Categories
Citizen Engagement Digital Policy Open Data

Shock of the new

From the highest level of decision-making to the front line of service delivery, we cannot just assume we know the nature of people’s problems and what solutions would be best for them. Steve Hilton in “More Human”

When we launched the Citizen20Series website in May 2015 we commenced a series of interviews with people in government, and in business. We have interviewed citizen activists, academics, politicians, consultants and civil servants. Many of the interviews have been featured here on this site.

In most of the conversations we’ve had we’ve been trying to answer one particular question: how should government do a better job at engaging with citizens?

Some of the people we interviewed questioned the logic of this. For example, Dr Donald Norris, Professor and Head of the Public Policy Department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, questioned whether citizens really wanted better relationships with government. They might want to get some simple information or transact in some way. And technology has helped to make the process of information provision and transaction rather easier. But, in Dr Norris’ view, the grand vision for digital government hasn’t really materialized.

To an extent this failure to deliver can be explained by history. Until fairly recently, politicians and civil servants defined the nature of the relationship between government and citizen. Taxes are collected and public services are provided. Therefore, citizen focused services have not really been the policy focus. And, perhaps, digital government never really addressed citizen needs anyway.

But this simple idea of service payer and service provider is changing. Several factors are playing a part in undermining the historically simple contract between citizen and government. And, inevitably, this will mean that the relationship will change. In fact it’s already happening – shockingly fast.

Read the full report

Categories
Citizen Engagement Digital Policy Open Data

What is Open311?

We have referred to the idea of ‘open services’ in many posts on this site. For example our upcoming white paper outlines the case for government being a more avid adopter of services built around the citizen and availing of open data. But Open311 takes openness and service provision to a different level. The clue is in the name. Open311 is about creating an open architecture for non-emergency service provision. The end-game is providing systems that allow citizens to better engage with the cities in which they live.

As an open movement there are many good resources that explain the thinking behind Open311.

This Wikipedia entry is a good start to better understand 311 services. And Tom Steinberg of MySociety has explained a bit more about Open311 here. To help even more the Open311 movement has its own website and blog. This article provides a great overview of the entire Open311 ecosystem that includes city authorities, open SDK initiatives, academic studies and much more:

“Open311 first began with an API for Washington D.C.’s 311 system, but it really become a community when the leadership of San Francisco and the support of organizations like OpenPlans, Code for America, and even the White House brought many cities, companies, and organizations together into a productive collaboration. Now it’s a rich ecosystem of cities, technology platforms, and forward thinking initiatives around the world that are building common infrastructure for people to better engage with their government and get connected to their community.”

San Francisco’s commitment to 311 continues. This article describes how the city has made significant savings by curbing graffiti, thereby saving millions of taxpayer dollars.

We’ll feature more on 311 in the coming weeks on Citizen2015

Categories
Digital Government GaaP Series Open Data

GaaP: Paths and Cliffs

This is Part 3 of a series of articles by Larry Larkin

Previous articles in the series described the myriad of benefits – financial, operational and social – that GaaP can bring. But how do we get there? The path, alas, is not a road to follow but, rather, a cliff to scale. The challenges associated with moving from our current siloed, monolithic application environment – pervasive across the Federal/Central governments – to an open-data platform ecosystem are mind-numbingly formidable.

The technology path, relatively speaking, is the easiest one because: (1) the technology is available, (2) the cost efficiencies are more apparent and measurable, and (3) ever decreasing budgets are acting as forcing functions. We’re still far away, particularly in the United States, from the “one big Government cloud” – but we’re making progress. The US Federal Government’s “Cloud First”mandate, which requires agencies to consider cloud-based solutions when seeking to implement new systems is a good example.

The showstoppers are issues like:

  • Leadership – What incentives do agencies/ministries have to collaborate to design and build a common architecture that delivers shared services? Even if the cost savings of a common approach are there, who is going to orchestrate and drive its development – who has the authority to make it all happen?
  • Control of the data – Today, the data owners, i.e., the government organizations, have control of the data. Will they be willing to relinquish some of that control and share this data? What data should be shared and what shouldn’t? Who decides? What role do citizens have in deciding which data about them can be shared and which cannot? What about privacy and security – and liability?
  • Open data standards – Who sets the standards on how data is shared and defines the interfaces? To date – by default – it has been the private sector, companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple, that has been setting the standards.

These are complex issues that cut across government, industry and citizens. They tend to be manageable at the state and local government levels given their smaller scale. However, at the national government level, particularly in the United States, given its size and complexity, these issues are almost intractable.

