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September 16, 2013

Collaborating with local government is one of the defining criteria of a Brigade. To build the most impactful solutions, both government and citizens must have a seat at the table.

But collaboration isn’t always easy. It takes commitment from both parties, time, and a willingness to walk the proverbial mile in one another’s shoes.

To help citizens get started in their community, we’ve put together the guide How To: Collaborate with Government.

by Hannah Young

ollaborating with local government is one of the defining criteria of a Brigade. To build the most impactful solutions, both government and citizens must have a seat at the table.

But collaboration isn’t always easy. It takes commitment from both parties, time, and a willingness to walk the proverbial mile in one another’s shoes.

September 16, 2013

A new report, “Using Crowdsourcing in Government” by Daren C. Brabham of the University of Southern California and released by the IBM Center for The Business of Government, outlines four different types of crowdsourcing strategies; all of which have been used by state and local governments as well as the Obama administration to some degree of success.

Brabham hopes the report inspires future crowdsourcing ventures in government. He offers some guidance on the four methods of crowdsourcing, which has enjoyed an “enthusiastic embrace by government agencies in the U.S. and abroad,” according to the report.

By Colby Hochmuth

Crowdsourcing has taken participatory government to another level.

Though crowdsourcing is a relatively new practice, recent years have seen government leverage the collective intelligence of “the crowd” to solve problems in the public sphere.

September 16, 2013

The power to govern is often asserted, but it may or may not be based on authentic social consent.  This is an important issue because open networks are changing the nature of legitimate authority and the consent of the governed.  User communities are increasingly asserting their own authority, assigning identities to people, and allocating rights and privileges in the manner of any conventional institution.  Anonymous, Five Star Movement, the Pirate Party, Arab Spring, Lulzsec and Occupy are notable examples of such grassroots, network-enabled movements – and there are plenty of other instances in which distributed networks of users work together toward shared goals in loosely coordinated, bottom-up ways.  Such “smart mobs” – elementary forms of GFNs – are showing that they have the legitimacy and legal authority and the economic and cultural power to act as “institutions” with a modicum of governance power.

By David Bollier

I recently wrote the following essay with John H. Clippinger as part of the ongoing work ofID3, the Institute for Data-Driven Design, which is building a new open source platform for secure digital identity, user-centric control over personal information and data-driven institutions.

September 13, 2013

A new simulation tool designed to help local Bolivian communities reduce deforestation and tackle poverty has been developed by academics and conservationists around the world.

The tool, called SimPachamama (‘Mother Earth simulation’ in local language), is based on extensive scientific research of a real-life Amazonian community and simulates the actions and behaviour of villagers near the agricultural frontier in Bolivia.

A new simulation tool designed to help local Bolivian communities reduce deforestation and tackle poverty has been developed by academics and conservationists around the world.

The tool, called SimPachamama (‘Mother Earth simulation’ in local language), is based on extensive scientific research of a real-life Amazonian community and simulates the actions and behaviour of villagers near the agricultural frontier in Bolivia.

September 13, 2013

We've been informally crowdsourcing the most common 50-ish reasons not to release data that have been heard by those working both inside and out of government on the federal, state, and local level in the US. The reasons, as you can see below, run the gamut from staff training concerns to the ever-looming specters of privacy and security to the persistently optimistic ("It's already public [in a filing cabinet downstairs]."). This list is not comprehensive, but it's an informative start and a useful tool for dissecting the rationale behind and resistance to releasing data -- as well as some of the information gapsthat exist around the benefits of opening data. It also gears us up for the next step in our experiment: responding to these challenges.

Earlier this year, Sunlight was issued a challenge: Collect and refute the most common reasons not to release data.*

September 13, 2013

We see extraordinary promise in marrying the emerging civic technology and data movement with leading systems-change initiatives to bring about faster, deeper and broader results. Smart cities technologies, open data, predictive analytics and apps for civic engagement have proliferated in recent years, giving cities new and powerful tools to solve tough problems. Collectively, we are now seeing an opportunity to take these precedents to the next level beyond isolated solutions to discrete problems towards fully integrated components of system change efforts.

By connecting these tools, and the innovators who are producing them, to existing system change efforts, we can move from quick fixes to large-scale, needle-moving results.  

by Ben Hecht and Abhi Nemani

EDITOR: Excellent article.  If you had any questions about how technology can truly and meaningfully move the needle on wicked community issues, read on. 

September 12, 2013

This set of seventeen guidelines is intended to be both an inspiration to those wishing to make their procurement process more transparent, as well as a reflection on what we think is required to allow for distributed oversight, fair competition, and an accessible market in government procurement. With the government workforce shrinking and overall government contracting growing, transparency in procurement is more important than ever.

