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October 27, 2014

Open data is the future – of how we govern, of how public services are delivered, of how governments engage with those that they serve. And right now, it is unevenly distributed. I think there is a strong argument to be made that data standards can provide a number of benefits to small and mid-sized municipal governments and could provide a powerful incentive for these governments to adopt open data.

By Mark Headd

This is an expanded version of a talk I gave last week at the Code for America Summit. The video from my talk should be up shortly.

An uneven future

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”
William Gibson. The Economist, December 4, 2003

October 22, 2014

In our work with America’s cities and a cross-section of public and private sector leaders, we are learning a lot about what works — and what doesn’t — to lead and drive this kind of change. But these aren’t just lessons for the social sector. Much of what we’ve learned is relevant to leaders of any type of organization or partnership that want to catalyze change in the face of complex challenges.

by Ben Hecht

Change on a grand scale requires people to come together in new and different ways, and to reimagine what’s possible. This kind of change is hard, but it’s not impossible.

October 21, 2014

Social media can be a beautiful thing. With unlimited possibilities for connections with billions of people worldwide, friendships can be strengthened, families can connect across the globe, and loyal customers can become raving fans, even friends, of your organization. But like most things, social media has a dark side – the side that lets users openly express their unfiltered anger, frustration, even full on rage toward organizations and other people. Some individuals, known as trolls in Web vernacular, even purposefully try to provoke more outrage from other people in comments or tweets. Besides the obvious question of how one finds the time to argue with others online, the question of how to deal with digital discord is one that many organizations struggle with. We’ve pulled together a few tips to help you create a more harmonious online community, and to continue to help you cultivate productive online engagement.

By Amy Larsen

September 18, 2014

Today, Chicagoans can easily see how and where city services are being deployed, find early learning programs, learn of local incidents of foodborne illnesswait time estimates for popular public amenities, and enjoy other benefits of open government data -- thanks to the efforts of the Smart Chicago Collaborative.

It wasn't by accident that access to this data was made easy (and even fun). Nor was this success attributable solely to talented developers. The Collaborative has cultivated a community of paid civic user testers to make sure their civic apps meet the needs and expectations of Chicagoans -- an approach that can be emulated in other communities.

by: Amy Gahran

September 16, 2014

What does it take to create robust, effective transparency legislation? Here are some guidelines.

At the highest level of abstraction, I suggest drafters:

  1. Understand the context
  2. Use flexible implementation authority
  3. Create external checks on implementation
  4. Make information public by default
  5. Build in feedback loops
  6. Keep close watch on cost
  7. Watch out for tricky legislative language
  8. Figure out where to embed a program

September 15, 2014

Over the last several decades, a technological boom has changed the face of the planet. Just as it has changed everyday life, so too has it changed the way our country is governed. Let’s look at a few of the problems we are currently reflecting on—and the technological solutions that could turn them around:

By Tom Spengler

From the day our government came into existence, there have been large challenges to overcome, whether governing just one city or an entire country. From providing disaster relief, to managing public transportation and roads, to leading the way for more sustainable community development, the government has a lot to focus on.

September 11, 2014

From the periphery, planning and community engagement seems easy. You schedule a few public meetings. You talk to a few folks, confer with a few experts and put together a plan for the future of a community. Easy? 

Nope. Planning and public engagement processes are never easy. The fact that most engagement processes fail is hardly a secret.

By Simon Lapointe

We all make mistakes and we all have failures. Over the course of our professional lives we can all count on having a few epic fails.

From the periphery, planning and community engagement seems easy. You schedule a few public meetings. You talk to a few folks, confer with a few experts and put together a plan for the future of a community. Easy? 

Nope. Planning and public engagement processes are never easy. The fact that most engagement processes fail is hardly a secret.

September 10, 2014

A 2013 McKinsey Global Institute report estimated that open data could add over $3 trillion annually in total value to the global economy. Yet for all of the evidence of economic and societal benefits from open data, states vary widely in the degree to which they have embraced the idea. This report provides a snapshot of state efforts to create open data policies and portals and ranks states on their progress.

by Laura Drees and Daniel Castro

September 9, 2014

Start with basics. Big data seems daunting as many cities don’t have the money or requisite skills to advance such a strategy. Cities do not need to go straight to big data—it can be overwhelming. Municipal leaders need to just pick a few discrete areas to begin. A place to start is to simply ask how do you measure performance? Do you have a stat-like program or another way of gathering basic data? The goal should be a continuous effort that provides value in specific areas and which produces useful insights into what is and is not working. Analytics can highlight recurring problems and their causes. A framework can then be established to resolve the underlying causes, which can then translate into continuous results. This whole process involves asking realistic questions that drive solutions.

September 8, 2014

Last week I had a great time teaching a webinar with Susan Stuart Clark of Common Ground for the National Council on Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD).  We were talking about online strategies for getting people involved in local government planning and decision-making, and we had close to 100 people participation.

In the week before the webinar, NCDD asked for questions from the people who would be attending, and man... we got a ton. We only had an hour for the session so there were a lot of questions that probably got lost in the wash of participation.  So I went back through them after the webinar and made sure that I had at least given some kind of response to each one.  I initially did this so that NCDD could share it with the participants, but I figured many of you would find it interesting as well.

By Della Rucker  

NOTE: This piece was initially written for the Wise Economy Workshop.  Della is also the Managing Editor of EngagingCities.

September 5, 2014

I really liked this approach because

i) it created a good reflection on the current process
ii) it clearly identified the different perspectives of different stakeholders including contradictions iii) it got different constituencies to work together to create solutions based on the reflections and lessons learned
iv) it created an element of friendly competition (gamification!)
v) it was fun and people were very engaged
vi) in the end we were able to identify some of the best ideas from each proposal which will be taken forward in a smaller redesign group. 

September 3, 2014

At the top of nearly every public sector organization’s priority list is how to better engage the citizens it serves. Boosting stakeholder engagement was rated the highest communications objective for 2014 among nearly 40 percent of government respondents in a survey by GovDelivery, a digital communications service provider.

August 29, 2014

Production APIs done right require stewardship – this includes ensuring adequate reliability, authentication, versioning and a host of other things that building a demo API does not. If developers perceive that an API is unstable or lacks proper stewardship, they won’t invest the time building services that take advantage of it.

By Mark Headd

Fresh off a week in San Diego for the annual Accela Engage conference (where Tim O’Reilly gave a keynote presentation) and some stolen hours over the weekend for hacking together an entry in the Boston HubHacks Civic Hackathon, I’ve got government APIs front of mind.

August 27, 2014

Cities across the nation are under financial pressure. They lack the public funds to create more opportunity by investing in economic development, human capital and physical infrastructure. Private capital could go a long way towards meeting these investment needs. Too often, available private capital cannot be put to work in our cities because the mechanisms to attract and deploy capital are not in place. It’s as though private capital is an airplane, circling overhead, without the landing strip or the air traffic control needed to touch down safely. Even in a time of scarce public sector resources, there are things that city leaders can do to help put capital to work in their communities.

by David Wood, Robin Hacke

August 1, 2014

But anyone doing this work knows that, in application, it can be messy and confusing. To stick with the recipe analogy from my recent blog about the yummy tensions of collective impact, feedback is the binding agent that holds all of the other ingredients together. But it isn’t something that you can just throw into the mix. It has individual, flavorful elements that have to be carefully incorporated into the larger process. When done well, this creates an enabling connective tissue upon which the Collective Impact partnership can thrive. - See more at:

by Tynesia Boyea-Robinson

July 30, 2014

1) Don’t ignore your users; bring someone in to represent them

Consultation should be considered from a user’s point of view – which sounds obvious right? But this is all too often forgotten amidst the document creation, planning and bureaucracy. To help solve this, Defra invited Ruth Chambers, Vice Chair of Defra’s civil society advisory board, along to the consultation session. Ruth highlighted the importance of setting out expectations early on and sustaining engagement. She also advised that departments should be honest with stakeholders about changes or challenges to help ensure they are engaged in both the topic at hand and the process.

by Rowena Farr

Working with Defra for the past 18 months, I was pleased to be invited to one of their department training sessions on running effective consultations. Here are some tips I picked up:

1) Don’t ignore your users; bring someone in to represent them

July 21, 2014

In particular, I think there are three alternative infrastructures that point to the future of peacebuilding at the local level. First, digital media tools provide new, creative ways for local peacebuilders to foster alternative discourses and challenge prevailing conflict narratives. These new visions can often compete with existing visions by being bolder and engaging more closely with their audience. Second, networking platforms provide new opportunities for local peacebuilders to foster positive contact between conflict groups, building digital trust networks. Third, online and mobile tools give power to local peacebuilders to counteract calls for violence and make peace viral.

