Boosting Innovation by Rethinking Government Procurement


Sarah Rich in Government Technology: “Earlier this month, Philadelphia announced a new 12-week accelerator program called FastFWD that will soon select 10 entrepreneurs to develop innovative projects around public safety challenges. One end goal is that the city will award contracts to several of the projects developed during the program.
FastFWD comes on the heels of a newly launched innovation center by North Carolina that will let the state test technologies before purchasing them. Both initiatives are attempts to ease frustration with government procurement processes that tend to discourage innovation and limit flexibility.
The traditional government RFP process — with its long timelines, complex rules and tight guidelines around liability — tends to scare off some of the IT industry’s most innovative companies, said Dugan Petty, former Oregon CIO and procurement director…In addition, traditional RFPs can rob both vendors and customers of the ability to adjust projects as new needs are discovered. Jurisdictions may not fully understand their business requirements when an RFP is drawn up, Petty said, but contractors often can’t deviate from the scope of the RFP once the contract is awarded….
To help rethink some of these restrictions and find better ways to procure technology, North Carolina plans to test products before purchasing them in the state’s new innovation center… Philadelphia’s bid to improve procurement involves incubating startups through the city’s new accelerator program. Entrepreneurs and the city will work together upfront to identify community problems and then develop innovative solutions, according to Story Bellows, co-director of Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of New Urban Mechanics…
Petty, who now serves as a senior fellow for e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government, says both North Carolina and Philadelphia are developing more effective procurement practices. “The key thing here is this is now a new approach that is helping to evolve procurement technology in a way that keeps up with what’s out there on the industry side,” Petty said. “I think a lot of people should be evaluating these incubator move-to-contract scenarios because they minimize the risk of the project.”

Smart Citizens


FutureEverything: “This publication aims to shift the debate on the future of cities towards the central place of citizens, and of decentralised, open urban infrastructures. It provides a global perspective on how cities can create the policies, structures and tools to engender a more innovative and participatory society. The publication contains a series of 23 short essays representing some of the key voices developing an emerging discourse around Smart Citizens.  Contributors include:

  • Dan Hill, Smart Citizens pioneer and CEO of communications research centre and transdisciplinary studio Fabrica on why Smart Citizens Make Smart Cities.
  • Anthony Townsend, urban planner, forecaster and author of Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia on the tensions between place-making and city-making on the role of mobile technologies in changing the way that people interact with their surroundings.
  • Paul Maltby, Director of the Government Innovation Group and of the Open Data and Transparency in the UK Cabinet Office on how government can support a smarter society.
  • Aditya Dev Sood, Founder and CEO of the Center for Knowledge Societies, presents polarised hypothetical futures for India in 2025 that argues for the use of technology to bridge gaps in social inequality.
  • Adam Greenfield, New York City-based writer and urbanist, on Recuperating the Smart City.

Editors: Drew Hemment, Anthony Townsend
Download Here.

Residents remix their neighborhood’s streets through platform


Springwise: “City residents may not have degrees in urban planning, but their everyday use of high streets, parks and main roads means they have some valuable input into what’s best for their local environment. A new website called Streetmix is helping to empower citizens, enabling them to become architects with an easy-to-use street-building platform.
Developed by Code for America, the site greets users with a colorful cartoon representation of a typical street, split into segments of varying widths. Designers can then swap and change each piece into road, cycle paths, pedestrian areas, bus stops, bike racks and other amenities, as well as alter their dimensions. Users can create their own perfect high street or use the exact measurements of their own neighborhood to come up with new propositions for planned construction work. Indeed, Streetmix has already found use among residents and organizations to demonstrate how to better use the local space available. Kansas City’s Bike Walk KC has utilized the platform to show how new bike lanes could figure in an upcoming study of traffic flow in the region, while New Zealand’s Transport Blog has presented several alternatives to current street layouts in Auckland.
Streetmix is an easy-to-use visualization tool that can help amateurs present their ideas to local authorities in a more coherent way, potentially increasing the chances of politicians hearing calls for change. Are there other ways to help laymen express complex ideas more eloquently?”
Spotted by Murtaza Patel, written by Springwise

7 Tactics for 21st-Century Cities


Abhi Nemani, co-director of Code for America: “Be it the burden placed on them by shrinking federal support, or the opportunity presented by modern technology, 21st-century cities are finding new ways to do things. For four years, Code for America has worked with dozens of cities, each finding creative ways to solve neighborhood problems, build local capacity and steward a national network. These aren’t one-offs. Cities are championing fundamental, institutional reforms to commit to an ongoing innovation agenda.
Here are a few of the ways how:

  1. …Create an office of new urban mechanics or appoint a chief innovation officer…
  2. …Appoint a chief data officer or create an office of performance management/enhancement…
  3. …Adopt the Gov.UK Design Principles, and require plain, human language on every interface….
  4. …Share open source technology with a sister city or change procurement rules to make it easier to redeploy civic tech….
  5. …Work with the local civic tech community and engage citizens for their feedback on city policy through events, tech and existing forums…
  6. …Create an open data policy and adopt open data specifications…
  7. …Attract tech talent into city leadership, and create training opportunities citywide to level up the tech literacy for city staff…”

Chicago: Increase and improve City data


Initiative 14 of the Chicago Tech Plan:  “The City will continue to increase and improve the quality of City data available internally and externally, and facilitate methods for analyzing that data to help create a smarter and more efficient city.”
Releasing data is a crucial component of creating an open and transparent government. Chicago is currently a leader in open data, capturing and publishing more than 400 machine-readable datasets to date. In 2012, Mayor Emanuel issued an executive order ensuring that the City continues to release new data, and empowering the Chief Data Officer to work with other City departments and agencies to develop new datasets. The City is following an aggressive schedule for releasing new datasets to the public and updating existing sets. It is also working to facilitate ways the City and others can use data to help improve City operations.
Chicago Shovels Plow Tracker
Source: https://web.archive.org/web/2000/https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/mayor/iframe/plow_tracker.html
 


Open Data Success Story: ChicagoWorks
A collaboration between Alderman Ameya Pawar and local graphic design company 2pensmedia, ChicagoWorks is a free app that is changing the way Chicagoans interact with government. Using the app, residents can submit service requests directly to 311
and track the progress of reported issues. So far, more than 3,000 residents have downloaded the app.18


Open Data Success Story: SpotHero and Techstars Chicago
The app SpotHero makes residents’ lives easier by helping them find and reserve parking spots online. Developed in Chicago, the app had its start at Excelerate Labs, a Chicago start-up accelerator, now Techstars Chicago, that provides mentorship, training, and networking opportunities to 10 selected start-ups each year. After graduating from the program, ranked as one of the top 3 accelerators nationally, SpotHero attracted $2.5 million in VC funding. With this funding, the company is hiring new staff working to expand to other cities.19


Open Data Success Story: OpenGov Hack Night
Chicago boasts a community of “civic hackers” who are passionate about using technology to improve the city. An example of this passion in action is the OpenGov Hack Night. Organized by Open City, an organization that builds web apps and other tools using open government data, the Hack Night attracts civic hackers and curious residents eager to explore the intersection of open government data, smart cities, and technology. Every week, the Hack Night provides a collaborative environment for residents to learn about open data, working on cutting-edge projects and networking with passionate civic technologists.20

Building a Smarter City


PSFK: “As cities around the world grow in size, one of the major challenges will be how to make city services and infrastructure more adaptive and responsive in order to keep existing systems running efficiently, while expanding to accommodate greater need. In our Future Of Cities report, PSFK Labs investigated the key trends and pressing issues that will play a role in shaping the evolution of urban environments over the next decade.

A major theme identified in the report is Sensible Cities, which is bringing intelligence to the city and its citizens through the free flow of information and data, helping improve both immediate and long term decision making. This theme consists of six key trends: Citizen Sensor Networks, Hyperlocal Reporting, Just-In-Time Alerts, Proximity Services, Data Transparency, and Intelligent Transport.

The Citizen Sensor Networks trend described in the Future Of Cities report highlights how sensor-laden personal electronics are enabling everyday people to passive collect environmental data and other information about their communities. When fed back into centralized, public databases for analysis, this accessible pool of knowledge enables any  interested party to make more informed choices about their surroundings. These feedback systems require little infrastructure, and transform people into sensor nodes with little effort on their part. An example of this type of network in action is Street Bump, which  is a crowdsourcing project that helps residents improve their neighborhood streets by collecting data around real-time road conditions while they drive. Using the mobile application’s motion- detecting accelerometer, Street Bump is able to sense when a bump is hit, while the phone’s GPS records and transmits the location.

retio-app

The next trend of Hyperlocal Reporting describes how crowdsourced information platforms are changing the top-down nature of how news is gathered and disseminated by placing reporting tools in the hands of citizens, allowing any individual to instantly broadcast about what is important to them. Often using mobile phone technology, these information monitoring systems not only provide real-time, location specific data, but also boost civic engagement by establishing direct channels of communication between an individual and their community. A good example of this is Retio, which is a mobile application that allows Mexican citizens to report on organized crime and corruption using social media. Each issue is plotted on a map, allowing users and authorities to get an overall idea of what has been reported or narrow results down to specific incidents.

.openspending

Data Transparency is a trend that examines how city administrators, institutions, and companies are publicly sharing data generated within their systems to add new levels of openness and accountability. Availability of this information not only strengthens civic engagement, but also establishes a collaborative agenda at all levels of government that empowers citizens through greater access and agency. For example, OpenSpending is a mobile and web-based application that allows citizens in participating cities to examine where their taxes are being spent through interactive visualizations. Citizens can review their personal share of public works, examine local impacts of public spending, rate and vote on proposed plans for spending and monitor the progress of projects that are or are not underway…”

Beyond Transparency


New book on Open Data and the Future of Civic Innovation: The rise of open data in the public sector has sparked innovation, driven efficiency, and fueled economic development. And in the vein of high-profile federal initiatives like Data.gov and the White House’s Open Government Initiative, more and more local governments are making their foray into the field with Chief Data Officers, open data policies, and open data catalogs.
While still emerging, we are seeing evidence of the transformative potential of open data in shaping the future of our civic life. It’s at the local level that government most directly impacts the lives of residents—providing clean parks, fighting crime, or issuing permits to open a new business. This is where there is the biggest opportunity to use open data to reimagine the relationship between citizens and government.
Beyond Transparency is a cross-disciplinary survey of the open data landscape, in which practitioners share their own stories of what they’ve accomplished with open civic data. It seeks to move beyond the rhetoric of transparency for transparency’s sake and towards action and problem solving. Through these stories, we examine what is needed to build an ecosystem in which open data can become the raw materials to drive more effective decision-making and efficient service delivery, spur economic activity, and empower citizens to take an active role in improving their own communities….
This book is a resource for (and by) practitioners inside and outside government—from the municipal chief information officer to the community organizer to the civic-minded entrepreneur. Beyond Transparency is intended to capture and distill the community’s learnings around open data for the past four years. And we know that the community is going to continue learning. That’s why, in addition to the print version of the book which you can order on Amazon, we’ve also published the digital version of this book on this site under a Creative Commons license. The full text of this site is on GitHub — which means that anyone can submit a pull request with a suggested edit. Help us improve this resource for the community and write the next edition of Beyond Transparency by submitting your pull requests.
Code for America is a national nonprofit committed to building a government for the people, by the people, that works in the 21st century. Over the past four years, CfA has worked with dozens of cities to support civic innovation through open data. You can support this work by contributing to the book on GitHub, joining the CfA volunteer community (the Brigade), or connecting your city with CfA.

GitHub and Government


New site: “Make government better, together. Stories of open source, open data, and open government.
This site is an open source effort to showcase best practices of open sourcing government. See something that you think could be better? Want to submit your own story? Simply fork the project and submit a pull request.

Ready to get started on GitHub? Here are some ideas that are easy to get your feet wet with.

Feedback Repository

GitHub’s about connecting with developers. Whether you’re an API publishing pro, or just getting started, creating a “feedback” repository can go a long way to connect your organization with the community. Get feedback from current and potential data consumers by creating a specific repository for them to contribute ideas and suggestions for types of data or other information they’d like to see opened. Here’s how:

  1. Create a new repository
    • Choose your organization as the Owner
    • Name the repository “feedback” or similar
    • Click the checkbox to automatically create a README.md file
  2. Set up your Readme
    • Click README.md within your newly created repository
    • Click Edit
    • Introduce yourself, describe why you’ve joined GitHub, what you’re hoping to do and what you’d like to learn from the development community. Encourage them to leave feedback through issues on the repository.

Sample text for your README.md:

# City of Gotham Feedback
We've just joined GitHub and want to know what data would be interesting to our development community?
Leave us comments via issues!

Open source a Dataset

Open sourcing a dataset can be as simple as uploading a .csv to GitHub and letting people know about it. Rather than publishing data as a zip file on your website or an FTP server, you can add the files through the GitHub.com web interface, or via the GitHub for Windows or GitHub for Mac native clients. Create a new repository to store your datasets – in many cases, it’s as easy as drag, drop, sync.
GitHub can host any file type (although open, non-binary files like .csvs tend to work best). Plus, GitHub supports rendering certain open data formats interactively such as the popular geospacial .geojson format. Once uploaded, citizens can view the files, and can even open issues or submit pull requests with proposed fixes.

Explore Open Source Civic Apps

There are many open source applications freely available on GitHub that were built just for government. Check them out, and see if it fits a need. Here are some examples:

  • Adopt-a – This open source web app was created for the City of Boston in 2011 by Code for America fellows. It allows residents to “adopt” a hydrant and make sure it’s clear of snow in the winter so that emergency crews can locate them when needed. It has since been adopted in Chicago (for sidewalks), Seattle (for storm drains), and Honolulu (for tsunami sirens).
  • StreetMix – Another creation of Code for America fellows (2013) this website, www.streetmix.net, allows anyone to create street sections in a way that is not only beautiful but educational, too. No downloading, no installing, no paying – make and save your creations right at the website. Great for internal or public community planning meetings.
  • We The PeopleWe The People, the White House’s petitions application hosted at petitions.whitehouse.gov is a Drupal module to allow citizens to submit and digitally sign petitions.

Open source something small

Chances are you’ve got something small you can open source. Check in with your web or new media team, and see if they’ve got something they’ve been dying to share or blog about, no matter how small. It can be snippet of analytics code, or maybe a small script used internally. It doesn’t even have to be code.
Post your website’s privacy policy, comment moderation policy, or terms of service and let the community weigh in before your next edit. No matter how small it is, getting your first open source project going is a great first step.

Improve an existing project

Does you agency use an existing open source project to conduct its own business? Open an issue on the project’s repository with a feature request or a bug you spot. Better yet, fork the project, and submit your improvements. Even if it’s one or two lines of code, such examples are great to blog about to showcase your efforts.
Don’t forget, this site is an open source project, too. Making an needed edit is another great way to get started.”

Free Software Ties the Internet of Things Together


Rachel Metz in MIT Technology Review: “OpenRemote is an open-source Internet of Things platform that could help spur smarter homes and cities.
If you buy several Internet-connected home gadgets—say, a “smart” thermostat, “smart” door lock, and “smart” window blinds—you’ll likely have to control each one with a separate app, meaning it exists in its own little silo.
That’s not how Elier Ramirez does it. In his home, an iPad app controls his lights, ceiling fans, and TV and stereo. Pressing a single button within the app can shut off all his lights and gadgets when he leaves.
Ramirez can tap a lamp in an image to turn an actual lamp off and on in his apartment, and at the same time he’ll see the picture on the tablet’s screen go dark or become illuminated. Ramirez also set up a presence-sensing feature that uses his cell phone to determine if he’s home (it checks whether or not he has connected to his home Wi-Fi network). This can automatically turn on the lights if he’s there. Ramirez runs the whole setup from a small computer in his home.
The software behind all this interconnection comes from a company called OpenRemote, which is plugging away on an open-source software platform for linking Internet-connected gadgets, making it easier to control all kinds of smart home devices, regardless of who made them. And it makes it easy to automate actions like lowering your connected window blinds if the temperature sensed in your living room goes above 75 degrees….
OpenRemote also sees a moneymaking opportunity beyond the home in providing its software to cities, which are becoming increasingly interested in using technology for everything from communicating with citizens to monitoring traffic. Last year, OpenRemote conducted a small test in Eindhoven, in hopes of using automation and crowdsourcing to monitor a city. This included people-tracking with cameras, sound-level tracking, social-media monitoring, and an app that people in the area could use to rate what the atmosphere was like. The company is currently working on a larger-scale project in Eindhoven, Kil says. “If you put four walls around a city, it’s a big room, if you know what I mean,” he says.”

Seven Principles for Big Data and Resilience Projects


PopTech & Rockefeler Bellagio Fellows: “The following is a draft “Code of Conduct” that seeks to provide guidance on best practices for resilience building projects that leverage Big Data and Advanced Computing. These seven core principles serve to guide data projects to ensure they are socially just, encourage local wealth- & skill-creation, require informed consent, and be maintainable over long timeframes. This document is a work in progress, so we very much welcome feedback. Our aim is not to enforce these principles on others but rather to hold ourselves accountable and in the process encourage others to do the same. Initial versions of this draft were written during the 2013 PopTech & Rockefeller Foundation workshop in Bellagio, August 2013.
Open Source Data Tools – Wherever possible, data analytics and manipulation tools should be open source, architecture independent and broadly prevalent (R, python, etc.). Open source, hackable tools are generative, and building generative capacity is an important element of resilience….
Transparent Data Infrastructure – Infrastructure for data collection and storage should operate based on transparent standards to maximize the number of users that can interact with the infrastructure. Data infrastructure should strive for built-in documentation, be extensive and provide easy access. Data is only as useful to the data scientist as her/his understanding of its collection is correct…
Develop and Maintain Local Skills – Make “Data Literacy” more widespread. Leverage local data labor and build on existing skills. The key and most constraint ingredient to effective data solutions remains human skill/knowledge and needs to be retained locally. In doing so, consider cultural issues and language. Catalyze the next generation of data scientists and generate new required skills in the cities where the data is being collected…
Local Data Ownership – Use Creative Commons and licenses that state that data is not to be used for commercial purposes. The community directly owns the data it generates, along with the learning algorithms (machine learning classifiers) and derivatives. Strong data protection protocols need to be in place to protect identities and personally identifying information…
Ethical Data Sharing – Adopt existing data sharing protocols like the ICRC’s (2013). Permission for sharing is essential. How the data will be used should be clearly articulated. An opt in approach should be the preference wherever possible, and the ability for individuals to remove themselves from a data set after it has been collected must always be an option. Projects should always explicitly state which third parties will get access to data, if any, so that it is clear who will be able to access and use the data…
Right Not To Be Sensed – Local communities have a right not to be sensed. Large scale city sensing projects must have a clear framework for how people are able to be involved or choose not to participate. All too often, sensing projects are established without any ethical framework or any commitment to informed consent. It is essential that the collection of any sensitive data, from social and mobile data to video and photographic records of houses, streets and individuals, is done with full public knowledge, community discussion, and the ability to opt out…
Learning from Mistakes – Big Data and Resilience projects need to be open to face, report, and discuss failures. Big Data technology is still very much in a learning phase. Failure and the learning and insights resulting from it should be accepted and appreciated. Without admitting what does not work we are not learning effectively as a community. Quality control and assessment for data-driven solutions is notably harder than comparable efforts in other technology fields. The uncertainty about quality of the solution is created by the uncertainty inherent in data…”