September 12, 2013

The state of Texas is anticipating the passage of House Bill 889, which requires that certain governmental bodies make audio and video recordings of open meetings available on the Internet. With over 1,300 government bodies that meet the criteria, this move will single-handedly make Texas the most public-access friendly state in the nation.

EDITOR: This is a pretty interesting development.  Is anyone seeing a legislative movement of this type elsewhere?  If so, let me know at della@engagingcities.com 

from granicus.com By Maryann Mooney 

September 3, 2013

Conversations on citizen engagement tend to discuss the proper role of government and explore the proper engagement levels of citizens. Yet, before any of those important conversations can take place, agencies need to focus on setting the proper citizen engagement foundation, which will allow organizations to build new and innovative citizen engagement strategies.

From govloop.com.  By Pat Fiorenza

Conversations on citizen engagement tend to discuss the proper role of government and explore the proper engagement levels of citizens. Yet, before any of those important conversations can take place, agencies need to focus on setting the proper citizen engagement foundation, which will allow organizations to build new and innovative citizen engagement strategies.

September 3, 2013

There is no question that social media helps government to govern.  Where there is some cause for concern however, is that when using social media applications government decisions are often influenced by or communicated via external web-based platforms or operated by third parties, such as Facebook or Twitter.

From Delib.net.  By Saskia Tigchelaar

NOTE: the recommendations in this post were specificially directed to UK and Commonwealth goverments.  Requirements in your country or local government may vary.  Always seek appropriate legal advice.  This article isn't legal advice.  

September 2, 2013

Time can really drag when you're waiting for a bus or train. Soon you might be able to use that dead time to contribute to a crowdsourced project. The idea grew out of a need to tackle one of the problems with crowdsourcing, says Vassilis Kostakos at the University of Oulu in Finland, which is the potential for bias in the results. People can game the system with fraudulent product reviews, for example, and the fact that users are often relatively poor people from the US and India can skew the findings of a research project.  Kostakos and colleagues wondered if interactive screens offered a viable alternative. "Our studies suggested that people walk up to public displays not knowing exactly what they want to do and usually to kill time. So we tried to find a way to tap into that," he says.

by Paul Marks 

Time can really drag when you're waiting for a bus or train. Soon you might be able to use that dead time to contribute to a crowdsourced project.

August 30, 2013

Whereas you once had to pay $1,500, now the entire package of data -- cleverly trademarked "BYTES of the BIG APPLE" by the city -- can be accessed for free. This also means that anything made from the data can be shared on the Internet. BKLYNR's interactive map of every is an exciting first look at what can be made with PLUTO data.

This week, Andrew Hill published a click-through map gallery built from PLUTO data, offering an even more intensive preview of the information that can be uncovered coming up. Here are some examples from the gallery:

By Jenny Xie

When the New York City government released a huge collection of geo-spatial data sets a few weeks ago, it really was Christmas in July -- at least for all those who love analyzing the city through data and maps.

August 29, 2013

[C]onverging technologies have changed even basic assumptions about public services -- so much so that it's getting hard to even define the specific purpose of the most advanced of these customer-relationship-management systems. Try this exercise: Is 311 ...

-- A centralized customer service call center?

-- A multimedia hub for residents to communicate in any way they wish -- via a smartphone app, texting, a phone call or a dedicated website -- with their governments?

-- A platform for community engagement that connects residents with others of common interest, "listens" to social media comments and no longer is limited to waiting for a complaining resident to ask government for help?

August 29, 2013

As one of the fastest growing industries in 2013, it isn’t surprising to see many sectors looking at how to leverage this growing mass of gamers for good be it for disaster responseengagement of youth with mental health disabilities, or farming and economic development.

In Cyprus and Kosovo, we want to know whether gaming could help bring together people who have traditionally been on opposing sides of a conflict.

Can gaming incentivize reconciliation, peacebuilding and dialogue?

By  and 

Whether it’s pure entertainment, competition, or rewards, people are spending more and more hours playing games.

July 29, 2013

But while the benefits of integrating digital channels into your stakeholder engagement work are clear, actually implementing them is a different story. With so many potentially useful tools out there, how do you choose the best ones for your purpose?

July 29, 2013

In the Spanish town of Jun, near Granada, Mayor José Antonio Rodríguez (@JoseantonioJun) makes local government more accessible and more accountable to its citizens through the use of Twitter.  All public offices and employees are required to have an official Twitter account, which is prominently displayed on everything from police cars and uniforms to garbage trucks

ED: What do you think about this?  The idea of a public official relying on one outlet might raise some questions of equitable access, and how do you structure Twitter use in a context like this to enable constructive dialogue, not just complaint-reporting?  Share your thoughts below!
From blog.twitter.com.  By Marisa Williams
July 26, 2013

As part of the longer-term plan to eradicate poverty by 2030, “or bring it down to about 3%”, the challenge is to move far beyond the analogue methods of yore where things were guided from the top up, to a digital world where things are more user-centric.

“We need to flip the paradigm and not work in the old step-by-step process,” says Vein. Systems and policies should, according to Vein, comeafter they’ve actually started working with those looking to benefit from such development projects.

With that in mind, Vein highlighted eight principles of open development he feels should underpin any modern-day development projects of the kind The World Bank engage in.

From thenextweb.com.  By Paul Sawers

Founded in 1944, the World Bank is, as its name alludes to, a global financial institution geared towards reducing poverty in developing countries.

But as with many pre-Internet organizations, transitioning from the analog world order into one fit for the digital age is something of a challenge.

As such, Chris Vein, Chief Innovation Officer for Global Information and Communications Technology Development, at The World Bank, took to the stage at The Guardian’s Activate London: 2013 conference today to outline some of the key issues they’re facing. And, ultimately, how it’s tapping technology and open data to tackle one of the oldest problems known to man.

Vein joined the World Bank a little over six months ago, having previously served in the White House as one of its chief technologists.

In essence, Vein’s role is not only to help the World Bank embed technological innovations across its operations, but also ensure that the benefits of this are seen in projects throughout its client countries.

“In an analogue world, policy dictates delivery. In a digital world, delivery informs policy.”

“Development agencies are not exactly thought of as nimble organizations,” says Vein. “I think one of the most exciting things about the open movement, whether it be open government, open data or open innovation, is that transparency enables greater participation across governments and the development process, but also that it enables collaboration.”

More specific to The World Bank, Vein says that the organization has been tasked by its new President with focusing on extreme poverty – in other words, those who live on $1.25 a day or less. This equates to roughly 2.1 billion people around the world, which is a staggering figure.

As part of the longer-term plan to eradicate poverty by 2030, “or bring it down to about 3%”, the challenge is to move far beyond the analogue methods of yore where things were guided from the top up, to a digital world where things are more user-centric.

“We need to flip the paradigm and not work in the old step-by-step process,” says Vein. Systems and policies should, according to Vein, comeafter they’ve actually started working with those looking to benefit from such development projects.

With that in mind, Vein highlighted eight principles of open development he feels should underpin any modern-day development projects of the kind The World Bank engage in.

User-centered

This is perhaps the fundamental principle, touched on already by Vein.

“The idea is that we start with the user and really dig deep to understand the specific needs and develop solutions together, rather than just doing what development agencies often do – presenting solutions as a top-down approach. We need to start with a bottom-up approach,” says Vein.

Citing a previous project, which looked at agriculture, and more specifically women in agriculture, Vein says the ultimate remit was to figure out how the organization could improve on its delivery of services.

“In six months, we talked to every person in a village to understand their particular needs, and the challenges they faced,” he says. “It was intended for users to give feedback to The World Bank about what was and wasn’t working in a particular project.”

Data-driven

Though a user-centric approach is a base-level principle, being data-driven was cited as the most disruptive facet of The World Bank’s push to bring its methodologies into the digital age. “Technology is giving us the option to have real-time data upon which we can make real-time decisions,” he says.

“The Bank can take up to seven years to do a loan. It takes that long to go through the various processes to mitigate risks.”

However, this figure relates specifically to the old, analogue world order. With digital, and real-time data, the process can be significantly boosted to make any loan less risky, with countries, individuals and, importantly, The World Bank able to see exactly what needs addressed and the effect any cash outlay is having.

Pointing to “one of the most exciting projects” he’s been involved with in his short tenure at The World Bank, Vein highlighted an initiative in Uganda designed to curb a crop-killing disease.

“Uganda is the second largest producer of bananas in the world, and it also has an 80% use of bananas for its own internal food-basket. Bananas are hugely important to the country and the people,” says Vein.

“The difficulty is, however, there’s a disease that’s hacking away at banana plants, with the potential for wiping it out.”

Working in cahoots with UNICEF, The World Bank targeted 200,000 Ugandans, sending them an SMS that said: “Do you know of anyone who has, or has suffered from, this banana growth disease. Yes or no?”

Within 24 hours, they’d gleaned 45,000 responses and were able to map all those responses through geo-coding and create the first ever map of the entire country which helped illustrate the extend to which this disease was attacking banana plantations.

“This had never been done before,” adds Vein. “Then, within the next 24 hours, we sent another SMS asking if they wanted more information on how to solve this problem. More than 35,000 people responded with an affirmitive, and were able to correctly tell them how to stem the problem.”

Reusable

“Many organizations, development-based or otherwise, try to solve problems individually,” says Vein. “Over and over and over again – we don’t really think about how we can re-use pieces of those projects to speed up development.”

What this refers to, essentially, is not attempting to reinvent the wheel. There may be data, methodologies or other elements of one initiative that can be directly tapped for another one, and this ties directly in with the sustainability of a project.

