311

Bloomberg: How cities can ‘Moneyball’ government

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has a blog post on how cities are collaborating to better leverage data analytics and maximize taxpayer return on investment. The post cites examples from major American cities and how they’ve leveraged data, especially 311 logs, to realize efficiencies.

Excerpt:

Data-driven analytics is the systematic use of information to find patterns of interest. For cities, this means looking inwards at the detailed data that city agencies continually collect – citizen complaints, licenses and permits, transactions, violations – and identifying new areas of high risk and high cost.

Cities can then respond to these findings by prioritizing the high impact areas appropriately. In the past, individual agencies have been limited in their ability to conduct large-scale analytics by mandate, scope, and organizational structure. City agencies across the country, which each already have a prescribed list of duties they must fulfill to keep the city running smoothly, often do not share data with one another, nor are they equipped analyze it. In an era of shrinking budgets, however, many cities, including New York, have made new efforts to solve this problem by creating teams existing specifically for the purpose of data investigation that can cross agency boundaries, with promising results.

My recommendation to Bloomberg and other mayors would be to open the analytics to the public so that everyone has access and can contribute solutions. Perhaps a lesser concern, keeping this type of information private gives incumbents insider information when assessing what issues voters are most concerned about.

For those unfamiliar with the “Moneyball” premise and have’t read the book or seen the movie, here’s a two-minute overview:

Full post: Expanding the Use of Data Analytics in City Governments

13 ways citizen developers are coding a better America

Code for America has published videos of CfA Fellows demoing their apps during the Code for America Summit held October 13-14 in San Francisco.

John Mertens – Art Mapper

Erik Michaels-Ober – Adopt-a-Hydrant

Anna Bloom – Change By Us

Aaron Ogle – ReRoute.it

Jeremy Canfield – Open311 Dashboard

Max Ogden – DataCouch

Michelle Koeth – Civic Commons Legal Guide

Karla Macedo – Iconathon

Chach Sikes – CityGroups

Scott Silverman – ClassTalk

Matt Lewis – JobOps

Ryan Resella – TechnoFinder

Joel Mahoney – DiscoverBPS

Citizen 2.0 white paper highlights 17 examples of government social media innovation

Citizen 2.0Switzerland-based RedCut has released Citizen 2.0, a white paper of case studies that include 17 examples of social media and government innovation. We asked CEO Hadi Barkat to share his methodology and what he learned.

What was the impetus for Citizen 2.0 and process for selecting companies featured?

The story of this paper is about connecting the dots. Firstly, there is RedCut and swissnex Boston collaborating to conduct research and write a paper about innovation, technology, and citizenship. These are areas of great interest for us. Secondly, at RedCut, we are heavy users of crowdsourcing platforms for creating our citizenship games, and through this effort, we came to appreciate what connected crowds with a purpose can achieve. Thirdly, in our regular interactions with mayors and other government officials, we learned about their strong interest in the topic and their lack of time to properly explore and embrace it. Therefore, we decided to provide a source of inspiration to our stakeholders and open it to all citizens of the world.

Our selection is the result of conversations with field experts and innovators combined with online research. The list features innovation in crisis mapping, ideation, public diplomacy, nation branding, and agenda setting, to name a few areas covered. It is global with cases originating in Canada, Kenya, Brazil, Australia, and the US. Given that US eGovernment initiatives have been more oriented toward outreach to citizens as opposed to internal business-process efficiency, you will find more cases originating in the US.

All that said, the selection is not comprehensive, nor is it a ranking of the best projects.

What common thread/theme do you see in the companies featured?

I don’t know whether there is a common thread per se. This domain is not about technological breakthroughs, but about putting the same tools and technologies to work for different objectives. The fact that we put this list together and almost had to limit ourselves shows that the field is solid. Among the interesting trends we came across, it appears that city initiatives like app or coding competitions are creating demand and pushing entrepreneurs to innovate. Also, it is always fascinating to see how some often-mentioned projects like ManorLabs, SeeClickFix or Govloop were started by a citizen or a government employee with more motivation than dollars.

What should government leaders keep in mind while reviewing Citizen 2.0?

This selection is intended to be a source of inspiration. It is not a template. When it comes to tech-driven innovation, we strongly believe that it is not about the tools but about why and how we put them to work. We have been impressed by how people around the world are implementing innovation with limited resources and deriving value from the process. There is great food for thought and inspiration.

Download “Citizen 2.0”

Is AOL-Huffington Post making a gov 2.0 play?

Huffington Post Media Group, owned by AOL, announced it has purchased civic platform Localocracy for “under $1 million,” according to AllThingsD.

According to the site, founded in 2009, Localocracy is an “online town common where registered voters using real names can weigh in on local issues.” It appears the platform is no longer accessible, but the press release announcing the acquisition gives some insight into how it might be integrated into Huffington Post:

At HPMG, founders White-Sullivan and Soules will build on their innovative approach to enhancing local democracy while leveraging HPMG’s powerful online community platform to engage its large and networked audience. Also joining the Group from Localocracy is Jay Boice, who will be instrumental in building new technologies to support enhanced online community interaction.

The Localocracy purchase may be the first sign that AOL and Huffington Post are eying government 2.0 technologies to build on their ecosystem of active users and leverage content in new ways to engage them in a more civic-minded manner.

Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington discussed government 2.0 at FedScoop’s FedTalks 2010 (video below), where she emphasized local and the power of civic technology. It’s clear from her talk she’s interested in and gets transparency, open government and the concept of government as a platform.

At FedTalks, Huffington praised crowdsourcing 311 platform SeeClickFix, and late last year, her site honored founder Ben Berkowitz as a Greatest Person of the Day. Given the Localocracy acquisition and Huffington’s interest in this area, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if SeeClickFix is next on her list. SeeClickFix’s focus on local and social, providing technology that leverages the crowd to help government prioritize service requests, make it a natural fit for Huffington Post (or perhaps even AOL’s hyper-local news platform Patch, as O’Reilly Media’s Alex Howard suggested related to the Localocracy acquisition).

From her FedTalks speech:

“As I found myself pessimistic, like many of us, about the crisis and the confidence, about the crisis in government, about the demonization of government, I look around and see the incredible unleashing of creativity, innovation and caring, and that’s where I see the promise, and that’s where I see the hope.”

For those watching for the new new thing in gov 2.0, AOL and Huffington Post might just be it.

Video:

The 411 on the 311: Q&A with Commons founder Suzanne Kirkpatrick

Suzanne KirkpatrickWe asked new 311 iPhone app Commons co-founder Suzanne Kirkpatrick to share her thoughts on the new venture, 311 and trends in open government and Gov 2.0.

What inspired you to create Commons?

Sometimes moving to a new place gives you a fresh perspective on routine activities. When I moved to NYC two years ago, I was surprised to see so many opportunities for neighborhood improvements near my home and school, and I was fascinated by NYC’s highly utilized 311 citizen reporting system. It was clear to me that NYC citizens care about improving their city, and that our City government is committed to listening to its citizens.

But one thing that struck me about these analog and digital methods of reporting was that people were not reporting as a community — they were reporting as individuals — many people reporting in parallel without any shared awareness of one another’s activities. I then thought about designing a virtual social system that mimics the town hall meeting, where one person reports a problem or suggests an improvement, and 49 people “vote it up” (or in today’s terms, “like” it). In today’s super connected world, we need a civic engagement system designed to support conversation among many people at once – and that is how I came up with the initial idea for Commons.

Then I started thinking about the ways that I could connect to my new neighbors on the issues that I care about in our neighborhood, while on the go and in short bursts of focused time and energy, kind of like playing a game that is on-going over time and is something that you keep coming back to check and make a move. Citizens are now used to having a digital presence that is de-coupled from our traditional notions of time and space.

We have apps for citizen reporting of problems and complaints, like 311, SeeClickFix, FixMyStreet, and we have apps for sharing ideas for improvement, like Give A Minute (Local Projects), but I have this notion that these two worlds should be united in one as they seem like two sides of the same coin to me. I believe these two methods complement each other for a more complete civic engagement experience, and Commons aims to fulfill this vision.

I’m a graduate student at ITP in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where I study interaction design, social software, and creative technology, a graduate researcher at the NYU Polytechnic Social Game Lab, spring intern at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Digital Coordination, and summer intern at Apple doing mobile user experience design, so I spend a lot of my time these days thinking about the intersection of these things.

Aren’t there enough 311 apps out there? How is Commons different?

