technologies internally (before public release) so they can develop and understanding of its functions and discover new ways to utilize the technology. Essentially, our employees are the beta-testers and we make final decisions based on their feedback.

For citizens

Currently we speak at numerous civic events within our community to explain the value of utilizing these technologies to communicate and understand open government concepts.

What does the future hold?

The existing channels of education are not as effective as we would like, and as a result, we have partnered with the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCW) to further training within Gov 2.0 technologies. The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of more than 200 institutions of higher education and associated organizations from around the world that are creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model.

Manor’s participation will consist of:

  • Creating 10 free and open courses by 2012 centered around Gov 2.0, Open Innovation, etc. to educate citizens and employees to learn from.
  • Providing incentives to Manor Labs’ users that participate in OCW courses (Innobucks on Manor Labs).

Now what?

We want to know what you think about our plan. We want your ideas and feedback on how we can best education our employees and constituents on Gov 2.0.

We’ve created a portal on our open innovation platform for you to share your ideas/suggestions (and you don’t have to live in Manor to participate).

The 3 phases of citizen idea platforms

By Dustin Haisler, Manor, and Margarita Quihuis, Researcher at Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab

The open government movement has spurred lots of interest in agencies becoming more transparent to citizens. As a result, most federal agencies have launched “open” pages that allow anyone to submit ideas for their agencies.

While we laud these efforts as a good first step, there is more that needs to be done in order for these initiatives to reach their full potential.

Many of these agencies have focused on soliciting ideas from the public; what has yet to be revealed is how these ideas are transformed into implemented solutions. Our four-month experiment with Manor Labs has given us a number of insights on how the process could work, challenges and potential pitfalls.


Manor Labs began as collaboration between Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab and the City of Manor to explore how persuasive technologies, open innovation and transparency could be used to create new solutions to pressing community problems through citizen participation. We looked to models such as WikiPedia and Mozilla Foundation where a core institution leveraged the contributions of thousands of individuals to create something larger and more powerful than could be created by a small group alone. Small municipalities like Manor are increasingly challenged to provide services to growing populations while maintaining a small city staff and even smaller budget. With no way to increase head count or raise taxes to pay for services, we needed to find a way to tap into the collective intelligence of the citizenry to help us identify issues, propose ideas, do the necessary research and help prioritize what gets done in a dynamic manner where citizens feel heard.

Through our research at Stanford, we knew that the one of the most effective platforms that keeps people engaged are massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). MMOGs provide a clear narrative, feedback mechanisms, rules, roles and transparency. In contrast, many civic interactions lacked feedback mechanisms, clear rules of engagement or transparency. In fact, the lack of these attributes tended to feed citizen cynicism in the civic process. As a result, the type of platform we chose became very important in setting up the proper environment for citizen engagement. Most importantly the process needed to be visible – how an idea moves from a mere suggestion to a full implementation as well as being able to see who contributed, who’s dominating the conversation and so on.

Moving From Ideas to Solutions

Based upon our experience with Manor Labs, we’ve identified some key phases necessary to go from ideas to solutions.

Ideally, innovation platforms need to have three distinct phases:

  • Participation
  • Engagement
  • Implementation

Phase 1: Participation (Where Ideas Are Born)

What is participation?

  • To take part, to involve oneself, in an initiative.

What does it involve?

  • Submitting An Idea


  • Getting initial involvement

How do you get citizens involved?

  • Identify motivation – hot button issues in local community
  • Actively Recruit – social media outreach (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) plus traditional channels – local newspapers, community groups
  • Messaging – frame it as an opportunity for citizens to be more active with their government

What Can Go Wrong?

  • Insufficient participation
  • Politics can corrode the effectiveness of a platform
  • Lack of moderation/quality screening of ideas, platform overtaken by spam


  • Citizens signing up as their authentic selves (Open ID, Facebook Connect, etc.)
  • How do you discourage citizens from creating multiple accounts with the appearance of being different people with the purpose of gaming the system?

Success Metrics:

  • How many ideas should you expect?
  • What level of citizen participation is reasonable?

Phase 2: Engagement (Where Ideas Grow)

What is engagement?

  • The act of sharing in the activities of a group

What does it involve?