[This blogpost was originally published in Insight on Conflict.]

July 14, 2014

Online civic engagement doesn’t replace your public meetings. It enhances them.  Online engagement prepares you for the meetings by helping you collect better feedback. It also helps you drive more attendees to these meetings. So, send updates to project followers and invite them to your public meetings. Start doing this several weeks out, and send several updates. People are busy and they need reminders.

By: Karin Brandt

America’s cities are changing, and slowly, so is our process for urban development.

Civic engagement platforms are gradually taking foot. But this approach to resident feedback collection is still a bit of a mystery to many planners. What do I look for in a civic engagement tool? How do I use one?

And of course… there are the obvious fears: If I set up a project, will anyone participate?

July 3, 2014

It isn’t easy to innovate in governance. Bureaucracy can be hidebound. The private sector’s lean startup model, with its “fail forward” ethos, is antithetical to government as we know it. Electorates are not tolerant of failure, and voter confidence in government is at an all time low. In a 2013, more people listed government dysfunction as the problem they believe is the country’s most serious challenge. Given these headwinds, it’s not surprising that many officials resist the experimentation and risk necessary to innovate.

However, partly in response to this same citizen disaffection, a new wave of participatory policy reforms is springing up across the United States. This includes New Urban Mechanics in Boston and Philadelphia piloting experiments to engage citizens with City Hall to Participatory Budgeting, a process to enlist citizens as decision makers on public budgets. While the civic experiments differ in form, they reflect common principles in action that offer lessons for policy makers considering their own civic innovations.

June 27, 2014

Agencies' expectations for broad and inclusive participation are on the rise and many are turning to online engagement tools as a key part of the solution. As a result, there are an increasing array to tools to choose from. Go to any planning conference and planners will be talking about their online engagement experiences and technology vendors will be demonstrating their wares. For me, there is an important voice that’s missing: the participants.

Agencies expectations for broad and inclusive participation are on the rise and many are turning to online engagement tools as a key part of the solution. As a result, there are an increasing array to tools to choose from. Go to any planning conference and planners will be talking about their online engagement experiences and technology vendors will be demonstrating their wares. For me, there is an important voice that’s missing: the participants.

June 24, 2014

Sunlight’s Open Data FAQ is intended to help advocates and officials get their most common questions about open data answered without requiring them to even pick up a phone (or compose a message). 

By Emily Shaw

June 19, 2014
  • The Natural Law: You have to control it, or it will control you (plural).  And that will leave (almost) everybody unhappy.
  • To the greatest extent possible, design what you do with the public to use small group activities.
    • Remove opportunities to “act out”
    • Remove barriers to participating
    • Given them something more meaningful to do.
    • Get it in writing

I'm posting this for the use of the people who attend my training session, "Managing the Axe Grinders" at the National Main Streets Conference.  If you'd like a nice flyer/poster of these lessons, send me a note.  And if you'd like to be informed about the upcoming book, Meaningful Public Engagement you can subscribe to this blog or listen in on social media.

May 9, 2014

Lloyd argues that the real public sector challenge is not finding the tools to deliver Digital First services and ways of working, but nurturing digital working among staff. He believes it can be done by ‘trusting each other to use tools sensibly, to share information appropriately and to learn from mistakes in the digital space, rather than to avoid them at all costs.’

by John Glover

“2014 needs to be a key year for digital in government”. That’s the conclusion drawn by Tim Lloyd, the Department for Business’s head of digital communications, writing for the Government Computing website.

May 8, 2014

However even when new ideas have been shown to work in a successful pilot or prototype (or have even been “proven” through extensive research and clinical style testing), i’s not a guarantee that they will scale. A big challenge is the issue of “adoption” i.e. how can you persuade others to apply them other than with scientific evidence and cash – because those are not enough.

Below is a slight reworking of my old blog post that looks at some of the challenges of spreading (or diffusing) good ideas:

by Ian Thorpe

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with colleagues at UNDP who are organizing an event about “scaling up”.

The idea of scaling up successful pilots or innovations has long been one of the holy grails of aid work, and it seems we’re still quite not sure how to do it, or at least how to do it consistently, or how to “pick winners” i.e. ideas that can be scaled successfully.