We think Commons is one of the first in a new genre of “civic gaming”, a new approach to take citizen reporting social. It’s a mobile, location-aware civic media app for urban communities that merges methods from traditional citizen reporting tools, with gaming mechanics and social voting.

We hope that Commons will challenge the ways in which people think about their role in their communities, and in civic life in general. We hope it will transform the way that we as citizens engage with one another about the issues and places we share in common, and how we approach solving many of our own problems before government even gets involved.

Commons provides a fun and constructive outlet for what is usually a frustrating experience of complaining about how broken your city is. And it goes way beyond reporting a pothole — in fact, if you report a pothole in the game, you most likely won’t win very many votes or kudos from your fellow neighbors because the game is designed to reward creative solutions and collaborative problem-solving. We already have apps and websites for reporting potholes, like SeeClickFix and FixMyStreet in the UK, and like the NYC Daily Pothole, so we’re not aiming to create another one.

In our 3 playtests and on actual game day, players said they really liked the positive social mechanics and voting aspect of the game, and how ‘community leaders’ seem to naturally emerge from the streams of activity.

I don’t think people need attractive game mechanics to want to get involved in community service or town hall meetings, or any other sort of activity. On the other hand, elements of fun and competitive play introduce opportunities for serendipitous social interactions and competing to do good, which I love. Doing activities with a thematic approach, or mission-centered perspective, helps keep people focused on the objective while having fun and making each individual’s input count.

How do you hope to officially integrate Commons with municipality 311 centers?

Commons is a social platform that leverages crowdsourcing and location-based reporting techniques to improve city services and standards of living. This civic engagement game is a way to connect citizens through the places they share in common, and to enable the government to fix the right problems, faster. Through Commons, local government can 1) receive accurate and timely information, 2) identify priority areas, 3) efficiently allocate resources, and, ultimately, 4) demonstrate accountability to its citizens.

Our goal is to build the next version of Commons as a cross-platform app on iOS, Android, (and possibly RIM in cities where it makes sense), with SMS integration and interoperability with Open311 technologies and read/write APIs for each city, so that 311 teams can integrate with Commons on the backend to pull its incoming data into their current operating centers and visualize trends from the data in realt-time.

It is our hope that the data gathered from Commons will be valuable to city governments and municipality 311 centers, whose mission it is to enable citizen-centric, collaborative government and to expand civic engagement through new digital tools and real-time information services.

What trends do you see occurring in open government / Gov 2.0 that you’re most excited about?

Commons is definitely Gov 2.1+, combining the powers of serendipitous social interactions, mobile crowdsourcing, and game mechanics.

Some of the rad trends in Gov 2.0 that I’m digging right now are: 1) cities supporting open data initiatives with read/write APIs, 2) mobile and location-based services, e.g. mobile banking, m-health, and m4d (mobile for development), 3) open standards for 311 services, like Open311, 4) citywide grassroots innovation contests, like NYCBigApps and DataSF App Contest, 5) open sharing of dev tools and code so we don’t all re-invent the same apps over again for each city, e.g. Code for America. I am also a huge supporter of bottom-up projects like Open Street Map, where citizens can collaboratively edit geographical data about their cities and neighborhoods and build useful and relevant maps from scratch.

Download Commons on iTunes.

Video:

New mobile app Commons gets creative with 311

TechPresident’s Becky Kazansky has a great overview of Commons, a new 311 iPhone app that makes use of gaming and social features to better engage citizens. Here’s a short video interview featuring one of its founders, Suzanne Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick:

“It’s exciting to be with other practitioners who are thinking about the idea of the relationship between technology and social change and civic empowerment, so we’re glad to be part of that conversation. “

Download Commons on iTunes here.

Blockboard puts the whole neighborhood in your hands

BlockboardBlockboard is the latest start-up building a location-based mobile application that aims to give you a hyperlocal view into everything happening in your neighborhood. The iPhone app is currently available in ‘alpha’ for San Francisco’s Mission District residents (request an invite) and will expand into other neighborhoods in the coming months.

The company is led by tech veterans Stephen Hood (del.icio.us), Dave Baggeroer (Stanford Institute of Design), Josh Whiting (Craigslist) and Ian Kallen (Technorati) and backed by well-known angel and venture capital investors, including Battery Ventures, Mitch Kapor, Founder Collective, Harrison Metal, Joshua Schachter, Josh Stylman and Tom McInerney.

