Department of Commerce

Superpublic wants to supercharge municipal government innovation

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique

Earlier this week, the City Innovate Foundation was joined by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, U.S. General Services Administration Administrator Denise Turner Roth and the U.S. Department of Commerce to announce a first-of-its-kind Innovation lab to solve urban problems and scale solutions at 50 United Nations Plaza — the birthplace of the U.N.

The 5,000 sq. ft. lab Superpublic unites under the same roof for the first time innovation teams from the private industry, federal, state and city government agencies and from universities. City Innovate Foundation staff will coordinate the activity of member organizations and put on programming that builds capacity among members to solve problems, prototype solutions and create innovative approaches to policies that accelerate change.

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique sat down with GovFresh to share how Superpublic will work and what’s next for the innovation lab down the hall from 18F.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

Superpublic is a platform for public, private, and non-profit sectors to work together to address the most pressing challenges facing cities.

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

To start, we expect to work on three main problems:

Digital services in government: More than ever before, residents now expect services to be available online. The development of new digital services is an opportunity to rethink how we deliver services to ensure every resident has the access they need. The City of SF is looking to replicate the success of 18F and U.S. Digital Service to create new teams within their respective organizations

Smart cities: How we move ourselves and goods around is rapidly changing. We can either embrace and shape these changes or be at the mercy of them. San Francisco has chosen to lead the way by putting people first in developing safer, more equitable and innovative solutions to transportation challenges. The City of SF is working with DOT, DOE, and DOC on advancing smart cities in San Francisco and nationally – specifically on mobility in the near term.

Performance-based procurement: How do we make sure that the money spent by the government delivers tangible results? How can we use procurement terms to cut cycle time and/or improve quality? We will work to advance innovative financing models to increase impact and accountability.

What’s the story behind starting Superpublic?

We were inspired by the example of the Superpublic lab in Paris, which was opened in November 2014 by the 27e Région and a group of innovation professionals (Plausible Possible, Care and Co, Counterpoint), with the City of Paris, the French National State (SGMAP), and a public bank called Caisse des Dépôts.

For us, Superpublic means providing a workspace where city, state, and federal agencies can come together and work on problems facing the Bay Area. San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose are all expected to benefit from the work of Superpublic as are agencies that operate at the county, state and federal level.

Superpublic provides space, curates programming, convenes summits, roundtables, and training programs to build capacity so that all parties to the lab (government, private companies, non profits, universities) can work together better.

Superpublic will open its doors July 2016.

What makes Superpublic different than other innovation labs?

Across the globe, cities look to San Francisco as the “innovation capital of the world” – to quote San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. This is the first innovation lab set up by a city government to solve problems prioritized by the city.

The lab, managed by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, GSA and City Innovate Foundation will break down silos between different layers of government. Superpublic will bring together multiple layers of government in the same location and act as a catalyst for product and service development to drive more responsive and efficient government. Solutions that come out of the Lab will get commercialized by City Innovate Foundation with the objective to be scaled to other cities in the City Innovate Foundation network.

What will a typical day will look like at Superpublic?

The day starts off with a morning coffee session in the community area where new members introduce themselves and open discussions can take place to ensure communication flows freely between representatives from different organizations.

The project teams have dedicated team work spaces which they can configure to their needs to execute their tasks within the overall milestone-based project management method based on Lean Startup for the process and Scrum for technical development work.

The Superpublic Steering Committee through city/state and federal agencies have sourced a list of problem sets through their constituents which get narrowed to a focused list of 3 or 4 problems. These are explored by a taskforce led by City Innovate for a screening process for approval by the Steering Committee. Upon approval, representatives from lead cities, academic, and industry prepare the proposed projects for financial feasibility and scalability to other cities in the U.S.

This now includes formulating the city problem to be solved, developing a user narrative, mapping out the relevant ecosystem, and key skills needed in a project team as well as an estimation of project timeline, cost and possible funding of the effort.

The afternoon will have delegations visiting from other cities to exchange on city problems and discussions how the Superpublic model could be applied to their cities. The approved projects are kicked off by the team taking over their dedicated working space, being celebrated by everybody from the other teams, partners and City Innovate Foundation.

