Transparency

Citizen engagement in procurement on Citymart.com

Citymart.com is primarily considered a government to business marketplace, helping cities procure smarter by getting full exposure to all approaches to meet their needs. But Citymart.com also provides a very important asset for citizens in opening up a decision-making process typically handled behind closed doors.

This, in fact, is quite revolutionary.

If we take a look at traditional public spending in cities, we find that rules and regulations focus on the correct tendering process, which legally starts when you send out your specifications to solution providers for bidding. In most global cities, these are today published. What the citizen doesn't know, and cannot know, is how the need that this investment is to solve comes about, how the specification was determined, and whether preferences were given to certain types of providers in the process. The process of identifying the need and specifying the tender are still treated as 'discretionary', i.e. it is up to each official to do this as they please - which usually means doing it behind closed doors, constitutes a breeding ground for bad practices and wastes public resources.

Citymart.com unfolds this discretionary process into a shared methodology, today adopted by 47 cities. Each step is documented and offers new opportunities for citizens to engage:

1. Opening Needs, Opportunities as Challenges

Each city working with Citymart.com receives a methodology on how to identify needs, or as we call them: challenges. Many cities, such as Sant Cugat or Cape Town, have chosen to run challenges to find new methods to engage citizens in determining priorities. Genius!York and Mindmixer are to examples of solutions now being used by cities to engage citizens in prioritizing city needs.

Cities publish their challenge on Citymart.com, as for example the 22 partner cities of LLGA2013 did - meaning that long before specifications are done, cities share their intentions. All information is public, and cities commit to publishing local press releases to assure citizens are informed.

2. Finding Solutions, Engaging Communities

Citymart.com takes these challenges and proactively invests in a 3-month research process, to find all available solutions. Citizens can follow and interact with the research team on our Storify feed, and through our extensive social media campaigning. Not only can they see what we find, but they get access to valuable background resources to learn about the key issues.

Special emphasis is given to explore all possible approaches to solving a challenge, a key feature for a public debate on how we would like our cities to develop.

All solutions that are submitted to a city are published, meaning that citizens can see exactly what options their public leaders had when they considered their course of action. This is an unprecedented step forward.

Citymart.com is an open catalogue, meaning that any citizen can search relevant solutions for their needs and interact with providers, or share these with other members of the community.

3. Decisions & the Jury Process

Citymart.com provides cities with a jury tool, to which they can invite decision-makers, but also members of the public or civic leaders in an effort to arive at best decisions. In fact, Citymart.com provides cities recommendations on diversity and composition of juries.

Citymart.com documents the jury behaviour, and each member of the jury has clear guidelines on potential conflicts of interest. Should citizens seek information about any part of the process, the data is available and can be shared on instruction by the city.

Names of Jurors are published on Citymart.com, to provide full accountability. Each solution provider receives the original jury evaluations directly in their showcase.

Result: Citizen value becomes central

As a result of this openness, like in many other aspects of open information, cities have become more considerate in how they frame their needs and interests. In our experience of running 87 challenges, cities are increasingly moving away from technical concepts to citizen value and impact concepts. See our related article on the Rise of Citizen Engagement.

Further, Citymart.com creates opportunities for citizens to take matters into their own hand. McKinsey has shown that in Dublin, for example, Citymart.com would be a significant opportunity to create new start-ups that respond to the challenges and needs of the community. 90% of challenges on Citymart.com are won by SMEs, of which about 25% are NGOs or citizen organisations that have the most meaningful solutions to community challenges.

Civic Engagement, Community Development, Inclusion and Sharing - A debate at LLGA | Cities Summit

By Fedor Ovchinnikov and Ruth Doyle

20+ delegates interested in civic engagement, community development, inclusion and sharing took the opportunity to enjoy five inspiring presentations from speakers representing the UK, India, Argentina, the US, and Brazil. The presenters talked about resilience building at the city level, engaging the residents of a city yet to be built, co-creation as the ultimate goal of decentralization and participation, democratization of city space using the concept of pop-ups, and development of social intelligence through online civic engagement platforms.

