United States

SF tech icons make smarter civic technology pitch

sf.citi brings out the the tech heavyweights for a new video imagining what civic technology could do for a “smarter San Francisco.”

sf.citi, short for San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation, is a nonprofit organization created by a consortium of SF technology leaders to “leverage the power of the technology community around civic action in San Francisco.”


New monthly civic innovators meetup launches in San Francisco

CivicMeetCivicMeet is a new monthly meetup that helps connect public and private sector innovators working to create a more open, engaged civil society.

The first CivicMeet SF will be held in San Francisco on November 15, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Thirsty Bear.

Space is limited so register now.

Big shout to fellow organizers and Bay Area civic rock stars Alissa Black, Sarah Granger, Marci Harris, Hillary Hartley, Tina Lee and Shannon Spanhake on making this happen.

Be sure to connect with CivicMeet (or start one where you live) on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

If you’d like to help coordinate or host an event, feel free to contact us here.

Look forward to seeing you there!

My commitment to Honolulu open government

The recent Open Government Pledge on Honolulu.Govfresh.com brought a moment of pause for me as I watched all three Mayoral candidates respond with a YES within minutes of each other. I am one of the three candidates and the incumbent Mayor, Peter Carlisle. When I see the other candidates take the Open Government Pledge it makes me wonder what that really means to them. For me, since talking office in October 2010 my administration has lived the Open Government ethos. It’s not a campaign slogan or a bullet point on a city presentation. It is a philosophy I hold dear and have brought people into my administration that can make it happen.

Gordon Bruce, Director of the Dept of Information Technology (DIT) and his Deputy Director Forest Frizzell embody this open philosophy. Bruce was the Director of DIT for six years when I was elected and he laid the groundwork for an IT infrastructure common across the various city departments. I felt it important to keep Bruce on board and have him continue the work he started 6 years ago. He and his Deputy, Forest Frizzell have continued to make more information about the city available through open datasets and collaborative interactions with the public.

In 2011 Honolulu was recognized as the #1 Digital City by the Center for Digital Government and Government Technology. We also build a collaborative environment with our civic minded tech community during a CityCamp in December 2011. The motivation was to encourage an open dialog between the community and City officials on what kinds of issues can the community help solve with access to data. In January 2012 the City sponsored a first ever Civic Hackathon which resulted in several application prototypes. By April 2012 we had our first community generated app called DaBus that provides Bus routes, Bus Stop locations and arrival times based on open Bus APIs. This means you and your family can make reliable transportation plans.

Realizing that opening up data and encouraging collaboration does not happen over night I issued a letter to all my department heads to bring focus to my ongoing commitment to open government. We also launched Data.Honolulu.gov to showcase the datasets, budgets and date visualizations that we are continually making available. Through our 2012 engagement with Code for America we recently released Adopt a SirenRoute View and Art Finder. All of these websites are showcased on our website Can-Do.Honolulu.gov where we feature websites and applications made by citizens and City employees alike. Just this past month we conducted the first ever Write-a-thon that brought community together with City subject-matter-experts to help answer citizen generated questions. We took this user-centric approach to bring simplicity and clarity to our community’s frequently asked questions. Essentially, we heard questions from people from in the community about what they wanted the city to answer, and we will provide those answers at answers.honolulu.gov.

My administration integrating technology with government in an effort to increase transparency and engagement. Others might say YES to this Open Government Pledge but I can demonstrate a track record of performance. As I said in my letter to the departments, “By freely sharing data amongst the citizens of the City and County of Honolulu we hope to develop opportunities for economic development, civic engagement and create a more informed citizen.” That has been and continues to be my pledge.

Peter Carlisle

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:

Oakland gets its code on

Code for OaklandCode for Oakland will be held July 21 at the Kaiser Center in Oakland, Ca.

Steve Spiker, OpenOakland Brigade Captain and Director of Research & Technology for Urban Strategies Council, discusses Oakland’s open data progress and what attendees can expect from the event.

What’s the state of open data in Oakland?

We’ve done a lot of education with city staff and council members on the need and benefit for open data, and just this week a committee approved a staff report to go to council with two viable options for building an open data platform for Oakland – an internally developed system or an external solution, something like Socrata or Junar. We’re hoping this moves forward smoothly, and we see a new system live before the end of the year – a first for an East Bay city!

In the past the only open data content was provided on our platform at www.infoalamedacounty.org as part of our efforts to democratize data and also provide a system for planners and nonprofits and policymakers to access good public data for decision making and analysis. We’ve made all our data simply downloadable from within the mapping tool.

See also my recent post about this here.

We are also working with Alameda County to plan for and launch their new open data platform also.

How did the idea for Code for Oakland come about? Who’s behind it, and what can attendees expect?

Oakland is a city with all the components to make it an incredibly prominent, productive technology mecca, except for formal city support of this work. A group of local media folks, local technologists, tech/data loving nonprofits and interested city staff got together to provide an event each year where civically engaged residents, developers, media and curious city staff can get together and build or work towards solutions to local issues faced by our community and our city. As with last year we will have a hackathon for the folks who want to create new tools with $5,000 in prizes and some great support packages to help the winners bring their apps to market.

The main organizations supporting this are Urban Strategies Council, Oakland Local, Code for America, the City of Oakland and TechLiminal.

What makes Code For Oakland somewhat unique is the non-hack events. This year we will have sessions for information activism, learning about open data, a chance to build out a permanent record of our great city on a LocalWiki site and a great urban exploration event using ForageCity (an app built by a local gem Youth Radio) where people can use technology, maps to find surplus food in their community.

What long-term plans do you have for Code for Oakland, growing the Oakland open data movement and leveraging this to help the city?

The Code for Oakland organizing committee is eager to move beyond a single event per year, and we hope to build the team’s capacity and the city’s support to allow more frequent events in Oakland.

During the event we will be highlighting work from last year’s event with a discussion on the ways we can support and sustain efforts like this where an app has perhaps little commercial value but a potentially huge community value.

As with most U.S. cities there are dozens of ways that smart technologists and engineers can make a huge impact on how well our cities function, we think this is a worthy challenge and needs our support long term. This was part of the reason we created OpenOakland – a Code for America Brigade focused on supporting local hackers to connect with civic issues and city staff to work together to build tools that transform our city.

There’s also a post on the start of OpenOakland with more info, and to get involved join us here.

How Palo Alto is leading the digital city movement

[audio:https://govfresh.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/jonathanreichental.mp3|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.

What happened to Manor?

Ines Mergel asks a great question about a government 2.0 icon emblematic of the potential local open government had in its nascent heyday way back two years ago:

What happened, Manor?

For those unfamiliar with Manor and its young gun superstar and former CIO Dustin Haisler, Manor was symbolic of the “small town startup” that could strategically leverage modern technology to better serve citizens and run more efficiently while still keeping IT costs to a minimum. Haisler leveraged QR codes, WordPress, Google Apps, engagement platforms and other experimental technologies that brought Manor into the digital 21st century.

Today, that Manor is gone.

Haisler eventually left for the real startup world, and it appears the baton was either not properly handed off or just dropped altogether.

I asked Haisler about this, and here’s his reply via email:

I think this shows the need for a few things:

(1) Forming a social norm around innovation and experimentation in government, which requires significant measurement and reporting in order to combat the risk that comes along with a change in administration.

(2) Government innovation programs should not be run solely from within City Hall. There should be controlling interests from community stakeholders (businesses, non-profits, academia, etc.)

(3) The need for education. Current and future leaders of government agencies need to be educated on the business value that comes from using participatory technologies within government.

This presents a unique opportunity to reinvent civic innovation within Manor (where I still live) from a truly grassroots perspective driven from the community.

Design is inherently subjective, so it’s difficult to argue whether the new site is prettier than the previous version, however, there are several non-aesthetic components now missing from Manor’s previous “beta city” vision that should be standard in all new government websites:

  • no integrated content management system (it appears they’re now using Google Blogspot to post site updates, but these are separate from the site’s primary pages)
  • less prominent social media accounts (previously, Manor had a Facebook, Twitter and Flickr presence, but now only Facebook is accessible, albeit hidden)
  • no commitment to open source (previous WordPress theme was developed and made freely available to any government)
  • no site search
  • no accessible email or online contact form
  • no open data portal
  • no open 311 reporting
  • URLs no longer mapped to cityofmanor.org domain
  • basic disregard of 508 compliance

I’m not familiar with Manor’s current operations and technological leadership but, judging by its new website, I concur with Mergel that “they apparently went back in time and put up a horrific website in a design that reminds me of the early days of the Internet.” (disclaimer: I helped set up and design the previous version)

Whatever the reason for the set-back, there’s a lesson to be learned in how to better transition an IT environment developed by a tech-savvy CIO to leadership that appears to be less informed on today’s technological standards.

Most importantly, it’s seems there’s an opportunity here for the Gov 2.0 community to come together and address how small towns manage IT sustainability and help those that are less tech-savvy better understand and implement strategic, experimental and open technologies.

How can we do this?