Jay Nath on how San Franscisco is working to get its Gov 2.0 groove back

Back in January, Govfresh founder wrote about how San Francisco can “get its Gov 2.0 groove back,” offering six recommendations to the city government to use technology better.

[Image Credit: Fog City Journal]

When asked for comment, San Francisco chief innovation officer Jay Nath (@Jay_Nath) responded to Fretwell’s suggestions via email. While I’ll be sharing more from Nath and SF CIO Jon Walton over at the O’Reilly Radar civic innovation channel, in the meantime I’m publishing his specific responses to those recommendations below.

Build the best mayoral website in the world

Nath: We can always improve how we communicate with our constituents. If we were to undertake an effort to redesign the Mayor’s site, we should take a holistic approach and not just focus on the Mayor’s site. The approach NYC took to invite their design community is one that I think is very smart and something that SF should consider.

Use “Built in SF” technology

Nath: We agree and launched our City Hall iZone concept where we pilot great local technologies and services. We frequently meet with great companies like Square, Twitter, Uber, Yammer and invite each of them to work with the City. Specifically, we’re actively exploring Yammer, Zendesk, Get Satisfaction, Cozybit and 802.11s mesh, Google+ hangouts, and others. Additionally, we’re already using local tech like WordPress (which powers our innovation site), Twitter via Open311API, and Instagram.

Go back to the (data) fundamentals

Nath: We have an open data roadmap to strengthen our leadership in this area. It’s in our 2012 innovation portfolio as well. Our goal is to structurally change how we share data so that our default position is one of sharing. One idea is to require that all software purchased that stores structured data to have a public API. As we secure staffing for this effort, we will invite the community to help us shape the final form and execute.

Leverage the civic surplus

Nath: I would argue that we’ve done a great job in this area. Last summer, we partnered with Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA) to produce the “Summer of Smart.” This series of hackathons produced over 20 prototypes, 500 participants and 10,000 hours of civic engagement. We’ve continued our efforts this year with the City’s first unhackathon around taxi dispatch and real-time mass communication. Our Mayor and transit director both attended the event and thanked our community for their efforts to make SF a better city.

Additionally, we launched our citizen engagement platform, ImproveSF, in a very big way in April.

Open source the infrastructure

Nath: While we can do more to increase open source software adoption, I want to
recognize our efforts to date:

  • open source policy
  • SFPark Android/iPhone app
  • Enterprise Addressing System
  • SmartPDF
  • LAMP as an option for internal customers
  • Pligg (DataSF)
  • Several Drupal applications

Additionally, the idea of moving our City from the existing CMS (Vision) to WordPress is not just about open source technology. We, as a City, made the decision to utilize Vision CMS a couple of years ago and the switching costs to migrate to WordPress currently outweigh the benefits. I will encourage the City to strongly consider WordPress, Drupal, etc for consideration when Vision no longer meets our needs.

Give citizens a dashboard

Nath: This is more than just adopting the IT Dashboard. We have to implement the governance and project management model to ensure that the data is accurate. This is something we need to do but requires time and culture change. I agree that we need to increase access to high value datasets like expenditures. This is part of our open data roadmap and will receive renewed focus in 2012.

Transportation Camp DC gets geeky about the present and future of transit

Today in Washington, the “School without Walls was full of of civic energy around open data, tech, community, bikes, smart cities, systems, efficiency, sustainability, accessibility, trains, buses, hacking, social networking, research, policy, crowdsourcing and more. Transportation Camp, an “unconference” generated by its attendees, featured dozens of sessions on all of those topics and more. As I’ve reported before, transit data is open government fuel for economic growth.

A Case for Open Data in Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Below, the stories told in the tweets from the people show how much more there is to the world of transit than data alone. Their enthusiasm and knowledge made the 2012 iteration of Transportation Camp in the District a success.

New York City looks to an open government hackathon to redesign NYC.gov

This week, Luke Fretwell suggested that “instead of building apps, civic hackathons should focus on redesigning websites, then turning them over to gov.” Today in New York City, the first day of the Revinvent NYC.gov hackathon started work on just that. (NYC had been working on this open government event long before Fretwell’s suggestion, but the confluence is worth noting.)

Tomorrow, the world will see what prototypes the Big Apple’s civic developers have co-created today, armed with NYC government demographic information and NYC.gov Web analytics.

They’re using a combination of digital and analog tools, including blackboards, projection screens, laptops and Post-Its. You can track the progress of the hackathon over at the NYC Digital Tumblr.

The formula here seems to be: Reserve space, provide coffee, bagels, electricity and Internet access and use the power of modern social networking, publishing tools and the New York City Mayor’s to convene the community.

If New Yorkers end up with a rethought, redesigned and relaunched NYC.gov, maybe other cities will try out that formula themselves.

For more on New York’s effort to become the nation’s premier digital city, learn more about how the Big Apple is thinking about architecting a city as a platform and citizensourcing smaller government.

[Photo credit: Colin Raney]

Solving your neighbor’s possum problem in the dark? There’s an app for that.

One of the most common aphorisms heard around the Gov 2.0 world is that “potholes are the gateway drugs to civic engagement.”

After a recent report in Boston, maybe Hub pundits can add a new phrase to the lexicon: “possums are the gateway animal to citizens connecting.

As the indefatigable Adam Gaffin reported at Universal Hub, the wonderful hyperlocal blog in Beantown, the Citizens Connect app has now been deployed as Boston’s high tech possum saver.

According to Gaffin’s post, Susan Landibar of South Boston saw a possum report:

“Possum in my trash can. Can’t tell if it’s dead. Barrel in back of 168 west 9th. How do I get this removed?”

And acted upon it:

Labandibar reports:
11:15PM Walked over to West Ninth Street. It’s about three blocks from my house. Locate trash can behind house. Possum? Check. Living? Yep.

Turned the trash can on its side. Walked home. Good night, sweet possum.

When the city of Boston released the Citizens Connect application, which works on Android phones and iPhones, officials no doubt expected it to help constituents report potholes, graffiti, unplowed snow and trash removal.

And indeed, if you look through the list of reported issues, that’s the bulk of it.

After today, however, the city can add “possum problems” to the list of resolved issues. Crucially, however, it wasn’t the city that fixed it: it was a fellow citizen who saw an issue using the app and then went and took care of it herself.

For good or ill, this example of “do it ourselves” government is a data point that may be increasingly relevant. Plummeting city budgets mean smarter cities will need citizen sensors to detect issues and take civic pride into their own hands. As Gov 2.0 goes local, applications that connect citizens to one another in crises may become as important as technologies that connect citizens to government, like Citizens Connect.

As the role of the Internet as a platform for collective action grows, Clay Shirky may be proven prescient: “We have historically overestimated the value of access to information and underestimated the value of access to one another.”

Open Government and Civic Innovation on Display at Portland’s CivicApps Awards

What does the innovation on display at the Civic Apps contest by developers in Portland, Oregon mean to the city’s mayor?

“It’s bringing to the world knowledge of what exists in the real world but is so often unknown,” said Mayor Sam Adams in an interview at the awards ceremony for the winners of the contest.

“In Portland, like I think most cities, when people are armed with knowledge, they make wiser choices,” he said, pointing to applications like PDX Bus as examples of innovation that actually help citizens to navigate the city better.

Does open data lead to more economic value creation in the private sector and metropolitan areas alike?

“We are seeing folks that are sole proprietorships hire folks to help them build their business, their app business, their online business with our data sets.” he said. “For us, data has always been there, in some cases for decades. Putting it to use for the public and help people make money while they do it – we intend to be the open source capitol of the nation – and this is one contribution we can make, with our data sets.”

What’s next? “What CivicApps is about in part, providing the data, is sparking relationships, relationships which lead to economic opportunities,” he said. “Webtrends, Microsoft meets the local hacker or coder tonight at this event, who knows what will happen. Our job is to provide the data, provide the opportunity for relationships to occur, provide what in comparison is a tiny litte bit of money, a little incentive for people to keep going. And it’s also fun. It make the city more fun to live in, because you know what’s there.”

That incentive, incidentally, amounted to $1000 for each of the winners of the second round of Civic Apps awards, with another $3000 going to the Best of Show winner, Loqi.me. This afternoon, Skip Newberry, economic development policy advisor to Mayor Adams, congratulated the winners of CivicApps on Twitter.

Congrats to @caseorganic @elsewisemedia @pdxmele @maxogden & John Mosser for their award-winning @civicapps! #opensource #gov20 #teamadamsless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Most Useful App and Best of Show

Amber Case for Loqi.me

As Mayor Adams mentioned later in the program, this Web app could be useful in a snowstorm in Oregon or, if adapted more broadly, for crisis response around the country or world.

App description: “This application is a resource for citizens, medical teams and governments before, during and after disasters. Loqi.me allows mobile users to send an emergency GPS beacon to a real-time map. Crises responders can view all of the help requests on the webpage, along with hospitals and fire stations, real-time 911 calls related to natural disasters. Ground teams can easily use Loqi.me on their mobile phones to send notices of supplies and terrain reports in real time. Remote helpers can easily see the whole picture on the website’s real-time map, handle help and information requests, and send messages to the network. Loqi.me supports subscription to group messages via SMS, AIM, Jabber and Twitter. No application installation is required. Location beacons can be sent simply by going to http://loqi.me on a mobile phone.”

Most Appealing

Matt Blair for PDX Trees.

App description: “PDX Trees is an app for iPhone and iPod Touch devices that makes it easy to find and and enjoy them. With this app, you can:

  • Search for nearby trees and see them on a map.
  • Tap a pin to see the name and view details for that particular tree.
  • Take and upload a photo of a Heritage Tree you’re visiting.
  • View photos of the tree taken by other tree enthusiasts.
  • Email a friend about the tree (includes tree name and location where available)
  • Read more about a type of tree from Wikipedia, without leaving the app.”

Most Original

Melelani Sax-Barnett for Portland Bike to Transit.

App Description: “This is a simple, handy web map that helps you figure out how to ride your bike to transit. It lets you choose from a variety of base layers, and toggle transit stops, routes, and current bike routes. You can also query transit stops and routes for basic information. I made this for a Web GIS class at PSU and I’m a total beginner (with some code thanks to Professor Percy and OpenLayers).”

Best Use of Data

Max Ogden for Civic Apps Data Previewer

“This helped make our data useful to a lot of other developers and the general public,” said Mayor Adams. “Why take it on?”

“I saw all of this great data at the core when civic apps launched,” said Ogden. “When you get data into the Web format, you get Web developers who are really used to making human interfaces for things make them.”

App Description: “A web application to preview any of the public geo data on CivicApps from your web browser. You can choose a dataset and view that data on a map. Individual objects are clickable and can provide details (metadata).”

Civic Choice

Joseph Mosser for PDXTrian

App Description: “Pdxtrian is a simple utility for riders of Portland’s excellent mass transit system, TriMet.

  • Uses GPS to find nearby transit stops
  • Displays a map of the stop location
  • Displays a list upcoming arrivals
  • Allows you to save stops and look them up anytime”

The livestream of the awards ceremony is embedded below: