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.

Oakland seeks chief information officer

Oakland (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Oakland (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Oakland is looking for its next chief information officer to help position the city “at the forefront of American cities in its use of technology.”

This is an extremely incredible opportunity for anyone who wants to get in on the ground floor in helping to transform the best city in the Bay Area (sorry San Francisco) and help foster a different kind of tech community both inside and outside government. For the government innovator who recognizes potential and is willing to invest in the long game, this is the job of a lifetime.

From the announcement:

The City of Oakland, California is conducting a national search for the position of Chief Information Officer (CIO). The CIO will join a newly formulated Executive Team committed to innovation and the transformation of local government through leading ideas and practices. Individuals wanting to contribute and position Oakland at the forefront of American cities in its use of technology to support daily operations, the business of delivering services to the community, and engagement with citizens, are strongly encouraged to submit.

The position of CIO will oversee over 70 staff members and be responsible for Customer and Enterprise Services, Information Systems – General and Public Safety, Infrastructure Support including applications development, central computer operations, hardware, software, and peripheral support and maintenance, and telecommunications.

Salary is $125,186.00 to $187,779.00. Application deadline is November 8.

Details here.

Oakland vendor API requirement a big step for municipal open government

Oakland (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Oakland (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

To get an idea of how badly Oakland needs to upgrade its digital infrastructure, you just need to read this one line from Tuesday’s city council staff report:

“Legistar 4.8 has not been upgraded since purchase in 1997 & has reached the limits”

Limits in this case being the massive limitations of the current technology to support better civic engagement and discussion and no ability for our community to access the critical data held in the legislative system in Oakland.

There are many big changes desperately needed in Oakland’s civic tech stack, and this one is long overdue. Our ancient legislation software was the reason Miguel Vargas and his crew struggled so hard to complete the build-out of our Councilmatic system, however with this upgrade, we’ll now use a similar system to other major cities which means both improved, user facing functionality, as well as a much easier deployment of a more robust Councilmatic that has been tailored for this version by folks in Philadelphia and Chicago.

We’ve been waiting for over two years, so it’s exciting that this finally gets approved by the Finance Committee. While the software upgrade itself is an important step for our city, more important was witnessing the ways our staff and elected officials have adapted their thinking about technology, data, code and procurement.

Two years ago there was nothing to brag about, not much to be proud of in Oakland’s use of technology and our lawmaking. Today, we saw a pivotal moment for our city.

It turns out that there is something in addition to the basic software the vendor, Granicus, can offer – an application programming interface – if you’re not a tech geek, this essentially means a robot (code, not real) that takes in requests form various people, programs, companies and dishes out the information requested in digital form.

In this case, the API is something Granicus has built, but has not made available to cities that have not required access to it – almost no one to date (New York City is just now struggling to get this sorted out and seems to be on the right track). 

Before approving the purchase, Councilmember Libby Schaaf asked the committee to require that Granicus provide an API as part of the contract requirements. No one in Oakland has ever unbundled the contracted software from the date before (aside form the unintentional effort with SeeClickFix that came with an API we didn’t need to request).

This means that Oakland gets a new legislative publishing and video streaming system, but we also get direct access to all the data in this system – machine-readable data that allows local hackers and engineers to build alert systems on specific issues and neighborhoods, custom tools to help people stay informed about what our government is doing and, well, anything you may want to do with full access to the data about our decision-making and public meeting track records.

After the meeting, I emailed LaTonda Simmons, our city clerk who is the manager of this whole system to thank her for moving this and making it possible to unlock this data. I was concerned the lack of specificity about the API being public would somehow bite us in the ass. I was wrong. 

Her response was encouraging. Folks in city hall are listening, and it turns out geeks can make a difference:

Hi Spike – I spoke to Granicus immediately after to Finance.  They reconfirmed they will turn on API. And yes, your feedback and that of many others will be important in this process.  More to come and thank you for your support also.  I must add that this wouldn’t have been possible without Bryan making it move.  Looking forward to the next CityCamp event.  Chat soon.

-= LaTonda S.

People in the city are really starting to get this stuff, and it’s going be awesome as it becomes the norm – less bundling of contracted software with built in, accessible open data.

OpenOakland 1.5: A year and a half in review

Oakland (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Oakland (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

As we close out the year, I wanted to reflect on a few things to put our work in perspective and also to lay out the vision for where we want to go in the new year. 2013 was a great year for civic innovation in Oakland. It was a great year for the growing movement to open up government and to build towards a future where our local government is truly by the people, for the people and of the people in the 21st century. But we still have much to do and much to learn. I’m excited about both of those realities.

OpenOakland was created to fulfill two main goals – to provide a backbone level of support for civic innovation in Oakland, and to support our local government in being more open, more agile and more engaged. Both Eddie Tejeda and I believe that the approach taken by Code for America is perhaps the strongest, smartest way to achieve truly open government in the USA, and we’re proud to be part of a national movement to transform how government works and is how we as citizens and residents interact with government.

We believe that leadership is best done through supporting others to change, by providing a vision of what could be and by helping others move along that path. OpenOakland was our idea to make that vision a reality and so far hundreds of people across Oakland have been inspired to be part of that journey too – we all want our government to be great- we want to have a positive, trusting relationship with our city hall and the people working inside. It seems that our approach is yielding fruit in a very small period of time.

We are often perceived as simply technologists who are interested in the technical solution. While many of our members are technically gifted, we are not about the technology – the advantage that technologists offer however is the ability to know what is possible. Take this year’s acclaimed app built by Adam Stiles and Shawn McDougal with support from the city’s Budget Advisory Committee and others: OpenBudgetOakland.org.

This app demonstrates so much of what we’re building.

Conceived at a hackathon, we offered to help incubate and support the completion of this game changing app. It required the city to release the raw budget in a raw data format for the first time ever – a serious change in attitude from a city hall frequently seen as closed and uncooperative. In releasing this data, the city enabled the development of an incredibly powerful application that would never have been conceived of nor built in city hall. Our team has learned a lot through the launch of this app and has been largely responsible for the increased focus on the city’s budgeting process and the push for increased transparency and engagement in future budget preparation. We’ve helped to change city policy, empower people to ask informed questions and enriched the discussion with trustworthy information.

And we’ve helped open the budget data for the first time.

This is what we’re about – technology to change behaviors and to create new possibilities.

In June we participated in a national event called the National Day of Civic Hacking, co-sponsored by the White House. While other cities were hacking on new apps, we knew there was an opportunity to do something different in Oakland. An app and an idea struck us as being perfectly suited to Oakland- something called Honolulu Answers. It was built by a Code for America team and it consisted of an app and an approach. This app was, like all of our work, open source. That means anyone in the world can take the raw code and reuse it however they like. Likewise, the team shared their method to build it.

In Oakland, we held an event called ReWrite Oakland – while a geeky play on words, we wanted to build this new web app for our city and we invited the city to participate in building it. Seventy people joined us at the HUB Oakland to create a new resource for all of our city: Answers.Oaklandnet.com was the result.

What we did was more than just build a new web app in collaboration with the city – we showed that how the city acquires and considers technology can be different, better, smarter. An open source app and a ton of residents time created a website far more accessible to regular people than the city’s current site. We will be holding ReWrite evenings across the city in 2014, giving more Oaklanders the chance to help build something together.

As this article gets published, we’ll also be launching a new app built with a city project in mind. AdoptaDrainOakland.com was a suggestion form the city’s environmental services team – they saw the success of the Adopta apps used in other cities and asked us to help bring that app to Oakland. The result is another open source website that helps Oaklanders contribute in a small but meaningful way to their city. If we can help to clear out blocked drains when it floods, our public works crews can stay focused on fixing all those potholes we love to hate.

We’ve also been hard at work on building an app that breaks down the old barriers between city council and the public- the dreaded Council agenda PDF nightmare. Led by Miguel Vargas, this app allows regular people to easily find information about discussions and topics hitting council and other meetings in the city. It will allow people for the first time to stay on top of matters that relate to them, without the painful process of digging through dozens of lengthy PDF documents. Our hope is that this makes our council more open and with solid outreach on our part, changes the way people choose to be passive consumers or engaged citizens.

With our community we’ve also built some simple apps, based on other great open source projects in other cities, that help residents find services and connect to their local networks:
EarlyOakland.com helps parents find free early childhood education and care. OaklandBeats.com lets easily people find their local Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council.

We also continue to provide technical support for the amazing OaklandWiki.org project – your very own wiki for the town! One of our first projects, this has spun off into a dynamic community and is a great resource to share what you know about your city.

Late this year we also participated in the first ever crowdsourced legislation in the City of Oakland. Lauded by the Sunlight Foundation as a promising practice for other cities to follow, we joined dozens of people from across the city and the country to help form the strongest possible new language for the city’s open data resolution, which passed the city council with no dissension. This new resolution requires our city to develop a comprehensive plan to build out the open data efforts across all departments.

Providing a strong sustaining force to the efforts underway already (which we successfully pushed for in 2012 also), this will set our city on a strong path for the future where researchers, developers, analysts and even city staff have simple, legal access to the valuable data the city produces already. We see this as an important factor in changing the status quo regarding staff and electeds attitudes towards transparency- when the expectations for city information becomes “open by default”, our leaders will be operating on a very different platform than in the past.

As with our Open Government Pledge in 2012, we will once again be taking up the challenge to convince our next round of city leaders to support the concept of open government. We aim to hold a mayoral candidates forum focused on issues of technology, transparency, engagement and procurement.

Clearly what we’re doing is geeky and optimistic. We think this work matters to the entire city, and we’ll be making a lot of effort to connect with organizations and people across this great city in 2014. While our focus has been on building relationships with and changing how things are done inside city hall, we almost forgot that “by the people” is bigger than just those who take the time to join us in city hall for our hack nights and other events.

When we formed, we established values of engagement with our city and diversity in our membership and leaders. 2014 presents us with the chance to engage more widely and to share this vision with those who want to participate.  While the technology sector is often an exclusive space, we will be putting in hard work to create a truly inclusive movement in Oakland.

Although not the work of OpenOakland itself, it would be remiss to not mention the powerful new public records system that our Code for America fellowship team built. Available now at records.oaklandnet.com, this system provides both a streamlined way for the city to manage and respond to public records requests, it also provides the public with an incredible view into what is being requested. Again this demonstrates how we think – interfaces to government should be designed for the users, should be beautiful and easy to use, should serve the business needs of city staff and should provide an open view for the public.

What has this cost? The simple answer is that all this has been accomplished by an organization with no budget (besides the pizza fund Code for America provides – and that is important) and no staff. Our work has been produced by people with a desire to see our city become stronger, smarter and more open. As leaders of this group, we’ve tried to support as many people as possible in doing things that brings innovation to city hall and creates more beautiful, accessible ways for people to interact and engage with our government. Our events have relied on generous sponsors, but other than their support, OpenOakland to date represents what is possible when people who love their city get together, collaborate and innovate for the good of all.

We need to trust in government again, we need to respect public service, we need a government that is open and serves all people equitably and justly. We also need our government to be able to innovate, to take measured risks and to provide better ways for residents to interact with officials and elected members. This is what we’re about.

We’re excited about what 2014 has in store, and we welcome your feedback on our efforts as well as your partnership to make this vision a reality.

FreshWrap: CfA Summit, procurement, healthcare.gov and more

A wrap-up of this week’s civic technology and open government news.

Must-watch video of the week:

Chicago launches first comprehensive, public data dictionary.

Oakland is looking for a chief information officer.

Liveblog of Code for America Summit …

… and videos.

Five ways to make government procurement better.

What are your ideas for improving government procurement?

Why U.S. government IT fails so hard, so often.

Healthcare.gov: How The First Internet President Produced The Government’s Biggest, Highest-Stakes Internet Failure

New book: Beyond Transparency

Louisville gets an open data policy.

Oakland does, too.

Changes in Texas open government law.

NASCIO report: The Enterprise Imperative: Leading Through Governance, Portfolio Management, and Collaboration

TechAmerica: Fed IT spending to plateau over next five years.

Global Integrity has a new website.

GitHub goes deeper into government.

Making a living with civic tech.

Oakland moves closer to adopting open data policy

Photo: Luke Fretwell

Photo: Luke Fretwell

Oakland’s city council has published a proposed city-wide open data policy that will be reviewed by the finance and management committee on October 8 and, if approved, moves to the full council for a final vote scheduled for October 15.

The policy calls for the city “to make every reasonable effort to publish its data in machine readable formats using prevailing open standards” and directs the city administrator to lead the effort under a specific timeline.

The proposed policy is based on a draft floated by the Urban Strategies Council after Councilmember Libby Schaaf approached OpenOakland for assistance in developing the policy.

