United Kingdom United States Workshop Speakers

Announcing our ‘Conversations’ Workshops

Over the next few months we plan to run a series of workshops in the United Kingdom and North America. These workshops will explore how government is (or should be) transforming itself to better engage with the citizens it serves. Our first two workshops will focus on future cities.  

Newcastle Upon Tyne Workshop
San Francisco Workshop

We’re calling these Conversations Workshops because we plan to provide the opportunity for people engaged in or interested in government at city, regional or national level – who have interesting opinions or experiences – to converse and make their views known to a much wider audience. We plan to record the conversations on video and to feature the videos here on Citizen2020.

Our primary focus is on engagement. In short how should government provide services to citizens in new, more efficient, ways in the light of ever-tightening budgets and the need for greater taxpayer accountability?

For example, if you have trail-blazed a new initiative where you make public previously hidden data (to improve public information provision) we’d like to hear about it. If you are pursuing an initiative that results in more sharing of public data – or sharing of public resources – please tell us more. If you rolled out a new ‘crowd-sourced’ platform that allows citizens to share information to avoid the need for call center resources, please contact us. Or if you are from a think tank that has interesting perspectives on how to transform city services through open data (or open services) please get involved.

We want to hear about how to provide better services with less resources. We want to know about novel uses for social media. We want to hear about new ways for citizens to do things more easily, more seamlessly, enabled by digital technology, or analytics, or social sharing, or knowledge derived from the community. And we’d also like to stimulate debate by debating new ways to do things to provide better citizen engagement.

Our first two Conversations Workshops will be held in September and November, 2016 with further workshops planned for early 2017 in Washington DC and London.

If you would like to register your interest to attend these events please complete the forms on the relevant event page (see links above). Please note that we expect the events to be highly participatory – so most attendees will take part in the conversations that we’ll record.

So please do get in touch and join the conversations!

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.

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.

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.

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 (now a part of created by Adrian Holovaty in 2005. 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. (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.  

Digital Government

GaaP: Opportunity for GovTech

Our friends at Phronesis Partners have written an interesting article that makes the case for Government as a Platform. We’re delighted to re-publish it here on – needless to say that comments are welcome.


The traditional governmental functions of maintaining order and preserving the rights and duties of citizens are progressively being upstaged by a much larger agenda, of governments acting as enablers. As an instance of this, consider the recent interest among governments the world over in measuring and enhancing the level of happiness among their populations. However, it goes without saying that the governments’ role as the neutralizing blanket of security and the arbiter of legal remedies remains central to what they do, even more so in some parts of the world. But these are now perceived as the bare minimum of what a government ought to do. This shift in focus was stimulated by the establishment of modern welfare states and is now intensifying with rapidly changing citizen needs and advancing technological capabilities to service them. It has historically led to an escalation in the provision of services through the government, an area which is facing strong headwind in the current economic climate with mounting public debt. Moving along the same trajectory, today governments largely act to create enabling conditions for their subjects to act as independent and resourceful economic agents.

Moreover, today governments are functioning in a complex environment, which is a mesh of forces and trends that tug at each other in countless ways. The nature of events in this operating ecosystem is such that they may be triggered by a multitude of forces, acting over an immediate or gradual time horizon, involving diverse stakeholders and having multiple dimensions. This effectively creates a complex network of causation and effectuation, where there are too many unknown unknowns. Such events are not only bound to be unpredictable themselves but also by way of their consequences. What have come to be known as black-swan events have become a reality of the operating environment of governments.


As the role of the government increasingly inclines towards that of an enabling agent, it is inevitable that the service-delivery aspect of their function will gain greater significance. Since governments, worldwide, are struggling to manage expenses, the only way they can sustain this transition to becoming an enabling agency is through optimization of their operations, which account for 35-40% of total government expenditure. The full-service model of government is not scalable in the current economic environment.

The structure and organization of government is such that optimization efforts are likely to be limited to the ministry, agency, divisional or program level. Even if such efforts are launched at the government level, they will seep into these silos because information and communication channels are better integrated vertically than horizontally. Instead of optimizing functions and activities, government tends to focus on optimizing services, programs and schemes. It is becoming increasingly clear that greater efficiencies can be captured through the consolidation and integration of common-core infrastructures and repeatable activities. This has been most recently demonstrated by theGovernment Digital Service (GDS) in UK.

In the private economy, platform enabled technologies such as IoT are heralding dissolution of industrial boundaries. For instance, healthcare data collected by a profusion of “always-on, always on-you” devices is beginning to bring the medical and insurance sectors closer together. Similarly, we should also see a dissolving of departmental boundaries within the government. Rather than a siloed, service and program based plan, this would create a platform-architecture of government. Here technology and citizen expectations would favor a modular and activity-based design of services that are scalable with shifts in demand and shocks befalling the ecosystem. We are already seeing early steps in this direction with the “government as a platform” approach adopted by the GDS in providing digital services throughout UK. The creation of such digital platforms for delivering services can be seen as a precursor to the shift of the entire governmental machinery to a platform-architecture. It is likely that such an approach would permeate through all government operations.

