Author: Luke Fretwell

e.Republic announces top 100 government technology companies for 2017

GovTech100Government Technology and e.Republic Labs announced the 2017 GovTech100, “a listing of the leading 100 companies focused on government as a customer, having developed an innovative or disruptive offering to improve or transform government, or having created new models for delivering services.”

Companies are categorized in one or more of these market segments:

  • administrative
  • service delivery
  • intelligent infrastructure
  • civic tech

“The new year opens with another 100 reasons to be bullish about the state and local government market,” said Paul Taylor, chief content officer at e.Republic,in a release announcing the GovTech100. “GovTech companies are the new face of digital government. Alone and in partnership, they are proving to be nimble in responding to and anticipating the needs of public agencies in a season of rapid change — technologically, socially and politically.”

See the GovTech100.

(Disclosure: Two companies I work for, ProudCity and CivicActions, are on the 2017 GovTech100 list.)

Event: Reimagining the Digital Reform of Government in the Trump Era

Source: Reimagining the Digital Reform of Government in the Trump Era – Reinvent

Reinvent will host Code for America Founder Jen Pahlka and O’Reilly Media Founder Tim O’Reilly on January 19 in San Francisco in a discussion on how civic-minded technologists should approach the ongoing reinvention of government in the Trump era.

Description:

The Bay Area tech community, like much of the rest of the country, is still grappling with what Trump’s election will mean for the future of the United States. Donald Trump’s stance on innovation and technology is somewhat of an unknown at this stage, and has attracted much less attention than many of his other divisive campaign platforms. The future of many digital efforts—including the United States Digital Service, created by President Obama in 2014 to encourage people with tech expertise to do a tour of duty improving government—is one looming question. Obama said he considered the USDS “a SWAT team, a world-class technology office inside of the government.” What happens to this SWAT team under President Trump? What happens to similar efforts at other federal agencies and in states, counties, and cities across the country? The state of California is making a play to be the next frontier for digital transformation. What does that frontier look like under a Trump presidency?

Jen Pahlka and Tim O’Reilly will lead this difficult and important conversation during our January What’s Now: San Francisco event. The founder and Executive Director of Code for America, Jen served as U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer from June 2013 to June 2014 and co-founded the USDS. Tim O’Reilly (also Jen’s husband) was a pioneer in the Gov. 2.0 movement in the decade leading into the Obama years. Jen and Tim will discuss the role that technologists passionate about civil service can play in the next four years. How can tech industry professionals serve their country? Will they resist working in Trump’s White House? Should the tech community back out of public service, or deepen its commitment? At What’s Now, we’ll assemble a great collection of people to think through these challenging issues in real time. Hope to see you there.

Register

GSA issues software-as-a-service request for information

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

The General Services Administration has issued a request for information related to the federal government’s use of software-as-a-service.

From the announcement:

Unified Shared Services Management (USSM), with the guidance of the Shared Services Governance Board, is seeking information from industry to understand their capability to provide standardized solutions across administrative services, as referenced in Office of Management and Budget memorandum M-16-11.

The RFI inquires about interoperable and modular approaches to delivering common technology solutions and requests feedback on the viability of the Federal Integrated Business Framework as a documentation source to inform the development of a software-as-a-service offering. The RFI also solicits input on the potential opportunities for public-private partnership funding models.

Full RFI on FedBizOps.

Neighborly inspiration from CEO Jase Wilson

Jase WilsonNeighborly CEO Jase Wilson is an inspiring entrepreneur working to change how public projects are funded. I’ve been fortunate to chat numerous time with him over the past few weeks and always leave energized and ready to tackle big problems.

I asked Jase if he could reflect on the past four years building Neighborly and share some advice to others.

What inspires you most about the work you’re doing at Neighborly?

Apart from keeping the company funded, and reiterating the vision until everyone’s sick of hearing it (then reiterating it some more), my job is to seek, attract, recruit, and cultivate unimaginably smart and passionate people. Getting to work with the Neighborly team every day is beyond electrifying.

Also, it’s an honor to be the ones modernizing access to public finance. We’re changing how public projects get created, in an era where cities new solutions to address a growing list of economic and environmental challenges. Our work translates directly into more and better public projects — schools, parks, libraries, and next generation things like neighborhood microgrids and municipal wifi — that contribute positively to the world.

It’s been four years. What’s the status of Neighborly today?

Learning to walk-jog. Patience and long view to make big change in a two century old market.

You studied cities and technology at MIT. From what you learned in academics to what you’ve applied as an entrepreneur, what’s your general commentary on cities and technology today?