I’m part of an organization that wants to become a member of the Lab, what should I do?

Send an email to concierge@cityinnovate.org stating your name, your organization’s name, and the nature of your interest. A phone number is helpful.

How can those interested connect with you (website, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.)?

You can learn more about Superpublic at www.cityinnovate.org/superpublic and on Facebook and Twitter.

An open data blueprint for the U.S. Department of Commerce

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announcing the agency's new chief data officer position. (Photo: U.S. Secretary of Commerce)

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announcing the agency’s new chief data officer position. (Photo: U.S. Secretary of Commerce)

Re-published from API Evangelist

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker recently announced the Department of Commerce will hire its first-ever chief data officer. I wanted to make sure that when this new and extremely important individual assumes their role, they have my latest thoughts on how to make the Department of Commerce developer portal the best it possibly can be, because this will be the driving force behind the rapidly expanding API driven economy.

Secretary Pritzker does a pretty good job of summing up the scope of resources that are available at Commerce:

Secretary Pritzker described how the Department of Commerce’s data collection – which literally reaches from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun – not only informs trillions of dollars of private and public investments each year and plants the seeds of economic growth, but also saves lives.

I think she also does a fine job of describing the urgency behind making sure Commerce resources are available:

Because of Commerce Department data, Secretary Pritzker explained, communities vulnerable to tornadoes have seen warning times triple and tornado warning accuracy double over the past 25 years, giving residents greater time to search for shelter in the event of an emergency.

To understand the importance of content, data and other resources that are coming out the Department of Commerce, you just have to look at the list of agencies under its purview that already have API initiatives:

Then take a look at the other half, who have not launched APIs:

The data and other resources available through these agencies reflect the heart of not just the U.S. economy, but the global economy, which is rapidly being driven by APIs powering stock markets, finance, payment providers, cloud computing and many other cornerstones of our increasingly online economy.

Look through those 13 agencies. The resource they manage are vital to all aspects of the economy: telecommunications, patents, weather, oceans, census, to other areas that have a direct influence on how markets work (or don’t).

I’m all behind the Commerce hiring a CDO, but my first question is, “what will this person do?”

This leader, Secretary Pritzker explained, will oversee improvements to data collection and dissemination in order to ensure that Commerce’s data programs are coordinated, comprehensive, and strategic.

Yes! I can get behind this. In my opinion, in order for the new CDO to do this, they will have to quickly bring all of the agencies /developer programs up to a modern level of operation. There is a lot of work to be done, so let’s get to work exploring what needs to happen.

A central Commerce developer portal to rule them all

Right now, the Commerce developer portal, commerce.gov/developer, is just a landing page. An after thought, to help you find some APIs–not a portal.

The new CDO needs to establish this real estate as the one true portal, which provides the resources other agencies will need for success, while also providing a modern, leading location for developers of web, mobile, Internet of things applications and data journalists or analysts to find the data they need.

If you need a reference point, look at Amazon Web Services,SalesForceeBay or Googe’s developers areas—you should see this type of activity at commerce.gov/developer.

Each agency must have its own kick-ass developer portal

Following patterns set forth by Commerce, each sub-agency needs to possess their own best-of-breed developer portal, providing the data, APIs, code and other resources that public and private sector consumers will need. I just finished looking through all the available developer portals for commerce agencies, and there is no consistency between them in user experience, API design or resources available. The new CDO will have to immediately get to work on taking existing patterns from the private sector, as well as what has been developed by 18F, and set a establish common patterns that other agencies can follow when designing, developing and managing their own agencies developer portal.

High-quality, machine-readable open data by default

The new CDO needs to quickly build on existing data inventory efforts that has been going on at Commerce, making sure any existing projects, are producing machine-readable data by default, making sure all data inventory is available within their agency’s portal, as well as at data.gov. This will not be a one-time effort. The new CDO needs to make sure all program and project managers, also get the data steward training they will need, to ensure that all future work at Commerce, associated agencies and private sector partners produces high-quality, machine-readable data by default.

