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September 18, 2013

I’m pleased to share that, in conjunction with SeeClickFix and Kaggle I’ll be sponsoring a predictive data competition using 311 data from four different cities. My hope is that – if we can demonstrate that there are some predictive and socially valuable insights to be gained from this data – we might be able to persuade cities to try to work together to share data insights and help everyone become more efficient, address social inequities and address other city problems 311 data might enable us to explore.

The Kaggle – SeeClickFix – Eaves.ca 311 Data Challenge. Coming Soon.

September 17, 2013

EMSI seems to understand that in pushing for this higher level of understanding, they are quietly fighting against one of the biggest challenges facing every analyst, analysis-user or data-provider:  We want that pile of information to directly tell us what to do.  Make it easy, on us, we secretly tell our computers.  Just give me an answer, hand me a Number, and let me get on with it. 

This interview with Rob Sentz of Economic Modelling Specialists Inc. (EMSI) introduces you to one of the most thoughtful and comprehensive data analysis platforms out there today, and it gives a great insight into why producing a Thing that grabs a lot of data -- or grabbing data to try to plug into a fast decision --  isn't enough.  Not if we actually intend to develop intelligent solutions to wicked community problems.

September 17, 2013

We must enhance the quality of government developer portals, and we must work harder (and faster) to develop shared standards for government data and APIs. Most importantly, we have to do more to share tips, tricks and best practices between governments. There are some tools out there to get governments started down the road of building a developer center that is impactful and engaging, but we must do more.

By Mark Headd

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the most recent PennApps hackathon – a biannual college hackathon in Philadelphia that has grown from somewhat humble beginnings a few years ago to one of the largest college hackathons in the world.

Penn Apps logo

September 13, 2013

At the Open for Change event, we bring together change makers from around the world to share their stories, experiences and tools. Together, we will uncover unusual perspectives and reflect on what has worked – and what hasn’t – to mobilize people to play part in the change they want to see.

At the Open for Change event, we bring together change makers from around the world to share their stories, experiences and tools. Together, we will uncover unusual perspectives and reflect on what has worked – and what hasn’t – to mobilize people to play part in the change they want to see.

September 13, 2013

PlanningCamp is an opportunity to explore how technology can change planning. You should attend if you're eager to create a better society, where safe, sustainable neighborhoods foster equal opportunity and happier lives. Be there if you're impatient to move faster towards that better state, and you see many opportunities for technology to change how we plan cities.

Why PlanningCamp?

PlanningCamp is an opportunity to explore how technology can change planning. You should attend if you're eager to create a better society, where safe, sustainable neighborhoods foster equal opportunity and happier lives. Be there if you're impatient to move faster towards that better state, and you see many opportunities for technology to change how we plan cities.

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.

August 30, 2013

How would you crowdsource community priorities and developing a community-driven process  --  with 92 people who speak 10 different languages? This organization did. Learn how.

As we work here at EngaginCities to help you discover new ways to help your communities, we're launching a series of podcast interviews with people we think are doing something that you might find useful.  If your have feedback for us or leads on good interviews, please let us know through the Contact Us link on this page.  

August 30, 2013

They’ve shown your consultation some love by taking the time to have a say. Show them some in return by saying THANKS!

by Tracey Gobey

I subscribe to a great online marketing blog, Social Triggers, and once again Derek Halpern has delivered BIG in thought provoking content.

His blog focuses on how  psychology helps boost online traffic and sales. While it is marketing and sales focused, I strongly believe that some of the techniques and strategies from this space are vital in getting, and keeping, communities engaged online.

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

The possibilities of open data have been enthralling us for 10 years.

I came to it through wanting to make Government really usable, to build sites like TheyWorkForYou.

But that excitement isn’t what matters in the end.

What matters is scale – which organisational structures will make this movement explode?

Whether by creating self-growing volunteer communities, or by generating flows of money.

This post quickly and provocatively goes through some that haven’t worked (yet!) and some that have.

By Francis Irving

The possibilities of open data have been enthralling us for 10 years.

I came to it through wanting to make Government really usable, to build sites like TheyWorkForYou.

But that excitement isn’t what matters in the end.

What matters is scale – which organisational structures will make this movement explode?

Whether by creating self-growing volunteer communities, or by generating flows of money.

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

OpenStreetMap's annual international conference, State of the Map is returning to the UK, the first time it has come to the UK since the very first State of the Map in 2007.

State of the Map is the global gathering for everyone contributes to and/or uses OpenStreetMap. We will assemble to celebrate the scale of the changes and achievements so far. There will be keynotes and a breakout stream of presentations and workshops examining current practice, organisation and relationships; and preparing for the changes we can expect in coming years. In fact, so much has happened and is happening to OpenStreetMap that the theme of this year's conference is "Change."

Booking to attend the event is now open. The amount of accommodation on-site is limited and is first-come, first-served but there are still some places left. Rooms in the Business School (where the conference is) are no longer guaranteed available - please phone for availability.

August 15, 2013

When citizens are looking to engage with their local government officials, it’s hard to start out on the right foot when we might not know exactly which local government we belong to or who our democratically elected representatives are. An initiative called DemocracyMap has been established to coordinate local boundary information and offer simple interfaces to discover and understand the civic entities for a specific location.

When citizens are looking to engage with their local government officials, it’s hard to start out on the right foot when we might not know exactly which local government we belong to or who our democratically elected representatives are. With the obstacles one might face to even get basic contact info for local representatives people often give up.

