Author: Luke Fretwell

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.

OpenGov expands to open source, open data



Earlier this year, OpenGov acquired the open data company Ontodia, enabling the government technology company to expand its smart government platform to include an open source open data platform.

Open Gov’s CEO Zac Bookman shares how OpenGov the company’s new open data solution will impact public administration – including how governments engage with citizens such as civic developers.

Give us the OpenGov elevator pitch.

OpenGov is the world’s first complete, integrated cloud solution for public sector budgeting, reporting and open data.

What problem(s) does OpenGov solve for government or residents/citizens?

At OpenGov, we help agencies, cities and counties build more efficient and transparent government by transforming three key areas:

Effective planning

Budgeting and strategic planning require coordination, data and buy-in. OpenGov helps agencies understand trends with multi-year insights into expenses and revenues, build budgets in a smart and streamlined manner using a single platform, and explain the budget’s goals and tradeoffs to stakeholders in real-time.

Operational excellence

To operate effectively, governments must adhere to strict budget constraints. OpenGov helps them do so by comparing expenditures and revenues by department and across funds, so governments can make data-driven adjustments to the budget as necessary. We also provide the tools to explore and analyze nonfinancial performance metrics such as 311 calls and police response times.

Informed elected officials and citizens

OpenGov builds trust between governments and citizens and lets elected officials monitor agencies’ performance. We do this by providing residents with quick answers to their questions, empowering journalists with instant access to the data they need to tell accurate stories, and eliminating ambiguity around things like wages and funding by providing accurate financial information.

What’s the story behind OpenGov’s new open data solution?

Earlier this year, we acquired Ontodia, the leading provider of open data. Ontodia runs on the popular open source open data tool, CKAN. Thanks to this acquisition, we have been able to develop a first-of-its-kind tool called OpenGov Open Data, which integrates with the rest of our smart government platform. The tool is designed to work for governments of all sizes.

Open Data lets governments connect budget and performance data with census data, FBI crime data and financial data from over 3,000 counties and 36,000 cities. It simplifies the ability to collaborate with other governments and agencies and allows elected officials to access performance in real-time.

It is also designed to helps residents, businesses and journalists easily access information they need, increasing public trust and facilitating civic action.

Is OpenGov Open Data up and running?

Yes. At the 2016 Code for America Summit, we announced Denton, Texas, as the first city in the country to fully implement the OpenGov Open Data solution since the acquisition and that Maricopa County, Arizona, will be launching the OpenGov Open Data platform for its more than four million residents early next year.  

The Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, Denton with a population just over 100,000 – had previously released its data in PDFs and other formats that were hard to read and repurpose. As a result, the city’s tech community could not build applications; residents could not easily access a central location to search for data; and potential businesses could not quickly assess Denton’s economic condition.

Our open data experts have worked closely with Denton city officials to upload numerous datasets that span a wide array of metrics to its data portal. Today, the city empowers residents and businesses with 71 machine-readable datasets that range from the city’s demographic indicators to its upcoming building projects.

Denton is leading the way in embracing the power of technology to improve our cities, and we look forward to working with more cities across the country to make governments more transparent, accessible and efficient.

Why is open source important for open data portals?

Open Data at its core is meant to be open. It is the public’s data.

If you use a proprietary platform you are locked into certain APIs. This limits the ability for the data to work with outside apps, websites and other systems and, therefore, limits the ecosystem that can use this data for a myriad of purposes

What makes OpenGov different than other companies?

We have designed our tools to work for governments of all sizes, from small towns to major metropolises. While other tech companies have chosen to focus exclusively on  large-scale projects, OpenGov recognises that all governments – both big and small – can benefit from greater collaboration, transparency, and innovation.  

How can those interested connect with you?

You can learn more about OpenGov at or on Facebook or Twitter.

Making open election data more accessible to voters

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

Having access to timely and comprehensive election data is fundamental to democracy. Knowing when and where to vote, as well as what your ballot options are is critical to being fully informed.

Google’s Civic Information API, in partnership with the Voter Information Project and The Pew Charitable Trusts, makes this data easy for third parties to access and build applications on.

At ProudCity, we’re now leveraging this data for a new app, ProudCity Vote. ProudCity Vote makes it easy for anyone to quickly add comprehensive, timely voting and elections information to any website. Adding ProudCity Vote is free and easy as copying and pasting embed code onto any website page.

For example, see how San Rafael, Calif., is using ProudCity Vote.