Open source tooling to support the public and private sector

Within each of the Commerce and associate agency developer portals, there needs to be a wealth of open source code samples, libraries and SDKs for working with data and APIs. This open source philosophy, also needs to be applied to any web or mobile applications, analysis or visualization that are part of Commerce funded projects and programs, whether they are from the public or private sector. All software developed around Commerce data, and receive public funding should be open source by default, allowing the rest of the developer ecosystem, and ultimately the wider economy to benefit and build on top of existing work.

Machine-readable API definitions for all resources

This is an area that is a little bit leading edge, even for the private sector, but is rapidly emerging to play a central role in how APIs are designed, deployed, managed, discovered, tested, monitored and ultimately integrated into other systems and applications. Machine-readable API definitions are being used as a sort of central truth, defining how and what an API does, in a machine-readable, but common format, that any developer, and potentially other system can understand. Commerce needs to ensure that all existing, as well as future APIs developed around Commerce data, possess a machine-readable API definition, which will allow for all data resources to be plug and play in the API economy.

Establish an assortment of blueprints for other agencies to follow

The new Commerce CDO will have to be extremely efficient at establishing successful patterns that other agencies, projects and programs can follow. This starts with developer portal blueprints they can follow when designing, deploying and managing their own developer programs, but should not stop there, and Commerce will need a wealth of blueprints for open source software, APIs, system connectors and much, much more. Establishing common blueprints, and sharing these widely across government will be critical for consistency and interoperability–reducing the chances that agencies, or private sector partners will be re-inventing the wheel, while also reducing development costs.

Establish trusted partner access for public and private sector

Open data and APIs do not always mean publicly available by default. Private sector API leaders have developed trusted partner layers to their open data and API developer ecosystems, allowing for select, trusted partners greater access to resources. An existing model for this in the federal government is within the IRS modernized e-file ecosystem, and the trusted relationships they have with private sector tax preparation partners like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt. Trusted partners will be critical in Commerce operations, acting as private sector connectors to the API economy, enabling higher levels of access from the private sector, but in a secure and controlled way that protects the public interest.

Army of domain expert evangelists providing a human face

As the name says, Commerce spans all business sectors, and to properly “oversee improvements to data collection and dissemination in order to ensure that Commerce’s data programs are coordinated, comprehensive, and strategic,” the CDO will need another human layer to help increase awareness of Commerce data and APIs, while also supporting existing partners and integrators. An army of evangelists will be needed, possessing some extremely important domain expertise, across all business sectors, that Commerce data and resources will touch. Evangelism is the essential human variable, that makes the whole open data and API algorithm work, the new CDO needs to get to work writing a job description, and hiring for this army—you will need an 18F, but one that is dedicated to Commerce.

Department of Commerce as the portal at the center of the API economy

The establishment of an official CDO at the Department of Commerce is very serious business, and is a role that will be central to how the global economy evolves in the coming years. The content, data, and digital resources that should, and will be made available at commerce.gov/developer and associated agencies, will be central to the health of the API driven economy.

Think of what major seaports have done for the the economy over the last 1,000 years, and what role Wall Street has played in the economy over the last century. This is the scope of the commerce.gov/developer portal, which is ultimately the responsibility of this new role.

When the new CDO gets started, I hope they reach out to 18F, who will have much of what you need to get going. Then sit down, read this post, as well my other one on, An API strategy for the U.S. government, and once you get going, if you need any help, just let me know—as my readers know, I’m full of a lot of ideas on APIs.

NIST releases open source mobile app test tool

AppVet (Image: NIST)

AppVet (Image: NIST)

There’s now an AppVet for that.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released an open source tool, AppVet, that makes it easier for agencies to test mobile applications security and reliability.

From the official press release:

The application manages app vetting workflow that involves submitting apps to testing tools—for virus-detection and reliability, for example—receiving reports and risk assessments from tools, and combining risk assessments from these tools into a single risk assessment. Human analysts from the organization review the reports and risk assessments and decide whether to approve or reject the app according the organization’s requirements.

