The Participatory Turn: Participatory Budgeting Comes to America


Thesis by Hollie Russon Gilman: “Participatory Budgeting (PB) has expanded to over 1,500 municipalities worldwide since its inception in Porto Alege, Brazil in 1989 by the leftist Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party). While PB has been adopted throughout the world, it has yet to take hold in the United States. This dissertation examines the introduction of PB to the United States with the first project in Chicago in 2009, and proceeds with an in-depth case study of the largest implementation of PB in the United States: Participatory Budgeting in New York City. I assess the outputs of PB in the United States including deliberations, governance, and participation. I argue that PB produces better outcomes than the status quo budget process in New York City, while also transforming how those who participate understand themselves as citizens, constituents, Council members, civil society leaders and community stakeholders. However, there are serious challenges to participation, including high costs of engagement, process exhaustion, and perils of scalability. I devise a framework for assessment called “citizenly politics,” focusing on: 1) designing participation 2) deliberation 3) participation and 4) potential for institutionalization. I argue that while the material results PB produces are relatively modest, including more innovative projects, PB delivers more substantial non-material or existential results. Existential citizenly rewards include: greater civic knowledge, strengthened relationships with elected officials, and greater community inclusion. Overall, PB provides a viable and informative democratic innovation for strengthening civic engagement within the United States that can be streamlined and adopted to scale.”

OpenCounter


Code for America: “OpenCounter’s mission is to empower entrepreneurs and foster local economic development by simplifying the process of registering a business.
Economic development happens in many forms, from projects like the revitalization of the Brooklyn Navy Yard or Hudson Rail Yards in New York City, to campaigns to encourage residents to shop at local merchants. While the majority of headlines will focus on a City’s effort to secure a major new employer (think Apple’s 1,000,000 square foot expansion in Austin, Texas), most economic development and job creation happens on a much smaller scale, as individuals stake their financial futures on creating a new product, store, service or firm.
But these new businesses aren’t in a position to accept tax breaks on capital equipment or enter into complex development and disposition agreements to build new offices or stores. Many new businesses can’t even meet the underwriting criteria of  SBA backed revolving-loan programs. Competition for local grants for facade improvements or signage assistance can be fierce….
Despite many cities’ genuine efforts to be “business-friendly,” their default user interface consists of florescent-lit formica, waiting lines, and stacks of forms. Online resources often remind one of a phone book, with little interactivity or specialization based on either the businesses’ function or location within a jurisdiction.
That’s why we built OpenCounter….See what we’re up to at opencounter.us or visit a live version of our software at http://opencounter.cityofsantacruz.com.”

Hackers Called Into Civic Duty


Wall Street Journal: “Cash-strapped cities are turning to an unusual source to improve their online services on the cheap: helpful hackers, who use city data to create tools tracking everything from real-time subway delays to where to get a free flu shot near your home and information about a contentious school-closing plan.
Hackers have been popularly portrayed as giving fits to national-security officials and credit-card companies, but the term also refers to people who like to write their own computer programs and help solve a variety of problems. Recently, hackers have begun working with cities to find ways of building applications, or apps, that make use of data—which gets stripped of personally identifiable information—that municipalities are collecting anyway in the regular course of governance….Last year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order mandating the city make available all data not protected by privacy laws. Today, the city has nearly 950 data sets publicly available, the most of any U.S. city, according to Code for America, a nonprofit that promotes openness in government.”

Citizen-Centered Governance: The Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics and the Evolution of CRM in Boston


New Paper by Susan P. Crawford and Dana Walters (Berkman Center Research Publication No. 17): “Over the last three years, the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the innovative, collaborative ethos within City Hall fostered by Mayor Menino and his current chief of staff, Mitchell Weiss, and Boston’s launch of a CRM system and its associated Citizens Connect smartphone app have all attracted substantial media attention. In particular, the City of Boston’s strategy to put citizen engagement and participation at the center of its efforts, implemented by Chris Osgood and Nigel Jacob as co-chairs of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, has drawn attention to the potential power of collaboration and technology to transform citizens’ connections to their government and to each other. Several global developments have combined to make Boston’s collaborative efforts interesting: First, city managers around the world confront shrinking budgets and diminishing trust in the role of government; second, civic entrepreneurs and technology innovators are pressuring local governments to adopt new forms of engagement with citizens; and third, new digital tools are emerging that can help make city services both more visible and more effective. Boston’s experience in pursuing partnerships that facilitate opportunities for engaging citizens may provide scalable (and disruptive) lessons for other cities.

During the summer of 2013, in anticipation of Mayor Menino’s retirement in January 2014, Prof. Susan Crawford and Project Assistant Dana Walters carried out a case study examining the ongoing evolution of the Boston Mayor’s Hotline into a platform for civic engagement. We chose this CRM focus because the initial development of the system provides a concrete example of how leaders in government can connect to local partners and citizens. In the course of this research, we interviewed 21 city employees and several of their partners outside government, and gathered data about the use of the system.

We found a traditional technology story—selection and integration of CRM software, initial performance management using that software, development of ancillary channels of communication, initial patterns of adoption and use—that reflects the commitment of Mayor Menino to personalized constituent service. We also found that that commitment, his long tenure, and the particular personalities of the people on the New Urban Mechanics team make this both a cultural story as well as a technology story. Here are the highlights…”

Operation Decode San Francisco Will Hack the City's Legal Code


Motherboard: “The city of San Francisco is set to be hacked tonight. Legally, of course. It’s all part of the Operation Decode San Francisco effort, which will unwrap and simplify the city’s dense, labyrinthine laws and re-package them in a fresh, easy-to-use and searchable format.
The crew behind this, OpenGov, originally cut its teeth on KeepTheWebOpen.org. Founded by Rep. Darrell Issa and others to combat SOPA/PIPA, and running on a $5,000 piece of software called the Madison Project, the site also offered up an alternative bill: Issa’s Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN). Characterized as the first technological crowd-sourcing of legislation, the bill is still stuck in committee, but the site was certainly one of the many tentacles that helped suffocate SOPA/PIPA.

…The immediate hope with these beta Decoded sites is that they will appeal to individuals and organizations that regularly interact with the law. Lawyers and public interest groups are prime targets. However, the developers would like to make the sites attractive to all sorts of individuals who want to better understand city laws, and involve themselves in the debate process. The Decoded sites will first educate constituents, whereupon the Madison technology will takeover, allowing citizens to critique bills line-by-line with track changes. ”

The New Innovation Battlegrounds Are City Hall And The State House


Julius Genachowski in Forbes: “What’s going on here? In cities and states across the country, two forces are engaged in battles with major consequences for the future of the Internet and the U.S. innovation economy.
The first force is new ventures harnessing technology—particularly the Internet and mobile—to challenge incumbents in a growing number of industries: From hotels (Airbnb) to rental cars (ZipCar, RelayRides, Car2Go) to taxis (SideCar, Lyft, Uber) to car dealerships (Tesla) to parking lots (Parking Panda) to textbooks (Chegg) to lending and fundraising (Lending Club, Kickstarter) to restaurants (food trucks) to boating (Boatband, GetMyBoat) to errand running services (TaskRabbit) to Internet service (Chattanooga, TN; Lafayette, LA; Google Fiber).
Many of these ventures are part of the new “sharing economy.” ….
The second force in these battles is city and state governments, which typically have long and deep relationships with established industries. Not surprisingly, and acting rationally from their perspective, existing businesses have been lobbying state and local officials to restrict new entrants.
And across the country, new laws are being proposed and enacted—and existing but out-of-date laws are being enforced—to protect incumbents from new Internet- and mobile-based competitors….
There are lessons here for the current battles in city halls and state houses. We suggest four simple principles for every state and local official considering regulatory decisions affecting the sharing economy and other disruptive Internet- and mobile-based businesses:

  • Stand with innovation. The benefits of innovation can be hard to appreciate fully early on, but we know from our history that innovation drives consumer benefits and economic growth. Give innovative new services the benefit of the doubt. And where there are issues to address, take a tailored, technology-neutral approach.
  • Focus on consumers. Consider the full range of benefits new services provide consumers. Most innovators and their investors are putting up their time and money because they see a gap in the market—ways in which consumers are not fully served by existing businesses. The results of a fair-minded consumer-focused analysis might be different than some first instincts. For example, Airbnb and Uber provide insurance to protect consumers; grey-market home stays and unlicensed livery cabs may not. Weigh the benefits of moving grey-market activities out of the shadows.
  • Keep an open mind. Spend the time to understand new businesses and new technologies, including by speaking with new service providers and their users. Don’t just rely on opponents’ characterizations.
  • Use the service. Before deciding to regulate an innovative service, public officials should use the service. Because they’re new, innovative services can be hard to fully appreciate without experiencing them—and using them will provide hands-on insights on their benefits as well as tailored ways to address any issues. At the FCC we launched a Technology Experience Center so that agency staff could use cutting-edge communications devices and services potentially affected by agency rules.
  • Innovation is a core competitive advantage for the U.S. and a primary driver of economic growth and job creation across the country. In today’s fast-moving global economy, capital and talent can flow anywhere. Pro-innovation policies are critical to growing jobs and investment in U.S. cities.”

When Hacking Is Actually a Good Thing: The Civic Hacking Movement


, Founder and CEO, PublicStuff in Huffington Post: “Many people think of the word “hacking” in a pejorative sense, understanding it to mean malicious acts of breaking into secure systems and wreaking havoc with private information. Popular culture likes to propagate a particular image of the hacker: a fringe-type individual with highly specialized technical skills who does what he or she does out of malice and/or greed. And so to many of us the concept of “civic hacking” may seem like an oxymoron, for how can the word “civic,” defined by its associations with municipal government and citizen concerns, be linked to the activity of hacking? Here is where another definition of hacking comes in–one that is more commonly used by denizens of the information technology industries–basically, the process of fixing a problem. As Jake Levitas defined it on the Code for America blog, civic hacking is “people working together quickly and creatively to make their cities better for everyone.” Moreover, as Levitas points out, civic hacking does not necessarily involve computer expertise or specialized technical knowledge; rather, it is a collective effort made up of people who want to make things better for themselves and each other, whether it be an ordinary citizen or a programming prodigy. So how does it work?”

New York City liberates map data trove


The Newyorkworld: New York City streets are free to walk, but until now getting the city’s master map database cost dearly.
That changed on Thursday, when the Department of City Planning made MapPLUTO — an extensive database full of information about each of the city’s parcels of land — available to the public on its website, free of charge.
jamaica_sample_mappluto
Previously, the same files came at a steep price of $300 per borough, and a required license barred users from posting any of the data, including maps, on the Internet.
“We revised our policy on the sale of PLUTO and MapPLUTO data in keeping with the Mayor’s ongoing commitment to using technology to improve customer service and transparency,” a Department of Planning spokesperson wrote in an email on Thursday.
In April, The New York World reported that even as the city moved to put vital government data online for free download, MapPLUTO remained a glaring exception.”

Quantifying cities’ emotional effects


Phil Salesses, Katja Schectner, Talia Kaufmann and Cesar A. Hidalgo

MIT Press: “A color-coded map of the perceived safety of New York City neighborhoods, based on Web volunteers’ comparisons of images extracted from Google Maps’ “street view” archive.
Image: Macro Connections Group
July 24, 2013

The “broken-windows theory,” which was propounded by two Harvard University researchers in the early 1980s, holds that urban “disorder” — visible signs of neglect, such as broken windows — actually promotes crime, initiating a vicious feedback loop. The theory was the basis for former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crackdown on petty crime, but it’s come under sharp criticism from some social scientists. One of the difficulties in evaluating the theory is that it’s hard to quantify something as subjective as visible disorder.
In the latest issue of the journal PLoS One, researchers from MIT’s Media Lab present a new online tool that they hope will help social scientists take a more rigorous look at city dwellers’ emotional responses to their environments. The tool presents online volunteers with pairs of images randomly drawn from Google Maps’ compendium of street-level photographs; each volunteer selects the image that better represents some qualitative attribute. Algorithms use the results of the pairwise comparisons to assign geographical areas scores, from one to 10, on each attribute.
In the experiments reported in the PLoS One paper, volunteers ranked the neighborhoods depicted in the images according to how safe they looked, how “upper-class,” and how “unique” — an attribute selected in the hope that it would not be strongly correlated with the other two. The researchers found that the scores for the U.S. cities selected for the study — New York and Boston — showed greater disparity between the extremes for both class and safety than did those for the two Austrian cities selected, Linz and Salzburg.
They also found that, controlled for income, area, and population, the perceived-safety scores for neighborhoods in New York correlated very well with incidence of violent crime”.

New Book: Breakpoint, Why the Web will Implode, Search will be Obsolete, and Everything Else you Need to Know about Technology is in Your Brain


breakpointbook.com: “We are living in a world in which cows send texts to farmers when they’re in heat, where the most valuable real estate in New York City houses computers, not people, and some of humanity’s greatest works are created by crowds, not individuals.

We are in the midst of a networking revolution–set to transform the way we access the world’s information and the way we connect with one another. Studying biological systems is perhaps the best way to understand such networks, and nature has a lesson for us if we care to listen: bigger is rarely better in the long run. The deadliest creature is the mosquito, not the lion. It is the quality of a network that is important for survival, not the size, and all networks–the human brain, Facebook, Google, even the internet itself–eventually reach a breakpoint and collapse. That’s the bad news. The good news is that reaching a breakpoint can be a step forward, allowing a network to substitute quality for quantity.
In Breakpoint, brain scientist and entrepreneur Jeff Stibel takes readers to the intersection of the brain, biology, and technology. He shows how exceptional companies are using their understanding of the internet’s brain-like powers to create a competitive advantage by building more effective websites, utilizing cloud computing, engaging social media, monetizing effectively, and leveraging a collective consciousness. Indeed, the result of these technologies is a more tightly connected world with capabilities far beyond the sum of our individual minds. Breakpoint offers a fresh and exciting perspective about the future of technology and its effects on all of us.”