‘We see this digital space of empowering our citizens as the next generation of city government.’

Great “Connected Empowerment” video featuring San Francisco Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath and civic action platform, Neighborland.


“Cities and government, in general, we’re really factories of data, which is not our data. It rightfully belongs in the public domain.”

“We see this digital space of empowering our citizens as the next generation of city government.”


How Palo Alto is leading the digital city movement

[audio:|titles=How Palo Alto is leading the digital city movement]

Jonathan Reichental

Palo Alto, Calif., Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental discusses his “digital city” vision, including how he leveraged the local developer community to help build city applications, bringing a “hacker ethic” to bureaucracy and the importance of supportive leaders in managing IT and cultural change. Reichental previously spent his entire career in the private sector and just this December took his first government job as Palo Alto’s first CIO.

Instead of butting heads, citizens and government can start mixing minds


MindMixer is working with the San Francisco, Los Angeles and other local communities to help crowdsource ideas for civic improvement. CEO and Co-Founder Nick Bowden discusses his venture and the value of government-citizen collaboration.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

A simple web and mobile platform that generates a broader audience and creates effective and measurable citizen participation.

What problem does MindMixer solve for government?

Cities struggle to engage a cross section of the community on a variety of topics at a reasonable cost. MindMixer solves that problem by providing a robust engagement platform that allows citizens to participate on topics where they have an interest.

What’s the story behind starting MindMixer?

MindMixer launched in March of 2011 as an answer to the long-standing problem of decreasing citizen involvement in local decision-making. Nick Bowden and Nathan Preheim founded the company as former urban planners frustrated with consistently low turnout at public meetings.

What are its key features?

MindMixer believes strongly that idea submission is only one aspect of the participation process. In addition to basic crowdsourcing functionality, MindMixer also offers prioritization tools, interactive budgeting tools, map-based inputs, and online surveys. Additionally, MindMixer employs a unique community-based reward system. Participants earn points for quality participation and can in turn “cash” those points in for civic rewards.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

MindMixer offers a range of affordable pricing options from $3,000 – $25,000 for a 12 month period. Pricing is largely dependent on the size of the municipality.

How can those interested connect with you?

CivicSponsor helps citizens crowdfund their public spaces



CivicSponsor wants to change the traditional way we fund our public spaces. Here, its three co-founders outline how their new venture aims to help citizens and public servants think outside the taxpayer box.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

CivicSponsor opens channels in your local government so that you can directly, transparently crowdfund public projects in your community with tax-deductible dollars.

What problems does CivicSponsor solve?

As local governments face massive budget cuts, they leave constituents with only two choices: pay more taxes or get no more projects (likely get cuts). CivicSponsor offers a third option: make elective (not forced) contributions that are earmarked, transparent and audited and that only can be used for new, discrete physical projects. We only work on projects that have no other options: either the local government raises new money, or the projects simply can’t be built. CivicSponsor markets the projects, collects the funds, brings corporate sponsors to the table, and provides the tools to offer transparency and measurement of use of funds in clear terms: square feet of public space built, hours of education funded, etc. Our first project is live on our site at, where we are raising the necessary funds to build athletic facilities at four middle schools in East San Jose.

What are its key features?

We work with the governments directly. Folks can raise money on other platforms; there are plenty around. But none of the others are officially connected with local government. That makes all the difference when you need to offer a tax deduction (we’re for profit) and you need the funds to be earmarked for specific projects. You can’t simply hand funds to government and tell them how to spend it; general fund contributions won’t work that way. You need governments on board from the start, and we know how to close them. Also, we have a corporate sales function that brings big companies on board with these projects in visible, positive public/private partnerships. Companies are more and more realizing the power that investing in their community can have for recruiting, sales, marketing and other efforts. We sell these projects not as philanthropy, but as crucial community outreach that affects the bottom line in a number of ways. No other site does all of the above.

What’s the story behind starting CivicSponsor?

Our three co-founders had been thinking individually about how to save our home towns ever since the recession hit in 2008. Local governments control the public assets we interact with on a daily basis: the park next door, the school our children attend, the streets we bike on. And as grants and subsidies dry up at the federal and state level, the projects that get cut tend to be the local ones, the ones we see and touch and use every day. It didn’t seem appropriate to stand by and watch this happen, so we put together a plan to bring new, private sector dollars to public projects. We knew that to get more money from individuals and businesses, we needed to offer something more, and it turned out that folks we

Voter ID and Civic Innovation

Since 2008, there has been a wave of voting law changes that impose barriers to the ballot box. Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of “Bloody Sunday,” called the new laws “the most concerted effort to restrict the right to vote since before the Voting Rights Act.”

The right to vote is being chiseled away by voter ID laws that require voters to show government-issued photo ID in order to vote.

Cost of Freedom Project Logo

In December, the Department of Justice blocked South Carolina’s voter ID law on the grounds it would make it harder for minorities to vote in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Mississippi and Texas voting ID laws also must be pre-cleared but Texas is not waiting. The Lone Star State filed a federal lawsuit in an effort to speed up a decision.

Strict photo ID requirements will be in place in at least five states – Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin — In November. With Election Day less than nine months away, voters without an official photo ID cannot wait for the challenges to play out at the Justice Department and in the courts.

In Wisconsin, for instance, voters must navigate “The 4 Proofs.”

I am a founding member of the Election Protection Coalition. Still, looking at the infographic makes my head hurt. More worrisome, it discourages voters from completing the application process. So I presented the problem of TMI (read: disenfranchisement by design) at Random Hacks of Kindness and the Hackathon for Social Good. Citizen programmers developed solutions to quickly provide voters with information on how to get a voter ID.

During Social Week Washington, DC, I gave a demo of the Cost of Freedom web-based app developed by Kin Lane, API Evangelist for CityGrid.

Users in Wisconsin can forget about “The 4 Proofs.” Instead, in four clicks or less, they will be able to access information about the state’s voter ID requirements, how to obtain a certified copy of their birth certificate (the document that’s typically produced to establish one’s identity), and the location, hours and directions to the Office of Vital Records using public transit.

I also gave a live demo of the Cost of Freedom text-based app developed by Jack Aboutboul, Twilio’s API Evangelist. Twilio is making an in-contribution of text message services to promote voter education.

To commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we plan to launch the Cost of Freedom App on April 4, 2012.

I will post regular updates about the Cost of Freedom Project and other initiatives that are using civic innovation to protect the right to vote. The conversation about voter ID also gives us an opportunity to raise awareness about disruptive technologies in the public sector beyond election administration.

For more information, please visit us at You can sign up to receive notice when the Cost of Freedom App is launched. Continue reading

2011 GovFresh Awards entries and voting now open

2011 GovFresh Awards

Every day, tech-minded citizens across the country are doing good by their communities, literally geeking out about how they can help re-define the relationship government has with its citizens, using technology as a democratic tool to collaboratively empower both.

So much is happening in the civic technology community – website redesigns, new websites, open data initiatives, apps, camps, developer contests, hackathons and more – it’s hard to get a perspective on or truly appreciate the collective work of these dot-dogooders both inside and outside government.

That’s why we created the 2011 GovFresh Awards.

It’s time to recognize and honor all that’s been accomplished this year.

It’s time to say thank you.

Here are the categories. Start entering and start voting.

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.


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 –

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”