In April 2012, the council voted to have the city administrator conduct an open data cost-benefit analysis review, which produced the Open Data System Implementation Report released the following June.

Oakland launched its official open data platform in January 2013.

Resolution Establishing An Open Data Policy For The City Of Oakland For Making Public Data Available In Mac…

Oakland pulls ahead of SF in the Bay Bridge Open Government Series

OaklandIt hasn’t garnered the accolades San Francisco historically has, but it appears Oakland is starting to pull ahead in the Bay Bridge Open Government Series.

The active OpenOakland team, with its weekly meetup, first CivicMeet Oakland, community-driven open data platform, CityCamp Oakland, Oakland Wiki and upcoming Open Data Day Oakland hackathon, is quickly becoming the civic hacker model for all other metropolitan areas.

The city is also showing signs of open government adoption, including its willingness to collaborate with OpenOakland, launching a new official open data portal and hosting Code for America fellows this year.

While San Francisco has adopted some of the above, with the exception of the CfA fellows program, much of its open government achievements were accomplished during the Gavin Newsom years. And, surprisingly, an organized civic hacker community has yet to emerge.

In recognition of OpenOakland’s work, Oakland’s city council recently passed the following resolution:


WHEREAS, Open Data represents the idea that information such as government databases should be easily and freely available to everyone to use and republish without restrictions; and

WHEREAS, Open Data increases transparency, access to public information, and improves coordination and efficiencies among agencies and partner organizations; and

WHEREAS, access to public information promotes a higher level of civic engagement and allows citizens to provide valuable feedback to government officials regarding local issues; and

WHEREAS, this month Oakland has formally announced the launch of its open data platform “data.oaklandnet.com,” that will serve as the central repository of the City of Oakland’s public data, such as data on crime, public works, public facilities, and spatial data, allowing all users to freely access, visualize and download City data, enabling public scrutiny and empowering the creativity of civic-minded software developers; and

WHEREAS, Oakland was honored to be selected as one of only ten cities in America to participate in the 2013 Code for America (CFA) program, where three CFA fellows will work with the City to identify web-based solutions to break down cumbersome bureaucratic processes and emerge with better systems that will help cut costs, increase efficiency, and provide better service to the public; and

WHEREAS, Open Data activists have recently founded the civic innovation organization Open Oakland – a Code for America Brigade, which meets every Tuesday evening in City Hall, bringing together coders, designers, “data geeks,” journalists, and city staff to collaborate on solutions to improve Oakland’s service delivery to all citizens of Oakland; and

WHEREAS, on December 1, 2012 Open Oakland produced the first ever “CityCamp Oakland,” inside city hall, where over 100 stakeholders came together to discuss solutions to improve Oakland; and

WHEREAS, Oakland recently launched a community engagement web site called
“EngageOakland.com,” to encourage community ideas, feedback and suggestions to help shape, grow and sustain the healthy future of Oakland; and

WHEREAS, “February 23, 2013 is International Data Day,” a day in which citizens around the world will gather to access Open Data, write applications, create visualizations, publish analyses, and encourage the adoption of open data policies at the local, regional and national government levels; and


WHEREAS, on February 23, 2013 at Oakland’s 81st Avenue Branch Library, Open Oakland, in honor of International Open Data Day, will host a day of “hacking” public data and building data visualization tools to help explain data and make stronger community-government connections; therefore be it

RESOLVED: That the City Council hereby declares February 23, 2013 as Open Data Day in the City of Oakland; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED: That in honor of International Open Data Day the City Council hereby recognizes and salutes Open Oakland founders Steve Spiker and Eddie Tejada; Oakland’s 2013 Code For America Fellows Richa Agarwal, Cris Cristina and Sheila Dugan, and Oakland’s Code for America sponsors: The Akonadi Foundation, The William H. Donner Foundation, The Robert A.D. Schwartz Fund, The Mitchell Kapor Foundation, Accela and Pandora, for their service to the City of Oakland and its citizens.

Wrapping up Code for Oakland 2012

Today, I had the opportunity to attend Code for Oakland 2012 and, as always with events like this, walked away inspired by the work of good friends and the enthusiasm of citizens and public servants wanting to do more for their communities. Big kudos to all involved engaging, organizing and sponsoring a great event in a great city.

Check out Kwan Booth’s great Storify wrap-up of the event here: