SeeClickFix

SeeClickFix raises $1.4 million to grow its 311 platform

SeeClickFixSeeClickFix announced today it raised an additional $1.4 million in investment to expand its 311 offering aimed at making it easier for city residents to report non-emergency issues and allow governments to quickly respond and resolve these in an open and public manner.

Previous investors Omidyar Network and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures contributed to the new round along with new investors New Elm Street Ventures, Connecticut Innovations and LaunchCapital.

According to the announcement, SeeClickFix has 25 employees with plans to double over the next year.

SeeClickFix was founded in 2008 and, in January 2011, received its first major round of funding at $1.5 million.

“Our citizen and government users have the same goal—to resolve problems and improve neighborhoods,” said SeeClickFix CEO Ben Berkowitz announcing the new investment. “This funding will allow SeeClickFix to accelerate development and adoption of the next generation of request management—improving communication and communities throughout the world.”

“The SeeClickFix platform has demonstrated significant, tangible social impact,” said Omidyar Network’s Stacy Donohue in the release. “The team has created a scalable, low-cost way to turn citizen concerns and frustration into participation and engagement while strengthening community bonds.”

New GovLove podcast focuses on local government issues

GovLovePodcasting is all the rage these days, and SeeClickFix is now in the mix with GovLove, focused on local government issues.

The first episode features Emerging Local Government Leaders co-founder Kent Wyatt, a great, new organization bringing a fresh approach to public sector engagement and community.

Kudos to SeeClickFix for expanding beyond traditional marketing and putting the focus on the community, providing interesting, valuable content, and making it less directly about its own brand. While there’s some mention of SeeClickFix is the first episode, hopefully it doesn’t turn into a customer spotlight program (Ben Berkowitz, are you reading this?).

Subscribe to GovLove on iTunes and follow on Twitter at @GovLovePodcast.

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.

An open letter to venture capitalists frustrated with the federal government shutdown

Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelreuter/4068776519/">historilla</a>

Photo: historilla

Lately, what’s happening between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is starting to catch the ire of some venture capitalists who, like many Americans already, are starting to publicly vent their frustrations.

Two in particular stand out.

TechStars founder Brad Feld:

And Y Combinator founder Paul Graham:

As a fellow citizen, I couldn’t agree more with their sentiments, however, I’m equally embarrassed by the VC community’s inability to focus its attention on entrepreneurial ventures that matter and could play a vital role in changing all of this.

Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s darling startup incubator, has a long list of funded companies, none of which have a significant pitch on democratizing the political process or offering much-needed technology solutions to the bureaucracy.

Likewise, TechStars’ portfolio of funded ventures has not one civic-focused startup. According to its own official stats, the average company funding amount is $1.5 million. With 28 companies having failed, that’s a good $30 million dollars that could have easily gone into worthwhile, perhaps less-risky, civic ventures.

From grassroots campaign tools to fixing the bureaucratic minutiae of government procurement and everything in between, there are civic entrepreneurs chomping at the bit to get a fraction of funding in the range of just those losses.

If you’re a VC frustrated with the federal government shutdown, here’s my advice:

  • Fund 10 percent of your portfolio to civic-focused ventures aimed at solving bureaucratic technology issues or the campaigns and elections process.
  • Pivot your expectations for these ventures. The civic vendor market has a much longer sales cycle than those in the private sector. You’ll need patience, but estimates place the government IT market at $140 billion.

Unlike your average citizen (or furloughed public servant), VCs like Feld and Graham can have a huge impact beyond voting or voicing concerns to elected officials. They can play a major role in disrupting markets and if there’s one industry that could use some disruption, it’s the government services industry.

Pundit (amongst many other other notable accomplishments) Vivek Wadhwa effectively summarizes Silicon Valley’s sentiment in a recent Washington Post column “Silicon Valley shrugs off Washington shutdown“:

Perhaps it is best this way. Rather than fighting unproductive and destructive battles about budgets and health insurance, our innovators are chugging along inventing technologies that will make industries more productive and reduce the cost of healthcare. They are doing what they do best—looking forward, competing, and collaborating. Someone has to save the economy after all. Our politicians certainly won’t.

While I couldn’t agree more with Wadhwa on the “chugging along” part, more entrepreneurial and VC energy needs to focus on problems that will solve the state of our civic affairs. Saving the economy is important, but if all we’re left with is another mobile advertising platform or photo sharing social network, are we really better off as a country?

The good news is, appropriately, Democracy.com, a “global social platform for participatory democracy and political engagement,” launched this week with $2 million in seed funding. Other companies, too, have found funding to make a go at it, such as NationBuilder and SeeClickFix.

My intention isn’t to single out Feld or Graham. I have much respect for both of them. They have created amazing communities of innovators and inspire and mentor entrepreneurs everywhere beyond just their work with Y Combinator and TechStars.