  • Growing An Idea (Collaboration, Knowledge Sharing, Research, Development, Piloting)


  • Who is going to grow the idea? Crowd or Government?
  • Effective moderation of ideas to keep conversations on topic, filter out spammers
  • Well written and understood Community guidelines
  • Clear roles
  • Well designed feedback loops
  • Getting people to return to the platform on a regular basis

What Can Go Wrong?

  • Failing to keep citizens in the loop
  • No feedback/progress report on how ideas are moving through system
  • Poor rules – people gaming the system

Tools To Use:

  • Engagement Loops/Feedback Mechanisms
  • Game Mechanics – Participation points for collaboration, quality of ideas, leaderboards

How To Measure Success:

  • Number and quality of comments/idea
  • Are groups of people regularly building on each others’ ideas?
  • Number of reoccurring participants

Phase 3: Implementation (Where Ideas Become Solutions)

What does it involve?

  • Validating idea (Does it really address a problem)
  • Determining resources and budget
  • Should idea be implemented by government or by community (grassroots, neighborhood, volunteer, non-profit?)
  • Feedback to idea participants on implementation

What Can Go Wrong?

  • Government employees not on board
  • “Not-Invented Here” syndrome
  • Corrosive Politics

How To Measure Success:

  • What is the ratio of ideas to implemented solutions?
  • ROI? Cost savings?
  • Quality/Quantity of ideas of solutions?


  • The platform can set the stage for the process and expected engagement
  • Rules, roles and feedback (what type, how often) need to be thought through in advance
  • Breakdown the process into simple, clear steps
  • Don’t overlook civil servant buy-in and participation (Show/demonstrate value)
  • Start small (pilot it in one department and grow from there)
  • The goal is to channel citizen participation into constructive, productive re-engagement where they feel they co-created and co-own outcomes

Over the next few weeks we will take look a closer at each phase of innovation.


OpenGover Boss: Better government through employee engagement

A few months ago, I came up with a plan to understand our city operations and processes on a much more detailed level. After watching Undercover Boss last night on CBS, I thought I would share it with others, so that it might inspire you to do the same (no, I’m not going undercover).

Beginning next month, I’m starting a new type of operations evaluation for the City of Manor. I will work for up to one week within each department to gain a comprehensive understanding of each department’s current processes as they exist today. After circulating through each department, I will submit analysis and recommendations for each department head to review based upon my experiences.

From a management prospective, it’s easy to find a technology to make something appear to be easier, however, I want to go in the trenches and see what works and what doesn’t. It will be an interesting experience, and I look forward to posting my experiences (via videos) and final analysis online for you to watch.

Any suggestions for me or thoughts on what you want to learn from the process?

Does gaming have a place in government?

Part of our research focus at Manor Labs is to discover new ways of communicating and engaging the public. The following two concepts came out of that research.

The new form of social network-based online gaming has become all the rage on popular social networking sites. From a government standpoint, we have determined that these platforms are distractions and subsequently block them from use by our employees. However, let’s propose a new thought; what if we used these tools to educate and engage our public?

Here are two concepts for using game mechanics proactively within government:


The first concept takes Zynga’s FarmVille game model to an entirely new level—the government. We could create an online game with the simplicity of FarmVille, but the mechanics of a real city. There’s currently a social network game called MyTown that is similar to this model, however, it doesn’t accurately encompass concepts like taxation and cost of service within the game model (but it’s a great start). If the government built on their example, we could create a more empowered and educated citizen base.

Let’s say we built an online game that was as engaging as FarmVille, but incorporated real governmental concepts in the process. Which concepts are important to start with?

  • Taxation: Have the gamer adjust taxes but also have it tied to public opinion (similar to Sim City, but less complex).
  • Cost of Service: Have responding to police calls, water line breaks, etc., demonstrate a cost of service for government.

After you establish a sizable base of game players, you could increase the difficulty of the game by incorporating “real” crowdsourced governmental elements within the game model.

For example, Manor Labs is always looking for new ways to get people to review ideas using very simple metric that takes less than 30 seconds to complete. Incorporating this element as a challenge within an online game would allow participants to not only advance within the game, but also help our agency out in the process.

This game concept could be expanded as not only as a new way to teach individuals about government, but as a new way to learn from them.

The second idea I had was to use the Foursquare model of mobile engagement and apply it to government.

About Foursquare:

“Foursquare aims to encourage people to explore their neighborhoods and then reward people for doing so. We do this by combining our friend-finder and social city guide elements with game mechanics – our users earn points, win mayorships and unlock badges for trying new places and revisiting old favorites.”