As many in the open data movement have noted, open data for the sake of open data is less useful than providing it in context of the user experience. We’re excited to take this data and bring it directly to the residents of every city in America.

Learn more about ProudCity Vote.

Getting out the vote

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

Make sure you’re registered to vote.

I’ve been reviewing the voting and elections tech ecosystem and wanted to share a few that will help you verify that you’re actually registered and, if not, make it easy to do so. is a non-profit organization that provides voter registration resources and helps you register, as does, which is managed by the U.S. federal government.

VotePlz incorporates gamification to encourage people to compete on recruiting others to check their registration and register (click the last link in this post and help me win). VotePlz is managed by Circus Center “a non-profit organization dedicated to the public benefit through arts education, public leadership, and civic engagement.”

HelloVote gives voter registration instructions via a series of text messages and will register you instantly in states that have online voter registration. HelloVote is managed by the nonprofit Fight for the Future and ensures personal data privacy.

For developers who want to build voting and election applications, see the Google Civic Information API and the Voting Information Project. See also We Vote USA, a “non-partisan team of dedicated volunteers dedicated to building software that educates and encourages voters.”

Are you registered to vote?

Ekistic Ventures launches $15M fund to ‘solve critical urban problems’

Adding to the increased interest in investment opportunities around civic and government technology, a new venture fund, Ekistic Ventures, launched with the intent of “building a portfolio of companies that will solve critical urban problems.”

According to Crain’s, the fund is $15 million.

The Ekistic team includes former Chicago chief data officer Brett Goldstein, former Rahm Emmanuel advisor David Spielfogel, former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly, Anne Milgram, Michael Sacks and Will Colegrove.

From the launch announcement:

We’ve seen a lot of pitches over the years, and we know how good ideas never see the light of day because the entrepreneur or start-up doesn’t understand the market landscape or the realities of succeeding in the urban environment.

Second, in addition to writing a check we also commit our time and networks to build meaningful companies for the long haul. That’s why we only work with a small handful of companies each year, and why we so closely tie our success to the success of our portfolio companies.

Learn more about Ekistic’s mission and submit your pitch.

The government technology pitch

President Barack Obama joins a toast with tech business leaders at a dinner in Woodside, California, Feb. 17, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama joins a toast with tech business leaders at a dinner in Woodside, California, Feb. 17, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Originally published at TechCrunch

Crisis has a history of dictating government technology disruption. We’ve seen this with the anticipation of Soviet Union aerospace and military dominance that sparked the emergence of DARPA, aswell as with the response to 9/11 and subsequent establishment of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

And, of course, there’s the ongoing, seemingly invisible crisis around security that’s expediting an infusion of public sector funding, particularly in the wake of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management breach that exposed the personal records of millions of federal employees and government contractors.

The launch debacle is the most recent and referenced example of crisis spawning government technology progress. The federal government woke to the issues surrounding outdated digital practices — from procurement to technical — and quickly launched two startups of its own: 18F and the U.S. Digital Service (USDS).

The failings of and subsequent creation of 18F and USDS has inspired others — such as the state of California, large cities and local governments — to fund a surge in attention to digital — from web to data to security — to address outdated technologies powering the technological infrastructure that runs our governments.

But innovators don’t wait for crises.

They imagine a different path, whether it’s a new approach to solving an old problem or a moonshot that leapfrogs business as usual. They observe the world, realize potential and fund and build engines of change — and forward-thinking, optimistic entrepreneurs and investors are starting to do this with government technology.

“Think right now,” 1776 co-founder Evan Burfield said in an a16z podcast. “Who’s is the most iconic entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, the one all the kids these days are aspiring to? It’s Elon Musk. Every one of his businesses is based on a regulatory hack.”

With the need to do more with less, to address an aging workforce and more and more pressure to recruit and retain the next generation of public sector leaders, government is being forced to adopt quicker than ever before. We’re at a pivotal moment with government technology infrastructure, much of it built on older technologies, with little mobile functionality and proper security protocol, all compounding the need for innovation.

And customers are starting to demand it. According to an Accenture 2015 digital government report: 

  • 86 percent of those surveyed “want to maintain or increase their digital interaction with government”

  • 73 percent are “neutral” or “not satisfied” with digital government services

  • percentage who want online transactions for licenses/permits (66 percent), taxes (45 percent), fines/tickets (39 percent), report non-emergency issues (38 percent)

  • Mobile: 32 percent want to use tablets to access digital government services; 38 percent a mobile phone (51 percent for ages 18-44)

This is the opportunity for innovators.

