Opening Chicago: In Year One, Open311 and ‘Apps for Metro Chicago’ will launch

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel released his final 2011 transition plan for Chicago today. Emanuel encouraged his followers on Twitter to visit Chicago2011.org to read a copy of the report (embedded below or downloadable as a PDF) and “share your thoughts” on it.

Of note to open government advocates: Page 14

5. Set high standards for open, participatory government to involve all Chicagoans

Why do this? Without access toinformation, Chicagoans cannoteffectively find services, build businesses, or understand how well City government is performing and hold it accountable for results. How will we do this? The City will pos ton-line and in easy-to-use formats the information that Chicagoans need most. For example, complete budget documents – currently only retrievable as massive PDF documents –will be available in straightforward and searchable formats.

The City’s web site will allow anyone to track and find information on lobbyists and what they are lobbying for as well as which government officials they have lobbied.The City will out-perform the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act and publicly report delays and denials in providing access to public records.The City will also place on-line information about permitting, zoning,and business licenses, including status of applications and requests. And Chicagoans will be asked to participate in Open311, an easy and transparent means for all residents to submit and monitor service requests, such as potholes and broken street lights. Chicagoans will be invited to develop
their own “apps” to interpret and use City data in ways that most help the public.

What will be different?

100 Days: A searchable version of the City budget will be posted on-line, after a full review to ensure that its presentation is clear and easy to understand.

Year 1: Open311 and “Apps for Metro Chicago” will launch. Also a broad spectrum of new information will be made available to residents and business owners to enable them to track lobbying activity, as well as status of permits, licenses, and zoning change requests. Starting with the 2012budget, the budget document will be reformed, simplified, and tied to performance.

It should be an interesting first 100 days. The plan balanced good government, with transparency and accountability driven through technology, with an open innovation approach that embraces Open311 and a focus on open data.

Nick Clark Judd wrote up Mayor-elect Emanuel’s promises to open the #$%@ing government over at techPresident, observing that “Emanuel’s transition team also recommends consolidating city infrastructure — IT, vehicle fleets, et cetera — and collaborate with nonprofits and Cook County, the county that encompasses Chicago, to provide some services. This means the City of Chicago might stop providing some services, directing people to nonprofits or the county instead.”

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Simpl tries to make connecting innovation to local government easier

There’s a new platform to bridge the connection between social innovators and government. Simpl, a joint project between FutureGov and Rock Creek Strategic Marketing, is short for “Social Innovation Marketplace.” As of last Friday, are Simpl is open for ideas in both the United Kingdom and United States.

For now, this open government startup is bootstrapping and focused on local government. “We’ll be exploring a bunch of avenues over the coming months, but for certain we see cities as important and the local as being the right level for being able to support this kind of action,” said co-founder Dominic Campbell. “That’s why we’re launching it with Code for America.” Craiglist founder Craig Newmark described the “social innovation speed dating” that’s set to take place in San Francisco tonight in more detail, for those interested in learning more or attending.

“We are committed to helping government embrace social innovation, handing over power to citizens,” said Campbell. “We see Simpl as a key tool to support the work we do with city governments to open up, connect and innovate.” His presentation from last year’s Open Cities Conference in the UK, embedded below, offers some more insight on that vision.

Campbell offered more insight into what Simpl is all about in a brief interview.

What is Simpl all about?

DC: It’s not about competition, it’s not (really) about money. It’s about peer to peer support and collaboration putting social innovator in touch with government. Not top down, not predetermined parameters by government – but instead gives people the opportunity to say, “Hey, this is a great idea I’m working on to fix a problem that you probably didn’t even know existed. How about you help me make it happen?” It’s mostly aimed at government but much wider. It’s more about meeting a social need as defined by the people who have that need and know what they need to make it happen. That’s often access to people in power more than money, or some borrowed skills, etc. It builds on the challenge model and says, “Hey, perhaps government doesn’t know the problems, so how can it set challenges to meet them? Who better than to define the problem/challenge/wish the person on the receiving end?”

What makes Simpl different from other platforms?

The competitive differentiator is that it is entirely agnostic. It’s about bringing people together, whoever they are, whether in government or out of government, to identify and solve challenges, meeting their own goals with or without the help of government. Frankly, Scott, me, Carrie, and most people we know have more ideas than time to make them happen so this is a vehicle to made that happen.