For such an effort to succeed at the national level, a central organization with cognizance over all governmental departments and some measure of authority – the orchestra conductor, if you will – is a requisite first step. Happily, these organizations already exist: Government Digital Service (GDS) in the UK, and US Digital Service (USDS), together with 18F in the United States. GDS, by virtue of its ability to fund projects, has made tangible progress in constructing GaaP building blocks, platforms like GOV.UK for publishing and GOV.UK Verify for identity verification.

USDS and 18F, by necessity, have been focusing their limited resources in fixing critical systems at risk of failure and, in the process, inculcating industry best practices across US government agencies. Given their remarkable workload – and their success – I suspect it will be a while before they can focus on “global” GaaP issues.

So, the good news, is that several critical chess pieces of GaaP are in place. Given the magnitude of the cultural change (within government agencies) and massive resources the implementation of GaaP will require, the process will have to be evolutionary and will take time. But the movement is there…

Read Larry’s full series of posts on GaaP.  

Categories
Citizen Engagement Open Data Smart Cities Uncategorized

Citizen Engagement: The Secret Sauce for Future Cities?

There is much discussion around the topic of future cities. We now have government agencies, consultancy firms and environmental specialists all offering their perspectives on how cities of the future might look compared to cities of today.

The time-scale for future cities, of course, is rarely defined. Look at a short-term time horizon and cities of the future will be quite like cities of the present. The thing about cities is that they tend to develop incrementally (unless we build them from scratch). It’s very difficult to radically alter city infrastructure very, very rapidly. In most cities a great deal of the built environment is in private hands. Even the public infrastructure that sustains cities tends to evolve as city populations wax and wane – or the demographics of the population changes.

That’s not to say, of course, that cities can’t be improved (or made worse) quite markedly as a result of quite modest short-term change. For example a slight degradation of air quality can make city living near intolerable. Lawlessness in certain parts of cities can degrade property values and put off investment.

Successful cities are often successful because the factors that can work to undermine quality of life in cities tend to be carefully monitored. Successful cities tend to be those that can manage their success (or failure). New York is a better place to live in 2015 because the crime that blighted certain neighbourhoods within it has been substantially reduced. London has been successful, despite its population growth, because it has created better transportation systems and urban living processes to support its growth. It has also grown and embraced more suburbs to support housing need.

But it’s not just these individual things that make cities work. It’s also about people themselves making cities work. People tend to make parts of cities popular – they add to the built environment, employment, culture.  No amount of planning by city authorities can make cities exactly as they are today or will be in the future.

But initiatives that make the process of city-citizen engagement better tend to create outcomes that tend to work (in ways that are impossible to predict). Some of the engagement processes are about people talking to people. It’s not just about people talking to city authorities. The best city authorities tend to create the environment or platforms that help people do stuff: create companies, create employment, create art, create events, create buildings, create conversation.

José Quádrio Alves is the Global Government Director, Future Cities Lead, at CGI. He recently wrote a post called ‘Citizen engagement is a key to future cities.’ His view is that young people, in particular, are often excluded from some of the big decisions as to how cities should or could develop:

“Beyond voting, citizen engagement in major decisions at the local level, by proposing or even building solutions themselves, can be a powerful source of innovation and ideas. Since innovation is strongly related to economic development, creating conditions that make it easier for citizens to participate in community life may result in better decision making, stronger economic development and a better life for all citizens.” José Quádrio Alves

Alves recommends creating city social media platforms that allow people to focus on problems or issues or initiatives that interest them.  He provides links to initiatives in France, Estonia and the Netherlands that have been successful in this respect.

But there is a clear need for cities to experiment with such initiatives. Many major cities are major contributors to national economic success. The City of London, for example, generates some 22% of UK GDP.  Therefore it’s important that citizens play their part in making cities work better. That’s why cities are actively embracing open data initiatives to allow citizen to build services that other citizens use. It’s why city focused technologists are often avid supporters of government as a platform. It’s why the units that make up cities are getting smaller because they allow more people to feel part of their communities – by influencing how those communities develop (within a much bigger city ecosystem).

The successful cities of the future are those that recognise that they can’t do or plan everything. Government has to serve communities and citizens rather than try to predict how those communities might look in the future (or what future citizens might want). Ultimately the best cities are those that allow individuals to flourish together.

Categories
Big Data and Government Open Data

The People and Government Data

In one of his most recent posts on Citizen 2015 my colleague, Larry Larkin, provides an overview of a recent study undertaken by the Pew Research Centre. The study outlined how Americans were using government data and information.

The study showed that people tended to use government data – and relatively simple data at that – only from time to time and to address a relatively simple need (like getting library opening times).  But often it’s lack of availability of data that results in citizen frustration – and citizens often aren’t even aware that this is the case.

One of the issues that governments face in terms of providing “service” to citizens is that citizens don’t consume government services in quite the same way as they consume commercial services. They tend to consume services on an as-needed basis. And they often don’t readily appreciate the relationship between data and service.

To date, attempts to make government more open and accountable have focused on the provision of information – giving data (or information) to people that want it.  Opening up data is often the result of a citizen movement and many government bodies haven’t been entirely keen to let go of their monopolistic ownership of data.  But there’s evidence that this war is being won.

But the next step for government is allowing data to be used to do things in better ways. Because often when citizens most need data they aren’t actually seeking it. Data is simply the means of providing service. In the commercial world data isn’t such a big deal. Rather it’s simply the enabler of service. There is an expectation that if one calls a contact center, for example, the contact center staff will be able to access data and answer questions quickly. Often this simply isn’t the case when citizens attempt to avail of government service.

For example, let’s assume a citizen makes a planning application for an extension to a house. Despite attempts to make the planning application process easier it’s often the case that a lack of data in the right place at the right time makes the overall service experience miserable for the applicant. The ability to submit all information via a self-help portal may be missing. The system may not be sufficiently ‘intelligent’ to be able to guide the user through all of the necessary processes for filing – resulting in incomplete or non-compliant applications. The work-flow may not create appropriate or timely communications. Contact center staff may not have the necessary information in order to deal with queries about applications. The contact center may constantly defer to planning specialists – resulting in bottle-necks.

Citizens who have to deal with these frustrations may not identify data as the main reason why a government service fails to deliver or results in frustration. But it clearly is a data problem if workflows are stunted, contact staff can’t deal with queries or systems contain fundamental bottle-necks. Data – or lack of it – results in poor performance.

It’s for this reason that the ‘government as a platform’ (GaaP) movement has to be the next big thing in government. GaaP is all about getting the data where it needs to be by thinking about processes and data calls. This is a poor definition of GaaP – and not strictly accurate. But I’m trying to make the point that without data in the right place at the right time services can be highly frustrating and utterly inefficient.

On the subject of GaaP, John Jackson of Camden Council in London was featured on the GDS website recently – and discusses how the concept is now very relevant at local government level too. John spoke at our Citizen2013 conference.

Categories
Big Data and Government Open Data United States

Americans and Open Government Data

In April of this year, the Pew Research Center published a report titled Americans’ View on Open Government Data. This very interesting study provides a measure of how the public views federal, state and local governments’ efforts to become more open and transparent through the dissemination of their data. The report is based on a late 2014 survey of 3,200+ individuals. The study examined:

  1. how aware the public is of governments’ data-sharing initiatives,
  2. if these initiatives are actually resulting in people using the data to monitor government performance,
  3. public’s view of whether these efforts have been – or have the potential to be – successful in making government perform better or become more accountable, and
  4. how the public is using this data.

Some of the study’s key findings:

  • PewFig1
    Figure 1

    While most (65%) of the individuals surveyed are using the internet to find government information/data; they are using it to perform simple tasks such as finding out public library hours or paying a traffic ticket (Figure 1)

  • Just a minority of respondents indicated they paid much attention to how governments share data – and only a relative handful said they were aware of instances where government had done a good or bad job of sharing data.
  • Less than one-quarter of those surveyed use government-generated data to track the performance of services such as hospitals, healthcare providers, school systems, etc.
  • PewFif2
    Figure 2

    People were divided on whether the sharing of data has the potential to improve government transparency, accountability and performance – it’s also not clear to them that this will even happen (Figure 2).

  • Only 23% of respondents indicated that they trusted the government to do the right thing – at least most of the time. Of this group – the “Trusting Minority” – roughly three quarters believe open government data is beneficial and contributes to better government (Figure 3)
  • PewFig1
    Figure 3

    The study found that smartphone users (68% of the individuals surveyed) have embraced apps that are based on government-generated data or capabilities, such as weather and GPS – what I call government-enabled applications:

    • 84% have used weather apps
    • 81% have used map apps
    • 66% have used apps that provide information about nearby stores, bars or restaurants
    • 31% have used apps to get public transit information
    • 14% have used apps to hire transportation such as Über or Lyft

Interestingly enough – but not surprising, I suppose – only 9% of all survey respondents believed that government-provided data helped the private sector “a lot” to develop new products and services (41% felt it helped “somewhat”).

I found the results of this study to be consistent with the findings of Dr. Donald Norris and Dr. Christopher Reddick: Citizens will use government data when it fulfills a need and won’t when it doesn’t.

Note: all figures Copyright 2012, Pew Research Center. All rights reserved.