The megatrend that gives me the most hope for the future is the rise of the region: urban regions — clusters of cities — continue to emerge as the new units of economic and political power. Within our lifetimes, my guess is that regional becomes the new national. We’re living through the turbulence caused by the evaporation of legitimacy, power, and relevance of the nation level, a unit of organization that no longer really suits the way the world works. We see this unraveling worldwide and in our own nation. It can be a scary thought for many since we as humans tend to be tribal and identify with nationalism in deeply emotional ways. But it’s really not a practical construct anymore. I remain hopeful that what’s emerging is a new model of empowered regions, quilt works of thriving neighborhoods stitched together by geographic proximity and mutual interests, a model in which we can help each other thrive and co-exist as a unified planet.

Tech enables and enhances the concentration of power in this clustered organization in a positive feedback loop that accelerates the transition from strong nation to strong region. Every time we draw a map showing commuter patterns using cell phone location data that could not be analyzed at scale 15 years ago, we’re confronted with how the world really works. When we autonomize commutes, we open all new regional extents via passive door-to-door commutes, furthering the regional trend. Then new high tech intra-regional transport like Hyperloop connects the dots between regions. Farming automation draws even more people from the hinterlands to the urban regions. De-centralizing production, storage, conditioning and distribution of energy and other trends all accelerate the rise of the region. Everything we’re seeing right now plays in to the rise of the region.

All of this means our work at Neighborly is of increasing importance. The public realm — the sum of all the goods we co-create and utilize tends to take place mostly at the local level. Public goods rely on public finance which is currently heavily organized around the concept of nation and states. What’s needed is a more efficient, data-driven mechanism for financing very local public projects global capital. Connecting local public projects directly to a global capital network is Neighborly in a nutshell.

What’s your advice to civic-focused startups?

You know why your mission is “civic.” When you’re talking to investors, customers, even potential recruits, be open about how you define your space. Fields like “health” and “finance” are well established industries. Being a tech startup in one of those fields is easy to talk and think about — fintech for example. But “civic” is not a defined private sector field. The term means many things. For many, it invokes ideas of philanthropy, which can create subtle but sometimes strong and entirely unnecessary frictions for you.

Top five books everyone focused on cities should read?

This is tricky and a question I’m often asked. I agree 100% with and defer to the Planetizen All Time Top 20. To it, for civic technologists specifically, I’d add a few —  Citizenville is good, Jane Jacob’s lesser celebrated Economy of Cities, Ed Glaeser’s Triumph of the City, and for thinking really, really big about the future of the city Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks.

Book: ‘How to Talk to Civic Hackers’

Civic hacker icon Mark Headd has written a book to help government officials best engage with community technologists.

The guide, How to Talk to Civic Hackers, “highlights strategies they can use to collaborate with people doing interesting and valuable work that can benefit or support the mission of government.”

The book is available at civichacking.guide.

Listen to the GovEx podcast interview with Mark discussing the book.

The long tail of political mail

Left to right: Eric Jaye, Bergen Kenny, Danielle Winterhalter (Photo: SpeakEasy Political)

Left to right: Eric Jaye, Bergen Kenny, Danielle Winterhalter (Photo: SpeakEasy Political)

SpeakEasy Political wants to make it easier for everyone to run for elected office.

Danielle Winterhalter, SpeakEasy co-founder and director of strategic partnerships, shares how they’re addressing a fundamental aspect of lowering the barrier to entry, especially when it comes to political (snail) mail, which is still more relevant than you might think.

What’s the SpeakEasy Political elevator pitch?

Believe it or not, I’ve actually delivered this in a couple elevators – – it goes a little like this:

Speakeasy is a new tool that leverages technology to cut costs in the creation and distribution of political mail.

Our founding team is group of political consultants who were tired of seeing good candidates and causes priced out of modern elections. So, we built a platform that affords campaigns and organizations the opportunity to use professionally designed, pre-built direct mail templates – paired with their own content and data powered by the VAN & PDI – to produce targeted, persuasive messaging. On time and under budget.

SpeakEasy makes consultant-caliber communication tools affordable for small budget campaigns. By lowering the cost barriers to participation, we provide the working mom running for school board, or the small business owner interested in serving on county commission, top of the ticket resources at a price point that won’t dissuade good people from running for office.

We believe that by cutting the costs of proven voter communication tools, we can amplify the voices of candidates and causes with tights budgets and limited resources.

What’s the back story on why you started?

Our founding team came out of Storefront Political Media, a full service political consulting firm that works with democratic candidates and progressive organizations throughout California, and across the country. We loved the clients we were working with, but we were also in the position of having to turn away a lot of first-time, local candidates who didn’t have the budgets to afford the services of a consulting firm.

As the cost of running campaigns continuously increases each cycle – and as major conservative donors, like the Koch brothers, funnel their dollars into down ballot races – we realized that too many folks weren’t able to get their message to voters, and Democratic candidates and progressive causes were actively being priced out of running competitive campaigns. (Now – there will always be races that need the full court press services of firms like Storefront, but we wanted to create a tool that would help elevate local candidates and budget-conscious organizations.)

Being in San Francisco, and surrounded by the influence of Silicon Valley, Bergen Kenny – our CEO – knew there had to be a way technology could help solve this problem. After her son was born, she was making her baby announcements on  a template based invitation platform called Minted.com and thought – “why the heck don’t we do this for political mail”?

Eric Jaye, the founder and CEO of Storefront Political, helped develop the concept and thousands of hours, and one political cycle later, we’ve  had the privilege of doing work from California to North Carolina and have an established proof of concept as we look ahead to 2017.

Why is political snail mail still relevant?

Eric Jaye actually wrote a great piece in Campaigns & Elections magazine addressing this exact question. As he points out, it really comes down to a couple main proof points:

The limited reach of digital drives use of direct mail

As more campaigns adopt the precision of cookie-matched digital advertising, it’s becoming clear that direct mail is a needed companion to these programs.

Given the limited time frame of most political campaigns, even a strong digital buy only reaches about 70-80 percent of the total available audience. That means, even a well-run, adequately funded digital program might only reach a little more than half the total voter audience.

This is where direct mail can help address that oversight in reach – with mail, you can send directly to the homes of the voters you choose, and according to USPS studies, nearly 70 percent of recipients at least scan-read their mail.

Sure, a piece of mail is more expensive on a per view basis, but nothing is more costly than leaving up to half of your targeted voter universe out of your communications program.

The barrier to entry is low

Cutting a TV ad is expensive, placing a pre-roll buy is complicated, and even the best social media campaigns are managed by professionals – but as do-it-yourself direct mail services come online, it’s becoming cheaper and easier for candidates who don’t have large campaign coffers to reach voters at home.

Our clients can create their professional quality mail piece after their kids go to bed, and instead of having to make a trip to the county clerk or a call to a data vendor – they can choose their voter targets with a few clicks. We think that bringing design and voter targeting together has the power to transform the market, allowing candidates and causes to forgo consultants and run their own programs.

Especially in local races, direct mail remains a salient form of voter communications – we just want to make it more attainable for Democratic candidates and organizations.

Any inspiring examples?

We’re actually incredibly fortunate to be inspired by so many of our clients and organizational partners – we get to work with such talented folks, who are selflessly dedicated to their communities.

One great example of a pretty inspiring candidate is Amber Childress – who is here in the Bay Area. Amber has a busy professional career, but as her young son started in the Alameda School District, she wanted to apply her professional skills to the local school board as a way of being more involved in his education.

Being a working mom, Amber didn’t have dozens of hours a week to spend on the phone dialing for dollars raising the money it takes to hire a consultant to run your mail program. But, after work one day, Amber logged on to SpeakEasy, created her piece, picked her targets, and in just a few hours – we were running it through the production process.

By telling her story to voters, Amber was able to unseat a two term incumbent and won her race by just over 800 votes. I think Amber’s story is so iconic of what we’re trying to do at SpeakEasy – build a tool that allows good folks to tell their story, save their budget, and get more involved with their communities.

What’s your advice to those who want to run for elected office?

Please do it.

Please.

Running for office is intimidating, and scary, and cumbersome – but there are so many fantastic organizations and tools out there to support first time candidates. Groups like Emerge train women to run and win local office, The New American Leaders Project focuses on supporting candidates of color in their campaigns, and local labor organizations and county parties all have candidate training infrastructures to support you in your run. Or call us – we talk to folks all the time who are looking to start their campaigns. Sometimes, a thoughtful conversation about first steps is all you need to get over the intimidation hurdle – and we are more than happy to offer a little advice.

Personally, I think that one of the biggest takeaways of the 2016 election is that we must get more folks involved in the political process, at every level. In order to prevent another presidential election stacked with candidates with terribly low approval ratings – we have to start getting more people engaged in their school boards, county commissions, water boards and city councils. We need to intentionally build the bench in order to instigate greater electoral participation.

So, don’t wait for your neighbor to do it – get involved. Run. We’ll help.

How can others learn more about SpeakEasy Political?

I’m so glad you asked! To learn more, you can visit our website at www.SpeakEasyPolitical.com, connect with us on the Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or shoot me an email at danielle@speakeasypolitical.com. We also have a quick little explainer video here, if you’re curious to the mechanics of the platform.

Federal government progress in IT reform

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a status report on federal government technology reform progress, and it’s an insightful read more than anything on the the lack of synchronization between agencies and GAO.

The report is part of ongoing modernization efforts reviews related to the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, enacted in December 2014 to hold agencies accountable for cutting costs and reducing redundancies in federal technology projects.