Building on that model, each agency could allow citizens to “check-in” at various city spots (Library, Fire Station, etc.) and learn more about their community in a fun and engaging format. This could also help open up the door for their participating in other crowdsourced programs like SeeClickFix.


In our ever changing society, civic participation and engagement are becoming more and more difficult to achieve. I believe these elements are more obtainable by incorporating certain elements of game mechanics in the process. These ideas are just two examples of how such mechanics can be utilized to create a more empowered and educated citizen-base.

How to pick a citizen idea platform

By Dustin Haisler, Manor, and Margarita Quihuis, Researcher at Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab

Today, more than ever, there has been lots of talk about open innovation, idea collection, ideation and many other terms used to describe the collection of citizen feedback. Most idea collection platforms have been lumped together and only compared on the basis of price alone. Based upon our research at Manor Labs, in collaboration with the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, we have come to the conclusion that there are two distinctly different platforms for idea collection.

Specific-Task Motivated Idea Platforms

These platforms (like Ideascale, Uservoice, etc.) are great a gathering ideas for a specific purpose. For instance, many online voting challenges have adopted these platforms to gather votes for a set period of time. After a user expends their vote or votes they are no longer motivated to return to the platform aside from seeing what ideas are on top.

  • Pros: Less Expensive Upfront Cost/ Great For Small Scale Challenges & Polls
  • Cons: Poor Idea Management / Poor Analytics

How Manor Uses: We currently employee a specific-task motivated platform for our website error pages. The voting mechanism is built into our standard error page (e404) so that if someone receives an error trying to access content on our website, they have the ability to make a suggestion at the point of failure, thus embracing specific-task motivated idea collection.

How Uses: Manor and Stanford’s Persuasive Technology team have teamed up to create, a public-facing idea generation platform. We chose IdeaScale to run the back-end because of its Web 2.0 characteristics such as single sign-ons via Facebook Connect and Open ID logins and extreme ease of use. In this particular implementation, the ideas are broken out into different categories but the focus is on Haiti disaster relief and recovery. In this kind of idea crowdsourcing where people are primed and motivated to help for altruistic reasons, elaborate game mechanics and reward systems such as found on platforms like Spigit aren’t necessary. One area where IdeaScale could improve is to allow idea contributors to auto-post to their Facebook Wall and Twitter accounts to provide social proof of their activities and thus persuade friends in their social networks to participate as well.

Structured-Idea Collection Platforms

This type of platform (like Spigit) collects and manages ideas on a board scale within multiple departments of an agency. Unlike the Specific-Task Motivated Platforms, users are free to submit ideas at any time within multiple departments. Since users are not motivated by specific-tasks, they must be motivated by a game-mechanics (ranking & rewarding of actions). In this type of platform, ideas are driven by the participants through an idea funnel.

  • Pros: Broad Idea Collection / Great Idea Management & Analytics / Less Expensive Over
  • Cons: More Expensive Upfront Costs

How Manor Uses: We currently use this platform to manage internal and external idea collection for our agency. Participants are ranked and rewarded for their participation in the platform, which provides the needed motivation to make the platform sustainable (leaderboard below). Users receive “Innobucks” for different elements of participation, such as idea submission, voting, commenting, etc. These “Innobucks” can be traded in for products or honors that offer participant a tangible benefit to participating. This mechanism of reward is vital to the sustainability of idea collection over extended periods of time.


Both platforms are great; however, focused toward corporate and internal audiences. The user interface and engagement mechanisms are sorely lacking for public-facing innovation. In the future we hope that these platforms will incorporate elements that are as engaging and persuasive as Facebook or many of the social games produced by Zynga. In the future, ideation platforms will need to have a much more social and game feel to them in order to get wide public participation. Indeed, future platforms may be built on top of Facebook because that’s where the public is. Likewise we can imagine Zynga created a new game called Cityville (ala Farmville, etc) where part of the play is ideation.

We’re at the very beginning of open innovation – comparable to where social networks were 10 years ago. There were many attempts – 6 Degrees of Separation, Ryze, Multiply, and Friendster before we began to see breakthrough applications like MySpace and then the dominant player Facebook.

Although there is significant progress to be made with open innovation in government, there are great tools currently out there for agencies to experiment and incorporation within their internal and external innovation processes. The benefits and insights gained from using these tools can only accelerate everyone’s learning curve on what works.