While the government digital services trend has taken hold, it doesn’t adequately address the needs of the 20,000 cities across the United States. Services costs quickly add up and don’t scale, but software-as-a-service does, and this is where private sector entrepreneurs are re-imagining how government works.

As Marc Andreessen said, “software is eating the world.” Its appetite for government is beginning to get bigger, and interest from accelerators to venture funds is piquing.

Govtech Fund, specifically focused on government enterprise technology, aims to “harness the power of transformers, technology, and capital to help government become more efficient, responsive, and better able to serve society.” To date, Govtech Fund founder Ron Bouganim has raised $23.5 million to help make this happen.

 “VCs historically ran for the hills whenever they heard the word ‘government’ and for good reason: software sales cycles were measured in years, governments often required a ton of product customization and a byzantine structure of prime and sub-contractors made it impossible to actually deploy solutions even after a deal was won,” writes Bouganim.

“However, in the past couple of years, a number of trends including government adoption of the cloud, budget constraints, a massive government personnel retirement cycle and an open data movement have coalesced to create an openness on the part of government agencies to embrace new technologies and a dramatically shortened sales cycle — our portfolio companies’ average is just 86 days.” (Bouganim says this has since shortened to 73 days).

But it’s not just vertical investors and enthusiasts exploring government technology opportunities. Established venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz, and incubators and accelerators like Y Combinator and 500 Startups are also taking note.

Y Combinator is beginning to explore entrepreneurial opportunities around cities, establishing a research effort on this front, and has graduated a number of government-focused startups. To date, OpenGov has raised nearly $50 million, including  investments from Andreessen Horowitz, to bring financial benchmarking and transparency tools to government.

Even Google has created its own city-focused venture with Sidewalk Labs.

Other startups — NextRequest for public records management, Romulus for constituent relationship management, Patronus for 911, SeeClickFix for 311, Mark43 for law enforcement,mySidewalk for city analytics, ProudCity (my company) for city websites, and others — are beginning to replace legacy systems as the next-generation government SaaS stack.

Former White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Deputy Chief Technology Officer and now partner at Insight Venture Partners Nick Sinai recently wrote about his firm’s government technology investments:

“Why are these markets attractive areas for Insight, given conventional wisdom that government can be challenging to sell to, and expensive to serve? … First, government is a large market. … Second, government desperately needs better software. … Third, government requirements, while challenging, can sometimes advance product development for our companies.”

In “B2G: The Excitement Of An Old-Line Industry,” OpenGov founders Zac Bookman and Joe Lonsdale highlight four points on why investment in government disruption is a ripe opportunity:

1) Old technology provides opportunities for order-of-magnitude improvements;

2) Big institutions signal huge markets;

3) Industry pressures demand new efficiencies; and

4) Challenging sales cycles increase barriers to entry and foster customer retention.

“The right path for a startup-company in an old-line industry is arduous and immensely rewarding,” write Bookman and Lonsdale. “Conventional wisdom says that it’s too hard to build a business in government (or other major industries), and this has kept many from trying. Grand outcomes await for those top young companies bold enough to venture and win.”

According to Government Technology, state governments will spend $47 billion in IT and local governments $52 billion in 2016 — a 3.25 percent and 2.5 percent increase, respectively, over 2015.

Couple this with a long tail of 19,000 cities, 89,000 agencies, 3,000 counties, 98,000 schools and 119,000 libraries, and the opportunity is there to enjoy entrepreneurial success, disrupt the seemingly impossible and, as Tim O’Reilly says, work on stuff that matters.

For the bold, grand outcomes await.

Bay Area cities team with startups to solve civic problems, scale government innovation

STIR 2016

Bay Areas cities San Francisco, Oakland, West Sacramento and San Leandro teamed with startups this year as part of the Startup in Residence program to “explore ways to use technology to make government more accountable, efficient and responsive.”

The 2016 cohort included 14 companies that worked with the cities over 16 weeks, and the teams made their presentations Friday (see #STIR2016).

All of the projects were fantastic, but Binti really stood out and opened my eyes to the impact modernized technology can have on truly changing lives.

The STIR program started in 2014 and serves as a model for other geographic regions that want to create momentum around civic technology and scaling government innovation.

