Tag Archives: municipal

StreetMix for testing bike lanes – Burrard St. Bridge Example

I’m MCing the Code for America Summit at the moment, so short on time to write a post, but I’m just LOVING StreetMix so much I had to give it a shout out. If you are a councillor, urban planner or community activist, StreetMix is a site you HAVE to check out.

What does it do? I basically allows you to create or edit and street you want. It is so simple to use it takes about 1 minute to master. At that point, you can build, copy and redesign any street in the world.

Here, for example I’ve recreated the Burrard St. Bridge in Vancouver as it exists today, with bike lanes and below, as it existed before the addition bike lane.

Burrard Bridge new

Burrard Bridge old

The South -> North Innovation Path in Government: An Example?

I’ve always felt that a lot of innovation happens where resources are scarcest. Scarcity forces us to think differently, to be efficient and to question traditional (more expensive) models.

This is why I’m always interested to see how local governments in developing economies are handling various problems. There is always an (enormous) risk that these governments will be lured into doing things they way they have been done in developing economies (hello SAP!). Sometimes this makes sense, but often, newer, disruptive and cheaper ways of accomplishing the goal have emerged in the interim.

What I think is really interesting is when a trend started in the global south migrates to the global north. I think I may have just spotted one example.

The other week the City of Boston announced its City Hall to Go trucks – mobile vans that, like food trucks, will drive around the city and be at various civic events available to deliver citizen services on the go! See the video and “menu” below.

 

city-hall-menu-225x300

This is really cool. In Vancouver we have a huge number of highly successful food carts. It is not hard to imagine an experiment like this as well – particularly in underserved neighborhoods or at the numerous public festivals and public food markets that take place across the city.

But, as the title of this post suggests, Boston is not the first city to do this. This United Nations report points out how the state government of Bahia started to do something similar in the mid 90s in the state capital of Salvador.

In 1994 the Government of Bahia hosted the first of several annual technology fairs in the state capital, Salvador. A few government services were offered there, using new ICT systems (e.g., issuing identification cards). The service was far more efficient and well-received by the public. The idea was then raised: Why not deliver services this way on a regular basis?

…A Mobile Documents SAC also was developed to reach the most remote and deprived communities in Bahia. This Mobile SAC is a large, 18-wheel truck equipped with air-conditioning, TV set, toilets, and a covered waiting area. Inside the truck, four basic citizenship services are provided: issuance of birth certificates, identification card, labor identification card, and criminal record verification.

I feel very much like I’ve read about smaller trucks delivering services in other cities in Brazil as well – I believe one community in Brazil had mobile carts with computers on them that toured neighborhoods so citizens could more effectively participate in online petitions and crowdsourcing projects being run by the local government.

I’m not sure if the success of these projects in developing economy cities influenced the thinking in Boston – if yes, that is interesting. If not, it is still interesting. It suggests that thinking and logic behind this type innovation is occurring in several cities simultaneously, even if when these cities have markedly different levels of GDP per capita and internet access (among many other things). My hope is that those in government will be more and more willing to see how their counterparts elsewhere in the world – no matter where – are doing things. Money is tight for governments everywhere, so good ideas may be more likely to go from those who feel the burden of costs the greatest.

Use The Economist's Data to Find the Best City in the World

Yesterday The Economist Intelligence Unit and Buzzdata launched a $10,000 contest to help enhance The Economist’s “Best city in the world” index.

Yes. It’s a data and visualization competition to identify the best city in the world to live.

As part of the contest, The Economist Intelligence Unit has shared two data sets, its “liveability” and “cost of living” indices for 140 cities around the world. This is, in of itself, pretty cool. But the contest moves beyond their data. As the website outlines, the competition’s core objective is to not just use this data, but figure out what other data sets should be used.

Your mission: to create a new “liveability” index, using the 140 cities in the EIU’s datasets, that determines which is the best city in the world to live in, using these datasets PLUS any additional publicly available data sources that you wish to use (note: see the Contest Rules for information on using additional data). You are also required to create a visualization of the new index that you’ve created.

If you’ve always felt that some important factors in livability and quality of life have not been getting the attention they deserve, now is a chance to change (or add them to!) the debate.

You can check out the rules and judging criteria, as well as sign up, over at the contest’s webpage.

I, sadly, won’t be participating in the competition as… I’m pleased to share that I’ll be helping to judge the contest.

Adapting KUALI financials for cities: Marin County is looking for Partners

Readers of my blog will be familiar Kuali – the coalition of universities that co-create a suite software  core to their operations – as I’ve blogged about several times and argued that it is a powerful model for local governments interested in rethinking how they procure (or really, co-create) their software.

For some time now I’ve heard rumors that some local governments have been playing with Kuali’s software to see if they can adapt it to work for their needs. Yesterday, David Hill of Marin County posted the comment below to a blog post I’d written about Kuali in which he openly states that he is looking for other municipalities to partner with as they try to fork Kuali financials and adapt it to local government.

<dhill@marincounty.org> (unregistered) wrote:

I completely agree.  It is a radical change for government in at least four ways:

1)  Government developers (are there any?) have little experience with open source
2)  CIOs have no inherent motivation to leave the commercial market model
3)  Governments have little experience is sharing
4)  CIOs are losing their staff due to budget cuts, and have no excess resources to take on a project that appears risky

But, let’s not waste a crisis.  Now is the best time to get KUALI financials certified for government finance and accounting and into production.

Please contact me if you are  planning to upgrade or replace your financial system and would like to look at KFS.
Randy Ozden,  VivanTech CEO is a great commercial partner
David Hill,
CIO
County of Marin

David’s offer is an exciting opportunity and I definitely encourage any municipal and county government officials interested in finding a cheap alternative to their financial management software to reach out to David Hill and at least explore this option. (or if you know any local government officials, please forward this to them). I would love nothing more to see some Kuali style projects start to emerge at the local level.

Good Backgrounder on Open Data for Cities – (Looking at You #VoteTO)

Yesterday the Martin Prosperity Institute released another installment of its Toronto Election 2010 discussion papers, this one focused on Open Data.

For citizens of any city this is a fantastic primer on what open data is, why it matters and, in the case of Toronto, why it should be an election issue in the upcoming civic election.

Full disclosure: I did sit down with the paper’s authors at the Institute – Kimberly Silk and Jacqueline Whyte Appleby – to talk about a number of the critical aspects surrounding this issue. Their depth and experience in municipal and regional issues has produced an invaluable resource. I hope citizens of cities everywhere are able to make use of it, but I also hope that citizens of Toronto use it to ask questions of the candidates for Mayor and council.

Again, you can download the report here.

For those not familiar with the Institute, you can read more about it here (excerpt below):

The Lloyd & Delphine Martin Prosperity Institute is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors – location, place and city-regions – in global economic prosperity. Led by Director Richard Florida , we take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.

Collaborate: "Governments don't do that"

The other day while enjoying breakfast with a consultant friend I heard her talk of about how smaller local governments didn’t have the resources to afford her, or her firms services.

Hogwash I thought! Fresh from the launch of CivicCommons.com at the Gov2.0 Summit I jumped in and asked, surely a couple of the smaller municipalities with similar needs could come together, jointly spec out a project and pool their budgets. It seems like a win-win-win, budgets go further, better services are offered and, well, of less interest but still nice, my friend gets to work on rolling out some nice technologies in the community in which she lives.

The response?

“Government’s doesn’t work that way.”

Followed up by…

“Why would we work with one of those other communities, they are our competitors.”

Once you’ve stopped screaming at your monitor… (yes, I’m happy to give you a few seconds to vent that frustration) let me try to explain in as cool as a manor as possible why this makes no sense. And while I don’t live in the numerous municipalities that border on Vancouver, if you do, consider writing you local councillor/mayor. I think your IT department is wasting your tax dollars.

First, government’s don’t work that way? Really? So an opportunity arises for you to save money and offer better services to your citizens and you’re going to say no because the process offends you in some way? I’m pretty sure there’s a chamber full of council people and a mayor who feel pretty differently about that.

The fact is, that governing a city is going to get more complicated. The expectations of citizens are going to become greater. There is going to be a gap, and no amount of budget is going to cover it. Citizens increasingly have access to top tier services on the web – they know what first class systems look like. They look like Google, Amazon, Travelocity, etc… and vary rarely your municipal website site and the services it offers. It almost doesn’t matter where you are reading this from, I’m willing to bet your city’s site isn’t world class. Thanks to the web however your citizens, even the ones who never leave your bedroom community, are globe traveling super consumers of the web. They are getting faster, better and more effective service on and off the web. You might want to consider this because as the IT director in a city of 500,000 people you probably don’t have the resources to keep up.

Okay, so sharing a budget to be able to build better online infrastructure (or whatever) for your city makes sense. But now you’re thinking – we can’t work with that neighboring community… their our competitors.

Stop. Stop right there.

That community is not your competitor. Let me tell you right now. No one is moving to West Van over Burnaby because their website is better, or their garbage service is more efficient. They certainly aren’t moving because you offer webbased forms on your city’s website and the other guys (annoyingly) make you print out a PDF. That’s not influencing the 250K-500K decision about where I live. Basically, if it doesn’t involve the quality of the school it probably isn’t factoring in.

Hell even other cities like Toronto, Calgary or Seattle aren’t your competitor. If anyone is moving there it’s likely because of family or a job. Maybe if you really got efficient then a marginally lower muncipal tax would help, but if that were the case, then partner with as many cities as possible and benefit from some collaborative economies of scale… cause now you kicking the but of the 99% of cities that aren’t collaborating and sharing costs.

And, of course, this isn’t limited to cities. Pretty much any level of government could benefit from pooling budgets to sponsor some commonly speced out projects.

It’s depressing to see that the biggest challenge to driving down the costs of running a city (or any government) aren’t going to technological, but a cultural obsession with the belief that everybody else is different, competing and not as good as us.

Saving Cities Millions: Introducing CivicCommons.com

Last year, after speaking at the MISA West conference I blogged about an idea I’d called Muniforge (It was also published in the Municipal Information Systems Association’s journal Municipal Interface but behind a paywall). The idea was to create a repository like SourceForge that could host open source software code developed by and/or for cities to share with one another. A few months later I followed it up with another post Saving Millions: Why Cities should Fork the Kuali Foundation which chronicled how a coalition of universities have been doing something similar (they call it community source) and have been saving themselves millions of dollars.

Last week at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, DC my friends over at OpenPlans, with who I’ve exchanged many thoughts about this idea, along with the City of Washington DC brought this idea to life with the launch of Civic Commons. It’s an exciting project that has involved the work of a lot of people: Phillip Ashlock at OpenPlans who isn’t in the video below deserves a great deal of congratulations, as does the team over at Code for America who were also not on the stage.

At the moment Civic Commons is a sort of whitepages for open sourced civic government applications and policies. It doesn’t actually host the software it just points you to where the licenses and code reside (say, for example, at GitHub). There are lots of great tools out there for collaborating on software that don’t need replicating, instead Civic Commons is trying to foster community, a place where cities can find projects they’d like to leverage or contribute to.

The video below outlines it all in more detail. If you find it interesting (or want to skip it and get to that action right away) take a look at the Civic Commons.com website, there are already a number of applications being shared and worked on. I’m also thrilled to share that I’ve been asked to be an adviser to Civic Commons, so more on that and what it means for non-American cities, after the video.

One thing that comes through when looking at this video is the sense this is a distinctly American project. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, during a planning meeting on Thursday I mentioned that a few Canadian cities have contacted me about software applications they would like to make open source to share with other municipalities, everyone and especially Bryan Sivak (CIO for Washington, DC) was keen that other countries join and partake in Civic Commons.

It may end up that municipalities in other countries wish to create their own independent project. That is fine (I’m in favour of diverse approaches), but in the interim I’m keen to have some international participation early on so that processes and issues it raises will be addressed and baked into the project early on. If you work at a city and are thinking that you’d like to add a project feel free to contact me, but also don’t be afraid to just go straight to the site and add it directly!

Anyway, just to sum up, I’m over the moon excited about this project and hope it will turn out. I’ve been hoping something like this would be launched since writing about Muniforge and am excited to both see it happening and be involved.