Why does Simpl matter to citizens?

The key is that this is all about the average citizen. They are the captive audience. They are the people on the site shaping the site from the start. Government is a key partner. That’s something we’ll be working very hard to do to connect our good government (and more than government) network into the ideas to help elevate them and help them meet their goals.

What’s else is ahead?

There’s tech development, in response to a number of requests we’ve already had for people wanting to use our matching software. We’re considering the possibility of adding some paid-for features over time. But all the functionality you see today will remain free.

A movement to spur innovation and participation in government

This past weekend, Syracuse MPA grad student Pat Fiorenza spoke about Gov 2.0 at the We Live NY Conference in upstate New York. In a wrap up posted after the conference, Fiorenza touched of what people think about when they hear “Gov 2.0,” including:

Fiorenza’s recap of his Gov 2.0 presentation also describes both why the idea is important to him and why it’s important to people who aren’t developers.

“Gov 2.0 extends beyond a great programmer – I’ve noticed that when I talk to some people about Gov 2.0 they immediately associate me as a geeky-computer programming-MPA student (only 2 of the 3!). I’ve developed a passion for Gov 2.0 because it holds so much potential for government. It’s about getting access to data and information immediately, improving constituent services, crowd sourcing information, and empowering citizens. Gov 2.0 requires someone to identify an existing problem and conceptualize a solution – then someone to run with the idea and develop the program, with a lot of collaboration in between.”

Fiorenza also pointed the way to Remy DeCausemaker (@remy_d, a “resident hacktivist and storyteller” at the Rochester Institute for Technology’s Lab for Technological Literacy, who also presented on Gov 2.0 at the conference.

DeCausemaker works on FOSS at RIT and CIVX, an open source public information system for raw data. His presentation (PDF) on open government and open data will be of interest to many people in the Gov 2.0 community.

Pew: Open government is tied to higher levels of community satisfaction

The results from a new study from Pew Internet and Life Project found that when citizens believe their governments are sharing more information, they are more likely to feel satisfied with civic life. The study will offer some evidence for elected officials who run on open government platforms or who work for more transparency. Broadband users are more critical of their communities and local institutions.

The study, released by the Pew Research Center, Monitor Institute and Knight Foundation found that citizens who believe that their city hall is more transparency are more likely to have positive feelings about:

  • the overall quality of their community
  • the ability of their community, including media and neighbors, to provide them with information that matters;
  • the overall performance of their local government
  • the performance of civic and journalistic institutions, including public safety, libraries, and media outlets.

The Pew study also found that government transparency was associated with how empowered residents feel. Specifically, those who think government shares information well “are more likely to say that average citizens can have an impact on government.” That said, the authors of the report made sure to caution not to draw too broad a conclusion from these findings:

We did not establish causality here – for instance, that greater government transparency provides benefits to a host of civic organizations or that broadband-adoption initiatives will heighten citizens’ critical thinking about their community or that higher-quality journalism will encourage more people to turn out for town meetings. Yet these possibilities emerge in the answers citizens and their leaders gave.

The degree of open government in a given community isn’t just about how citizens feel about it, however, as transparency advocates have emphasized: it’s  about how well government is actually sharing information, versus how well citizens feel they are. One interesting finding from the survey was that with increased broadband use, citizens become more critical of their communities and institutions.

“This result suggests that those citizens with broadband expect – but don’t always find – information from their governments, schools and other local civic organizations there where they want it when they want it,” noted report author Tony Siesfeld, head of research for the Monitor Institute, in a prepared statement. “It may be that broadband is raising ‘the bar’ on information transparency.”

The Internet is playing a role in the new information ecosystem. According to the survey:

  • 32% of the residents of the towns surved now get local news from social networking sites like Facebook
  • 19% get local news from blogs
  • 12% get it on smartphones and mobile devices like smartphones
  • 7% get local news from Twitter.

“There have been vast changes in the local news and information landscape in recent years,” noted Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project and an author of a report on the findings, in a prepared statement.  “One of the key insights here is that citizens have new ways to assess the performance of city hall. They are paying attention to how transparent their government is. If they feel public agencies are forthcoming, they also feel better about other parts of town. There might be a real civic payoff if governments shared more. ”

There’s much more to dig through in the survey (both the OhMyGov.com and techPresident analyses are worth reading) but one findings is worth highlighting for local government leaders making policy decisions this year:

Each of the 3 communities surveyed (San Jose, CA, Macon, GA, and Philadelphia, PA) have what the report calls an “online portal” for government and civic information. Even so, only a little more than a third of their residents were fully aware of the local government website.. From the report:

Moreover, in the opinion surveys, we found that many who tried to use the internet to get local civic information could not always find what they were seeking. Only a quarter of these residents said that when they did searches for local civic information they always found what they were seeking. Yet even when they found what they were seeking, only 37% said the information presented to them was very clear and easy to understand.

There’s clearly some room for local governments to improve here. The survey results suggested what could be done: “one strong yearning residents expressed was for a central location for civic information that is maintained by the government. More than three-quarters of the respondents in these three communities (78%) said it was ‘very important’ that a government website be set up for this and another 17% said it was ‘somewhat important.'”

Throughout United States and elsewere in the world, there are more examples of technology-fueled open government, where citizensourcing is part of the set of tools officials deploy. If local governments keep using technology to deliver smarter government, there’s reason to be hopeful that new online hubs fueled by open government data will play an important role in the information needs of citizens.

New recommendations for improving local open government and creating online hubs

Today, the Aspen Institute hosted a roundtable on government transparency and online hubs in Washington, DC. You can watch the archived webcast below.

http://www.newmediamanager2.net/sites/all/modules/newmediamill/flashclip/player.swf

The roundtable focused on the release of two new white papers. The first, “Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action,” by Adam Thierer, discusses scenarios where community leaders, citizens, media, technologists and — critically, local government — can work together” to create local online hubs where citizens can access information about their governments and local communities.” Creating such high-quality online information hubs was one of the 15 key recommendations of Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. “Just as communities depend on maps of physical space, they should create maps of information flow that enable members of the public to connect to the data and information they want,” said the Knight Commission. (Download PDF or Read Online)

“Governments need to get more information out and make it more accessible, said Thierer today. “This shouldn’t be controversial.” Thierer said that government can do well to catalyze and support this development simply by doing a better job of making such information easily available in easy to use formats. While open government data stores have grown, Thierer noted that this has not trickled down. He cited the example of Manor, Texas as one example of where one local champion (former CIO Dustin Haisler) got help from Stanford and other external resources to get the local open data repository online.

Broadly, Thierer described three models for online hubs:

  • Hubs focused on community government information. Example: Texas Tribune
  • Community connections: local forums and community email listservs. Example: e-democracy.org
  • Community news and commentary. Example: Universal Hub

Thierer focused on the important role that libraries and local or state universities can play in this new ecosystem, by connected offline and online worlds. These universities could create “code toolboxes” that local communities can use, as Stanford did for Manor. He hoped that that model could be replicated nationally.

Government transparency

Government Transparency: Six Strategies for More Open and Participatory Government, by Jon Gant and Nicol Turner-Lee, is call to action for state and local governments to adopt open government. The six sensible strategies “focus on enhancing government expertise and transparency, educating citizens regarding the availability and utility of government information and e-government tools, expanding efforts to support greater adoption of broadband Internet access services and devices, and forging public-private-citizen partnerships in order to enhance open government solutions.” (Download PDF or Read Online)

There are three basic issues here, according to Turner-Lee:

  • Do people get it?
  • Do they have the resources they need?
  • Can they do transparency with those resources?

“All of us who have been in this debate have seen a conflict between these three factors, said Turner-Lee. The question, she said Turner-Lee, is how we empower state and local government. The challenge is that in most open data effort, “We are still in a one-way world, where data is pushed down to the public, not in a reciprocal ecosystem.”

It’s one thing to say citizens who should be involved, said Turner-Lee, but more needs to be done. “As an organizer, I can speak to that. It’s hard to get people to a block meeting,” much less meeting online, she said. There’s also a persistent issue of the digital divide that has to be addressed in this context. “We cannot proclaim government transparency” where millions of people don’t have online access, said Turner-Lee.

There are many examples of where open data is being put to use on the behalf of citizens now. Turner cited apps driven by transit data in Chicago, heritage trees in Portland or the use of 311 by SeeClickFix in the District of Columbia.

Jon Grant focused on a major pain point for government at all levels for tapping into the innovation economy: procurement issues, which civic entrepreneurs run into in cities, statehouses and Washington. “It is time to look at these procurement rules more closely,” he said, and promote higher levels of innovation. “There are a lot of ideas are happening but a lot of rules restrict vendors from interacting in government,” said Grant. Turner-Lee observed that traditional procurement laws may also not be flexible enough to bring more mobile apps into government.

Fundamentally, empowering more government transparency through the Internet will require both creating a climate for the actions, said Turner-Lee, but also through structural changes, specifically, through the release of spectrum and Universal Service Fund (USF) reform.

It will also require that state and local government officials are part of the conversation, “It they aren’t at the table, we’re going to be pretty much talking to ourselves,” said Turner-Lee.

Former San Francisco CIO Chris Vein, now the new White House deputy CTO for government innovation, agreed. biggest challenge of all is that we like to think there are templates. to a certain extent, they can be. fundamentally, all politics is local. To make this work in government, a community “needs someone who takes risks, who goes out there and makes it happen regardlesss of the cost.”

All stakeholder at the panel acknowledged the crucial importance of community institutions, nonprofits and libraries in addressing issues of the digital divide and creating a bridge between online hubs and local citizens. Turner Lee noted that billions of people over the course of years have come into libraries for assistance, particularly the homeless and low-income citizens. “What better way to get people into the system by enabling libraries to be a conduit of information?” she asked.

“Public information belongs to the public, and the public’s business should be done in public,” said Turner. That said, local citizens also don’t want data for the sake of data. “Consumption of this data would be inconsistent if the data doesn’t provide quality of life,” she said.

Exploring Gov 2.0 in Madison, Wisconsin

Erik Paulson published an excellent new series on Gov 2.0 in Madison, Wisconsin today:

The citizens of Madison are a fairly tech-savvy bunch, but when it comes to technology in the civic space, we’re not as far out it the lead as we should be. I’d like us to change that, and join the list of cities developing applications as part of a Gov 2.0 movement.  This is a brief introduction, and what follows below is a three-part set of posts.

Part I focuses on some of what Gov 2.0 is, and uses Madison Metro as an example. Part II looks at how Madison is doing with Gov 2.0, and what we can be doing better. Part III looks at some specific Gov 2.0 systems that we could be building.

All three articles are excellent, and include several kind nods towards this blog and to Code for America and Civic Commons, two of the civic innovations organizations to watch in 2011.You’ll find thoughts on citizens as sensors, urban data, civic development, government as a platform, a “neighborhood API,”improving libraries, adding fibre, legislation tracking and more. Highly recommended.

Paulson also suggests excellent further reading in The Economist’s Special Report on Smart Cities and  Time Magazine’s article “Want to Improve Your City? There’s an App for That” for more background on Gov 2.o in cities.

The 411 on Digital Capitol Week on 1.1.11: 11.4.11 through 11.11.2011

Digital Capital Week is coming back to the United States Capital on November 4th, 2011. In a livestream today, the organizers of the inaugural 2010 event announced the data and opened the gates for DC Week registration and ideas for … Continue reading

Reflections from Manor Govfresh: Voices of Open Government and Gov 2.0

If you’re looking for the faces of government 2.0, look no further. The video above, released today by Manor New Tech High‘s “Digital Dojo,” features more than a dozen voices (including this correspondent) talking about what Manor.Govfresh meant to them and what open government means to the country.

“I am very excited to be at Manor Govfresh because it’s the first time I’ve ever been to a conference that doesn’t just talk about change but actually does it,” said White House deputy CTO for open government Beth Noveck. “What’s exciting about Manor Govfresh is that it’s brought together so many people who are interested in municipal innovation and using technology to actually make a difference in local communities here in Manor, Texas, in Deleon, Texas, and across America, to actually make government work better.”

When you watch the video, of course, you’ll hear many more voices than Noveck’s, which is of course the point. The movement towards open government at the local level puts the growth of government 2.0 in context. As Stacy Viselli said this morning in a comment on Radar, “Communities and neighborhoods have been moving their organizations online for a while now and are looking for ways to do more. It creates an optimum environment for collaborative projects that include local governments, business, civic associations, nonprofits, and community foundations. Sometimes it’s not about the data so much as it is about providing a platform that empowers communities do what they are already doing–better.”

For more on how local governments are using technology to deliver smarter government, read about how Gov 2.0 is growing locally. And for more on Manor Govfresh, read about harnessing the civic surplus for open government.