Can Bottom-Up Institutional Reform Improve Service Delivery?

Working paper by Molina, Ezequiel: “This article makes three contributions to the literature. First, it provides new evidence of the impact of community monitoring interventions using a unique dataset from the Citizen Visible Audit (CVA) program in Colombia. In particular, this article studies the effect of social audits on citizens’ assessment of service delivery performance. The second contribution is the introduction a theoretical framework to understand the pathway of change, the necessary building blocks that are needed for social audits to be effective. Using this framework, the third contribution of this article is answering the following questions: i) under what conditions do citizens decide to monitor government activity and ii) under what conditions do governments facilitate citizen engagement and become more accountable.”

Bridging Distant Worlds: Innovation in the Civic Space

A digital white paper by Public Innovation: “In an increasingly complex world, today’s challenges are interconnected. Many have argued that our civic institutions are not equipped to respond with the same velocity at which technology is advancing other sectors of the economy. While this may, in fact, be a fair criticism of our electoral, fiscal, and policy structures, a new mindset is emerging at government’s service delivery layer.
Civic innovation offers a new approach to solving community problems that is emergent, generative, resilient, participatory, human-centered, and driven by a process of validated learning where core assumptions are tested quickly and iteratively – and lead to better solutions that are both impactful and durable. And perhaps most surprisingly, new markets are being created that enable creative problem solvers to sustain their social impact through activities that don’t rely on traditional models of grant funding.
While the Sacramento region is making significant progress in this space, our civic innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem has yet to reach its full potential. The purpose of this white paper is to make the case for why now is the time for a Regional Civic Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Agenda.
The paper concludes with a set of recommendations for collective action among the region’s public, private, nonprofit organizations, and, of course, our fellow citizens. Appendix A articulates this agenda in the form of a resolution to be adopted by as many cities and counties the region as possible.
A recurring theme in this paper is that technology is fundamentally changing the way humans interact with organizations and each other. In order for regional leaders and residents to be honest with ourselves, we must consciously choose whether or not we are going to raise our expectations and co-create a new civic experience.
Because the future is now and the opportunities are infinite…”

The Decalogue of Policy Making 2.0: Results from Analysis of Case Studies on the Impact of ICT for Governance and Policy Modelling

Paper by Sotirios Koussouris, Fenareti Lampathaki, Gianluca Misuraca, Panagiotis Kokkinakos, and Dimitrios Askounis: “Despite the availability of a myriad of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) based tools and methodologies for supporting governance and the formulation of policies, including modelling expected impacts, these have proved to be unable to cope with the dire challenges of the contemporary society. In this chapter we present the results of the analysis of a set of promising cases researched in order to understand the possible impact of what we define ‘Policy Making 2.0’, which refers to ‘a set of methodologies and technological solutions aimed at enabling better, timely and participative policy-making’. Based on the analysis of these cases we suggest a bouquet of (mostly ICT-related) practical and research recommendations that are relevant to researchers, practitioners and policy makers in order to guide the introduction and implementation of Policy Making 2.0 initiatives. We argue that this ‘decalogue’ of Policy Making 2.0 could be an operational checklist for future research and policy to further explore the potential of ICT tools for governance and policy modelling, so to make next generation policy making more ‘intelligent’ and hopefully able to solve or anticipate the societal challenges we are (and will be) confronted today and in the future.

City 72 Toolkit

“An effective preparedness platform customizable to your city. City72 is an open-source emergency preparedness platform that promotes community resilience and connection. This Toolkit is designed specifically for emergency preparedness organizations and provides the information and resources to create a customized City72 site for any city or region. It includes: how to create localized content, access to the code to build and install your City72 website, and tips for how to manage and promote your site.”

Online Tools Every Community Should Use

at NationSwell: “Larger cities like Chicago, San Francisco and New York continue to innovate civic technology and bridge the divide between citizens and government, while this progress is leaving small communities behind.
Without digital tools, staff or infrastructure in place to bring basic services online, small local governments and their citizens are suffering from a digital divide. But one Silicon Valley mind is determined to break that barrier and help smaller cities understand how they can join the digital movement…any civic technology should include the following eight tools:
Bullets: Crime-related data that give residents a sense of how safety is handled in the city.
Examples: CrimeAround.Us, Crime in Chicago, Oakland Crimespotting
Bills: Providing citizens with more transparency around legislative data.
ExamplesOpenGov’s AmericaDecoded, MySociety’s SayIt, Councilmatic
Budget: Making public finances and city spending available online.
Examples:, OpenSpending, Look at Cook
Buses: Transportation tools to help residents with schedules, planning, etc.
Examples: OpenTripPlanner, OneBusAway
Data: Open, organized, municipal information.
Examples: Socrata, NuData, CKAN, OpenDataCatalog, Junar
411: An online information hotline used in the same regard as the phone version.
Examples: CityAnswers, MindMixer, OSQA
311: Non-emergency online assistance including reporting things like road repairs.
Examples: SeeClickFix, PublicStuff, Connected Bits, Service TrackerOpen311Mobile
211:  A social services hotline for services including health, jobs training and housing.
Examples: Aunt Bertha, Purple Binder, Connect Chicago
“The opportunity is that we have the chance to take all of these components that are being built as open-source tools and turn them into companies that offer them to cities as hosted platforms,” Nemani told Next City. “Even a 10-person shop can put in a credit card number and pay a hundred dollars a month for one of these tools.”
While Nemani admits each city will be different — some places are too small for transportation components — working towards a template is critical to make civic technology accessible for everyone. But by focusing on these eight tools, any town is off to a great start….”

Making We the People More User-Friendly Than Ever

The White House: “With more than 14 million users and 21 million signatures, We the People, the White House’s online petition platform, has proved more popular than we ever thought possible. In the nearly three years since launch, we’ve heard from you on a huge range of topics, and issued more than 225 responses.

But we’re not stopping there. We’ve been working to make it easier to sign a petition and today we’re proud to announce the next iteration of We the People.

Since launch, we’ve heard from users who wanted a simpler, more streamlined way to sign petitions without creating an account and logging in every time. This latest update makes that a reality.

We’re calling it “simplified signing” and it takes the account creation step out of signing a petition. As of today, just enter your basic information, confirm your signature via email and you’re done. That’s it. No account to create, no logging in, no passwords to remember.

We the People User Statistics

That’s great news for new users, but we’re betting it’ll be welcomed by our returning signers, too. If you signed a petition six months ago and you don’t remember your password, you don’t have to worry about resetting it. Just enter your email address, confirm your signature, and you’re done.

Go check it out right now on

In Defense of Transit Apps

Mark Headd at Civic Innovations: “The civic technology community has a love-hate relationship with transit apps.
We love to, and often do, use the example of open transit data and the cottage industry of civic app development it has helped spawn as justification for governments releasing open data. Some of the earliest, most enduring and most successful civic applications have been built on transit data and there literally hundreds of different apps available.
The General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), which has helped to encourage the release of transit data from dozens and dozens of transportation authorities across the country, is used as the model for the development of other open data standards. I once described work being done to develop a data standard for locations dispensing vaccinations as “GTFS for flu shots.”
But some in the civic technology community chafe at the overuse of transit apps as the example cited for the release of open data and engagement with outside civic hackers. Surely there are other examples we can point to that get at deeper, more fundamental problems with civic engagement and the operation of government. Is the best articulation of the benefits of open data and civic hacking a simple bus stop application?
Last week at Transparency Camp in DC, during a session I ran on open data, I was asked what data governments should focus on releasing as open data. I stated my belief that – at a minimum – governments should concentrate on The 3 B’s: Buses (transit data), Bullets (crime data) and Bucks (budget & expenditure data).
To be clear – transit data and the apps it helps generate are critical to the open data and civic technology movements. I think it is vital to exploring the role that transit apps have played in the development of the civic technology ecosystem and their impact on open data.

Story telling with transit data

Transit data supports more than just “next bus” apps. In fact, characterizing all transit apps this way does a disservice to the talented and creative people working to build things with transit data. Transit data supports a wide range of different visualizations that can tell an intimate, granular story about how a transit system works and how it’s operation impacts a city.
One inspiring example of this kind of app was developed recently by Mike Barry and Brian Card, and looked at the operation of MBTA in Boston. Their motive was simple:

We attempt to present this information to help people in Boston better understand the trains, how people use the trains, and how the people and trains interact with each other.

We’re able to tell nuanced stories about transit systems because the quality of data being released continues to expand and improve in quality. This happens because developers building apps in cities across the country have provided feedback to transit officials on what they want to see and the quality of what is provided.
Developers building the powerful visualizations we see today are standing on the shoulders of the people that built the “next bus” apps a few years ago. Without these humble apps, we don’t get to tell these powerful stories today.

Holding government accountable

Transit apps are about more than just getting to the train on time.
Support for transit system operations can run into the billions of dollars and affect the lives of millions of people in an urban area. With this much investment, it’s important that transit riders and taxpayers are able to hold officials accountable for the efficient operation of transit systems. To help us do this, we now have a new generation of transit apps that can examine things like the scheduled arrival and departure times of trains with their actual arrival and departure time.
Not only does this give citizens transparency into how well their transit system is being run, it offers a pathway for engagement – by knowing which routes are not performing close to scheduled times, transit riders and others can offer suggestions for changes and improvements.

A gateway to more open data

One of the most important things that transit apps can do is provide a pathway for more open data.
In Philadelphia, the city’s formal open data policy and the creation of an open data portal all followed after the efforts of a small group of developers working to obtain transit schedule data from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). This group eventually built the region’s first transit app.
This small group pushed SEPTA to make their data open, and the Authority eventually embraced open data. This, in turn, raised the profile of open data with other city leaders and directly contributed to the adoption of an open data policy by the City of Philadelphia several years later. Without this simple transit app and the push for more open transit data, I don’t think this would have happened. Certainly not as soon as it did.
And it isn’t just big cities like Philadelphia. In Syracuse, NY – a small city with no tradition of civic hacking and no formal open data program – a group at a local hackathon decided that they wanted to build a platform for government open data.
The first data source they selected to focus on? Transit data. The first app they built? A transit app…”

Procurement and Civic Innovation

Derek Eder: “Have you ever used a government website and had a not-so-awesome experience? In our slick 2014 world of Google, Twitter and Facebook, why does government tech feel like it’s stuck in the 1990s?
The culprit: bad technology procurement.
Procurement is the procedure a government follows to buy something–letting suppliers know what they want, asking for proposals, restricting what kinds of proposal they will consider, limiting what kinds of firms they will do business with, and deciding if what they got what they paid for.
The City of Chicago buys technology about the same way that they buy health insurance, a bridge, or anything else in between. And that’s the problem.
Chicago’s government has a long history of corruption, nepotism and patronage. After each outrage, new rules are piled upon existing rules to prevent that crisis from happening again. Unfortunately, this accumulation of rules does not just protect against the bad guys, it also forms a huge barrier to entry for technology innovators.
So, the firms that end up building our city’s digital public services tend to be good at picking their way through the barriers of the procurement process, not at building good technology. Instead of making government tech contracting fair and competitive, procurement has unfortunately had the opposite effect.
So where does this leave us? Despite Chicago’s flourishing startup scene, and despite having one of the country’s largest community of civic technologists, the Windy City’s digital public services are still terribly designed and far too expensive to the taxpayer.

The Technology Gap

The best way to see the gap between Chicago’s volunteer civic tech community and the technology that the City pays is to look at an entire class of civic apps that are essentially facelifts on existing government websites….
You may have noticed an increase in quality and usability between these three civic apps and their official government counterparts.
Now consider this: all of the government sites took months to build and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Was My Car Towed, 2nd City Zoning and were all built by one to two people in a matter of days, for no money.
Think about that for a second. Consider how much the City is overpaying for websites its citizens can barely use. And imagine how much better our digital city services would be if the City worked with the very same tech startups they’re trying to nurture.
Why do these civic apps exist? Well, with the City of Chicago releasing hundreds of high quality datasets on their data portal over the past three years (for which they should be commended), a group of highly passionate and skilled technologists have started using their skills to develop these apps and many others.
It’s mostly for fun, learning, and a sense of civic duty, but it demonstrates there’s no shortage of highly skilled developers who are interested in using technology to make their city a better place to live in…
Two years ago, in the Fall of 2011, I learned about procurement in Chicago for the first time. An awesome group of developers, designers and I had just built – our very first civic app – for the City of Chicago’s first open data hackathon….
Since then, the City has often cited as evidence of the innovation-sparking potential of open data.
Shortly after our site launched, a Request For Proposals, or RFP, was issued by the City for an ‘Online Lobbyist Disclosure System.’
Hey! We just built one of those! Sure, we would need to make some updates to it—adding a way for lobbyists to log in and submit their info—but we had a solid start. So, our scrappy group of tech volunteers decided to respond to the RFP.
After reading all 152 pages of the document, we realized we had no chance of getting the bid. It was impossible for the group to meet the legal requirements (as it would have been for any small software shop):

  • audited financial statements for the past 3 years
  • an economic disclosure statement (EDS) and affidavit
  • proof of $500k workers compensation and employers liability
  • proof of $2 million in professional liability insurance”

Citizen Engagement: 3 Cities And Their Civic Tech Tools

Melissa Jun Rowley at the Toolbox: “Though democratic governments are of the people, by the people, and for the people, it often seems that our only input is electing officials who pass laws on our behalf. After all, I don’t know many people who attend town hall meetings these days. But the evolution of technology has given citizens a new way to participate. Governments are using technology to include as many voices from their communities as possible in civic decisions and activities. Here are three examples.
Raleigh, NC
Raleigh North Carolina’s open government initiative is a great example of passive citizen engagement. By following an open source strategy, Open Raleigh has made city data available to the public. Citizens then use the data in a myriad of ways, from simply visualizing daily crime in their city, to creating an app that lets users navigate and interactively utilize the city’s greenway system.
Fort Smith, AR
Using MindMixer, Fort Smith Arkansas has created an online forum for residents to discuss the city’s comprehensive plan, effectively putting the community’s future in the hands of the community itself. Citizens are invited to share their own ideas, vote on ideas submitted by others, and engage with city officials that are “listening” to the conversation on the site.
Seattle, WA
Being a tech town, it’s no surprise that Seattle is using social media as a citizen engagement tool. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) uses a variety of social media tools to reach the public. In 2012, the department launched a first-of-its kind hyper-local twitter initiative. A police scanner for the twitter generation, Tweets by Beat provides twitter feeds of police dispatches in each of Seattle’s 51 police beats so that residents can find out what is happening right on their block.
In addition to Twitter and Facebook, SPD created a Tumblr to, in their own words, “show you your police department doing police-y things in your city.” In a nutshell, the department’s Tumblr serves as an extension of their other social media outlets. “