Civic Tech: Days of Future Past

A new focus on the user

These days, in the world of civic technology, it’s all about the user.

Digital government service redesign, with an enhanced focus on a higher quality user experience, is being institutionalized in the federal governments of the U.K., U.S and Australia. The civic technology community is rallying around a new focus on building solutions that are needs-responsive and community-driven.

“Build with, not for” became the unofficial theme of last year’s Code for America Summit, and the upcoming Personal Democracy Forum in New York will feature a similar theme with talks and panels focused on broader engagement and inclusiveness in the development of civic technology.

Organizations like Code for America have long been focusing on redesigning government service interfaces, but this idea now seems to have permeated every corner of the civic technology movement. This wider embrace of the need to enhance the user experience with government is coupled with a recognition that civic tech solutions are most effective when developed with the full participation of those that they are meant to benefit from them.

Read More

I Hate Open Data Portals

Well, not really – But I do dislike certain things about most open data portals. Even the ones that I work with every day or that I have been involved with in the past.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a true believer in the power of open data. I love that every day there are more and more governments posting open data to specialized sites meant to make their data available to external (and, increasingly, internal) users. But there are things about the way that most open data portals are structured and used that bother me – I think we can do better. And I think a lot of people will agree with me.

Read More

Getting More Civic In Our Apps

Uber is not generally characterized as “civic technology” company. But the recent announcement their request API seems like a real game changer to me.

Today, the Uber API team is excited to announce the public release of our Request endpoint. With the Uber API’s initial launch last August, we made it easy to surface information about Uber products within third party applications, but getting a ride always required deep-linking to the Uber app. With the Request endpoint, you can now build applications that incorporate the entire Uber experience.

There are a number of very practical applications that can be built on the Uber platform which have a clear civic value that are now within easy reach of developers.

Read More

Enabling the Enterprise

Its not often that I run across posts about enterprise architecture that get me excited. This one – by Tariq Rashid – did. Very much so.

This issue interests me because its one that, as a former state IT executive and policy advisor, I have personal history with. I also believe its an issue that will have great impact on how successful governments are at redesigning services around users, and embracing civic technology and open data.

Read More

Civic Tech Fundamentals

If you want to learn more about how design thinking is changing the way that digital public services are being built, you’d be wise to check out the latest issue of Civic Quarterly. It’s full of great insights from some of the best thinkers on this topic.

The idea of building civic technology “with, not for” was a prominent and consistent theme at last year’s Code for America Summit. I think this is a natural evolution in the way we build civic applications and how we can make them more effective. As groundbreaking and revelatory as the first generation of civic apps was, we now have insight into how we can build better, more inclusive civic tech solutions. This is exciting to see.

But as our thinking on civic technology evolves and as we develop new ways to collaborate with governments to build civic tech solutions, it is more important than ever that we pay attention to the fundamentals.

Read More

Command Line Data Science

When it comes to deriving useful results about the operation of government from open data sets, we have an enormous array of tools at our disposal that we can make use of. Often, we do not need sophisticated or expensive tools to produce useful results.

In this post, I want to use command line tools that are available on most laptops, and others that can be downloaded for free, to derive meaningful insights from a real government open data set. The following examples will leverage *nix-based tools like tail, grep, sort, uniq and sed as well as open source tools that can be invoked from the command line like csvkit and MySQL.

The data used in this post is from the NY State Open Data Portal for traffic tickets issued in New York State from 2008 – 2012.

Read More

Pursuing Change by Finding Balance

The recent crash of a quadcopter drone on the grounds of the White House has drawn attention to the absence of final rules from the FAA governing unmanned aircraft – rules that have now been in the works for years.

This one incident almost perfectly encapsulates the difficulty that governments have with keeping pace with changes in technology. Technology can change in a matter of months or even weeks, quickly making it easy and affordable for almost anyone to buy a drone. The process that the government uses to adopt new rules and regulations, that can govern how these newly affordable drones may be used, can take years to become final.

Read More

Altitude Training for Data

The benefits of treating data like an operational asset are real, and governments that fully embrace open data stand to benefit the most.

When governments open up data that they make use of themselves to improve revenue collections and other aspects of their operations, its like training at altitude.

Read More

Hacking the RFI Process

rfi

The Seattle Police Department recently held a hackathon.

When the event was initially announced, there was a fair bit of skepticism in the civic technology community with more than a few people stating that the event would likely not be a productive one, for either the Seattle Police or those that chose to attend. I was one of those skeptics – I thought the event was too narrowly focused and that the problem that attendees would be working to help resolve wouldn’t appeal to a broad enough audience for it to work as the organizers probably hoped.

Read More