Introducing the 21st-Century City Hall

GovTech: “Here are five platforms that are helping redefine civic engagement.

Neighborland: A new way to rally residents

If you’ve ever tried drumming up support for a neighborhood project, you know firsthand how difficult the effort can be. From diverse work schedules to just plain indifference, capturing a community’s attention and rallying residents on an issue can seem impossible at times. Neighborland was created to make that task easier.
The online social engagement platform helps citizens and public officials connect on ideas and plans for a community. After creating a profile on Neighborland, users can post questions or ideas using words and pictures. The posts can be categorized by topic, and users can suggest related actions such as fundraisers and meetings….

Textizen: An easier way to give opinions

Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, struggled to collect feedback from parents. To simplify the process, the district deployed Textizen, which makes sharing comments and responding to survey questions as easy as sending a text message….

Voterheads: Early warning on important issues

It’s a scenario every local government is likely familiar with: There’s a council meeting and while decisions are being made on behalf of everyone in the area, only a small percentage of the population participates in the process. But once a decision is made, citizens complain about the result….Voterheads, a free online engagement platform that alerts citizens via email when their city, county or school board is discussing a topic that they’re interested in. Using a sliding scale, users indicate their degree of opposition or support of a topic like taxes, at which point the system decides if or how quickly that person should be notified about an upcoming public meeting….

Community PlanIt: A game with real-world results

Eric Gordon, an Emerson College professor, creates games and other digital tools that energize civic participation. He runs the university’s Engagement Game Lab and develops programs to make community planning fun and interactive for citizens.
One of his creations is Community PlanIt, an online game that solicits comments from residents about their neighborhoods. City administrators analyze the feedback to make more informed choices about community development….

Open Town Hall: Letting cooler heads prevail

Democracy is a messy process. James Madison said that faction and discord are “sown in the nature of man,” and have “divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.” Winston Churchill once noted, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”…Peak Democracy’s Open Town Hall moves the public meeting process online, acknowledging some 21st-century realities and offering a few other advantages too….Open Town Hall requires registration, and the topics are presented by the jurisdiction. Rather than restricting input, said Cohen, it broadens the appeal of participation and brings in many more moderate views. Open Town Hall also requires a geocoded address so that input on an issue can be evaluated based on its location. The names and locations view can be turned on or off, depending on the issue and the jurisdiction’s wishes….

3 Platforms to Watch Billed as a “virtual place to discuss real places that you want to see transformed,” Placehood connects citizens, developers and city planners. The goal is to repurpose or improve underutilized properties, while letting users comment about a place, post improvement ideas, add images and gather support. This platform visualizes a public policy’s impact on the state or local economy by simulation. Outline lets citizens perform what-if analyses on budgets and policies and provide feedback to the government. The simulator is being piloted in Massachusetts, and the company hopes to grow the number of users this summer.
PlaceSpeak: Launched in Canada, the online community consultation website connects citizens with local issues. Users’ addresses are verified, allowing the government or organization to specify areas where it would like to get feedback from or generate ideas about.”

Quantifying Our Cities, Ourselves

David Sasaki in Next City: “Over the past few years a merry band of geeks from around the world has given rise to the movement of the quantified self. The mission, as the geeks explain it, is “self knowledge through numbers.” Vanity Fair sarcastically calls them “weirder, hive minder weight watchers.”
The basic premise of the quantified self is perhaps best summed up by a popular slogan from business consultant Peter Drucker: “What gets measured gets managed.” If we aspire to run faster, then we must use a stopwatch to time our pace. If we want to lose weight, then we must buy a scale to measure our progress until we reach our goal. Modern self-trackers have the advantages of apps that make it possible to quantitatively analyze sleep, moods, finances, vital signs and even amino acids, all without consulting a single other person….
What if we were to apply the model of the quantified self to the development of our cities? It’s a question that appears to be gaining steam. Esther Dyson, an influential angel investor and technology analyst, has observed the emergence of a suite of applications that enable citizens and governments to monitor the “health” of their communities.
Civic Insight, for example, has partnered with New Orleans to enable citizens to monitor what the local government is doing to address blight. On Monday, the project was announced as one of eight winners of the 2013 Knight News Challenge, which means that the software will be expanding for use in other cities. Yelp has partnered with New York and San Francisco to make restaurant inspection data available on restaurant profile pages. (Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago have already committed to making their restaurant inspection data available using the same standard.) The Daily Brief allows residents of Baltimore, Bloomington and Boston to monitor all the 311 service requests made by citizens each day.”

Visualizing 3 Billion Tweets

9080460045_cb6c84283e_bEric Gundersen from Mapbox: “This is a look at 3 billion tweets – every geotagged tweet since September 2011, mapped, showing facets of Twitter’s ecosystem and userbase in incredible new detail, revealing demographic, cultural, and social patterns down to city level detail, across the entire world. We were brought in by the data team at Gnip, who have awesome APIs and raw access to the Twitter firehose, and together Tom and data artist Eric Fischer used our open source tools to visualize the data and build interfaces that let you explore the stories of space, language, and access to technology.
This is big data, and there’s a significant level of geographic overlap between tweets, so Eric wrote an open-source tool that de-duplicated 2.7 billion overlapping datapoints, leaving 280 million unique locations…”

When Ordinary Americans Accomplish What the Government Can’t

in The National Journal: “Washington may be paralyzed by partisanship, but across the country, grassroots innovators are crafting solutions to our problems….This special issue of National Journal celebrates these pragmatic problem-solvers in business, the civic sector, local government, and partnerships that creatively combine all three. At a time of endemic stalemate in the nation’s capital, think of it as a report from the America that works (to borrow a recent phrase from The Economist)….
Another significant message is that the communications revolution, by greatly accelerating the sharing of ideas, has produced a “democratization of innovation,” as author Vijay Vaitheeswaran put it in his 2012 book, Need, Speed, and Greed. This dynamic has simultaneously allowed breakthroughs to disseminate faster than ever and empowered more people inside companies and communities to tackle problems previously left to elites. “One of the most interesting stories in social change today is how much creative problem-solving is emerging from citizens scattered far and wide who are taking it upon themselves to fix things and who, in many cases, are outperforming traditional organizations,” David Bornstein, founder of the website that tracks social innovation, wrote in The New York Times last year. Our honoree Eric Greitens, the former Navy SEAL who founded The Mission Continues for other post-9/11 veterans, personifies this trend. Across the categories, many honorees insist they have pursued new approaches in part because they could no longer wait for Washington to address the problems they face. In a world where barriers to the dispersal of ideas are crumbling, waiting for elites to propose answers may soon seem as outdated as waiting for a dial-up connection to the Internet.
The third conclusion limits the first two. Even many of the most dynamic grassroots innovations will remain isolated islands of excellence in this continent-sized society without energy and amplification from the top. Donald Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, notes the federal government is unavoidably a major force on many of the challenges facing America, particularly reforming education, health care, and training; developing regional economic strategies; and providing physical and digital infrastructure. Washington need not direct or control the response to these problems, but change on a massive scale is always harder without stronger signals and incentives than the federal government has provided in recent years. “It is possible to feed change aggressively from the bottom,” Kettl says. “[But] the federal government, for better or worse, inevitably is involved…. There’s a natural limit in what’s possible to bubble up from the bottom….
Special issue at ”

Data-Smart City Solutions

Press Release: “Today the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School announced the launch of Data-Smart City Solutions, a new initiative aimed at using big data and analytics to transform the way local government operates. Bringing together leading industry, academic, and government officials, the initiative will offer city leaders a national depository of cases and best practice examples where cities and private partners use analytics to solve city problems. Data-Smart City Solutions is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Data-Smart City Solutions highlights best practices, curates resources, and supports cities embarking on new data projects. The initiative’s website contains feature-length articles on how data drives innovation in different policy areas, profile pieces on municipal leaders at the forefront of implementing data analytics in their cities, and resources for interested officials to begin data projects in their own communities.
Recent articles include an assessment of Boston’s Adopt-a-Hydrant program as a potential harbinger of future city work promoting civic engagement and infrastructure maintenance, and a feature on how predictive technology is transforming police work. The site also spotlights municipal use of data such as San Francisco’s efforts to integrate data from different social service departments to better identify and serve at-risk youth. In addition to visiting the initiative’s website, Data-Smart City Solutions’ work is chronicled in their newsletter as well as on their Twitter page.”

5 Lessons from Gov 2.0

in GovTech: “Although government 2.0 has been around since Bill Eggers’ 2005 book Government 2.0, the term truly took over in 2008. After President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, his first memorandum in office was the Open Government Directive with its three pillars of creating a more transparent, participatory and collaborative government. This framework quickly spread from federal government down to state and local government and across the nation.
So fast-forward five years and let’s ask what have we learned.
1. It’s about mission problems…
2. It’s about sustainability…
3. It’s about human capital…
4. It’s not static…
5. It’s more than open data…
Overall, a lot of progress has been made in five years. Besides the items above, it’s a cultural and mindset shift that we are seeing grow throughout government each year. Individuals and agencies are focusing on how to make important systemic change with new technology and approaches to improve government”

Colab: Winner of the 2013 AppMyCity! Prize

CaptureAtlantic Cities: “Colab, a Brazilian mobile application designed to encourage better citizenship, is the winner of the 2013 AppMyCity! Prize for the year’s best urban app.
The app’s five founders, Bruno Aracaty, Gustavo Maia, Paulo Pandolfi, Josemando Sobral and Vitor Guedes, from Recife and São Paulo, claimed the $5,000 prize last week at the annual New Cities Summit in São Paulo. Colab competed against two other finalists, BuzzJourney, from Kfar-Saba, Israel, and PublicStuff, from New York City. All three finalists presented their project to the international audience at the New Cities Summit. The audience then voted to determine the winner.
Colab utilizes photos and geolocation to connect citizens to cities based on three pillars of interaction: reporting daily urban issues; elaborating on and proposing new projects and solutions; and evaluating public services….
In total, the New Cities Foundation received 98 submissions for the AppMyCity! Prize 2013. A panel of judges chose the finalists out of ten semi-finalists, based on ability to create widespread impact and helpful user interface”

The five elements of an open source city

Jason Hibbets in Open “How can you apply the concepts of open source to a living, breathing city? An open source city is a blend of open culture, open government policies, and economic development. I derived these characteristics based on my experiences and while writing my book, The foundation for an open source city.  Characteristics such as collaboration, participation, transparency, rapid prototyping, and many others can be applied to any city that wants to create an open source culture. Let’s take a look at these characteristics in more detail.

Five characteristics of an open source city

  1. Fostering a culture of citizen participation
  2. Having an effective open government policy
  3. Having an effective open data initiative
  4. Promoting open source user groups and conferences
  5. Being a hub for innovation and open source businesses

In my book, I take a look at how these five principles are being actively applied in Raleigh, North Carolina. I also incorporate other experiences from my open government adventures such as CityCamps and my first Code for America Summit. Although Raleigh is the case study, the book is a guide for how cities across the country, and world, can implement the open source city brand.”

Checkbook NYC advances civic open source

Karl Fogel at “New York City Comptroller John Liu is about to do something we need to see more often in government. This week, his office is open sourcing the code behind Checkbook NYC, the citywide financial transparency site—but the open-sourcing itself is not what I’m referring to. After all, lots of governments open source code these days.
Checkbook NYCRather, the release of the Checkbook NYC code, planned for this Thursday, is significant because of a larger initiative that accompanies it. Long before the code release, the Comptroller’s Office started a serious planning process to ensure that the code could be easily adopted by other municipalities, supported by other vendors, and eventually become a long-term multi-stakeholder project—in other words, the very model that advocates of civic open source always cheer for but only rarely see happen in practice.
I have no knowledge (and do not claim) that this is the first instance of a government agency doing such long-range planning for an open source release. But it will at least be an important instance: is the main financial transparency site for the largest city in the United States, a city with an annual budget of $70 billion. Giving other cities a chance to offer the same user interface and API support, at a fraction of what it would have cost to build it themselves, is already good news. But it’s even more important to show that the project is a safe long-term bet, both for those considering adoption and those considering participation in development.”