Big shout to Jeremy Goldberg, Krista Canellakis, Jay Nath, the SF Office of Civic Innovation, an incredible team of ambassadors and mentors, Monique Woodard from 500 Startups and, of course, Lawrence Grodeska and the CivicMakers team. It’s inspiring to see public sector leaders working proactively with startups to break through the procurement and technology mold and bring better digital services to those they serve.

For those interested in participating in the the 2017 cohort, see the participation requirements and apply.

Ash Carter wants to keep DOD weird

Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks during a visit to Capitol Factory, Austin, Tex., September 14, 2016. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks during a visit to Capitol Factory, Austin, Tex., September 14, 2016. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the DOD will open its third technology innovation “outpost” in Austin, expanding the reach of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental that serves as a “bridge between those in the U.S. military executing on some of our nation’s toughest security challenges and companies operating at the cutting edge of technology.”

DIUx, launched in 2015, already has locations in Silicon Valley and Boston.

From startups to venture capital, Carter is proactively reaching out to the technology industry to close the innovation gap between the Beltway and geographic regions with high-density digital ecosystems.

“I created DIUx last year because one of my core goals as secretary of defense has been to build, and in some case to re-build, bridges between our national security endeavor at the Pentagon and America’s wonderfully innovative and open technology community,” said Carter. “That’s important, because we’ve had a long history of partnership working together to develop and advance technologies like the Internet, GPS … satellite communications and the jet engine. What we’ve done together is not only benefitted both our security and our society but, it’s fair to say, the entire world.”

Watch Carter’s TechCrunch Disrupt interview:

‘Delivering on Digital’

Delivering on DigitalI finished Bill Eggers latest book, “Delivering on Digital: The Innovators and Technologies That Are Transforming Government,” and highly recommend to public sector technology practitioners, especially governments who don’t have the resources to contract with a high-end consulting firm to build out a holistic strategy on their own.

“Delivering on Digital” emphasizes concepts such as open source technologies, agile methodologies, open data, universal user identification/login and security (making the latter very accessible and required reading). There are a number of anecdotes that perhaps are most applicable to larger cities, states and national governments, but still helpful in providing context on how all of these have been effectively implemented.

The aspects “Delivering on Digital” touch on that I’m not convinced are effective are the approaches to engagement around crowdsourcing, contests and prizes. I’m more bullish on open source communities, as advocated by Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst in “The Open Organization.” Unfortunately, we’ve yet to see government effectively create community or build accessible collaborative environments, which is why I think it defaults to a push-style approach to engagement.

I also think we’ve run the gamut on using Code for America, 18F, U.S. Digital Service and the U.K.’s Government Digital Service as anecdotes and examples of success, especially since they’re very difficult to replicate at scale. Something the government technology community has yet to confront are areas where things haven’t worked so well and would be invaluable to share and learn from. Unfortunately, the nature of the industry doesn’t make it easy for an open discussion of this, and most likely compounded by the book being part of a (brilliant) content marketing strategy for Deloitte.

Having said this, Eggers and his colleagues are adding tremendous value by publishing a resource like “Delivering on Digital.” Even more brilliant and value-add and breaking with traditional publishing rules would be to issue this with a Creative Commons license, much like O’Reilly Media did with “Open Government.”

Accompanying “Delivering on Digital” is a compilation of digital government playbooks, (currently in images that would also be great to see converted into an open format similar to 18F’s guides).

Eggers, recently appointed as the executive director of Deloitte Center for Government Insights, has also authored “The Solution Revolution,” “If We Can Put a Man on the Moon,” “Governing by Network,” “The Public Innovator’s Playbook” and “Government 2.0.”

Buy “Delivering on Digital” on Amazon.

DISA kicks off overhaul of federal background checks

Photo: U.S. Navy

Photo: U.S. Navy

The Defense Information Systems Agency has released a series of videos and request for information for the National Background Investigation System, created in the wake of security incidents that lead to data breaches of millions of federal government employees and contractors.

According to the RFI, NBIS is “is a new entity that changes how the Federal Government performs background investigations for military, civilian, and government contractors.” DISA will “design, develop, secure, and operate” NBIS which supports the National Background Investigation Bureau, formerly the Federal Investigative Services, managed by the Office of Personnel Management.

The overview and video references read straight out of agile and open source playbooks, so it will be interesting to see how far this goes on those fronts:

NBIS PMO must establish an enterprise IT enclave that enables business process reengineering, including modular system development to accommodate changes in data requirements, advanced security protections to safeguard data, enables broad shared services to maximize investments, and not only meets the needs of the end users, but also connects those users to the process.

Intro video: