An essay by Jonathan Reichental (Chief Information Officer of the City of Palo Alto) and Sheila Tucker (Assistant to the City Manager) that summarizes work done at the City that resulted in the Thomas H. Muehlenback Award for Excellent in Local Government: “Government is in a period of extraordinary change. Demographics are shifting. Fiscal constraints continue to challenge service delivery. Communities are becoming more disconnected with one another and their governments, and participation in civic affairs is rapidly declining. Adding to the complexities, technology is rapidly changing the way cities provide services, and conduct outreach and civic engagement. Citizens increasingly expect to engage with their government in much the same way they pay bills online or find directions using their smartphone where communication is interactive and instantaneous. The role of government of course is more complicated than simply improving transactions.
To help navigate these challenges, the City of Palo Alto has focused its effort on new ways of thinking and acting by leveraging our demographic base, wealth of intellectual talent and entrepreneurial spirit to engage our community in innovative problem solving. The City’s historic advantages in innovative leadership create a compelling context to push the possibilities of technology to solve civic challenges.
This case study examines how Palo Alto is positioning itself to maximize the use of technology to build a leading Digital City and make local government more inclusive, transparent and engage a broader base of its community in civic affairs….”
Chris Osgood and Nigel Jacob at Living Cities: “There’s been tremendous energy behind the movement to change the way that local governments use technology to better connect with residents. Civic hackers, Code for America Fellows, concerned residents, and offices such as ours, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston, are working together to create a more collaborative environment in which these various players can develop new kinds of solutions to urban challenges…
These initiatives have shown a lot of promise. Now we need to build on these innovations to bring public participation into the heart of policymaking.
This is not going to happen overnight, nor is the path to changing the interface between citizens and government an obvious one. However, reflecting on the work we’ve done over the past few years, we are starting to see a set of design principles that can help guide our efforts
. These are emergent, and so imperfect, but we share them here in the hopes of getting feedback to improve them:
- The reasons for engagement must be clear: It is incumbent on us as creators and purveyors of civic technologies to be crystal-clear about what policies we are trying to rewrite, why, and what role the public plays in that process. With the Public Schools, the Community PlanIT game was built to engage residents both on-line and in person to co-design school performance metrics; the result was an approach that was different, and better, than what had originally been proposed, with less discord than was happening in traditional town hall meetings.
- Channels must be high-quality and appropriately receptive: When you use Citizens Connect to report quality-of-life issues in Boston, you get an email saying: “Thank you for reporting this pothole. It has now been fixed.” You can’t just cut and paste that email to say: “Thank you for your views on this policy. The policy has now been fixed.” The channel has to make it possible for the City to make meaning of and act on resident input, and then to communicate back to users what has been done and why. And as our friends at Code for America say, they must be “simple, beautiful and easy to use.”
- Transparency is vital: Transparency around how the process works and why fosters greater public trust in the system and consequently makes people more likely to engage. Local leaders must therefore be very clear up-front about these points, and communicate them repeatedly and consistently in the face of potential mistrust and misunderstanding.”
Todd Park at OSTP blog: “Last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) jointly challenged a group of over 80 top innovators from around the country to come up with ways to improve disaster response and recovery efforts. This diverse group of stakeholders, consisting of representatives from Zappos, Airbnb, Marriott International, the Parsons School of Design, AOL/Huffington Post’s Social Impact, The Weather Channel, Twitter, Topix.com, Twilio, New York City, Google and the Red Cross, to name a few, spent an entire day at the White House collaborating on ideas for tools, products, services, programs, and apps that can assist disaster survivors and communities…
During the “Data Jam/Think Tank,” we discussed response and recovery challenges…Below are some of the ideas that were developed throughout the day. In the case of the first two ideas, participants wrote code and created actual working prototypes.
- A real-time communications platform that allows survivors dependent on electricity-powered medical devices to text or call in their needs—such as batteries, medication, or a power generator—and connect those needs with a collaborative transportation network to make real-time deliveries.
- A technical schema that tags all disaster-related information from social media and news sites – enabling municipalities and first responders to better understand all of the invaluable information generated during a disaster and help identify where they can help.
- A Disaster Relief Innovation Vendor Engine (DRIVE) which aggregates pre-approved vendors for disaster-related needs, including transportation, power, housing, and medical supplies, to make it as easy as possible to find scarce local resources.
- A crowdfunding platform for small businesses and others to receive access to capital to help rebuild after a disaster, including a rating system that encourages rebuilding efforts that improve the community.
- Promoting preparedness through talk shows, working closely with celebrities, musicians, and children to raise awareness.
- A “community power-go-round” that, like a merry-go-round, can be pushed to generate electricity and additional power for battery-charged devices including cell phones or a Wi-Fi network to provide community internet access.
- Aggregating crowdsourced imagery taken and shared through social media sites to help identify where trees have fallen, electrical lines have been toppled, and streets have been obstructed.
- A kid-run local radio station used to educate youth about preparedness for a disaster and activated to support relief efforts during a disaster that allows youth to share their experiences.”
New Report by Alissa Black and Rachel Burstein, New America Foundation: “In April 2013 the California Civic Innovation Project released a report, The Case for Strengthening Personal Networks in California Local Governments, highlighting the important role of knowledge sharing in the diffusion of innovations from one city or county to another, and identifying personal connections as a significant source of information when it comes to learning about and implementing innovations.
Based on findings from CCIP’s previous study, Creating Networked Cities makes recommendations on how local government leaders, professional associations, and foundation professionals might promote and improve knowledge sharing through developing, strengthening and leveraging their networks. Strong local government networks support the continual sharing and advancement of projects, emerging practices, and civic innovation…Download CCIP’s recommendations for strengthening local government networks and diffusing innovation here.”
Phys.org: “What does your Twitter profile reveal about you? More than you know, according to Chris Weidemann. The GIST master’s student has developed an application that follows geospatial footprints.
You start your day at your favorite breakfast spot. When your order of strawberry waffles with extra whipped cream arrives, it’s too delectable not to share with your Twitter followers. You snap a photo with your smartphone and hit send. Then, it’s time to hit the books.
You tweet your friends that you’ll be at the library on campus. Later that day, palm trees silhouette a neon-pink sunset. You can’t resist. You tweet a picture with the hashtag #ILoveLA.
You may not realize that when you tweet those breezy updates and photos of food, you are sharing information about your location.
Chris Weidemann, a graduate student in the Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIST) online master’s program at USC Dornsife, investigated just how much public geospatial data was generated by Twitter users and how their information—available through Twitter’s application programming interface (API)—could potentially be used by third parties. His study was published June 2013 in the International Journal of Geoinformatics…
Twitter has approximately 500 million active users, and reports show that 6 percent of users opt-in to allow the platform to broadcast their location using global positioning technology with each tweet they post. That’s about 30 million people sending geo-tagged data out into the Twitterverse. In their tweets, people can choose whether their information is displayed as a city and state, an address or pinpoint their precise latitude and longitude.
That’s only part of their geospatial footprint. Information contained in a post may reveal a user’s location. Depending upon how the account is set up, profiles may include details about their hometown, time zone and language.”
Some thoughts from Panthea Lee from Reboot: “In recent years, civic innovation fellowships have shown great promise to improve the relationships between citizens and government. In the United States, Code for America and the Presidential Innovation Fellows have demonstrated the positive impact a small group of technologists can have working hand-in-hand with government. With the launch of Code for All, Code for Europe, Code4Kenya, and Code4Africa, among others, the model is going global.
But despite the increasing popularity of civic innovation fellowships, there are few templates for how a “Code for” program can be adapted to a different context. In the US, the success of Code for America has drawn from a wealth of tech talent eager to volunteer skills, public and private support, and the active participation of municipal governments. Elsewhere, new “Code for” programs are surely going to have to operate within a different set of capacities and constraints.”
Jane Wakefield from BBC News: “In the future everything in a city, from the electricity grid, to the sewer pipes to roads, buildings and cars will be connected to the network. Buildings will turn off the lights for you, self-driving cars will find you that sought-after parking space, even the rubbish bins will be smart. But how do we get to this smarter future. Who will be monitoring and controlling the sensors that will increasingly be on every building, lamp-post and pipe in the city?…
There is another chapter in the smart city story – and this one is being written by citizens, who are using apps, DIY sensors, smartphones and the web to solve the city problems that matter to them.
Don’t Flush Me is a neat little DIY sensor and app which is single-handedly helping to solve one of New York’s biggest water issues.
Every time there is heavy rain in the city, raw sewage is pumped into the harbour, at a rate of 27 billion gallons each year.
Using an Arduino processor, a sensor which measures water levels in the sewer overflows and a smart phone app, Don’t Flush Me lets people know when it is ‘safe to flush’.
Meanwhile Egg, a community-led sensor network, is alerting people to an often hidden problem in our cities.
Researchers estimate that two million people die each year as a result of air pollution and as cities get more over-crowded, the problem is likely to get worse.
Egg is compiling data about air quality by selling cheap sensor which people put outside their homes where they collect readings of green gases, nitrogen oxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO)….
The reality is that most smart city projects are currently pretty small scale – creating tech hubs or green areas of the city, experimenting with smart electricity grids or introducing electric buses or bike-sharing schemes.”
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.”
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.”