Sustainable

How can development organizations actually sustain a project for the long-term, beyond its initial launch? “It’s about taking a modular approach to setting up projects, based on open source and open data platforms,” says Vein. “When something is created, it doesn’t have to be recreated as things evolve – you can invite the world in to help keep the solutions going and moving forward.

Another example cited was in identifying problems in schools through SMS. The project, called U-Report, solicits citizen feedback via SMS polls, then broadcasts the results through various media channels, including radio, newspapers and websites.

So that new-fangled iPhone or Android smartphone isn’t required – simple featurephones are sufficient to carry out polls and garner data at scale.

Scalable

In what Vein referred to as Pilot-itis – a fixation with pilot ‘test-bed’ projects that tend to encourage short-term thinking. While he says that this canachieve some degree of success, the world is littered dead or unfulfilled projects. Simply put, many pilot projects are doomed from the start, because they’re not given enough consideration for the long-haul. “They lack scalability,” says Vein.

In another example of a UNICEF-World Bank tie-up, a project call Edu Trac tapped mobile phones and SMS technology to help scale the project across Uganda, with a view to helping them understand the state of schools. This included things like attendance, literacy and so on.

It gives parents, students and teachers the opportunity to text, track and monitor what’s going on with education in any country.

Ecosystems

“From my days in the White House, I can tell you that ‘releasing data and people will come’ doesn’t actually work,” says Vein.

“You need to worry about the ecosystem, all the players, the organizations in a particular area, and ensure you’re working with every single one of them to understand the value of what you’re trying to do and tools to bring to the solution,” he continues.

Borrowing heavily from Code for America, it seems, Code 4 Kenya is another project from The World Bank, designed to build open data ecosystems.

“In Code 4 Kenya, we invite journalists, software developers and others to work with the government to solve and address some of the problems,” says Vein. “This helps build an ecosystem so journalists understand the inner-workings of government, the challenges that are there so they can actually report on, rather than simply what they’re being told. It’s about giving them first-hand knowledge.”

Open

Read the rest at http://thenextweb.com/insider/2013/07/09/the-world-banks-chief-innovation-officer-on-technology-open-development-and-reducing-world-poverty/
July 26, 2013

Play the City combines self-organization with thorough Dutch understanding of urban development. According to Tan, this leads to better results than the 'organically evolved' neighborhoods of Istanbul. ''While gecekondus respond flexibly to the needs of residents, they also have disadvantages. If everyone builds their own house, common areas are often forgotten. There will be few or no parks and squares. The connection to public transport is not always ideal."

July 26, 2013

The idea of “a Siri or Wolfram Alpha for government data” — something that can connect natural language queries with multfaceted datasets — had been kicking around in the mind of MIT Media Lab and Knight-Mozilla veteran Dan Schultz ever since a Knight Foundation-sponsored election-year brainstorming session in 2011. But CivOmega, a new data-mining tool designed to answer questions about government and civic life, only became a reality after this year’s Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Hack Day late last month.

From www.niemanlab.org.  By 

Want to know how many times Beyoncé has visited the White House?

How many bills has Rep. Darrell Issa sponsored?

How many Dominicans live in New York City?

July 24, 2013

Across the board, underrepresented voters came out to the ballot box, according to an analysis of the participants in NYC's 2011-12 PB cycle by the Urban Justice Center and the PBNYC Research team. Of note among the report’s highlights is that a greater proportion of minorities and women voted for the PB process than in previous, standard local elections. 

from http://sunlightfoundation.com.  By Carrie Tian
July 23, 2013

These efforts have helped to create a vast new virtual town square. Unfortunately, that square is still a noisy, unruly place. Like much of the Web, .gov is plagued by signal-to-noise issues, many of which are exacerbated by the unique rules and traditions of each branch.

from e-pluribusunum.com.  By Alexander Howard
July 23, 2013

Gamers playing a Cancer Research UK smartphone app set for launch this autumn will be helping to find new treatments for cancer.

Currently titled "GeneGame", users of the app will be analysing genetic data and helping to pinpoint the genetic causes of cancer as they play.

From www.wired.co.uk.  By Kadhim Shubber

Gamers playing a Cancer Research UK smartphone app set for launch this autumn will be helping to find new treatments for cancer.

Currently titled "GeneGame", users of the app will be analysing genetic data and helping to pinpoint the genetic causes of cancer as they play.

July 22, 2013

As a result, innovation offices tend not to focus on internal, less well-publicized solutions that can create greater efficiencies. Department heads should strive for greater efficiency, but innovation offices can do more to assist ongoing efforts at the departmental level. While they may be useful, apps like Adopt-a-Hydrant are an easier sell than transitioning to a new email system or creating a more efficient method for payroll at City Hall. 

From slate.com.   By