However, an organization as large as the government is bound to have structural inertia and solutions that can expedite such a transition would be able to ride the wave of government transition.


Increasingly, governments around the world are embarking upon the provision of digital services and creating in-house infrastructures for sustaining them. Over 130 nations provide digital services to their subjects, in one form or the other. The redesign of the information services through the portal by the GDS in UK, the establishment of a digitization council IT Projektraad in Denmark, the Unique Identification Authority (UIDAI) in India, electronic ID cards in Estonia, etc. are all examples of this. These initiatives should be seen as providing platforms for GovTech innovators to build upon. Such undertakings also serve to give direction for new projects, by helping understand near-term objectives that governments are working towards. As an example consider what governments around the world are doing with large scale open-data initiatives. This is freeing up massive amounts of public data, which is a valuable resource for innovators to create new solutions. The World Bank’s databank is another example of a long-standing public infrastructure which provides ready visualizations on multiple data points.

Technologies that we have come to associate with GovTech can effectively impact the government in two key ways: through the maximization of process efficiency and by optimizing service delivery. The design and delivery of services is a key component of government, as it is today and what it is shaping up to be tomorrow. As a professional working for the GDS in UK has noted recently, “most of government is mostly service design most of the time.” Opportunities are shaping up for the GovTech sector in two key areas:

  1. Transitioning the current framework of government to a platform blueprint and
  2. The design of new modular services on top of the government platform that are optimized at the activity or functional level.

In this changing landscape if GovTech innovators can find novel ways to capitalize on the shifts, they will be able to ride the wave itself. GovTech – whether it originates inside the government or through private enterprise – can eventually reduce the problem of governance to a problem of maximizing efficiency of processes.

Citizen Engagement Digital Government

eGovernment Case Study: Montgomery County, Maryland (USA)

Maryland’s Montgomery County is the state’s most populous county. It borders Washington DC and has a population of about a million residents. It is also one of the most affluent counties in the U.S. According to the Census Bureau, Montgomery County is the 12th richest county in the nation with a median household income of $94,365 in 2013. It is also one of the most educated counties in the U.S. In 2012, the County was ranked first among large counties nationwide in educational attainment, with 30 percent of residents having earned an advanced degree.

As part of an open government initiative, the County passed legislation in 2012 to make County data accessible to the public and developed a digital government strategy to guide the County’s efforts to “deliver better services using modern tools and technologies.”

The County implemented a portal called openMontgomery that serves as a gateway to the County’s digital services. It consists of four portals:

  • dataMontgomery provides direct access to published County data sets, which include employee salaries, cable inspections and complaints, residential and commercial building permits, hospitals, schools, fire stations, post offices, real property taxes and MC311, the County’s 311 system, requests. The data is available for viewing and can be sorted and downloaded. Datasets included in the dataMontgomery portal are also accessible on the Federal Government’s, where data can be  compared with other jurisdictions such as Chicago and Baltimore and other states. Montgomery is the first county in the nation to be included on the website.
  • accessMontgomery provides access to digital services focused on government accountability, accessibility and transparency, such as MC311 as well as CountyStat, the metrics tracking system used to evaluate the performance of the County’s departments (Figure 3). The portal also includes links to internal audits, spending disclosures, contracts, open solicitations, budgets, and free Wi-Fi locations throughout the County.
  • engageMontgomery is a social media platform that serves as “an informal online Town Hall Meeting or a place where people can share ideas on ways to improve the community” (Figure 4). engageMontgomery is based on MindMixer’s MySidewalk online engagement platform. Users, who are required to sign up for an account, are encouraged to offer ideas, support ideas they like from others, and provide feedback to the County on various topics such as the kinds of books that the Library Department should purchase for its collection, or funding priorities (Figure 4). To reward participation, users are awarded points for signing up, for good ideas, and when others support their ideas. Points can be “cashed in” for various prizes such as a free round of golf at a County golf course, a home security evaluation by a County police officer and a story time and tour for children at a County library.
  • mobileMontgomery lists the County’s mobile apps – that can be used anytime and anywhere – such as MC311, Transportation’s Storm Operations, County Libraries’ BookMyne, Crime Reports and RideOn Bus System Real Time, with directions on how to download or bookmark them (Figure 5).

The Public Technology Institute awarded openMontgomery its 2013 Technology Solutions award for “its use of technology to not only effect government performance and service delivery, but to also improve the way the community can interact with government.” The County was also ranked number #1 in the nation in the 2013 Digital Counties Survey conducted by the Center for Digital Government in conjunction with the National Association of Counties.

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.


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.

Digital Policy Open Data Smart Cities

Smart Cities, Common Sense

I was interviewed for a feature on smart cities by London’s new DAB radio station Share Radio. The piece was broadcast earlier today.

Bill Bambrough, the Share Radio journalist who produced the piece, asked me about the evolution of smart cities, concerns over personal data privacy and how city planners should approach smart city roll-out.

The piece touches on other topics such as Internet of Things, Open Data and how technology, generally, can help improve the lives of citizens in cities.