August 7, 2013

Mobile is an experience, not a device. Mobile technology is becoming a more important part of the public participation toolkit, but the real promise of mobile participation is to engage people in decisions while they are in the various spaces where change occurs. It’s not simply enough to have town hall meetings or public engagement websites, nor is it enough to adopt a mobile app and expect people to get involved - new outreach strategies are required.  

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 29, 2013

Isiolo’s district hospital is calm and orderly, with wide breezy corridors that connect different departments and spacious patient waiting areas. And at every service point the hospital has large, freshly painted walls which spell out the rights and entitlements due to every patient.

But there is one problem. Over the two hours we spent at the hospital one afternoon in May 2013, we spoke with about twenty patients. None of them appeared to find the signs helpful, even though the official rules of service were often not followed; for example, free drugs are often not available and have to be purchased from a nearby pharmacy. Despite their bright colors and large size (several over 8 x 10 feet), some patients appeared not to have even noticed the signs. 

Part of Twaweza’s motivation of joining Feedback Labs comes from Isiolo, a cosmopolitan (if a bit unruly) town in north-central Kenya. In contrast to its frenzied town center, Isiolo’s district hospital is calm and orderly, with wide breezy corridors that connect different departments and spacious patient waiting areas. And at every service point the hospital has large, freshly painted walls which spell out the rights and entitlements due to every patient.

July 25, 2013

 “Have we reached a state where the clear distinction between online borns and offline borns is creating a significant divide in our societies that threatens cohesion and communication beyond standard generational difference?”

From futuristpaul.com.  By Paul Higgins

I saw this article on the web this morning and it got me thinking:

Why Can’t Offline-Borns Tell Difference Between Voluntary and Forced Actions?

The article is interesting in its own right, commenting on privacy in the light of the US Prism revelations.

July 25, 2013

Our conventional way of doing public participation in this country tends to fall at one end of the freedom/constraint spectrum or the other.  We either present people with a pre-determined, pre-endorsed plan (or a couple to make it look more like a choice), or we just  throw open the microphone and say "what do you think?"  I don't know why we're surprised when we get protest, or most likely apathy, in the first case, and crazy or irrelevant feedback in the second.  With too much structure, we are squelching their ability to make the constructive improvements that they know they could if they just got the chance.  With too little structure, we are throwing people on their own resources, which on certain issues might not be very deep or loaded with unconstructive, unquestioned assumptions.  We stick them with a feedback method that requires them to operate by the seat of the pants about something they probably don't know that much about.  No wonder we get crazy, off-target and useless.

from wiseeconomy.com:

If we don't create a clear structure for people to think within, their thinking won't be worth very much. 

Here's an easy demonstration of that point (but no peeking ahead!)

July 24, 2013

BaltimoreCode.org lifts and ‘liberates’ the Baltimore City Charter and Code from unalterable, often hard to find online files —such as PDFs—by inserting them into user-friendly, organized and modern website formats.  This straightforward switch delivers significant results:  more clarity, context, and public understanding of the laws’ impact on Baltimore citizens’ daily lives. For the first-time, BaltimoreCode.org allows  uninhibited reuse of City law data by everyday Baltimore residents to use, share, and spread as they see fit. Simply, BaltimoreCode.org gives citizens the information they need, on their terms.

From opengovfoundation.tumblr.com

We’re excited to join with the Baltimore Mayor’s Office to release BaltimoreCode.org, a free software platform that empowers all Baltimore residents to discover, access and use the local laws when they want and how they want.  Highlights below.  Full background here.

July 23, 2013

Holding government officials accountable for their actions is both easier and more difficult than ever before. The widespread availability of Internet access, free platforms for publishing on the web, and — despite efforts to dilute it — the still-powerful tool that is the Freedom of Information Act all serve to provide ordinary citizens with enough access to be their very own government watchdogs. News organizations that fail to adapt to the new trend of information proliferation do so at their own risk. Requiring reporters to engage readers on social networks is helpful in building an online audience and online advertising revenue, but it takes real shoe leather reporting to keep people coming back without being asked.

 

If Kevin Brookman can do the research on his own, the Courant can and should do it as well.

from www.ctnewsjunkie.com.  By Heath W. Fahle

You’ve probably never heard of Kevin Brookman and there is a reason for that. But to talk about him, it is important first to know about the city he covers, Hartford. Wandering through that city, one gets the sense that Hartford is simultaneously on the cusp of greatness and the brink of disaster.

July 22, 2013

Our State of the City Report confirms once again what Charles Darwin found 130 years ago: strength and intelligence matter but its adaptation that probably matters most. In order for cities, and our nation, to adapt to this changing world, our leaders must find new ways to develop solutions that are grounded in present conditions but with an eye toward the rapidly approaching future.

ED Note: I had a great interview with the author of this piece that we published here last week.  Ben and Living Cities are doing powerful
connective work, of the type that we need.  If you haven't read that conversation, take a look at it here.  I think you'll be glad you did.  
July 22, 2013

Lately, a Des Moines, Iowa-area elementary school has been discovering ways to use QR codes to facilitate education. For a couple years now, one teacher has let fifth-grade students decide to talk about a book they’ve read instead of writing a report. They record their presentation, put it up on a website, and create a QR code for it which they post in the school hallways. 

from fedscoop.com.  By Greg Crowe