Co-founder Stephen Hood shares insights into the new venture and its plans for the future:

Give us the elevator pitch

Blockboard is the app for your neighborhood. It’s a mobile bulletin board that uses your iPhone (and soon, your Android phone) to connect you with your neighbors. If it’s about your neighborhood, you can find it or post it on Blockboard.

For example, you can:

  • Ask a question of your neighbors (we’ll notify you when someone answers)
  • See and post interesting photos from around the neighborhood
  • Read the latest neighborhood news as reported both by the best local blogs and by your own neighbors
  • Report graffiti, litter, or other problems to the city (we’ll automatically submit it to San Francisco’s 311 system and follow-up on the status)
  • Use our neighborhood directory to get those impossible-to-find city phone numbers, find the nearest police station, or connect directly with your elected representatives.

We just launched a small pilot project a couple of weeks ago for the Mission District here in San Francisco, and will be adding more neighborhoods soon.

Why does this matter?

In this age of social networking, we now spend so much time talking to people who are far away that we’ve forgotten how to talk to the person next door. Many of us simply don’t know our neighbors any more. We are living together, and yet alone.

While we may not always want to be friends with our neighbors, we have a lot to gain in having a connection. We all face real issues everyday in the communities where we live. Some are big, like safety, government, and sustainability. Some are smaller, like figuring out what’s going on in my neighborhood tonight or trying to get a streetlight fixed. How are we going to solve these problems on our own?

At Blockboard we believe that technology – and smartphones in particular – can help reconnect neighbors and empower them to improve their neighborhoods, and that’s our goal in a nutshell.

What’s your strategy for expanding to different neighborhoods and cities?

We’ve purposely started with a single neighborhood (the Mission) so that we can build something that is very relevant and useful to the people who live there. Our next step will be to expand to a wider variety of neighborhoods in San Francisco. We expect that Blockboard will evolve a little differently for every neighborhood and city it services, and we’ve built our technology to allow for that. Once we’ve reached a certain level of usage in San Francisco we will begin to look at other cities… but first things first!

What are your plans for revenue?

Our only focus right now is making sure that Blockboard is useful to people and makes a positive impact in San Francisco. If we build the product we’re envisioning we’re confident that we can monetize it in a way that also benefits the communities it serves.

Twelve months from now, what does Blockboard look like? How are we using it?

In twelve months we expect that Blockboard will be active in every neighborhood of San Francisco and will be used in ways we probably can’t even imagine right now. It’s our hope that each neighborhood will make Blockboard “their own” and will use it to address their own unique needs and challenges.

Connect with Blockboard on Twitter.

Screenshots:

Code for America ‘Labs Day’ Fridays tackle small government tech projects to help make a big difference

Code for America Just received the latest Code for America newsletter and wanted to share info about its ‘Lab Day’ program that happens every Friday in its San Francisco offices.

Here’s the gist:

We open the doors, and work on projects that you and our fellows care about. We’re focused on cool, light-weight gov-related projects, things that could make a difference from just a few hours of work. Coders, designers, and researchers — from inside government and out — are welcome.

Register:

In the future, CfA fellows will host labs days in their respective project cities. Contact labs@codeforamerica.org for more information or to set up one in your area.

SeeClickFix gets $1.5M investment from Omidyar Network, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures

SeeClickFixCitizen reporting platform start-up SeeClickFix announced last week it has raised equity investment from Omidyar Network and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. According to the Wall Street Journal total investment was $1.5M.

The funding is Omidyar Network’s first government transparency for-profit investment and OATV’s first Gov 2.0 investment, which “reflects both organizations’ belief that technology can scale programs that foster meaningful engagement among citizens, their local government and others in the community,” according to the official press release.

“The funding … will enable us to continue to capture the market we are helping to create. Capital will be used to enhance the existing SeeClickFix smartphone and web platforms as well as increase sales and support to our current and future media partners, government clients and users,” said SeeClickFix CEO Ben Berkowitz.

No word on whether investors will use the SeeClickFix platform to openly report issues it has with how well the company is progressing. (joke)

Berkowitz discussed feature updates in a video interview with the Wall Street Journal: