Live Government Innovation From Small-Town Texas.

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 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?

Gov 2.0 guide to a city makeover

My name is Dustin Haisler and I’m the Assistant City Manager and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the City of Manor, Texas.  Manor is a small community, located just east of Austin, of approximately 6,500 citizens. More recently, Manor has received a lot press for some of our innovative projects; such as our QR-code program, citizen idea portal, and pothole reporting system.  In fact, we are in such a state of continuous improvement that we even added the word ‘beta’ to our city logo.

Over the past year, it’s been my pleasure to be one of the many evangelists of these new citizen-empowering technologies for government agencies across the country.  In the process, I’ve realized that there are many bureaucratic constraints, fears and misunderstandings about how these technologies fit within municipal government.  Further, I understand that type of innovation within government is sometimes seen as a risky concept; however, I would argue there is a science to what we do in Manor that can and should be replicated by other municipalities.

So let me brake down what we’ve done by starting at the beginning.  Manor’s innovation journey began like most- out of a means of survival.  With dwindling revenues and rising costs, we faced a significant challenge to continue providing the services our citizens demanded.  As a result, we were faced with two choices: finance industry solutions over a period of time or leverage what we have to make our own.  We chose the latter.  Now it’s difficult to leverage 34 employees beyond their current capacities, but we  do have 6,500 citizens that are each an expert in something.  It was time to tap the wisdom of the crowds.

Almost five years later, we have overhauled every department within our agency, actually reducing our information technology budget, with our citizens helping drive the change.  My next goal was to help educate other cities that they could achieve the same thing.  During this process, I continued to hit the same roadblocks, around the lines of “I don’t know where to start!”

In talking through this frustration, Luke Fretwell, the founder of GovFresh, and I decided we were going to do something to help catalyze a municipal innovation movement.  We had both been to numerous conferences that were very inspiring to the participants, but lacked the action-oriented approach needed to make things happen.  As a result, manor.govfresh was born with the intention of demonstrating that everything we had done in Manor could be replicated by other cities.  We determined that the best way to demonstrate this was by performing a makeover on another city.  Essentially, we took every citizen engagement technology we use in Manor (plus some) and applied them to America’s next ‘beta’ city, the City of De Leon, Texas.  The most amazing aspect of the makeover is that we did it in under a month.

So what does a Gov 2.0 makeover look like?


For the website portion of the makeover, we used a free web technology that is typically used for blogs, called WordPress, along with the free GovFresh Gov 2.0 template, to make it easy for De Leon staff members to maintain and keep their citizens up-to-date.  Price: Free + Hosting (Approximately $54.00 per year).

Idea Suggestion

In order to channel new ideas, we deployed a Spigit platform to apply a structured and transparent process the citizens of De Leon to suggest new ideas.  In addition, citizens are rewarded for their participation, through game-mechanics, to make the process sustainable.  Price: Starts at $499.00 per month.


QR-codes are a type of barcode that can be read with most newer model camera phones.  Using can download a free application and simply scan the barcode using the camera on their phone.  Once a code is scanned, their phone will display the information that was linked within it.  For the De Leon QR-code program, we used a free online creator and a local sign printing company to provide a physical hyperlink for 35 points-of-interest throughout their community.  Price: Free (Just the cost of printing).

Open Data

In order to make public information more accessible to citizens, we deployed a Socrata platform to allow citizens to view and analyze public information on a deeper level without the need of an open-records request.  In addition, local developers now have access to make web applications that tie-in to these data sets.  Price: Free Version Available (Plans start at $499.00 per month).

Citizen Reporting (311)

To encourage citizen reporting, we deployed SeeClickFix to empower citizens to help ‘fix’ their community from a variety of channels including a dedicated mobile application, toll-free phone number, e-mail and embeddable web application.  Price: Starts at $40.00 per month.

Crime Reporting

Using CrimeReports, we took the City of De Leon’s public crime data, that was not accessible online, and embedded it within an easy to understand visual map.  Price: Starts at $99.00 per month.

E-Forms & Processes

Using Firmstep, the City of De Leon now has electronic forms and applications that are apart of a bigger electronic process.  This means that city forms can be processed without ever needing to print them out. Price: Starts at $300.00 per month.

Social Media

We setup the City of De Leon with a Facebook and Twitter account to better engage with their citizens using online platforms where the conversations are currently taking place.  Price: Free.

Records Retention (Online)

In order to maintain and comply with records retention laws, we used PageFreezer to auto-archive all of the City of De Leon’s online activities. Price: Starts at $199.00 per month.

Mobile Application

The City of De Leon will also have access to the first location-based-service application for government (Think of Foursquare for government). This application will empowers citizens to interact with their city no matter where they’re at.  Price: Free (Extra features are available).

Internet Telephone System

Developed just for this conference, the City of De Leon now has access to the MuniVox Internet phone system (VoIP). MuniVox makes it easy for small local governments to implement a sophisticated phone system using open-source software.  Price: Free.

E-mail/Document Management

Using Google Apps Standard Edition, the City of De Leon has access to a very cost-effective and robust e-mail and document management system.  Price: Free (Up to 50 users).

Project Management

Using Manymoon, with direct integration to Google Apps Standard Edition, the City of De Leon can better manage their daily operations and tasks.  Price: Free.

Are We There Yet?

Nope, and we will never fully arrive. In the spirit of being in a continuous state of

improvement (‘beta’), we can never fully arrive. Technology and citizen services

will continue to change and we must always be listening.  I hope that what we did inspires you to go ‘beta’ and embrace technologies that can revolutionize the way you interact with your citizens.

There is a guide available on the BetaCities website with more detailed information for other cities interested in deploying these technologies.

Special thanks

Luke and I didn’t pull this makeover off on our own. We built this with the help of our community. Along with the partners listed above, and our planning committee, supporters and sponsors should get most of the credit for making this vision a reality:

Planning Committee

  • Mark Headd
  • Geovanna Ricaldi
  • Kevin Curry
  • Sara Moore
  • Robert Greenberg
  • Andrew Krzmarzick
  • Sid Burgess
  • Margarita Quihuis
  • Pam Broviak


  • Code For America
  • OpenPlans
  • Gov 2.0 Radio


  • Spigit
  • OpenPlans
  • Manor ISD
  • Manor Education Foundation
  • Bluebonnet Electric
  • BLGY Architecture
  • Bridge Born
  • G&H International Services, Inc.

Small(town) is beautiful and the manor.govfresh wrap-up


E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful neatly summarizes my beliefs on how society should work and provides the most appropriate slogan for the way I approach much of my life.

‘Small is beautiful’ best describes manor.govfresh, held this past Sept 20-21, in Manor, TX, and exemplifies where I believe we can have the most impact on changing how government works and where the open government community should turn its focus. The theme around manor.govfresh was government and technology, but the underlying premise was learning how we can strengthen community at its most local. So much is discussed at the federal, state and major metropolitan levels that we see small-town America as an after-thought. It’s not sexy, but it’s where change can happen faster and have a more immediate impact on citizens.

manor.govfresh was a special event for me personally and professionally, and I want to thank the City of Manor, TX and the Manor Independent School District for letting GovFresh (and me) play a little part in your big role in changing the face of government.

I also want to thank ‘Team manor.govfresh,’ including Dustin Haisler, Geovanna Ricaldi, Mark Headd, Kevin Curry, Sara Moore, Bob Greenberg, Sid Burgess, Margarita Quihuis and Andrew Krzmarzick for your time and hard work in planning everything. You guys helped put on a big-time event in small-town America and believed in its importance from the beginning.

Much of what was reported real-time came from Alex Howard, and I can’t thank him enough for making the trek, re-introducing me to Scotch and being a great friend.

manor.govfresh highlights include making over City of De Leon, having U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck attend and speak, getting a warm welcome each morning from the Manor ISD student choir and band (video below), connecting in real life with people I greatly admire in the open government community and, of course, getting a key to Manor.

More manor.govfresh coverage and discussion here:

Thanks again to everyone who participated in such a wonderful event. Until next time …

My Gov 2.0 Hero: Phil Tate

Phil Tate

Manor, Texas has received lots of recognition for the innovative technologies that have come out of it, but many people don’t know all the individuals that are responsible. My role as Assistant City Manager and CIO is to steer the development of emerging technologies in Manor, but the real hero is our City Manager, Phil Tate.

Phil is a Gov 2.0 Hero because he chooses to say “yes” to new emerging technologies that allow us to be more efficient and transparent. It would be so easy for a city manager to say “no” to new ideas and concepts, but Manor has been fortunate to have such a progressive leader with the drive to serve citizens and instill government accountability.

Why government should go beta

City of Manor BetaIn the spirit of innovation, we are happy to announce the launch of the City of Manor in open beta. Manor launched in alpha in March of 1913, and has been operating as such for the last 97 years.

What does open beta mean?

Open beta is the stage of product release where the alpha product is released to a larger community group, usually the general public, for feedback. The testers report any bugs that they found and sometimes minor features they would like to see in the final version.

How will Manor operate in open beta?

Manor has become a model for municipal innovation and we understand that our model must continue to change and adapt to forces at work within our community. We want our citizens to be able to respond to our agency like individuals testing out a beta product (beta-testers). If they see a problem- they can report it. If they have an idea- they can submit it. If they have a question- they can ask it.

What’s next?

We think it is in the benefit of other cities to operate in open beta. We want to demonstrate that it is OK to say to our citizens, ‘that we’re re-inventing ourselves with your help.’ Operating in beta does not degrade the permanence of your established city, it only adds value by demonstrating to your citizens that your listening and acting what they have to say.

More information about how you can participate is forthcoming.

Spigit launches CitizenSpigit, government crowdsourcing, engagement platform

CitizenSpigitIdea management software developer Spigit announced the launch of CitizenSpigit, ‘a platform that enables government agencies to engage citizens and employees to improve efficiency and operations, as well as to generate actionable ideas.’ The City of Manor, Texas, is the first municipality to deploy the platform, which it uses to power Manor Labs.

The platform is available to government agencies starting at $5,000/month. You can download a product spec sheet or register for a demo.

CitizenSpigit features list:

  • Core Idea Management Platform
  • Pricing starting at 5K per month with unlimited users
  • Available on the GSA
  • Reputation Scores/ Virtual Currency
  • Social Media Tools (i.e. Blogs, Wikis, Polls)
  • Online Incentives Store
  • Standard Reporting
  • Idea Markets
  • Community Management Services
  • Customized site branding

City of Manor CIO Dustin Haisler discusses their use of the CitizenSpigit platform:

What’s missing from Gov 2.0?

What missing from Gov 2.0?

The answer: Education.

Like most agencies, we have done a significant amount of research at the City of Manor to determine how we could best use new technologies to interact and engage our citizens. In the process, we have discovered that there is one element that is quite often overlooked within the Gov 2.0 movement- education. Citizen and employee education is critical to the adoption of new technologies because the technology will not be used if it is misunderstood.

So now the big question, how do you educate employees and citizens?

For employees

We deploy and train employees on new technologies internally (before public release) so they can develop and understanding of its functions and discover new ways to utilize the technology. Essentially, our employees are the beta-testers and we make final decisions based on their feedback.

For citizens

Currently we speak at numerous civic events within our community to explain the value of utilizing these technologies to communicate and understand open government concepts.

What does the future hold?

The existing channels of education are not as effective as we would like, and as a result, we have partnered with the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCW) to further training within Gov 2.0 technologies. The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of more than 200 institutions of higher education and associated organizations from around the world that are creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model.

Manor’s participation will consist of:

  • Creating 10 free and open courses by 2012 centered around Gov 2.0, Open Innovation, etc. to educate citizens and employees to learn from.
  • Providing incentives to Manor Labs’ users that participate in OCW courses (Innobucks on Manor Labs).

Now what?

We want to know what you think about our plan. We want your ideas and feedback on how we can best education our employees and constituents on Gov 2.0.

We’ve created a portal on our open innovation platform for you to share your ideas/suggestions (and you don’t have to live in Manor to participate).

manor.govfresh: Big ideas for small-town America

Update: Save the Date: Sept. 20-21, 2010

When GovFresh first started, I got an email from Dustin Haisler, CIO of Manor, TX, who shared with me all the work they were doing there. At that point in time, I was new to ‘Gov 2.0’ and what could be considered ‘government innovation.’ I was skeptical. I never really thought government could innovate itself out of a paper bag. To think a small-town in Texas could do it was completely laughable.

Was this guy for real?

We talked a few days later and now communicate regularly, sometimes daily, about what they’re working on, new ideas and what’s happening in open government as a whole. Dustin has even chronicled some of Manor’s work here on GovFresh. As someone who’s worked in and with several start-up companies, I’m intrigued by Manor’s efficiency and all they’ve done with such a small IT budget.

Today, Manor is a ‘Field of Dreams’ Gov 2.0 story. When it comes to innovation, Manor has built it from the ground up, and governments from near and far have come to learn more. Manor has been featured on the White House Blog, Wall Street Journal and Austin Statesmen, to name just a few.

For a while now, people have asked me when GovFresh would do a Gov 2.0 event. When I mentioned the idea to Dustin, he half-jokingly said, “Do it in Manor.”

I half-heartedly laughed and replied, “Let’s do it.”

So, we’re doing it. We’re just getting started, but wanted to reach out to the community and any of you interested in participating (see form below).

From Dustin:

“Manor wants to help re-define what it means to have a conference. Conferences are traditionally centered around knowledge transfer, and we want to transfer immediate, tangible value to other communities like ours. We want to show other local governments that Manor is not a unique, one-time experiment. Everything we’ve done in the last three years can be replicated cost-effectively and applied within the context of their agency or community.”

Stay tuned.

Yes, send me manor.govfresh updates!

The 3 phases of citizen idea platforms

By Dustin Haisler, Manor, and Margarita Quihuis, Researcher at Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab

The open government movement has spurred lots of interest in agencies becoming more transparent to citizens. As a result, most federal agencies have launched “open” pages that allow anyone to submit ideas for their agencies.

While we laud these efforts as a good first step, there is more that needs to be done in order for these initiatives to reach their full potential.

Many of these agencies have focused on soliciting ideas from the public; what has yet to be revealed is how these ideas are transformed into implemented solutions. Our four-month experiment with Manor Labs has given us a number of insights on how the process could work, challenges and potential pitfalls.


Manor Labs began as collaboration between Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab and the City of Manor to explore how persuasive technologies, open innovation and transparency could be used to create new solutions to pressing community problems through citizen participation. We looked to models such as WikiPedia and Mozilla Foundation where a core institution leveraged the contributions of thousands of individuals to create something larger and more powerful than could be created by a small group alone. Small municipalities like Manor are increasingly challenged to provide services to growing populations while maintaining a small city staff and even smaller budget. With no way to increase head count or raise taxes to pay for services, we needed to find a way to tap into the collective intelligence of the citizenry to help us identify issues, propose ideas, do the necessary research and help prioritize what gets done in a dynamic manner where citizens feel heard.

Through our research at Stanford, we knew that the one of the most effective platforms that keeps people engaged are massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). MMOGs provide a clear narrative, feedback mechanisms, rules, roles and transparency. In contrast, many civic interactions lacked feedback mechanisms, clear rules of engagement or transparency. In fact, the lack of these attributes tended to feed citizen cynicism in the civic process. As a result, the type of platform we chose became very important in setting up the proper environment for citizen engagement. Most importantly the process needed to be visible – how an idea moves from a mere suggestion to a full implementation as well as being able to see who contributed, who’s dominating the conversation and so on.

Moving From Ideas to Solutions

Based upon our experience with Manor Labs, we’ve identified some key phases necessary to go from ideas to solutions.

Ideally, innovation platforms need to have three distinct phases:

  • Participation
  • Engagement
  • Implementation

Phase 1: Participation (Where Ideas Are Born)

What is participation?

  • To take part, to involve oneself, in an initiative.

What does it involve?

  • Submitting An Idea


  • Getting initial involvement

How do you get citizens involved?

  • Identify motivation – hot button issues in local community
  • Actively Recruit – social media outreach (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) plus traditional channels – local newspapers, community groups
  • Messaging – frame it as an opportunity for citizens to be more active with their government

What Can Go Wrong?

  • Insufficient participation
  • Politics can corrode the effectiveness of a platform
  • Lack of moderation/quality screening of ideas, platform overtaken by spam


  • Citizens signing up as their authentic selves (Open ID, Facebook Connect, etc.)
  • How do you discourage citizens from creating multiple accounts with the appearance of being different people with the purpose of gaming the system?

Success Metrics:

  • How many ideas should you expect?
  • What level of citizen participation is reasonable?

Phase 2: Engagement (Where Ideas Grow)

What is engagement?

  • The act of sharing in the activities of a group

What does it involve?

  • Growing An Idea (Collaboration, Knowledge Sharing, Research, Development, Piloting)


  • Who is going to grow the idea? Crowd or Government?
  • Effective moderation of ideas to keep conversations on topic, filter out spammers
  • Well written and understood Community guidelines
  • Clear roles
  • Well designed feedback loops
  • Getting people to return to the platform on a regular basis

What Can Go Wrong?

  • Failing to keep citizens in the loop
  • No feedback/progress report on how ideas are moving through system
  • Poor rules – people gaming the system

Tools To Use:

  • Engagement Loops/Feedback Mechanisms
  • Game Mechanics – Participation points for collaboration, quality of ideas, leaderboards

How To Measure Success:

  • Number and quality of comments/idea
  • Are groups of people regularly building on each others’ ideas?
  • Number of reoccurring participants

Phase 3: Implementation (Where Ideas Become Solutions)

What does it involve?

  • Validating idea (Does it really address a problem)
  • Determining resources and budget
  • Should idea be implemented by government or by community (grassroots, neighborhood, volunteer, non-profit?)
  • Feedback to idea participants on implementation

What Can Go Wrong?

  • Government employees not on board
  • “Not-Invented Here” syndrome
  • Corrosive Politics

How To Measure Success:

  • What is the ratio of ideas to implemented solutions?
  • ROI? Cost savings?
  • Quality/Quantity of ideas of solutions?


  • The platform can set the stage for the process and expected engagement
  • Rules, roles and feedback (what type, how often) need to be thought through in advance
  • Breakdown the process into simple, clear steps
  • Don’t overlook civil servant buy-in and participation (Show/demonstrate value)
  • Start small (pilot it in one department and grow from there)
  • The goal is to channel citizen participation into constructive, productive re-engagement where they feel they co-created and co-own outcomes

Over the next few weeks we will take look a closer at each phase of innovation.