Hope, change and tech

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

It’s Tuesday morning. The Muslim travel ban is four days old. Stories of refugees coerced into signing away their green cards, children separated from parents, doctors denied entry into the land of the free dominate the airwaves. Protests have erupted in airports from SFO to JFK. Court orders are ignored. Chaos reigns.

There are moments in one’s life when you know everything has changed.

I hop on a video chat with the founder of CrowdJustice. The plan had been to roll out the crowdfunding platform for public interest legal cases in the U.S. in a couple weeks. We decide to speed that up and launch in 18 hours. There are two brothers fleeing war in Yemen that were headed to Michigan to reunite with their father. Instead they are forced to give up their visas at Dulles and put on a plane to Djibouti. They need help. The site that turns “legal cases into publicly funded — and backed — social causes” takes on their case.

While moments of darkness have been the soundtrack for much of the year, two trends have given me a lot of hope. People that have never been politically active are showing up at town halls and peaceful protests around the nation in record numbers. And, a new generation of civic-minded tech entrepreneurs are taking center stage — helping empower people with modern online tools and working to fix structural problems to make our government more transparent and accountable.

Both the Trump and Bernie movements tapped into a very real feeling that Americans are being left behind. That they’re stuck on the sidelines and nobody is listening. Many in the technology industry have been working on these issues for years and more are joining since the election. This is an exciting moment to be at the intersection of technology and government.

Countable has made contacting your elected officials and keeping tabs on policies as easy as swiping left or right. The app, which launched in 2014, has suddenly shot up to #2 in the app store in the past month.

California has recently announced a new digital services team to streamline bureaucracy and lead a user-centric revamp of the child welfare system in the world’s sixth largest economy.

A new data collection tool on police use of force — developed by data scientists from Bayes Impact in collaboration with police officers — is shining a light on some of most serious issues facing our country.

The city of New York unveiled the first images of its 258,000-square-foot civic tech hub late last month. Civic Hall will be located in the heart of Union Square. And a new VC, Ekistic Ventures, is looking exclusively for ideas and young companies to invest in to help improve our cities.

The Silicon Valley-based startup OpenGov has seen a surge in interest from state and local governments for its cloud-based software. The Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup is revolutionizing budget planning, improving internal data management, and making critical information accessible to citizens and elected officials to modernize government.

Tech has even managed to bridge the partisan divide. Working with the NAACP, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., and former state Senator Sam Blakeslee, R-Calif., announced the national expansion of a new online video platform for state government, Digital Democracy, which empowers advocates, journalists and everyday citizens.

Our democracy and our institutions are being tested. But an engaged citizenry and a new tech industry are giving me a lot of hope. The power of activism empowered by technology is clear and we are seeing results that matter. Less than a week after the Yemeni brothers were illegally forced out of the U.S., the Virginia attorney general and governor joined their cause. Their stories became national headlines as part of a bigger movement for justice. The 19- and 21-year-olds won their case and are now starting new lives in Michigan with their father.

San Francisco seeks CIO

San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco is looking for a chief information officer.

From the announcement:

The Director of DT/CIO will have outstanding leadership qualities that will bring stability and credibility to the position. With a commitment to success and a genuine desire to be a long-term technology leader for a world class city, the Director will have frequent opportunities to focus on internal operations across a broad spectrum of needs. Top candidates for consideration will have had prior senior-level and management experience in a complex organization that promotes best practices. The Director will have an engaging and energetic style; be self-confident yet humble; and believe in inspiring, motivating, and empowering staff to achieve well defined goals.

Salary range is up to $235,820. Applications are due February 28.

Details and how to apply.

Voterheads wants to make it easier for you to follow government council meetings

Voterheads lets anyone keep track of any council meeting, down to the specific topic.

CEO Karl McCollester shares how they’re making this possible.

Give us the Voterheads elevator pitch.