AppVet does not do any testing itself, it manages third-party test programs. One advantage of AppVet is that it provides specifications, Applications Programming Interfaces, and requirements that facilitate easy integration with third-party test tools as well as clients, including app stores. For example, AppVet defines a simple API and requirements for submitting apps to, and receiving reports from, third-party test tools.

AppVet spawned from NIST’s work with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that focused on providing app assurance testing prior to military field use.

Quick links: Federal agency open government plans

Put down the best-seller and cancel the rest of Spring Break, the White House announced today federal agencies have released their open government plans. The plans are part of the Administration’s Open Government Initiative and should make for great beach reading.

From the White House:

The Plans will make operations and data more transparent, and expand opportunities for citizen participation, collaboration, and oversight. These steps will strengthen our democracy and promote accountability, efficiency and effectiveness across the government.

Here are direct links to all plans (those not linked are not available or not easily visible, so let me know if you find them):

5 government sites using Drupal effectively for open government initiatives

By now, most people in the Gov 2.0 community have heard of Drupal, the popular open source social publishing system powering close to 500,000 websites ranging from big government to Britney Spears. Drupal has seen steady growth from its inception as a Belgian grad student’s experiment in 2001 to one of the most heavily used open source content management systems in the world, downloaded by a quarter million people per month. A growing trend the Drupal community is following closely this year is government interest in the platform to further open government initiatives and broaden adoption across government.

Why is Drupal important to the the Federal government? That is the main topic I will cover in a 3-part series here on GovFresh. I’ll start with some high-profile examples of who is using Drupal effectively in government and why Drupal is a great fit for what these sites are trying to achieve. My second post will focus on the unique aspects of providing web content management for government that are relevant for Drupal (i.e. what can Drupal learn from Government?). My final post will provide ideas and predictions for the future of Drupal within the Federal government.

Who is using Drupal effectively now at the federal level? Not as many agencies as we’d like. While open source provides a great return on investment for Federal CIOs under budgetary pressure, open source adoption on U.S. government websites has not yet hit critical mass. I believe this will change in 2010 due in no small part to the success of early adopters in demonstrating cost savings, time to market and features critical to government to citizen outreach. So while growing in popularity with CIOs, it is New Media Directors that have found the tool most useful because of its ease of implementation and flexibility to extend sites to include the best of social media, user participation and collaboration and data integration.

Here are five sites using Drupal effectively to achieve the objectives of the open government directive and promoting the use of open concepts to improve the business of government.

Recovery at Commerce

The Department of Commerce loves Drupal, and for good reason: a site like this can be developed and launched quickly and inexpensively. Being on the front lines of the economic recovery efforts, Commerce has a lot to share with the public and good reason to do that quickly and efficiently. Unlike its better known federal-wide parent site, Recovery.gov, this agency transparency initiative is still running on Drupal. Regrettably, Recovery.gov which was running on Drupal was replaced by SharePoint when a re-compete to the contract famously switched platforms and vendors. It will probably be known to Drupalers as “the one that got away” for a while to come. The Commerce department’s recovery site makes use of Drupal’s ease of integration with mashups. Data and reports are easy to find and download in original .xls formats and I can get an RSS feed of major communications and activities. While still a fairly simple site, it’s simplicity makes it accessible and easy for the common citizen to find what they are looking for. It is easy to see how this site could blossom into a model destination for Commerce communications, collaboration and participation on all things recovery.

Federal IT Spending Dashboard

Launched in July of last year by Vivek Kundra, the Federal Chief Information Officer, the dashboard was created to allow CIOs of various government agencies to show the effectiveness with which they have managed government IT spending. As such, this site has been featured very prominently as an open gov example for its transparency, its use of open data and a very strong sense of government accountability. Kundra explains the site as a place that “… allows you to see what IT projects are working and on-schedule (and which are not), offer alternative approaches, and provide direct feedback to the chief information officers at federal agencies – in effect, keeping tabs on the people who are responsible for taxpayer dollars for technology.” Ultimately, that hits on all three tenets of the directive and does it in a visually appealing and useful way that does not get the user bogged down in text. The graphing techniques are unique and unconventional like the budget year tree map (well okay that one still confuses me a bit, but it still proves that transparency can be fun to browse and explore).

Federal Labor Relations Authority

This is a simple, effective example of a government site that can be easily stood up with Drupal. It is a great example of how government agency sites don’t have to be overly complex to achieve their mission. The FLRA is an independent administrative federal agency. As such, the FLRA mission is fairly straight forward: carry out five (5) primary statutory responsibilities as efficiently as possible. This site provides good direction on what the agency does and how the agency can help a citizen worker. What caught my attention is that it promotes the /open aspect of the open government directive (OGD) prominently on its homepage (though technically I believe the FLRA would be exempt from this requirement) and links to 3 (albeit incredibly light) data sets in XML format. This is what the OGD is asking all cabinet level agencies do and someone here read the memo.

Data.gov.uk

This new UK government site is a shining example of the merger of open source, open data and the semantic web. This is my second favorite government site running on Drupal. It illustrates that Europe has a lot to teach us about open government. The site is the product of Sir Tim Berners-Lee (most notably the guy who created the World Wide Web) and Professor Nigel Shadbolt as a project for the UK’s efforts to make data more open and accessible on the web. This site is the UK’s answer to our data.gov project. Reportedly they selected Drupal for both its flexibility as a CMS and its native integration with semantic web concepts and technology. With an Apps download section, idea galleries, forums, a blog, a wiki, and the ability to search, browse and query against the data sets, this was done in the spirit of try it all and see what sticks. I admire the pragmatic goals of the site.

The White House

Currently a shining star of Drupal in government, the conversion of this site in October of last year sparked a lively and interesting debate on the use of open source in government (Disclaimer: my firm was the developer on this effort) While it served to squelch much of the criticism over the scalability and performance of Drupal as a platform for very high traffic sites, it also forced people to question whether the security of open source was ready for prime time. Many critics cited the openness and availability of open source code to be a weakness, while others claimed it as a benefit. Tim O’Reilly’s post did a good job of refocusing the discussion to the benefits of choosing Drupal for the White House site:

“More than just security, though, the White House saw the opportunity to increase their flexibility. Drupal has a huge library of user-contributed modules that will provide functionality the White House can use to expand its social media capabilities, with everything from super-scalable live chats to multi-lingual support. In many ways, this is the complement to the Government as Platform mantra I’ve been chanting in Washington.”

In addition to these attributes, the site features a robust blog, multimedia delivery and is the home to many micro-sites that can be quickly stood up to address various initiatives, councils and committees that fall under the purview of the Administration, including the king of all /open sites, whitehouse.gov/open, home to the open government directive itself.

There are many great examples of Drupal use for the betterment and opening of government. For more about the use of Drupal in government, stay tuned for my next post. Also, for those interested in a more comprehensive list of known government sites using Drupal both in the U.S. and at large throughout the world, check out the Drupal in Government group on Drupal.org.

Cabinet members brief Amercan citizens in Year One videos

President Obama’s Cabinet taped Year One videos to highlight their respective department or agency’s 2009 accomplishments and or goals for the next year.

What do you think? Which are most informative? Authentic? Is this an effective way to familiarize citizens to public servants and put a face on government?

Secretary Robert Gates, Department of Defense:

Secretary Steven Chu, Department of Energy:

Secretary Ray LaHood, Department of Transportation:

Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack, Department of Agriculture:

Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Department of State:

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency:

Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, Department of Treasury:

Secretary Janet A. Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security:

Secretary Gary F. Locke, Department of Commerce:

Secretary Hilda L. Solis, Department of Labor:

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Department of Health and Human Services:

Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar, Department of the Interior:

Ambassador Ronald Kirk, United States Trade Representative:

Ambassador Susan Rice, United States Ambassador to the United Nations:

Director Peter R. Orszag, Office of Management & Budget:

Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Justice:

Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, Department of Veterans Affairs:

Chair Christina Romer, Council of Economic Advisers:

Secretary Arne Duncan, Department of Education: