Community boxes let city residents share anything

Springwise: “While startups such as Boxbee aim to turn customers self storage assets into a shareable library of goods among friends, a new project in Switzerland is taking a similar concept into the public sphere. Boîtes d’Échange Entre Voisins — or Neighborhood Exchange Boxes — are a network of brightly-decorated repositories where residents can leave books, toys or other items they’d like to give to the community.
The idea, which was conceived by public art organization Tako in collaboration with the City of Geneva, is a fairly simple one — boxes big enough to hold objects such as books, DVDs, games and household items are installed in public locations. The boxes can be identified by their often artistic decorations bearing the name of the project. Any member of the public can then leave unwanted goods in the boxes for anyone else to take. The idea takes inspiration from schemes such as Bookcrossing and Little Free Library, which both focus more narrowly on book sharing. However, there is no restriction to what can be left in the project’s boxes, so long as it fits — users have even seen one generous neighbor leave an unwanted Apple TV.
There are currently around 20 Boîtes d’Échange Entre Voisins across Switzerland, and anyone can join in by setting up a box for their own neighborhood. Could this work in your part of the world?

Civic Works Project translates data into community tools

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:”The Civic Works Project is a two-year effort to create apps and other tools to help increase the utility of local government data to benefit community organizations and the broader public. w
This project looks systemically at public and private information that can be used to engage residents, solve community problems and increase government accountability. We believe that there is a new frontier where information can be used to improve public services and community building efforts that benefit local residents.
Through the Civic Works Project, we’re seeking to improve access to information and identify solutions to problems facing diverse communities. Uncovering the value of data—and the stories behind it—can enhance the provision of public services through the smart application of technology.
Here’s some of what we’ve accomplished.
Partnership with WBEZ Public Data Blog
The WBEZ Public Data Blog is dedicated to examining and promoting civic data in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. WBEZ is partnering with the Smart Chicago Collaborative to provide news and analysis on open government by producing content items that explain and tell stories hidden in public data. The project seeks to increase the utility, understanding, awareness and availability of local civic data. It comprises blog postings on the hidden uses of data and stories from the data, while including diverse voices and discussions on how innovations can improve civic life. It also features interviews with community organizations, businesses, government leaders and residents on challenges that could be solved through more effective use of public data.
Crime and Punishment in Chicago
The Crime and Punishment in Chicago project will provide an index of data sources regarding the criminal justice system in Chicago. This site will aggregate sources of data, how this data is generated, how to get it and what data is unavailable.
Illinois OpenTech Challenge
The Illinois Open Technology Challenge aims to bring governments, developers and communities together to create digital tools that use public data to serve today’s civic needs and promote economic development. Smart Chicago and our partners worked with government officials to publish 138 new datasets (34 in Champaign, 15 in Rockford, 12 in Belleville, and 77 from the 42 municipalities in the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association) on the State of Illinois data portal. Smart Chicago has worked with developers in meet-ups all over the state—in six locations in four cities with 149 people. The project has also allowed Smart Chicago to conduct outreach in each of our communities to reach regular residents with needs that can be addressed through data and technology.
LocalData + SWOP
The LocalData + SWOP project is part of our effort to help bridge technology gaps in high-capacity organizations. This effort helps the Southwest Organizing Project collect information about vacant and abandoned housing using the LocalData tool.
Affordable Care Act Outreach App
With the ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, community organizations such as LISC-Chicago have been hard at work providing navigators to help residents register through the site.
Currently, LISC-Chicago organizers are in neighborhoods contacting residents and encouraging them to go to their closest Center for Working Families. Using a combination of software, such as Wufoo and Twilio, Smart Chicago is helping LISC with its outreach by building a tool that enables organizers to send text reminders to sign up for health insurance to residents.
Texting Tools: Twilio and Textizen
Smart Chicago is expanding the Affordable Care Act outreach project to engage residents in other ways using SMS messaging.
Smart Chicago is also a local provider for Textizen,  an SMS-based survey tool that civic organizations can use to obtain resident feedback. Organizations can create a survey campaign and then place the survey options on posters, postcards or screens during live events. They can then receive real-time feedback as people text in their answers.
WikiChicago will be a hyper-local Wikipedia-like website that anyone can edit. For this project, Smart Chicago is partnering with the Chicago Public Library to feature local authors and books about Chicago, and to publish more information about Chicago’s rich history.”

Building Transparency Momentum

Aspen Baker in the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “Even engaged citizens in Oakland, Calif., didn’t know the city had a Public Ethics Commission, let alone what its purpose was, when I joined its ranks three years ago. And people who did know about it didn’t have many nice things to say: Local blogs sneered at its lack of power and few politicians feared its oversight. Created in 1996 as a watchdog organization responsible for opening up city government, the commission had become just another element of Oakland’s cumbersome, opaque bureaucracy.
It’s easy to see why. Technology and media have dramatically changed our expectations for what defines transparency and accountability. For example, in the past, walking into City Hall, making an official request for a public record, and receiving it in the mail within two weeks meant good, open government. Now, if an Internet search doesn’t instantly turn up an answer to your question about local government, the assumption often is: Government’s hiding something.
This is rarely the case. Consider that Oakland has more than 40,000 boxes full of paper documents housed in locations throughout the city, not to mention hundreds of thousands of email messages generated each year. Records management is a serious—and legal—issue, and it’s fallen way behind the times. In an age when local municipalities are financially stretched more than ever before (38 US cities have declared bankruptcy since 2010), the ability of cities to invest in the technology, systems, and staff—and to facilitate the culture change that cities often need—is a real, major challenge.
Yet, for the innovators, activists, and leaders within and outside city government, this difficult moment is also one of significant opportunity for change; and many are seizing it.
Last month, the Transparency Project of the Public Ethics Commission—a subcommittee that I initiated and have led as chair for the last year—released a report detailing just how far Oakland has come and how far we have to go to create a culture of innovation, accountability, and transparency throughout all levels of the city.

Collaboration Is Critical

What comes through the report loud and clear is the important role that collaboration between city staff, the community, nonprofits, and others played in shifting expectations and establishing new standards—including the momentum generated by the volunteer-led “City Camps,” a gathering of citizens, city government, and businesses to work on open government issues, and the recent launch of RecordTrac, an online public records request tracking system built by Code for America Fellows that departments throughout the city have successfully adopted. RecordTrac makes information available to everyone, not just the person who requested it.

Ideas and Experiments Matter

Innovators didn’t let financial circumstances get in the way of thinking about what even a cash-strapped, problem-plagued city like Oakland could do to meet the new expectations of its citizens to find information quickly and easily online. The commission’s executive director Whitney Barazoto, along with her collaborators, didn’t think “small and practical”; they chose “big and futuristic” instead. Most importantly, they sought to experiment with new ways of spreading ideas and engaging the public in discussions—far beyond the standard (and often ineffective) “three minutes at the mic” practice at public meetings….
The “Toward Collective Transparency” report details the history of the innovative efforts to increase transparency within the City of Oakland and offers a number of recommendations for what’s next. The most defining feature of this report is its acknowledgment of the significant cultural changes that are taking place within the city, and around the country, in the way we think about the role of government, citizens, and the type of engagement and collaboration that can—and should—exist between the two.
It’s easy to get caught up in what’s gone wrong, but our subcommittee made a choice early on not to get buried in the past. We capitalized on our commission’s strengths rather than our weaknesses, leaving “deficit thinking” behind so that we could think creatively about what the commission and city were uniquely positioned to do.

Why does all this matter?

Last year, John Bridgeland and Peter Orszag, former officials in the administrations of President Obama and President George W. Bush, wrote an article in The Atlantic titled, “Can Government Play Moneyball?” They pointed out the need to measure the impact of government spending using the evidence-based statistical approach that the Oakland A’s own manager, Billy Beane, made famous. They argued that the same kind of scarcity Billy faced building a competitive baseball team is not unlike the scarcity that the federal government is facing, and they hope it will help government break some of its own traditions. Governments at all levels—city, county, state and federal—are all facing revenue challenges, but we can’t let that stop progress and change.
It takes a lot more than data and technology to improve the way government operates and engages with its citizens; it demands vision and leadership. We need innovators who can break traditions and make the future come alive through collaboration, ideas, and experiments.”

How Open Data Are Turned into Services?

New Paper by Muriel Foulonneau, Sébastien Martin, Slim Turki: “The Open Data movement has mainly been a data provision movement. The release of Open Data is usually motivated by (i) government transparency (citizen access to government data), (ii) the development of services by third parties for the benefit for citizens and companies (typically smart city approach), or (iii) the development of new services that stimulate the economy. The success of the Open Data movement and its return on investment should therefore be assessed among other criteria by the number and impact of the services created based on those data. In this paper, we study the development of services based on open data and means to make the data opening process more effective.”

Boston's Building a Synergy Between City Hall & Startups

at BostInno: “Boston’s local government and startup scene want to do more than peacefully co-exist. They want to co-create. The people perhaps credited for contributing the most buzz to this trend are those behind relatively new parking ticket app TicketZen. Cort Johnson, along with a few others from Terrible Labs, a Web and mobile app design consultancy in Chinatown, came up with the idea for the app after spotting a tweet from one of Boston’s trademark entrepreneurs. A few months back, ex-KAYAK CTO (and Blade co-founder) Paul English sent out a 140-character message calling for an easy, instantaneous payment solution for parking tickets, Johnson told BostInno.

The idea was that in the time it takes for Boston’s enforcement office to process a parking ticket, its recipient has already forgotten his or her frustration or misplaced the bright orange slip, thus creating a situation in which both parties lose: the local government’s collection process is held up and the recipient is forced to pay a larger fine for the delay.

With the problem posed and the spark lit, the Terrible Labs team took to building TicketZen, an app which allows people to scan their tickets and immediately send validation to City Hall to kick off the process.

“When we first came up with the prototype, [City Hall was] really excited and worked to get it launched in Boston first,” said Johnson. “But we have built a bunch of integrations for major cities where most of the parking tickets are issued, which will launch early this year.”

But in order to even get the app up-and-running, Terrible Labs needed to work with some local government representatives – namely, Chris Osgood and Nigel Jacob of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics….

Since its inception in 2010, the City Hall off-shoot has worked with all kinds of Boston citizens to create civic-facing innovations that would be helpful to the city at large.

For example, a group of mothers with children at Boston Public Schools approached New Urban Mechanics to create an app that shares when the school bus will arrive, similar to that of the MBTA’s, which shows upcoming train times. The nonprofit then arranged a partnership with Vermonster LLC, a software application development firm in Downtown Boston to create the Where’s My School Bus app.

“There’s a whole host of different backgrounds, from undergrad students to parents, who would never consider themselves to be entrepreneurs or innovators originally … There are just so many talented, driven and motivated folks that would likely have a similar interest in doing work in the civic space. The challenge is to scale that beyond what’s currently out there,” shared Osgood. “We’re asking, ‘How can City Hall do a better job to support innovators?’”

Of course, District Hall was created for this very purpose – supporting creatives and entrepreneurs by providing them a perpetually open door and an event space. Additionally, there have been a number of events geared toward civic innovation within the past few months targeting both entrepreneurs and government.

The former mayor Thomas Menino led the charge in opening the Office of Business Development, which features a sleek new website and focuses on providing entrepreneurs and existing businesses with access to financial and technical resources. Further, a number of organizations collaborated in early December 2013 to host a free-to-register event dubbed MassDOT Visualizing Transportation Hackathon to help generate ideas for improving public transit from the next generation’s entrepreneurs; just this month, the Venture Café and the Cambridge Innovation Center hosted Innovation and the City, a conference uniting leading architects, urban planners, educators and business leaders from different cities around the U.S. to speak to the changing landscape of civic development.”

Civic Tech Forecast: 2014

Laura Dyson from Code for America: “Last year was a big year for civic technology and government innovation, and if last week’s Municipal Innovation discussion was any indication, 2014 promises to be even bigger. More than sixty civic innovators from both inside and outside of government gathered to hear three leading civic tech experts share their “Top Five” list of civic tech trends from 2013m, and predictions for what’s to come in 2014. From responsive web design to overcoming leadership change, guest speakers Luke Fretwell, Juan Pablo Velez, and Alissa Black covered both challenges and opportunities. And the audience had a few predictions of their own. Highlights included:
Mark Leech, Application Development Manager, City of Albuquerque: “Regionalization will allow smaller communities to participate and act as a force multiplier for them.”
Rebecca Williams, Policy Analyst, Sunlight Foundation: “Open data policy (law and implementation) will become more connected to traditional forms of governance, like public records and town hall meetings.”
Rick Dietz, IT Director, City of Bloomington, Ind.: “I think governments will need to collaborate directly more on open source development, particularly on enterprise scale software systems — not just civic apps.”
Kristina Ng, Office of Financial Empowerment, City and County of San Francisco: “I’m excited about the growing community of innovative government workers.”
Hillary Hartley, Presidential Innovation Fellow: “We’ll need to address sustainability and revenue opportunities. Consulting work can only go so far; we must figure out how to empower civic tech companies to actually make money.”
An informal poll of the audience showed that roughly 96 percent of the group was feeling optimistic about the coming year for civic innovation. What’s your civic tech forecast for 2014? Read on to hear what guest speakers Luke Fretwell, Juan Pablo Velez, and Alissa Black had to say, and then let us know how you’re feeling about 2014 by tweeting at @codeforamerica.”

How a New Science of Cities Is Emerging from Mobile Phone Data Analysis

MIT Technology Review: “Mobile phones have generated enormous insight into the human condition thanks largely to the study of the data they produce. Mobile phone companies record the time of each call, the caller and receiver ids, as well as the locations of the cell towers involved, among other things.
The combined data from millions of people produces some fascinating new insights in the nature of our society. Anthropologists have crunched it to reveal human reproductive strategiesa universal law of commuting and even the distribution of wealth in Africa.
Today, computer scientists have gone one step further by using mobile phone data to map the structure of cities and how people use them throughout the day. “These results point towards the possibility of a new, quantitative classification of cities using high resolution spatio-temporal data,” say Thomas Louail at the Institut de Physique Théorique in Paris and a few pals.
They say their work is part of a new science of cities that aims to objectively measure and understand the nature of large population centers.
These guys begin with a database of mobile phone calls made by people in the 31 Spanish cities that have populations larger than 200,000. The data consists of the number of unique individuals using a given cell tower (whether making a call or not) for each hour of the day over almost two months….The results reveal some fascinating patterns in city structure. For a start, every city undergoes a kind of respiration in which people converge into the center and then withdraw on a daily basis, almost like breathing. And this happens in all cities. This “suggests the existence of a single ‘urban rhythm’ common to all cities,” say Louail and co.
During the week, the number of phone users peaks at about midday and then again at about 6 p.m. During the weekend the numbers peak a little later: at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Interestingly, the second peak starts about an hour later in western cities, such as Sevilla and Cordoba.
The data also reveals that small cities tend to have a single center that becomes busy during the day, such as the cities of Salamanca and Vitoria.
But it also shows that the number of hotspots increases with city size; so-called polycentric cities include Spain’s largest, such as Madrid, Barcelona, and Bilboa.
That could turn out to be useful for automatically classifying cities.
There is a growing interest in the nature of cities, the way they evolve and how their residents use them. The goal of this new science is to make better use of these spaces that more than 50 percent of the planet inhabit. Louail and co show that mobile phone data clearly has an important role to play in this endeavor to better understanding these complex giants.
Ref: : From Mobile Phone Data To The Spatial Structure Of Cities”

Mapping the ‘Space of Flows’

Paper by Reades J. and Smith D. A. in Regional Studies on the Geography of Global Business Telecommunications and Employment Specialization in the London Mega-City-Region: “Telecommunications has radically reshaped the way that firms organize industrial activity. And yet, because much of this technology – and the interactions that it enables – is invisible, the corporate ‘space of flows’ remains poorly mapped. This article combines detailed employment and telecoms usage data for the South-east of England to build a sector-by-sector profile of globalization at the mega-city-region scale. The intersection of these two datasets allows a new empirical perspective on industrial geography and regional structure to be developed.”

Sharing and Caring

Tom Slee: “A new wave of technology companies claims to be expanding the possibilities of sharing and collaboration, and is clashing with established industries such as hospitality and transit. These companies make up what is being called the “sharing economy”: they provide web sites and applications through which individual residents or drivers can offer to “share” their apartment or car with a guest, for a price.
The industries they threaten have long been subject to city-level consumer protection and zoning regulations, but sharing economy advocates claim that these rules are rendered obsolete by the Internet. Battle lines are being drawn between the new companies and city governments. Where’s a good leftist to stand in all of this?
To figure this out, we need to look at the nature of the sharing economy. Some would say it fits squarely into an ideology of unregulated free markets, as described recently by David Golumbia here in Jacobin. Others note that the people involved in American technology industries lean liberal. There’s also a clear Euro/American split in the sharing economy: while the Americans are entrepreneurial and commercial in the way they drive the initiative, the Europeans focus more on the civic, the collaborative, and the non-commercial.
The sharing economy invokes values familiar to many on the Left: decentralization, sustainability, community-level connectedness, and opposition to hierarchical and rigid regulatory regimes, seen mostly clearly in the movement’s bible What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. It’s the language of co-operatives and of civic groups.
There’s a definite green slant to the movement, too: ideas of “sharing rather than owning” make appeals to sustainability, and the language of sharing also appeals to anti-consumerist sentiments popular on the Left: property and consumption do not make us happy, and we should put aside the pursuit of possessions in favour of connections and experiences. All of which leads us to ideas of community: the sharing economy invokes images of neighbourhoods, villages, and “human-scale” interactions. Instead of buying from a mega-store, we get to share with neighbours.
These ideals have been around for centuries, but the Internet has given them a new slant. An influential line of thought emphasizes that the web lowers the “transaction costs” of group formation and collaboration. The key text is Yochai Benkler’s 2006 book The Wealth of Networks, which argues that the Internet brings with it an alternative style of economic production: networked rather than managed, self-organized rather than ordered. It’s a language associated strongly with both the Left (who see it as an alternative to monopoly capital), and the free-market libertarian right (who see it as an alternative to the state).
Clay Shirky’s 2008 book Here Comes Everybody popularized the ideas further, and in 2012 Steven Johnson announced the appearance of the “Peer Progressive” in his book Future Perfect. The idea of internet-enabled collaboration in the “real” world is a next step from online collaboration in the form of open source software, open government data, and Wikipedia, and the sharing economy is its manifestation.
As with all things technological, there’s an additional angle: the involvement of capital…”

Big Data and the Future of Privacy

John Podesta at the White House blog: “Last Friday, the President spoke to the American people, and the international community, about how to keep us safe from terrorism in a changing world while upholding America’s commitment to liberty and privacy that our values and Constitution require. Our national security challenges are real, but that is surely not the only space where changes in technology are altering the landscape and challenging conceptions of privacy.
That’s why in his speech, the President asked me to lead a comprehensive review of the way that “big data” will affect the way we live and work; the relationship between government and citizens; and how public and private sectors can spur innovation and maximize the opportunities and free flow of this information while minimizing the risks to privacy. I will be joined in this effort by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, the President’s Science Advisor John Holdren, the President’s Economic Advisor Gene Sperling and other senior government officials.
I would like to explain a little bit more about the review, its scope, and what you can expect over the next 90 days.
We are undergoing a revolution in the way that information about our purchases, our conversations, our social networks, our movements, and even our physical identities are collected, stored, analyzed and used. The immense volume, diversity and potential value of data will have profound implications for privacy, the economy, and public policy. The working group will consider all those issues, and specifically how the present and future state of these technologies might motivate changes in our policies across a range of sectors.
When we complete our work, we expect to deliver to the President a report that anticipates future technological trends and frames the key questions that the collection, availability, and use of “big data” raise – both for our government, and the nation as a whole. It will help identify technological changes to watch, whether those technological changes are addressed by the U.S.’s current policy framework and highlight where further government action, funding, research and consideration may be required.
This is going to be a collaborative effort. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) will conduct a study to explore in-depth the technological dimensions of the intersection of big data and privacy, which will feed into this broader effort. Our working group will consult with industry, civil liberties groups, technologists, privacy experts, international partners, and other national and local government officials on the significance of and future for these technologies. Finally, we will be working with a number of think tanks, academic institutions, and other organizations around the country as they convene stakeholders to discuss these very issues and questions. Likewise, many abroad are analyzing and responding to the challenge and seizing the opportunity of big data. These discussions will help to inform our study.
While we don’t expect to answer all these questions, or produce a comprehensive new policy in 90 days, we expect this work to serve as the foundation for a robust and forward-looking plan of action. Check back on this blog for updates on how you can get involved in the debate and for status updates on our progress.”