When trying to get information on local-level topics and events that are coming up for a vote, public meetings can be incredibly confusing and frustrating. Our solution gives you alerts with summaries for every topic on which you’re passionate.

What civic problem does Voterheads solve?

We’re putting the power of knowledge in the hands of citizens by letting them proactively monitors local organizations for keywords that residents want to stay abreast. The results are custom tailored alerts without wading through miles of agenda items.

Our solution:

  • Provides one place to monitor cities, counties and school boards
  • Lets citizens and advocacy groups select categories of issues or topics in which they’re interested. Some examples, from our 400+ categories, include parks, charter schools, taxes, gun rights/control, etc.
  • Provides a consolidated notice of all upcoming meetings, and excerpts of items up for discussion that align with your interests.
  • For governments, provides a simple way to compile their agendas once and share them across multiple formats publicly, in  tablet-style to the elected official, and in presentation-mode for the meeting itself.

What’s the story behind Voterheads?

Our founders have worked in technology with local governments across the United States for over a decade. As part of that work, we’ve spent a lot of time in both council and board meetings. Have you ever been to a board meeting? They’re painfully slow and most of the time an average person will only get a three minutes slot to talk within the course of a three hour meeting.  

As a result, most of us don’t go, unless it’s a big story mentioned in the local newspaper or TV, at which point, there are hundreds of people, each getting three minutes. Now, that same three-hour meeting goes past midnight.  

After having been at both types, our team knew there must be a more effective process for knowings what’s happening at the local level before the meetings, and to communicate our concerns without this incredible hassle.  

Early into our endeavor, we noticed advocacy and trade groups were monitoring topics such as health, the environment, civil liberties, and even energy policy. We offer those groups  plans to allow them to monitor either a region, a specific state, or the entire country. Currently, we are active in over 1,500 cities and counties across 41 states. Every month we’re adding more.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

Voterheads is free for anyone monitoring five organizations or less. Advocacy groups, other organizations, and even empowered citizens interested in monitoring a greater number of organizations can subscribe to one of our professional plans. A professional plan include multiple logins, customized reporting, and API access, starting at just $2.50/month for each organization they monitor.

We also have an Early Access Program that helps local governments manage their agendas and meetings. Interested local governments can reach out to us via our web form at http://www.agenda.ly

How can those interested connect with you?

They can find us at www.Voterheads.com.  We’re also on Twitter(@voterheads) and Facebook.


Presidential Innovation Fellows made permanent through bipartisan TALENT Act

Photo: White House/Pete Souza

Photo: White House/Pete Souza

Re-posted from the Presidential Innovation Fellows Foundation

As of 20 January, President Obama signed the TALENT Act of 2017 (H.R.39) into law as one of his last acts as President.

This bill was a bipartisan effort supported by a majority of Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and House. The Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program is a nonpartisan program designed to  “attract the brightest minds skilled in technology or innovative practices…to serve a tour of duty” to effect change in the government for the betterment of the people. There is and will always be a pressing need for innovation within the federal government, and through the PIF program, that innovation will endure.

The passing of H.R. 39 means that Executive Order No. 13704, which originally created the program, will continue to be an important part of the government that “enable[s] exceptional individuals with proven track records to serve time-limited appointments in executive agencies to address some of the nation’s most significant challenges and improve existing government efforts that would particularly benefit from expertise using innovative techniques and technology”.

Since 2012, the Presidential Innovation Fellows have tackled these challenges:

… and the list continues to grow.

With the TALENT Act of 2017 strongly supported by both the House and the Senate, future generations of innovators who might not have originally worked in the government will bring new ideas, developments, and technologies to the government in ways that can improve the lives of the American people.  You can learn more about the PIF program at https://presidentialinnovationfellows.gov/.

To contact alumni of the program or to learn more about about the experience and what the alumni are doing now, contact the Presidential Innovation Fellows Foundation. Visit https://www.presidentialinnovation.org/ or email outreach.piffoundation@gmail.com .

