Department of Better Technology


logo-250Next City reports: “…opening up government can get expensive. That’s why two developers this week launched the Department of Better Technology, an effort to make open government tools cheaper, more efficient and easier to engage with.

As founder Clay Johnson explains in a post on the site’s blog, a federal website that catalogues databases on government contracts, which launched last year, cost $181 million to build — $81 million more than a recent research initiative to map the human brain.

“I’d like to say that this is just a one-off anomaly, but government regularly pays millions of dollars for websites,” writes Johnson, the former director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation and author the 2012 book The Information Diet.

The first undertaking of Johnson and his partner, GovHub co-founder Adam Becker, is a tool meant to make it simpler for businesses to find government projects to bid on, as well as help officials streamline the process of managing procurements. In a pilot experiment, Johnson writes, the pair found that not only were bids coming in faster and at a reduced price, but more people were doing the bidding.

Per Johnson, “many of the bids that came in were from businesses that had not ordinarily contracted with the federal government before.”
The Department of Better Technology will accept five cities to test a beta version of this tool, called Procure.io, in 2013.”

Cities and Data


20130427_USC502The Economist: “Many cities around the country find themselves in a similar position: they are accumulating data faster than they know what to do with. One approach is to give them to the public. For example, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago are or soon will be sharing the grades that health inspectors give to restaurants with an online restaurant directory.
Another way of doing it is simply to publish the raw data and hope that others will figure out how to use them. This has been particularly successful in Chicago, where computer nerds have used open data to create many entirely new services. Applications are now available that show which streets have been cleared after a snowfall, what time a bus or train will arrive and how requests to fix potholes are progressing.
New York and Chicago are bringing together data from departments across their respective cities in order to improve decision-making. When a city holds a parade it can combine data on street closures, bus routes, weather patterns, rubbish trucks and emergency calls in real time.”

The Value of Open Data – Don’t Measure Growth, Measure Destruction


David Eaves: “…And that is my main point. The real impact of open data will likely not be in the economic wealth it generates, but rather in its destructive power. I think the real impact of open data is going to be in the value it destroys and so in the capital it frees up to do other things. Much like Red Hat is fraction of the size of Microsoft, Open Data is going to enable new players to disrupt established data players.

What do I mean by this?
Take SeeClickFix. Here is a company that, leveraging the Open311 standard, is able to provide many cities with a 311 solution that works pretty much out of the box. 20 years ago, this was a $10 million+ problem for a major city to solve, and wasn’t even something a small city could consider adopting – it was just prohibitively expensive. Today, SeeClickFix takes what was a 7 or 8 digit problem, and makes it a 5 or 6 digit problem. Indeed, I suspect SeeClickFix almost works better in a small to mid-sized government that doesn’t have complex work order software and so can just use SeeClickFix as a general solution. For this part of the market, it has crushed the cost out of implementing a solution.
Another example. And one I’m most excited. Look at CKAN and Socrata. Most people believe these are open data portal solutions. That is a mistake. These are data management companies that happen to have simply made “sharing (or “open”) a core design feature. You know who does data management? SAP. What Socrata and CKAN offer is a way to store, access, share and engage with data previously gathered and held by companies like SAP at a fraction of the cost. A SAP implementation is a 7 or 8 (or god forbid, 9) digit problem. And many city IT managers complain that doing anything with data stored in SAP takes time and it takes money. CKAN and Socrata may have only a fraction of the features, but they are dead simple to use, and make it dead simple to extract and share data. More importantly they make these costly 7 and 8 digital problems potentially become cheap 5 or 6 digit problems.
On the analysis side, again, I do hope there will be big wins – but what I really think open data is going to do is lower the costs of creating lots of small wins – crazy numbers of tiny efficiencies….
Don’t look for the big bang, and don’t measure the growth in spending or new jobs. Rather let’s try to measure the destruction and cumulative impact of a thousand tiny wins. Cause that is where I think we’ll see it most.”

Two-Way Citizen Engagement


StuffGovernment Technology: “A couple of years ago, a conversation was brewing among city leaders in the Sacramento, Calif., suburb of Elk Grove — the city realized it could no longer afford to limit interactions with an increasingly smartphone-equipped population to between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m… The city considered several options, including a vendor-built mobile app tailor-made to meet its specific needs. And during this process, the city discovered civic engagement startup PublicStuff. Founded by Forbes’ 30 Under 30 honoree Lily Liu, the company offers a service request platform that lets users report issues of concern to the city.

Liu, who previously held positions with both New York City and Long Beach, Calif., realized that many cities couldn’t afford a full-blown 311 call center system to handle citizen requests. Many need a less expensive way of providing responsive customer service to the community. PublicStuff now fills that need for more than 200 cities across the country.”

Analyzing social media use can help predict, track and map obesity rates


Statement from the Boston Children’s Hospital: “The higher the percentage of people in a city, town or neighborhood with Facebook interests suggesting a healthy, active lifestyle, the lower that area’s obesity rate. At the same time, areas with a large percentage of Facebook users with television-related interests tend to have higher rates of obesity. Such are the conclusions of a study by Boston Children’s Hospital researchers comparing geotagged Facebook user data with data from national and New York City-focused health surveys.
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Together, the conclusions suggest that knowledge of people’s online interests within geographic areas may help public health researchers predict, track and map obesity rates down to the neighborhood level, while offering an opportunity to design geotargeted online interventions aimed at reducing obesity rates.
The study team, led by Rumi Chunara, PhD, and John Brownstein, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Informatics Program (CHIP), published their findings on April 24 in PLOS ONE. The amount of data available from social networks like Facebook makes it possible to efficiently carry out research in cohorts of a size that has until now been impractical.”
 

Primer on Crowdfunding


crowdfundingPrimer by ValuationApp: “Crowdfunding can be defined as raising funds from the general public usually through internet platforms in order to support a project started by an individual or an organization….Crowdfunding is essentially a subset of Crowdsourcing; a process where organizations reach out to their customers and the general public, and outsource some of their functions to the public in order to get feedback, ideas and solutions. In crowdsourcing, the participants either work for free or for a very small amount…the first historically documented crowdfunding event was the completion of the Statue of Liberty in 1885, where the city reached out to the crowd through newspapers and part of the money required to build the statue was contributed by the citizens…
Several benefits of crowdfunding have been discussed in the previous sections, so in this section let’s cut right to the chase and present points in the most compact form. Through crowdfunding, individuals and organizations can:

  1. Reach out to a wide range of people all over the world.
  2. Raise large amounts of funds while simultaneously creating their own brand identity.
  3. Gain valuable feedback on the product/service/project they are raising the funds for.
  4. Turn funders into future customers.
  5. Stop depending on large investment from investors and thus enjoy minimum interference from the investors.
  6. Increase public awareness about their products and gain free word of mouth marketing on social media.”

Better Cities Competition


oi-logoAnnouncement: Do you want to make our cities of the future better? Want to help improve quality of life in your home, your work and your public life? Have an idea how? Capture it in a short video and be in with a chance to win one of our amazing prizes!
As a part of Open Innovation 2.0: Sustainable Economy & Society collaboration  Intel Labs Europe, Dublin City Council, Trinity College Dublin and European Commission Open Innovation and Strategy Policy Group are delighted to announce that the 2013 Better Cities competition is now open.
The theme of the competition is how to make our cities more socially and economically sustainable, through use of open data and information technology.  Particular focus should be given to how citizens can engage and contribute to the innovation process.

White House: Unleashing the Power of Big Data


Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP : “As we enter the second year of the Big Data Initiative, the Obama Administration is encouraging multiple stakeholders, including federal agencies, private industry, academia, state and local government, non-profits, and foundations to develop and participate in Big Data initiatives across the country.  Of particular interest are partnerships designed to advance core Big Data technologies; harness the power of Big Data to advance national goals such as economic growth, education, health, and clean energy; use competitions and challenges; and foster regional innovation.
The National Science Foundation has issued a request for information encouraging stakeholders to identify Big Data projects they would be willing to support to achieve these goals.  And, later this year, OSTP, NSF, and other partner agencies in the Networking and Information Technology R&D (NITRD) program plan to convene an event that highlights high-impact collaborations and identifies areas for expanded collaboration between the public and private sectors.”

Demystifying data centers


Wired: “If you walk into the lobby of the data center Facebook operates in the high desert in Prineville, Oregon, you’ll find a flatscreen display on the wall where you can check the pulse of this massive computing facility.
The display tracks the efficiency of the operation, which spans 333,400-square feet and tens of thousands of computer servers. Facebook built this data center in an effort to significantly reduce the power and dollars needed to serve up the world’s most popular social network, and — driven by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s deep-seeded belief in the free exchange of ideas — the company aims to push the computing world in a similar direction. The display — which shows much the same information Facebook engineers use to monitor the facility — is an advertisement for the Facebook way.
Now, the company is taking this idea a step further. On Thursday, Facebook uncloaked a pair of web services that let anyone in the world track the efficiency of the Prineville data center and its sister facility in Forest City, North Carolina. “We’re pulling back the curtain to share some of the same information that our data center technicians view every day,” Facebook’s Lyrica McTiernan said in a blog post. “We think it’s important to demystify data centers and share more about what our operations really look like.”
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Newark's Cory Booker: Social Media Can Help Fix Broken Government


Internet Evolution on Cory Booker’s panel at Ad Age Digital Conference: “Social media have been a part of a transformation of the City of Newark from a butt of jokes to a community experiencing economic growth, Booker told the Ad Age conference. Newark has a population of 300,000 in a state with 9 million people, and yet, Newark has a third of the economic growth in the state. The city population is growing for the first time in 60 years.
Social media can be a big part of the cure for government that has become unresponsive to the needs of its citizens, Booker said. He quoted California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who uses the phrase “vending machine government.” Citizens pay for government services, and get prepackaged offerings in return. “If you don’t like what you get, you shake the vending machine,” Booker said…
When people lean back and disengage, government becomes unresponsive. But social media provide the tools for citizens to collaborate with government.  “We have all these tools pulling government away from citizens,” Booker said. These include special interest groups and moneyed corporate lobbies. “But social media brings us closer.”
Twitter helped Newark rebuild its reputation. The city had been a butt of jokes for years. When Conan O’Brien made a joke at Newark’s expense, Booker replied with an online video that said O’Brien was now on the no-fly list at Newark Airport. The TSA got into the act, issuing a statement that Booker didn’t have that power. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed up with a plea for Booker and O’Brien to just get along.
And it’s not just a matter of public relations; social media have helped improve Newark in concrete ways — Newark’s government is more effective. For example, its inspectors are vastly more efficient at finding violations when citizens can use social media to point up problems, Booker said.
Video can be an even more powerful tool for getting a message out than microblogging services such as Twitter, Booker said. And that led to discussion of Booker’s startup, #waywire. The beta video service, updated this week to focus on video curation, is a place where people can collect and share online video.”