Categories
Digital Government Digital Policy GaaP Series Open Data

The Promise of “Government as a Platform”

In my last post on the subject I talked about the IT nuts and bolts of Government as a Platform (GaaP) and the significant operational cost efficiencies that it could realize. The real value – and power – of GaaP, however, is as an enabler of what I call, for lack of a better phrase, “government-enabled applications.” By that I mean applications developed by end users, be they individuals, organizations or companies that combine “Government Platform” capabilities with other web services to deliver applications that are only limited by one’s imagination. Or as Tim O’Reilly aptly put it:

“If there’s one thing we learn from the technology industry, it’s that every big winner has been a platform company: someone whose success has enabled others, who’ve built on their work and multiplied its impact. Microsoft put ‘a PC on every desk and in every home,’ the internet connected those PCs, Google enabled a generation of ad-supported startups, Apple turned the phone market upside down by letting developers loose to invent applications no phone company would ever have thought of. In each case, the platform provider raised the bar, and created opportunities for others to exploit.”

This is what GaaP is really about – government agencies not only providing web applications specific to their mission but also services on which citizens and organizations can build applications of their own for the benefit of other citizens and the community.

What kind of applications you might ask? A good – and commonly used – example is chicagocrime.org (now a part of everyblock.com) created by Adrian Holovaty in 2005. Chicagocrime.com combined (“mashup” for the technically inclined) crime data published by the Chicago Police Department with Google Maps. The result was a map showing the physical locations of where crimes were being committed. There is a page and RSS feed for each city block. The user can browse the crime data in a variety of ways: by street or address, by ZIP code, by location type (house, building…), by type of crime, by date and by keyword. In a matter of a few clicks, a person can get a picture of crime activity in their neighborhood and potential areas to watch – useful stuff.

Other examples: Real-time public transit schedules and updates; official information about buildings and construction projects and visualizations that show how a city is changing over time and real-time road traffic information.

Openstreetmap.org (OSM) – which provides free, editable maps – is a good example of how GaaP type of applications can evolve and blossom. OSM grew out of a crowd-sourcing effort led by Steve Coast to create free maps of the UK, where map data is expensive and not freely available. Using Ordnance Survey (UK’s mapping agency) out-of-copyright maps from the 40’s to aid navigation, OSM volunteers set out to map the UK in 2004 using handheld GPS trackers. Today, OSM now offers a map of the entire world and has over 1,000,000 contributors worldwide.

These examples represent the first-generation of GaaP applications – akin to the Pong video game of the early eighties. Much needs to happen to enable GaaP to achieve its full potential. This will be the topic of the next article in the series.

Read Larry’s full series of posts on GaaP.  

Categories
Citizen Engagement Open Data

Steve Ressler of GOVLOOP on Citizen Engagement

Steve Ressler is the Founder and CEO of GOVLOOP – a social media and on-line learning site for people in all walks of government life.

GOVLOOP has hundreds of thousands of users across federal, state and city level – and also has a big user base outside of the United States.

We recently met with Steve and in this short video he outlines the role that GOVLOOP plays but also he talks about how government service is being forced to uberize – as citizens’ expectations evolve in an increasingly mobile world.

He also coins a new phrase: the Citizen Hierarchy of Needs.

Categories
Digital Policy Open Data Smart Cities United States

Sunlight Foundation on Open Government: Cities Get It

Sunlight Foundation recently celebrated its 9th year of campaigning, lobbying and supporting efforts designed to make government more open and more accountable.

We recently met with Chris Gates, the new President of Sunlight, in Washington DC.

We asked Chris for an update on Sunlight’s work and his perspectives on how receptive government is to the idea of openness and transparency. Chris outlines why city governments are forging ahead while federal government adopts a fundamentally different attitude.

We’ll feature more from the interview with Chris in the coming weeks.

 

Categories
Digital Government Digital Policy Open Data

Letting the Light In: Sunlight Foundation

I first heard about Sunlight Foundation when I heard Ellen Miller present at a conference in San Francisco several years ago. Sunlight Foundation – in common with other like-minded organisations in the UK such as MySociety – has set itself the ambition of bridging the gap between citizens and government.

This is no easy task, of course. The reason a gap exists is often because of complexity – or deliberate obfuscation. But there’s no doubt that a gap exists. Citizens often feel isolated from decision-making. They often feel powerless when they have difficulty getting the information they need.

The Sunlight Foundation has evolved over the years. It was an early advocate for the opening of government data. It’s now accepted wisdom that more and more government data sets need to be opened – and Sunlight Foundation has been at the vanguard of that movement. But as government gets more complex the role of the Sunlight Foundation is changing too.

We’re delighted to announce that in the coming weeks we’ll be interviewing Chris Gates, President of Sunlight Foundation. We’ll feature the interview on this site in early July.