FITARA addresses seven areas of federal IT:

  • Federal data center consolidation initiative
  • Enhanced transparency and improved risk management
  • Agency CIO authority enhancements
  • Portfolio review
  • Expansion of training and use of IT acquisition cadres
  • Government-wide software purchasing program
  • Maximizing the benefit of the federal strategic sourcing initiative

Because of the seeming discrepancies between what agencies have (or haven’t) reported and what GAO has assessed, it’s difficult to determine what’s truly the state of federal government IT. Nonetheless, the report is insightful in that it gives a great overview of the FITARA objectives and how success is being measured.

From GAO Director Information Technology Management Issues David Powner in his testimony to the House of Representatives Subcommittees on Government Operations and Information Technology, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

These and other failed IT projects often suffered from a lack of disciplined and effective management, such as project planning, requirements definition, and program oversight and governance. In many instances, agencies had not consistently applied best practices that are critical to successfully acquiring IT investments.

Federal IT projects have also failed due to a lack of oversight and governance. Executive-level governance and oversight across the government has often been ineffective, specifically from chief information officers (CIO). For example, we have reported that not all CIOs had the authority to review and approve the entire agency IT portfolio and that CIOs’ authority was limited.

Full report: Improved Implementation of Reform Law Is Critical to Better Manage Acquisitions and Operations

Transforming digital government

Photo: The White House

Photo: The White House

Earlier this year, 18F released a preliminary report on “what makes modern digital practices ‘stick’ within a government entity.”

The findings provide an excellent overview of what constitutes digital government transformation, challenges and best practices for implementation.

From the report:

Characteristics

  1. People at all levels feel connected to the agency’s mission, have a sense of purpose, and are empowered with the autonomy to act on that purpose.
  2. The agency chooses and manages technology effectively in the service of its larger mission.
  3. The agency is capable of and committed to practicing continuous improvement.

Barriers

  • Extreme technical debt, heavy enough to prevent small engineering teams from choosing their tools and doing rapid, iterative releases.
  • Difficulty concretizing the benefits of transformation. We don’t say quantifying, because that’s the problem: many benefits are clear, but qualitative in nature. This makes it hard to get buy-in for ongoing work.
  • Teams that can’t make project decisions without leadership approval. This costs time and effort for both management and staff, and makes it hard for transformative practices to become the norm.
  • Failure to connect directly to users (whether they’re employees or the public). It’s harder to muster the will to seek out the most impactful practices when you don’t have a picture of the impacted people in your mind.

Best practices

  • Establishing constant feedback loops with users, often created by early, somewhat risky releases. These are powerful drivers of engagement at every possible level of the organization.
  • Building cross-functional teams of substantial duration. Subject matter experts working side by side with technical specialists for months or years rather than weeks, and all being treated as full project team members.
  • Using community organizing techniques to bring staff on board (like monthly meetings, office hours, councils). When it comes down to it, transformation is a long process of getting people on board and supporting them in hard work. This takes non-judgmental spaces to learn, celebrate small and large wins, and get support from teammates and management.
  • Referring to authoritative guidance, like the TechFAR Handbook, FITARA, the Open Data Policy (OMB Memorandum M-13-13), and the U.S. Digital Services Playbook, helps tech-savvy managers make non-technical leadership comfortable allowing experiments in new practices.

Full report: “Best practices in government digital transformation

Nudging residents to better engagement

Behavioral Insights for Cities

Behavioral Insights for Cities” offers anecdotes into how governments can improve constituent engagement by implementing smarter messaging and design into print collateral, email, texts and online interactions.

“By breaking down processes into micro-behaviors—the smallest steps that add up to make or break overall success—we can often strip out unnecessary ‘friction,’ increasing take-up of services as a result,” says the report.

Example successes:

  • Reframing a letter increased business registrations for an online tax portal by 76%
  • Reframing a letter increased online tax filing by 42%
  • A letter telling businesses that the majority of their peers have an online account was twice as effective at boosting online tax filings than telling them to ‘Go Green’
  • Adding a picture increased signups for charitable giving by over 220%
  • Sending an email increased registrations for a public transportation pass by 11x
  • Changing the message to emphasize different career benefits tripled the number of applicants to the police force (additionally, “The changed message was particularly effective in getting people of color & women to apply”)

Published in October based on research from 25 cities, the report was produced by the Behavioural Insights Team as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative.

Download the report

Obama ‘Wired’

Source: Wired

Source: Wired

President Obama served as guest editor for the November issue of Wired, and the entire print issue is worth investing in.

Here are a few articles that might be of interest to those of you focused more on the civic and government technology fronts:

Quotable from Obama:

We are far better equipped to take on the challenges we face than ever before. I know that might sound at odds with what we see and hear these days in the cacophony of cable news and social media. But the next time you’re bombarded with over-the-top claims about how our country is doomed or the world is coming apart at the seams, brush off the cynics and fearmongers. Because the truth is, if you had to choose any time in the course of human history to be alive, you’d choose this one. Right here in America, right now.