I’d just love to see them and their peers take a meaningful lead on leveraging their influence and capital to change the entrepreneurial focus of the startup community. The best way they can do that is to start funding ventures that directly impact foundational aspects to a stronger civil society.

Yes, it will take some serious VC pivoting, but if you care about your country, it’s worth the investment.

Let democracy be your exit strategy.

Oakland launches 311 app powered by SeeClickFix

Oakland, Ca. is the latest major U.S. city to launch a 311 application that allows citizens to report issues directly to government from their smartphones. The service is powered by SeeClickFix. Details on how to download the app here.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan:

“With diminishing resources, this system can help City staff work more effectively and enlist more citizens to get involved. One of my favorite neighborhood leaders says that ’Grime equals Crime.’ Together we can make Oakland more beautiful and safer.”

Oakland Public Works Director Vitaly Troyan:

“This tool allows every person in Oakland to become the eyes and ears of the City. Problems can be reported more quickly and more accurately, and the system continues to follow the problem until it gets addressed.”

Current issues:

Integrated, Open, Inspiring – Let’s Do It SF!

Let's Do It SF!

The San Francisco’s City Attorney’s Office (where I work) has launched an anti-blight initiative that wraps consumer tech, city services and a local-global approach to volunteerism in a multi-channel social media package. The “Let’s Do It SF” campaign aims to provide people who live and work in San Francisco with City Attorney-sponsored hands-on training in using the free SeeClickFix mobile app to report graffiti vandalism and illegal dumping, while highlighting core city services and volunteer opportunities.

“What we are doing in San Francisco with the Let’s Do It SF! initiative, along with the use of smart phone technology, will enhance neighborhood beautification and show the power of collective civic action,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

San Francisco is one of three cities – with DC and Boston – to fully embrace Open311, a standardized application programing interface (API) developed in cooperation with the NY non-profit OpenPlans. SeeClickFix has also been a core participant in the standardization effort (see the development wiki). Open311 allows consumer-focused apps like SeeClickFix to interface directly with the City’s issue ticketing system, creating both efficiencies and new resources from the developer community. The City’s 311 department highlights several apps developed using Open311, and the Let’s Do It SF site features an interactive citywide map of blight issues reported to the non-emergency call center.

Let’s Do It SF also uses SeeClickFix’s “watch area” feature to highlight individual supervisor districts in synch with Department of Public Works-sponsored Clean Team volunteer events in those districts. SCF customized their map widgets for the initiative to highlight issue reporting categories that map to Open311.

“The civic tech initiatives in SF are starting to get some real use through apps connecting with 311,” said SeeClickFix CEO Ben Berkowitz. “We’re excited about Let’s Do It SF! because it enables citizens to fix some of the concerns they are voicing through these apps on their own. It’s time for citizens to use online tools to improve communities offline … we’re sure your Farmville crops will still be there when you return.”

The anti-waste campaign “Let’s Do It” began in 2008 when a small group of Estonians organized volunteers to geo-map all of the illegal dumping in their country – and, in one amazing day of action with 50,000 participants, cleaned it all. The San Francisco Let’s Do It initiative urges local volunteers to also sign up for the North American portion of World Cleanup 2012, in which the original Estonian organizers aim to clean up 100 countries with similar massive mapping campaign and single-day actions.

The City Attorney’s Office teamed up with 311, DPW and SF Environment to bring together a host of City and partner services and public awareness resources in Let’s Do It SF. These include:

311 services on the Web, Facebook and a range of mobile apps;

DPW’s “Don’t Leave It On the Sidewalk” campaign;

SF Environment’s EcoFinder and SFRecycles;

Recology’s RecycleMyJunk; and

DPW’s Clean Team volunteer program.

“Public Works encourages the public to learn more about free and low cost resources for the collection of unwanted items and to also get involved through our community service volunteer programs,” said DPW Director Ed Reiskin.

Let’s Do It SF emphasizes true Gov 2.0 spirit in its development and collaborative multi-agency approach to taking on issues of blight in San Francisco neighborhoods. It includes a robust social media element, including:

Let’s Do It SF on Facebook;

Streaming tweets from Let’s Do It SF and from DPW Deputy Director Mohammed “Mr. Clean SF” Nuru;

Open-source Web development and Creative Commons licensing; and

Flickr photos from the Let’s Do It World pool.

SeeClickFix gets $1.5M investment from Omidyar Network, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures

SeeClickFixCitizen reporting platform start-up SeeClickFix announced last week it has raised equity investment from Omidyar Network and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. According to the Wall Street Journal total investment was $1.5M.

The funding is Omidyar Network’s first government transparency for-profit investment and OATV’s first Gov 2.0 investment, which “reflects both organizations’ belief that technology can scale programs that foster meaningful engagement among citizens, their local government and others in the community,” according to the official press release.

“The funding … will enable us to continue to capture the market we are helping to create. Capital will be used to enhance the existing SeeClickFix smartphone and web platforms as well as increase sales and support to our current and future media partners, government clients and users,” said SeeClickFix CEO Ben Berkowitz.

No word on whether investors will use the SeeClickFix platform to openly report issues it has with how well the company is progressing. (joke)

Berkowitz discussed feature updates in a video interview with the Wall Street Journal:

A proactive snow strategy for Cory Booker and other elected officials

Cory BookerThere’s no question Newark Mayor Cory Booker deserves the accolades he’s received for responding to constituent needs during the recent blizzard that hit the East Coast. It’s inspiring to see a politician step out from behind the desk and photo opps to do something tangible and meaningful where people can witness it firsthand. Who doesn’t love a diaper-delivering mayor?

What surprises me most about this story is that our elected officials should have a more proactive plan in place when it comes to something as obvious as snow. Every government should have an established, modern era snow plan that includes both government officials and citizens.

Here’s what we know about snow and people:

  • It will snow (if you get snow where you live).
  • People will complain when it does.
  • People are good and want to help.

Here’s some quick thoughts for public officials on what to do when snow might fall where you live.

Create a centralized reporting platform

Booker’s use of Twitter is a great example of how it can be used to respond to citizen requests quickly and informally, but it’s by no means a great citizen service platform. Whether it’s SeeClickFix or Ushahidi, government needs to establish a centralized, two-way service platform in order to be efficient and effective during a crisis. When the next snow storm hits, people will know a) where to report an issue b) help resolve one or c) have real-time insight into how assistance is progressing.

Other benefits:

  • Shows citizens they’re not the only ones in need.
  • Lets citizens help prioritize.
  • Opportunity to highlight other government Web services and how citizens can leverage.
  • Gives media a powerful visual (they love that).

Encourage citizens to help

There’s something incredible about the human spirit when adversity strikes. Whether it’s patriotic pride or a civic adrenaline rush, people will help if you ask. Leaders should acknowledge they need help, especially in uncommon scenarios like a blizzard, earthquake or any other crisis situation. Having a platform to reference will allow you to manage this civic surplus effectively.

Praise quickly and openly

When government service staff or citizens respond they’ve resolved a request, thank them quickly via Twitter, Facebook or other public mechanism. When people see they’ve been acknowledged, they will work harder and others will begin to participate. Once the snow has cleared, honor these good citizens. Create the ‘Golden Snow Shovel Awards’ and bring the community together. Make it a regular part of your administration’s appreciation agenda.

Booker is the first recipient of GovFresh’s ‘Golden Shovel Award.’ I just hope him and other public leaders get proactive and build platforms in preparation for when the next blizzard hits.

For a more articulate post on this issue, read Patrick Meier’s Why Crowdsourcing and Crowdfeeding may be the answer to Snowmageddon.

10 entrepreneurs changing the way government works

I recently began reading The Power of Social Innovation: How Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Networks for Good and felt compelled to highlight more people building business models around better government. The role of business and the entrepreneurial spirit as it relates to government is at times under-played or discredited (sometimes, rightfully so), but it’s the backbone of a democratic society.

Consider this the first in a series. For starters, here are 10 entrepreneurs changing the way government works:

Goldy Kamali


What we do:

FedScoop is a New Media and Events company serving key decision makers in the government IT community. We bring C-level executives from the federal government and IT community together via VIP events, video interviews and articles and blogs to collaborate, exchange best practices and identify ways to work together to solve common goals.

Richard White


What we do:

UserVoice helps all types of organizations involved in government reach out to their constituents. Here are a few examples:

Political Campaigns – Inform your platform; uncover grassroots interest.

Civic Engagement – Leveraging the wisdom of the crowd to improve government.

Internal Brainstorming – Tap the collective knowledge inside your organization to improve government.

Michael Riedijk

  • CEO, DotGov
  • Founded: November 2009
  • @dotgovcom
  • Open gov motto: Put your government in your pocket

What we do:

DotGov, Inc., is developing a mobile platform that will dramatically change how citizens interact with their local government. DotGov combines the power of Mobile Devices with Social Media and Open Data. It provides citizens with tools to directly interact with their city and benefit from all information and services local governments offer in an unprecedented way.

Conor White-Sullivan & Aaron Soules

  • CEO/Co-founder (left)/CTO/Co-founder (right), Localocracy
  • Founded: September 2008
  • @Localocracy
  • Open gov motto: All politics is Local

What we do:

Localocracy partners with local government and media to help citizens learn about local issues and influence their community. We confirm that participants are registered voters in the community and provide a space where they can ask questions, vote on issues, and rank the best reasons for supporting their side.

Kevin Merritt


What we do:

Socrata is a socially enriched data-sharing platform optimized for data comprehension by non-technically trained audiences, without excluding technical audiences. Socrata empowers organizations to transform their data assets into hubs for social and civic engagement and interaction, on their own websites and also in mainstream media websites and social media sites.

Ben Berkowitz


What we do:

SeeClickFix is an international tool enabled in 83 languages that allows citizens to report non-emergency issues such as potholes, graffiti or a littered parks to those accountable for the public space including local governments and community groups. SeeClickFix is available via the web where you can post issues and have your neighbors comment or vote on their resolution. Anybody can receive alerts via easy to create free-formed geographical alerting areas that we call watch areas. Also, If you have a blackberry, android or iPhone you can download our app and report a problem in your community with your gps location and a photo. 40% of the issues on SeeClickFix have already been fixed. From Argentina to Philadelphia citizens are using SeeClickFix to improve their communities.

Kurt Daradics


What we do:

FreedomSpeaks is a technology company focused on delivering interactive civic engagement platforms. Our mission is to transform civic engagement.

Our Core Values are shaping our culture and defining the character of our company, guiding how we behave and make decisions:

Stewardship: Building a heritage for future generations, acting with an owner mentality, and meeting our commitments to all internal and external stakeholders.
Best People: Attracting and developing the best talent for our business, stretching our people and developing a “can do” attitude.
Integrity: Inspiring trust by taking responsibility, acting ethically, and encouraging honest and open debate.

We deliver an interlocking product suite that includes:

  • FreedomSpeaks.com (The first non-partisan political social network & largest database of politicians)
  • FreedomSpeaks Pro (Lobby in a box SaaS product)
  • CitySourced (Mobile civic engagement platform)

Alan W. Silberberg

  • Co-Founder, You2Gov
  • Founded: April 2008
  • @You2Gov
  • Open gov motto: Don’t Be Afraid

What we do:

Path-breaking Gov 2.0 company that innovates and creates Government 2.0 + 3.0 Technology using custom Joomla based Social Networking/ SCRM and Advocacy. Consulting to Federal, State, Local Governments; International Corporations on: best media use; technology weaving to create maximum impact websites, tools, videos and conversations at highest strategic level.

Zubin Wadia


What we do:

CiviGuard is the world’s most advanced civilian emergency communications platform. It promotes contextual messaging over information saturation. CiviGuard is location-aware, smartphone optimized and cloud-based – making near real-time civilian outreach during a crisis, a reality.

Does gaming have a place in government?

Part of our research focus at Manor Labs is to discover new ways of communicating and engaging the public. The following two concepts came out of that research.

The new form of social network-based online gaming has become all the rage on popular social networking sites. From a government standpoint, we have determined that these platforms are distractions and subsequently block them from use by our employees. However, let’s propose a new thought; what if we used these tools to educate and engage our public?

Here are two concepts for using game mechanics proactively within government:

CityVille

The first concept takes Zynga’s FarmVille game model to an entirely new level—the government. We could create an online game with the simplicity of FarmVille, but the mechanics of a real city. There’s currently a social network game called MyTown that is similar to this model, however, it doesn’t accurately encompass concepts like taxation and cost of service within the game model (but it’s a great start). If the government built on their example, we could create a more empowered and educated citizen base.

Let’s say we built an online game that was as engaging as FarmVille, but incorporated real governmental concepts in the process. Which concepts are important to start with?

  • Taxation: Have the gamer adjust taxes but also have it tied to public opinion (similar to Sim City, but less complex).
  • Cost of Service: Have responding to police calls, water line breaks, etc., demonstrate a cost of service for government.

After you establish a sizable base of game players, you could increase the difficulty of the game by incorporating “real” crowdsourced governmental elements within the game model.

For example, Manor Labs is always looking for new ways to get people to review ideas using very simple metric that takes less than 30 seconds to complete. Incorporating this element as a challenge within an online game would allow participants to not only advance within the game, but also help our agency out in the process.

This game concept could be expanded as not only as a new way to teach individuals about government, but as a new way to learn from them.

Foursquare.gov

The second idea I had was to use the Foursquare model of mobile engagement and apply it to government.

About Foursquare:

“Foursquare aims to encourage people to explore their neighborhoods and then reward people for doing so. We do this by combining our friend-finder and social city guide elements with game mechanics – our users earn points, win mayorships and unlock badges for trying new places and revisiting old favorites.”

Building on that model, each agency could allow citizens to “check-in” at various city spots (Library, Fire Station, etc.) and learn more about their community in a fun and engaging format. This could also help open up the door for their participating in other crowdsourced programs like SeeClickFix.

Conclusion

In our ever changing society, civic participation and engagement are becoming more and more difficult to achieve. I believe these elements are more obtainable by incorporating certain elements of game mechanics in the process. These ideas are just two examples of how such mechanics can be utilized to create a more empowered and educated citizen-base.