3 Questions to Guide the Future of Civic Technology

By: Abhi Nemani, Chief Data Officer of Los Angeles

Gov 2.0 is a long-term vision, and we’re just getting started. As technology develops and expands, we must constantly be asking ourselves, “What’s next?”

Flickr-CfA-Textizen

Source: Flickr CC Code For America

Five years into the Gov 2.0 movement, terms like “open data,” “open government” and “civic innovation” are quickly becoming day-to-day realities, both inside the public sector and out. Hundreds of jurisdictions at all levels of government have open data portals; dozens have Chief Innovation or Data Officers, or other innovation shops; and an ecosystem of for-profit vendors has emerged as living, breathing (and growing) examples of how technology can radically change the way our governments work.

So what does that mean for those of us in the field — either from the start or new entrants? Does that mean we can pack up and head home? Are those rightfully celebrated victories sufficient to prove that we now have governments 2.0? I think not; nor do I think most people in the space would. The reality is that Gov 2.0 is a long-term vision, and we’re just getting started. As technology develops and expands, we must be constantly be asking ourselves, “What’s next?”

Looking at what’s ahead, the reality I see is exciting, with more energy than ever. But it also comes with a certain responsibility: How do we ensure that our civic innovations are having the impact they should? Now with more time, resources and attention invested in this space, it’s critical for us to answer these questions:

HOW DO WE GET SUCCESSFUL INNOVATIONS TO SCALE?

Whether it be at weekend hackathons or weekly meetups, dozens of civic apps are created every week. These tools are as diverse as the challenges we face in the public sector: Some focus on a specific issue such as disaster readiness app ATX Floods, or the blight monitoring system Civic Insight, and others span the gamut, such as Textizen, the broadly reusable citizen input platform.

These tools matter, each in their own way. All of these tools, however, face a common challenge: getting them in the hands of the people who want and need them. User adoption — to use a consumer industry phrase — remains a challenge for many in the civic technology ecosystem, a challenge that strikes at the vitally important issue of impact. The question we must ask is, “Can these tools, no matter how well intentioned or designed, have an impact if they aren’t being used?”

Fortunately, creative approaches are helping solve this problem. App builders are beginning to invest in traditional marketing tactics, such as advertising or on-the-ground outreach. MindMixer and Crisis Text Line have tested physical ads that go to where citizens are, leading to significant user traction. Since cities control vast swaths of public advertising like bus stops and billboards, opportunities abound for greater usage of these largely untapped assets.

A less common tactic, but potentially even more powerful, is the conversion of consumer apps into civic tools. Take Waze, for example, the consumer traffic app acquired by Google. While possibly apocryphal, it was reported that Waze has received more pothole submissions than all the 311 apps combined. The advantage these consumer platforms have is that they are already installed on millions of devices across the country; if we can push them to play a broader civic role, we open up the doors to an unprecedented scale for impact.

Finally, imagine a combination of both of these tactics: integrations between the larger platform players in the civic space — MindMixer with its 700+ clients, GovDelivery with its 70 million users, etc, — and the emerging new apps that help them get to scale.

HOW CAN WE CREATE NETWORKS WITHIN AND ACROSS GOVERNMENTS?

I recently spent a few days with the folks from New Urban Mechanics from Boston and Philadelphia. The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) was a Boston city government department founded about six years ago to drive a culture of experimentation within the city. Led by Nigel Jacob and Chris Osgood, MONUM served as an “urban incubator,” supporting innovative projects across the city, running them as pilots, and learning what works and what doesn’t. In and of itself, their work was laudable, changing the way the schools interact with parents, city hall with citizens, and how potholes are reported. But more interesting was the growth of their model itself. It wasn’t just their apps that spread, but their department. They shared policies, not just code.

After learning about Boston’s success, the city of Philadelphia launched its own Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in 2012, and just recently Utah Valley University spun up its own instance. How were they able to do it? By working together. I asked the Philadelphia MONUM team how they worked with Boston, and it was simple enough: At the start, they shared documents and lessons to build support, and moved to sharing technologies and successes for quick-wins. Since then, they’ve set up recurring conference calls to stay connected on ongoing projects. Now they share back and forth. For example, Textizen, an app built in Philadelphia, has now been deployed in Boston, and both are collaborating on procurement reform.

This model of networked governance holds promise for the future. The necessary technology here is simple enough: time for city officials to connect, platforms to share documents and best practices, and the occasional conference call. And the upside is staggering: innovations being spread more quickly to every city.

HOW CAN WE CREATE BETTER ‘MACHINES FOR LEARNING’?

What these evolutions have in common is a need to partner and work together. For scale, shared resources and reach is key. For reuse, governmental collaboration is essential. What this means is that we must begin to erect better systems for collaboration in the civic technology community. What makes this community special — and unlike other industries, such as traditional enterprise or consumer apps — is that we all share a common, additional bottom line: civic impact. That means that we’re all taking the same hill. When it comes to technology, cities do not compete. This isn’t zero sum. Even in competitive arenas, like civic startups, there’s little reason to spurn partnerships or cooperative dialogue since more successful companies mean a stronger field and ultimately more attention from the media, investors and governments.

To do this well, however, the field needs to commit to developing better systems for collaboration. Too often, these critical conversations happen as one-offs at conferences, not in any structured or systematized fashion. This, I think, undermines collective impact. In his famed book The Lean Startup, Eric Reis talks about the notion of building a startup as a “machine for learning.” What he means by this is continually developing hypotheses your company seeks to test, and instrumenting the technology in a way that ensures the results from those tests are always pushed back into the system. That’s a machine that learns and grows smarter and stronger over time.

The question for us is how to architect similar systems for the civic technology ecosystem, our own machines for learning how to make innovation spread and scale. Why? In part because it’s in our own self-interest to make each of our initiatives smarter and stronger. But more importantly because in our democracy it’s our mandate to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, to always remember: out of many, one.

 Originally posted on GovTech.com.

Abhi Nemani is the Chief Data Officer of Los Angeles. Previously, he helped launch, build and run Code for America, where he led product strategy and growth. Prior to CfA, he worked for the Rose Institute of State and Local Government, Google and the Center for American Progress, and currently he is helping a number of civic technology organizations grow, including the OpenGov Foundation and Significance Labs. Abhi’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Fast Company, and at conferences around the world.

The Big Leagues: Government Must Reclaim its Role as a Driver in the Innovation Economy

By Paul W. Taylor

Government is more than a venture capitalist with patience or a market fixer, and is uniquely able to take on the crazy risks of failure.

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Source: Flickr CC Rick Burtzel

We are playing small ball with innovation in government. That needs to change — and the most compelling argument for doing so is an economic one.

The smallness or experimental nature of much of what is called “government innovation” today takes nothing away from the excitement and learning spawned by successive rounds of hackathons and the nascent but burgeoning civic tech sector. Nor is it a poor reflection on the people whose careers are dedicated to applying fresh thinking to doing the public’s business, including the 20 or so chief innovation officers who now serve in states and localities across the country who stand alongside or, in some cases, on the shoulders of public CIOs.

No small part of the problem is a conventional wisdom shaped by popular political and media narratives. Naysayers characterize “government innovation” as an oxymoron. They fundamentally don’t like government, and they have had a pretty good run, seizing on each headline of apparent government failure in its use or investment as conclusive proof of the folly of letting the public sector play too close to the edge of innovation.

Not only is there confirmation bias in this narrative — “See, I told you it was the problem” — it remains what it always has been: ahistorical and wrong. In his new book Innovative State, which I review here, Aneesh Chopra lays out an expansive history of innovation in government that stretches from the Civil War to today’s civic hacking movement. You might expect the nation’s former first geek* to argue that open data, to cite a contemporary example, “fuels private industry and improves services for everyone.”

(*Chopra was the first person to have the nickname “first geek.” That’s like first lady, only different.)

It might be more surprising for government’s role in innovation to be embraced by a cloud computing pioneer who doubles as a leading libertarian-conservative thinker and author. Enter Jim Manzi, the founder and chairman of Applied Predictive Technologies with side gigs at the Manhattan Institute and the National Review. In a new essay published inNational Affairs called The New American System, Manzi affirms the importance of government’s role and calls for it to be expanded: “The sweet spot for most government research funding will likely be visionary technology projects, rather than true basic research on one extreme, or commercialization and scale-up on the other. We have a long track record of doing this well and an existing civilian infrastructure that can be repurposed.”

In announcing a new Silicon Valley Alliance last year, Lockheed Martin reminded us that the “government market catalyzed the initial growth of all high-tech industries in the San Francisco Bay Area.” The opportunity as the company saw it was now for an incumbent player to “reconnect today’s companies to that market, which continues to be substantial despite a challenging economy.”

A recent Deloitte University Press analysis of more than 300 prize-based challenges run by or on behalf of 50-plus federal agencies hints at the potential based on crowdsourcing innovation. Trailing all other goals — raising public awareness (37 percent), building prototypes and launching pilots (29 percent), attracting new ideas (24 percent), mobilizing community action (7 percent) — stimulating market growth was reflected in a single 1 percent of the challenges. Yet compared to small purses of as little as $1,000 in the more common categories, the median amount spent in the name of market growth was $10 million, with some valued at as much as $15 million.

Government is more than a venture capitalist with patience or a market fixer. Mariana Mazzucato, a professor in the economics of innovation and author of The Entrepreneurial State, reminds us that the great lesson of the Internet is that government was uniquely able to take on the crazy risks of failure of building something that audacious.As governments — including states and localities — increasingly let go of infrastructure, systems and processes that are less necessary in today’s world and embrace flexibility, scalability, agility, simplicity and partnership, they can not only become more focused organizationally but also provide important economic catalysts in the communities they serve.

Originally Posted on GovTech.com

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Paul W. Taylor is the Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. He also serves as the Editor-at-Large of GOVERNING magazine. In his role as Chief Content Officer, Paul works with e.Republic’s editorial, research and conference teams to identify issues and content initiatives vital to public service, coordinating the combined resources of Governing, Government Technology, Emergency Management, Public CIO, the GOVERNING Institute and the Center for Digital Government and Center for Digital Education to ensure that relevant and useable content is comprehensively developed and delivered to e.Republic’s audiences.

 

e.Republic Ventures Chooses ArchiveSocial In Newly Launched Gov-Tech Accelerator Program

SACRAMENTO, Calif.  July 18, 2014   ArchiveSocial—a civic-tech startup that provides automated archiving for social media content—is the first company to partner with e.RepublicVentures.com, a new market accelerator program designed to bring innovative technology to government.

The arrangement provides ArchiveSocial with venture capital and other resources designed to increase the firm’s public-sector market share.

“We’re solving a problem that affects virtually every agency using social media, but most agencies don’t know that we exist,” said ArchiveSocial founder Anil Chawla. “Working with e.Republic is a game-changer. The partnership gives us access to the market and resources that we simply would not have on our own.”

ArchiveSocial — recently named to Gartner’s 2014 list of “Cool Vendors in Government” — offers a hosted solution that preserves social media content in its original format, time-stamps the data and makes it easily retrievable for compliance with state disclosure laws and the Freedom of Information Act, legal e-discovery and other needs.

The firm is a former Code for America Accelerator company, and it already has a growing list of government customers, including the state of North Carolina; the city of Austin, Texas; and Palm Beach County, Fla.

Growing social media use in government is triggering widespread records-retention challenges for public agencies. Social media content is subject to public records laws across the United States, creating the need for a cost-effective way to store and retrieve this information.

“For the past few years, agencies have been struggling to find a practical solution for this important transparency requirement. We have exactly the right technology at a price-point that makes sense for government,” said Chawla.

The newly launched e.Republic Ventures program invests in early stage companies to speed their entry into the public-sector market. Besides providing venture capital, the program links companies to incubation activities and to the broader resources of e.Republic Inc., parent company of Government Technology, Governing and other government-focused media and research properties.

“We looked at dozens of early stage companies in the civic technology space – and ArchiveSocial is unique,” said e.Republic co-founder and CEO, Dennis McKenna. “It’s a solid company with a simple, disruptive solution for governments that is immediately scalable.”

McKenna said the Ventures program furthers e.Republic’s longstanding mission of transforming government and education through smart, innovative technology.

“Too often, new companies with great solutions to public-sector problems don’t have the resources, know-how and reach to truly scale,” McKenna said. “We’re launching e.Republic Ventures to help companies with exciting public-sector solutions overcome these hurdles and win in the government market.”

 

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About e.Republic Ventures: 

e.Republic Ventures provides mentorship and capital for a select number of early stage companies to accelerate their entry into the public sector market.  It links the incubation efforts of e.Republic Labs by proving and scaling emerging government and civic technologies with the combined resources of e.Republic, parent company of Government TechnologyGoverning and other media and research properties focused on the state and local government market.

Contact:

Patty Cota

Director of Corporate Communications

916-932-1300

pcota@erepublic.com

 

About ArchiveSocial:

ArchiveSocial enables public entities to safely and effectively utilize social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn. ArchiveSocial is the industry’s first archiving technology providing 100% authentic capture of social media for compliance with state and federal records laws such as FOIA. It provides a legal safety net, and eliminates the time and effort required to respond to public records requests. ArchiveSocial is completely hosted and requires zero IT deployment. It serves as a cost effective offering for any sized public entity, and provides the industry’s easiest and most comprehensive solution for managing records of social media. ArchiveSocial was selected for the prestigious Code for America Accelerator in 2013, and has been named a 2014 Cool Vendor in Government by leading analyst firm Gartner. ArchiveSocial is based in Durham, North Carolina.

Contact:

Alix Bowman

Marketing Manager

alix.bowman@archivesocial.com

(888) 558-6032 ext. 106

Welcome to e.Republic Labs

Fellow innovators,

Thank you for visiting e.Republic Labs, a new ecosystem to education and accelerate innovation within the public sector. Our goal is to help facilitate a more rapid way to test innovative solutions from private sector, non-profit and independent organizations within the public sector.  We will accomplish this by conducting research on emerging technologies and trends, as well as establishing a more structured and open mechanism for all organizations involved in government technology to collectively solve challenges.

I’m excited to be apart of the e.Republic team and look forward to working with each and every one of you.

Dustin

 

Dustin Haisler, Chief Innovation Officer
e.Republic | erepublic.com
dhaisler (at) erepublic.com