How the City of San Francisco uses Social Media to Connect with Citizens

SalesForce Marketing Cloud: “San Francisco is one of the most diverse cities in the world and home to some of the most tech-savvy and innovative people in the world. …The city currently monitors 33 Facebook accounts, 39 Twitter accounts and 16 YouTube accounts – each is tracked by their respective department. This allows for a wide breadth of two-way conversation on regional issues. Employees are also taking steps to increase their social monitoring with a focus on public safety. High-tech people expect a high-tech government and the City of San Francisco is delivering this in spades.
Check out the video below to learn more about the amazing work the City and County of San Francisco are doing with social engagement.”

New Visions in Citizen Science

New Report by Anne Bowser and Lea Shanley for the Commons Lab within Science and Technology Innovation Program, Woodrow Wilson Center, with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation: “Citizen science is one form of open innovation, a paradigm where organizations solicit the efforts of external contributors with unique perspectives who generate new knowledge and technology, or otherwise bolster organizational resources.  Recent executive branch policies encourage and support open innovation in the federal government. The President’s 2009 Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government  charged agencies with taking specific action to support transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Similarly, the Obama Administration’s 2013 Memorandum on Open Data Policy—Managing Information as an Asset   instructs agencies to support these principles by sharing government data sets. The Preview Report for the Second Open Government National Action Plan, released October 31, 2013, specifically states that the United States will commit to “harness the ingenuity of the public by enabling, accelerating, and scaling the use of open innovation methods such as incentive prizes, crowdsourcing, and citizen science within the Federal Government.”
This report showcases seventeen case studies that offer a mosaic view of federally-sponsored citizen science and open innovation projects, from in-the-field data collection to online games for collective problem-solving. Its goal is not to provide line-by-line instructions for agencies attempting to create or expand projects of their own; each agency has a unique mission with distinct challenges that inform project designs.  Rather, it offers a sampling of different models that support public contribution, potential challenges, and positive impacts that projects can have on scientific literacy, research, management, and public policy.
Some case studies represent traditional but well-executed projects that illustrate how citizen science functions at its best, by contributing to robust scientific research.  Other projects, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s International Space Apps Challenge, evolve from these traditional models, demonstrating how open innovation can address agency-specific challenges in new and compelling ways. Through this progression, the evolution of citizen science begins to take shape, and the full possibilities of open innovation begin to emerge.”

Inside Avaaz – can online activism really change the world?

The Guardian: “With 30 million members, Avaaz is an organisation with ambitions to save us all through technology. Carole Cadwalladr meets its founder Ricken Patel to find out what it has achieved…But then, this is the reality of 21st century protest: it’s a beauty parade. A competition for the thing that we all seem to have less of: attention. The TV cameras do show up, though, and a young Rohingya woman from Burma’s Muslim minority gives moving interviews to journalists about the terrible human rights abuses her family have endured. And a dozen or so mostly fresh-faced young people show up to offer their support. The protest has been organised by Avaaz, an online activist organisation, and these are Avaazers. They may have just signed an online petition, or “liked” a cause on Facebook, or donated to a campaign – to save Europe’s bees from pesticides, or to defend Masai land rights in Tanzania, or to “stand by” Edward Snowden. And, depending on who you believe, they’re either inventing a new type of 21st-century protest or they’re a bunch of idle slacktivists who are about as likely to start a revolution as they are to renounce their iPhones and give up Facebook.
In just six years, Avaaz – which means “voice” in various languages – has become a global pressure group to be reckoned with. It’s a new kind of activism that isn’t issue-led, it’s issues-led. It’s human rights abuses in Burma, or it’s the Syrian civil war, or it’s threats against the Great Barrier Reef or it’s homophobia in Costa Rica. It’s whatever its supporters, guided by the Avaaz team, choose to click on most this month. And if you hadn’t heard of Avaaz before, it’s probably only a matter of time….
“We’re like a laboratory for virality. For every campaign we test perhaps 20 different versions of it to see what people want.” It tweaks and it tweaks and it tweaks, changing the wording, pictures, call for action, and only then does it send it out on public release. Sam Barratt, Avaaz’s head of press, shows me the previous versions of its email about the Burma campaign. “Changing the meme at the top, or the photograph, massively affects the number of clicks. Eighteen versions were tested. People think we just chuck it out there, but there’s a huge amount of data sophistry into how we design the campaigns.” And, just as Amazon and Google try to predict our behaviour, and adjust their offerings based on our past preferences, so does Avaaz. It uses algorithms to detect things we perhaps don’t even know about ourselves.
“It’s a tremendously evolving science, internet engagement,” says Patel. “But we develop a picture of someone from their previous engagements with us. So, for example, we can see that a certain set of people, based on their previous behaviour, might be interested in starting a campaign, and another set won’t be, but may be interested in signing something. We can tailor it to the individual.”
Everything is viral now, says Patel, “from financial crises to health epidemics to ideas”. And learning the lessons of that and of how to garner attention from some of the most attention-deficient people on the planet – young people with electronic devices – has been Avaaz’s masterstroke….
A crisistunity is another Avaaz-ism. “Though I think we originally got it from The Simpsons,” says Patel. “It’s a mixture of crisis and opportunity. We’re at this extraordinary moment in history. We have the power to wipe out our species. But at the same time, we’ve had tremendous progress in the past 30 years. We have more than halved global poverty. We’ve radically increased the status of women. There are tremendous reasons for hope and optimism.”
There is something very Avaazian about the crisistunity, I come to think, in that it’s borrowed something slick and witty from popular culture and re-purposed it for something which used to be called the Greater Good. And then given it a thick dollop of added earnestness.”

The Law of 'Not Now'

Paper by Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule: “Administrative agencies frequently say “not now.” They defer decisions about rulemaking or adjudication, or decide not to decide. When is it lawful for them to do so? A substantial degree of agency autonomy is guaranteed by a recognition of resource constraints, which require agencies to set priorities, often with reference to their independent assessments of the relative importance of legislative policies. Unless a fair reading of congressional instructions suggests otherwise, agencies may also defer decisions because of their own policy judgments about appropriate timing. At the same time, agencies may not defer decisions, or decide not to decide, if Congress has imposed a statutory deadline, or if their failure to act amounts to a circumvention of express or implied statutory requirements, or amounts to an abdication of the agency’s basic responsibility to promote and enforce policies established by Congress.”

Platform enables business to track local and state legislation, and predict the outcome

Springwise: “We’ve already seen platforms such as Tweetminster use social media to keep citizens up-to-date with the latest goings on in the British Parliament. Now FiscalNote is providing businesses in the US with the tools to track the bills and legislature that affects their industry, as well offering insights into their potential results.
For small businesses, it can be difficult to keep on top of all the goings-on in Congress, never mind individual state and county rulings that may affect their operations. In what it calls the Political Genome Project, FiscalNote aims to keep tabs on any changes to the law across the 50 states. After users have selected their chosen industries, the site delivers only the news relevant to them, presented in an easy-to-understand way on the user dashboard. Mobile notifications also keep businesses informed of changes as they’re fought on the floor. Infographic-style analytics show the progress of each piece of legislation, and the probability of each outcome is worked out with complex algorithms that take in previous results and historical data.
FiscalNote helps small businesses to make smarter decisions by gaining greater insight into the workings of national and local politics related to their industry, keeping them informed of changes they might have otherwise missed. How else can companies stay on top of the latest news from their particular sector?
Website:” and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality

Clay Shirky: “This is not just a hiring problem, or a procurement problem. This is a management problem, and a cultural problem. The preferred method for implementing large technology projects in Washington is to write the plans up front, break them into increasingly detailed specifications, then build what the specifications call for. It’s often called the waterfall method, because on a timeline the project cascades from planning, at the top left of the chart, down to implementation, on the bottom right.
Like all organizational models, waterfall is mainly a theory of collaboration. By putting the most serious planning at the beginning, with subsequent work derived from the plan, the waterfall method amounts to a pledge by all parties not to learn anything while doing the actual work. Instead, waterfall insists that the participants will understand best how things should work before accumulating any real-world experience, and that planners will always know more than workers.
This is a perfect fit for a culture that communicates in the deontic language of legislation. It is also a dreadful way to make new technology. If there is no room for learning by doing, early mistakes will resist correction. If the people with real technical knowledge can’t deliver bad news up the chain, potential failures get embedded rather than uprooted as the work goes on….
Given examples of technological success from commercial firms, a common response is that the government has special constraints, and thus cannot develop projects piecemeal, test with citizens, or learn from its mistakes in public. I was up at the Kennedy School a month after the launch, talking about technical leadership and, when one of the audience members made just this point, proposing that the difficult launch was unavoidable, because the government simply couldn’t have tested bits of the project over time.
That observation illustrates the gulf between planning and reality in political circles. It is hard for policy people to imagine that could have had a phased rollout, even while it is having one.
At launch, on October 1, only a tiny fraction of potential users could actually try the service. They generated concrete errors. Those errors were handed to a team whose job was to improve the site, already public but only partially working. The resulting improvements are incremental, and put in place over a period of months. That is a phased rollout, just one conducted in the worst possible way.
The vision of “technology” as something you can buy according to a plan, then have delivered as if it were coming off a truck, flatters and relieves managers who have no idea and no interest in how this stuff works, but it’s also a breeding ground for disaster. The mismatch between technical competence and executive authority is at least as bad in government now as it was in media companies in the 1990s, but with much more at stake…
Now, and from now on, government will interact with its citizens via the internet, in increasingly important ways. This is a non-partisan issue; whichever party is in the White House will build and launch new forms of public service online. Unfortunately for us, the last new technology the government adopted for interacting with citizens was the fax; our senior political figures have little habit of talking to their own technically adept employees.
If I had to design a litmus test for whether our political class grasps the internet, I would look for just one signal: Can anyone with authority over a new project articulate the tradeoff between features, quality, and time?
When a project cannot meet all three goals—a situation was clearly in by March—something will give. If you want certain features at a certain level of quality, you’d better be able to move the deadline. If you want overall quality by a certain deadline, you’d better be able to delay or drop features. And if you have a fixed feature list and deadline, quality will suffer.
Intoning “Failure is not an option” will be at best useless, and at worst harmful. There is no “Suddenly Go Faster” button, no way you can throw in money or additional developers as a late-stage accelerant; money is not directly tradable for either quality or speed, and adding more programmers to a late project makes it later. You can slip deadlines, reduce features, or, as a last resort, just launch and see what breaks.
Denying this tradeoff doesn’t prevent it from happening. If no one with authority over the project understands that, the tradeoff is likely to mean sacrificing quality by default. That just happened to this administration’s signature policy goal. It will happen again, as long politicians can be allowed to imagine that if you just plan hard enough, you can ignore reality. It will happen again, as long as department heads imagine that complex technology can be procured like pencils. It will happen again as long as management regards listening to the people who understand the technology as a distasteful act.”

Google's Civic Information API: now connecting US users with their representatives

Jonathan Tomer, Software Engineer at Google Blog: “Many applications track and map governmental data, but few help their users identify the relevant local public officials. Too often local problems are divorced from the government institutions designed to help. Today, we’re launching new functionality in the Google Civic Information API that lets developers connect constituents to their federal, state, county and municipal elected officials—right down to the city council district.
The Civic Information API has already helped developers create apps for US elections that incorporate polling place and ballot information, from helping those affected by Superstorm Sandy find updated polling locations over SMS to learning more about local races through social networks. We want to support these developers in their work beyond elections, including everyday civic engagement.
In addition to elected representatives, the API also returns your political jurisdictions using Open Civic Data Identifiers. We worked with the Sunlight Foundation and other civic technology groups to create this new open standard to make it easier for developers to combine the Civic Information API with their datasets. For example, once you look up districts and representatives in the Civic Information API, you can match the districts up to historical election results published by Open Elections.
Developers can head over to the documentation to get started; be sure to check out the “Map Your Reps” sample application from Bow & Arrow to get a sense of what the API can do. You can also see the API in action today through new features from some of our partners, for example:

  • has implemented a new Decision Makers feature which allows users to direct a petition to their elected representative and lists that petition publicly on the representative’s profile page. As a result, the leader has better insight into the issues being discussed in their district, and a new channel to respond to constituents.
  • PopVox helps users share their opinions on bills with their Congressional Representatives in a meaningful format. PopVox uses the API to connect the user to the correct Congressional District. Because PopVox verifies that users are real constituents, the opinions shared with elected officials have more impact on the political process.

Over time, we will expand beyond US elected representatives and elections to other data types and places. We can’t grow without your help. As you use the API, please visit our Developer Forum to share your experiences and tell us how we can help you build the next generation of civic apps and services.”

Why We Engage: How Theories of Human Behavior Contribute to Our Understanding of Civic Engagement in a Digital Era

New paper by Gordon, Eric and Baldwin-Philippi, Jessica and Balestra, Martina: “…Just as the rapidly evolving landscape of connectivity and communications technology is transforming the individual’s experience of the social sphere, what it means to participate in civic life is also changing, both in how people do it and how it is measured. Civic engagement includes all the ways in which individuals attend to the concerns of public life, how one learns about and participates in all of the issues and contexts beyond one’s immediate private or intimate sphere. New technologies and corresponding social practices, from social media to mobile reporting, are providing different ways to record, share, and amplify that attentiveness. Media objects or tools that impact civic life can be understood within two broad types: those designed specifically with the purpose of community engagement in mind (for instance, a digital game for local planning or an app to give feedback to city council) or generic tools that are subsequently appropriated for engaging a community (such as Twitter or Facebook’s role in the Arab Spring or London riots). Moreover, these tools can mediate any number of relationships between or among citizens, local organizations, or government institutions. Digitally mediated civic engagement runs the gamut of phenomena from organizing physical protests using social media (e.g., Occupy), to using digital tools to hack institutions (e.g., Anonymous), to using city-produced mobile applications to access and coproduce government services, to using digital platforms for deliberating. Rather than try to identify what civic media tools look like in the midst of such an array of possibilities (by focusing on in depth examples or case studies), going forward we will instead focus on how digital tools expand the context of civic life and motivations for engagement, and what participating in civic life looks like in a digital era.
We present this literature review as a means of exploring the intersection of theories of human behavior with the motivations for and benefits of engaging in civic life. We bring together literature from behavioral economics, sociology, psychology and communication studies to reveal how civic actors, institutions, and decision-making processes have been traditionally understood, and how emerging media tools and practices are forcing their reconsideration.

Open Government Guide

Open Government Partnership: “We were proud to unveil the new Open Government Guide… The Guide—with its accompanying web site—has been developed to support this action planning in three ways :

To read the Guide go to You can also use the Report Builder function and create a custom download tailored to your own country or to the officials and other audiences in the local planning process.
Anyone seeking governance reforms, from inside or outside government, faces political as well as logistical challenges, so the Guide is also intended to serve as a way to frame the sometimes difficult conversations about the steps to make reform a reality and show examples from other countries
The OGP process includes four “cohorts” of countries. The largest group are currently drafting their first action plans, and another cohort are already at work on their second plans. The Open Government Guide can help any group seeking to promote reform.
While the Guide is quite comprehensive, it is also a living document. We will continue to add more detailed topic areas. A new section is currently in development on the security sector, drafted by the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative and including recommendations on transparency and accountability of military spending and on surveillance, drawing on the new International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance and the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (The Tswhane Principles). To preview and comment on this document, please watch for the draft version at “

Four critiques of open data initiatives

Blog by Rob Kitchin: “The arguments concerning the benefits of open data are now reasonably well established and include contentions that open data lead to increased transparency and accountability with respect to public bodies and services; increases the efficiency and productivity of agencies and enhances their governance; promotes public participation in decision making and social innovation; and fosters economic innovation and job and wealth creation (Pollock 2006; Huijboom and Van der Broek 2011; Janssen 2012; Yiu 2012).
What is less well examined are the potential problems affecting, and negative consequences of, open data initiatives.  Consequently, as a provocation for Wednesday’s (Nov 13th, 4-6pm) Programmable City open data event I thought it might be useful to outline four critiques of open data, each of which deserves and demands critical attention: open data lacks a sustainable financial model; promotes a politics of the benign and empowers the empowered; lacks utility and usability; and facilitates the neoliberalisation and marketisation of public services.  These critiques do not suggest abandoning the move towards opening data, but contend that open data initiatives need to be much more mindful of what data are being made open, how data are made available, how they are being used, and how they are being funded.”