Baltimore empowers citizens to act as sensors with new mobile apps, open 311

This past weekend, citizens acted as important sensors as Hurricane Irene washed up the East Coast of the United States, sharing crisis data as the storm moved through their communities and damage reports in its wake.

Baltimore has embraced the open 311 standard with a new 311 API and take a major step forward towards a collaborative approach to reporting issues with the launch of new mobile applications for the iPhone and Android  devices.

“The new 311 Mobile App allows citizens to have real-time collaboration with their government,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake in a prepared statement. “If you see a pothole, graffiti, or a broken streetlight, you can see it, shoot it, and send it to us — we have an app for that!”

As Philip Ashlock highlighted at Civic Commons in a post on open 311 in Baltimore, the city has a long history with 311:

The City of Baltimore has a long history of leading the way with 311. In 1996, they were the first city to deploy the 311 short code and unified call center, and in 1999, the city launched CitiStat, pioneering the use of statistics based performance management. Now both of these innovations can be amplified by a much more open and collaborative relationship between Baltimoreans and their government through Open311.

Ashlock highlighted another key detail about the integration of the standard by Motorola, which was crucial in DC and San Francisco, the first cities in the U.S. to embrace the Open311 standard.

The launch of Baltimore’s Open311 apps and API was aided by the fact that they were able to leverage the Open311 compliant solutions provided by Motorola CSR and Connected Bits. Baltimore CIO Rico Singleton went as far as to say that their choice of software solutions was influenced by the interoperability provided by the standard.

There are a limited number of citizens who have the time, expertise, passion and education to go clean up public data. There are quite a few more who will report issues in the neighborhoods they live in or work near and share what they see. This kind of mobile networked accountability is going to be a big deal in Africa, Asia and South America very soon. We’ve been seeing early versions of it emerge already during disasters, man-made and otherwise.

With the launch of more mobile applications that connect citizens to existing systems for accountability, city governments are empowering citizens to act as sensors, connecting the real world to the Internet and creating positive feedback loops. That’s good news for Baltimore and beyond.

Architecting a city as a platform [VIDEO]

The 21st century metropolis can be a platform for citizens, government and business to build upon. The vision of New York City as a data platform has been getting some traction of late as the Big Apple’s first chief digital officer, Rachel Sterne, makes the rounds on the conference circuit. In the video below, Sterne gives a talk the recent PSFK Conference where she highlights various digital initiatives that NYC has rolled out.

PSFK CONFERENCE NYC 2011: Rachel Sterne from Piers Fawkes on Vimeo.

During her talk, Sterne talks about “The Daily Pothole,” how NYC is tumbling, QR code technology on building permits, a NYC 311 app and using Twitter, amongst other themes.

For more on how New York City is citizensourcing smarter government, head on over to Radar.

[Hat tip: PSFK]

San Francisco integrates city services, 311 and Facebook

The city of San Francisco now has a Facebook application that integrates with SF 311 service requests. The Facebook application appears to work in a similar fashion as the “Tweet my 311” service that integrates 311 with Twitter, albeit with additional privacy concerns because of the data that Facebook profiles contain.

The page links to help page on Facebook and SF311 that provides more details about San Francisco’s policies. The city appears to have though through some of the privacy issues that the integration with Facebook could create.

Specifically, a citizen does not have to share her information with the city to submit a 311 request. A citizen may remain anonymous while using the application and still submit a service request to SF311.

Here’s the rundown:

  • You can disable sharing in your profile’s privacy settings.
  • You can be anonymous by logging out of your Facebook account (or not logging in).
  • On the Facebook Login page click the “Cancel” button to go directly to the application (app). You will then have the option of manually adding your contact information to the Eform prior to submitting it, if desired.
  • You can be anonymous by allowing access, then removing your contact information populated by the application.
    If you don’t have a Facebook account.

  • That said, the city also states that “in some cases, contact information is mandatory based on the nature of the request or report,” so anonymity isn’t going to be possible in all situations. Additionally, “in other cases, it is essential to assist agencies in obtaining any follow up information required in order to service or address the problem.”

    Depending upon how implementation and adoption moves forward, this integration of Facebook and San Francisco’s 311 system may provide a template for other cities to follow.

    More on the story at SFGate.com: Facebook app speeds access to city services.

    New York City launches 311 online service request map

    If you read Steven B. Johnson, you know that 100 million 311 calls reveal a lot about New York. Now citizens can surf over to look at those 311 requests every day. Today, New York City launched a 311 online service request map.

    “The launch of the 311 Service Request Map is another milestone in the City’s efforts to improve the way we report 311 data to the public,” said Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith in a prepared statement. “The release of this information will better enable the public and elected officials to hold the City accountable for the services we provide. Putting better information into the hands of community leaders across the five boroughs increases transparency and allows us to collaboratively address the problems that neighborhoods face.”

    It appears that Inwood and Washington Heights are making the most 311 service requests, according to the latest version of the map.

    This 311 online service request map is a good start, with layers, custom searches and a clean design. Querying for those layers is a bit slow but returns relevant results for bike parking or continuing education, although many of the other layers appear to be grayed out and “coming soon.” Querying for specific request types was even slower, so for the moment I can’t find out where complaints about poison ivy, illegal animals or noisy church services are concentrated.

    Early reviews have generally been positive but guarded, with room to grow. It’s a “huge step forward, long way to go,” tweeted Philip Ashlock. They “could get something better for free (eg mobile) by doing #Open311 API instead,” referring to the idea of government as a platform.

    I “would much rather have the data raw via an API in an open [format] than the map UI (which isn’t all bad) in the way,” tweeted Mark Headd.

    The “NYC 311 map is impressive technically, but lacks context (time period?), a legend (Maps 101), & metadata. I wonder if they talked to users before implementing it,” tweeted Steven Romalewski. “Also, the city obviously has the address-level 311 data. It’d be nice if they published the raw data so others could analyze it (residents & NYC Council reps have been asking for this for years). That would indicate a real commitment to transparency.”

    UPDATE: Nick Judd published an excellent post on the New York City 311 map at techPresident, where he reports that “raw complaint data from 311 on the city’s data repository, the NYC DataMine, later this year, according to a city spokesman.” Judd also fills in a couple of key details, like:

    • The application was built using the city’s public city-wide geospatial information system, CityMap
    • Requests for literature are not included in the NYC 311 map
    • Deputy Mayor Stephen P. Goldsmith acknowledged in a press conference today, reported on by the New York Times, “this addition to the city’s open data efforts was a nod to transparency advocates.”

    “Some of this will not be entirely exciting for those of us whose job it is to make sure that the holes in the street are filled and the trash is picked up because it’ll provide visibility to what we are or not doing,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “And some of you will enjoy that visibility.”

    As Judd links out, in the New York Times Cityroom blog has good coverage of the step towards getting a visual on New Yorkers’ 311 calls.