Transforming U.S. government services in a digital world

Photo: General Services Administration Office of Communications

Photo: General Services Administration Office of Communications

18F has developed a framework for how it helps agencies with digital transformation efforts and has created a deck, “Transforming U.S. government services in a digital world,” that offers a blueprint for others looking to do this on their own.

18F’s Chris Cairns shares more about the work around this effort.

What’s the background on this service and how did it come about?

The founders of 18F, including myself, believed we could further advance an agency’s digital transformation effort by embedding technology consultants inside their organization. By shipping a cross-functional team, we could help them foster the right conditions for changing their culture around technology, particularly with regards to how they acquire and leverage it.

Several conditions had to be in place for 18F to emerge and work the way we do. GSA was an ideal incubator for 18F and our approach to transforming government technology. GSA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer worked with us to make it easy to work collaboratively and virtually — an important element since much of our team is distributed across the country. GSA’s central office gave us an ideal work environment with open-space facilities and modern technology. Most importantly, we had the backing and support of “enlightened leadership,” who ultimately empowered us.

From our experience, it’s the critical foundational pieces that will help agencies unleash the benefits of fast, agile, human-centered teams and succeed in adopting modern management and digital delivery practices. It’s a lot of plumbing work and we’re here to help. We’re bringing government-wide learning, talent, tools, and culture to build and sustain digital capacity inside agencies.

Who’s using the service now and how are those engagements going?

The service is primarily targeted at Chief Information Officer (CIO) organizations. CIOs are one of the most critical actors in an agency’s journey toward becoming a digital-first organization. An agency is digital first when it habitually makes appropriate use of modern practices and digital technologies to deliver services that are easy, delightful, and secure to use.

We started experimenting with many of the elements of this service nearly two years ago with agencies such as TSA and DOL. We pivoted what we learned from those engagements into a comprehensive transformation solution framework, which is what this slide deck represents. After receiving positive and enthusiastic feedback from over 10 technology executives, we have begun piloting the service with a few CIO organizations.

18F cannot drive an agency’s digital transformation. Ultimately, that responsibility falls on the agencies and their industry partners. Our aim is to help kickstart that process and support them along the way through a comprehensive digital transformation framework.

What are your plans for the future of this?

True to the agile spirit of 18F, we’re going to focus on delivering value to our initial pilot clients and then taking what we learn to make the necessary adjustments. The digitization of government services is inevitable and with the right guidance and tools, federal agencies can more effectively serve their users, the American people. The future of government services is filled with potential and we look forward to working with industry and our partners at the federal and local level to make these ambitions a reality.

Learn more.

DOD advisory board approves innovation recommendations

Eric Schmidt, center, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, and chair of the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, speaks to reporters at the Pentagon following the board's second meeting, Jan. 9. 2017. In the meeting, board members approved 11 recommendations aimed at enhancing the Defense Department in technology, culture, operations and processes.

Eric Schmidt, center, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, and chair of the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, speaks to reporters at the Pentagon following the board’s second meeting, Jan. 9. 2017. In the meeting, board members approved 11 recommendations aimed at enhancing the Defense Department in technology, culture, operations and processes. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Advisory Board approved 11 recommendations “aimed at keeping the Defense Department on the cutting edge in technology, culture, operations and processes.”

These include:

— Appoint a chief innovation officer and build innovation capacity in the workforce;

— Embed computer science as a core competency of the department through recruiting and training;

— Embrace a culture of experimentation;

— Assess cybersecurity vulnerabilities of advanced weapons;

— Catalyze innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

— Expand use of available acquisition waivers and exemptions;

— Increase investment in new approaches to innovation;

— Improve DoD access to code;

— Establish software development teams at each major command;

— Make computing and bandwidth abundant;

— Reward bureaucracy busting; and

— Lower barriers to innovation.

Full story

‘Smarter Faster Better’ government

Photo: U.S. Marine Corps

Photo: U.S. Marine Corps

I finished reading Charles Duhigg’s latest book, “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business,” and in it are two great government-related anecdotes around motivation and agile thinking.

The first shares how the U.S. Marines re-imagined the boot camp experience to inspire self-motivation and leadership in new recruits. The second is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s well-documented Sentinel project, and it’s subsequent approach to agile development to get the project back on track.

The entire book is worth reading, and these two examples highlight the potential for government to think outside the box and change entrenched ways of thinking, get on a new path to impacting millions of others.

Duhigg is also the author of “The Power of Habit.”

e.Republic announces top 100 government technology companies for 2017

GovTech100Government Technology and e.Republic Labs announced the 2017 GovTech100, “a listing of the leading 100 companies focused on government as a customer, having developed an innovative or disruptive offering to improve or transform government, or having created new models for delivering services.”

Companies are categorized in one or more of these market segments:

  • administrative
  • service delivery
  • intelligent infrastructure
  • civic tech

“The new year opens with another 100 reasons to be bullish about the state and local government market,” said Paul Taylor, chief content officer at e.Republic,in a release announcing the GovTech100. “GovTech companies are the new face of digital government. Alone and in partnership, they are proving to be nimble in responding to and anticipating the needs of public agencies in a season of rapid change — technologically, socially and politically.”

See the GovTech100.

(Disclosure: Two companies I work for, ProudCity and CivicActions, are on the 2017 GovTech100 list.)

Event: Reimagining the Digital Reform of Government in the Trump Era

Source: Reimagining the Digital Reform of Government in the Trump Era – Reinvent

Reinvent will host Code for America Founder Jen Pahlka and O’Reilly Media Founder Tim O’Reilly on January 19 in San Francisco in a discussion on how civic-minded technologists should approach the ongoing reinvention of government in the Trump era.


The Bay Area tech community, like much of the rest of the country, is still grappling with what Trump’s election will mean for the future of the United States. Donald Trump’s stance on innovation and technology is somewhat of an unknown at this stage, and has attracted much less attention than many of his other divisive campaign platforms. The future of many digital efforts—including the United States Digital Service, created by President Obama in 2014 to encourage people with tech expertise to do a tour of duty improving government—is one looming question. Obama said he considered the USDS “a SWAT team, a world-class technology office inside of the government.” What happens to this SWAT team under President Trump? What happens to similar efforts at other federal agencies and in states, counties, and cities across the country? The state of California is making a play to be the next frontier for digital transformation. What does that frontier look like under a Trump presidency?

Jen Pahlka and Tim O’Reilly will lead this difficult and important conversation during our January What’s Now: San Francisco event. The founder and Executive Director of Code for America, Jen served as U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer from June 2013 to June 2014 and co-founded the USDS. Tim O’Reilly (also Jen’s husband) was a pioneer in the Gov. 2.0 movement in the decade leading into the Obama years. Jen and Tim will discuss the role that technologists passionate about civil service can play in the next four years. How can tech industry professionals serve their country? Will they resist working in Trump’s White House? Should the tech community back out of public service, or deepen its commitment? At What’s Now, we’ll assemble a great collection of people to think through these challenging issues in real time. Hope to see you there.


GSA issues software-as-a-service request for information

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

The General Services Administration has issued a request for information related to the federal government’s use of software-as-a-service.

From the announcement:

Unified Shared Services Management (USSM), with the guidance of the Shared Services Governance Board, is seeking information from industry to understand their capability to provide standardized solutions across administrative services, as referenced in Office of Management and Budget memorandum M-16-11.

The RFI inquires about interoperable and modular approaches to delivering common technology solutions and requests feedback on the viability of the Federal Integrated Business Framework as a documentation source to inform the development of a software-as-a-service offering. The RFI also solicits input on the potential opportunities for public-private partnership funding models.

Full RFI on FedBizOps.