Session moderator Allison Arieff (Editor + Content strategist, SPUR) opened the session by introducing the topic. According to Allison, civic engagement with city authorities is too much focused on complaints, so cities spend massive amounts of time and resources reacting to these complaints. In order to save time and resources, and to solve problems more successfully, cities need to move from adversarial to cooperative engagements based on action, innovation and citizen empowerment. Engaging the public in solution development cannot just be left up to high-technology or smart phone based solutions: simple low-tech measures are often capable of improving city services. Allison finished by calling for a “declaration of interdependence” to form the paradigm for reinvention of public participation in the 21st century and to make citizens feel that they have agency and are inspired to contribute to city development.

LLGA2013 15.5.13 Parallel Session A

James Togut (Founder, The Good Life for All) talked about resilience in Brighton & Hove, the first city worldwide to formally embed the “One Planet Living Framework” and concept of “resilience” within its city action plan (“One Brighton”). The core of resilience is the ability to transform and adapt to one planet living whilst providing good lives for all. Resilience implies fostering resourcefulness in material terms - meaning waste (“just a resource that is in the wrong place”) and in human terms – implying the cultivation of imagination, inventiveness, and enterprise. Cat Fletcher (Materials Coordinator for Brighton Waste House) introduced Brighton Freegle Group – an “online dating for stuff” which helps people to become personally resilient in their own lives by developing a peer to peer, and cross-sectoral sharing market place. This platform has 1.4 million users and contributes annual economic value of 120k. Drawing upon the concept of City Makers, Cat & James talked about the need to nurture passionate individuals (change makers and visionaries) within each sector – public, private and voluntary – who are not afraid of disrupting the norm. Cat suggested that City Councils should make dedicated efforts to identify, support and empower these people who are well connected on the ground and have catalytic qualities.

Scott Wrighton (City Manager, City of Lavasa) discussed his experience of building a new city from nothing. The City of Lavasa is the foremost lifestyle development project in India and represents part of the rural-urban migratory shift taking place where it is estimated that 350 million people will move to urban areas in the next 30 years. Lavasa is a private city that creates profit, sells real estate and invests in joint ventures with the private sector to enable the provision of city services. Interestingly, the biggest challenge that confronts this epic endeavor is not infrastructure or money, but acquiring land and dealing with poor governance systems that are not conducive to new ways of city management and public engagement and reduce autonomy for public private partnerships.

The assumption that most people want to engage with their government does not ring true worldwide. Scott suggested that dealing with government can be very off-putting in India where local governments are micro-managed by state government. In this case he stated that there is a desperate need for a change in paradigm to make new inhabitants of Lavasa eager to engage with the city to build organizations that they hope will evolve sustainably and extend citizen engagement. So how do you engage the residents of a city yet to be built? Who should decide and design the mechanisms? Scott noted that after starting with a paternalistic approach where the provision of infrastructure prevailed, the next challenge is to look at the invisible social fabric so that civic engagement mechanisms are in place.

Daniella Rosario (Technical Coordinator, Ministry of Public Utilities and the Environment, Municipality of Rosario) introduced the efforts of the Municipality of Rosario, Argentina to shift to embed sustainability within its city governance and shift to a more decentralized and participatory governance model. Introducing two successful projects – Rosario Mas Limpia (Cleaner Rosario Campaign) and the Green Homes Network Program – Daniella emphasized the need to move beyond government as service provider to paradigms of co-creation with citizens.

Mariella and Pete Watman (Co-Founders of Pop-Up Brands) talked about how pop-ups create a multitude of economic and personal opportunities.. Pop-Up Brands addresses the problem of underutilized and poor listing of available city spaces by providing a marketplace for short term commercial space of all kinds. This approach gives entrepreneurs and artists an opportunity to prototype their ideas in spaces they could not previously afford. Pop-ups can create vibrancy in vacant neighborhoods and regenerate the area. Some pop-ups become permanent while others recycle and evolve thus contributing to the resilience of the area. The growth of the Pop-Up Movement is linked with the trend for the democratization of space – championed by the “Noisebridge Group” – the makers space in San Francisco, focused on citizen empowerment and action over deliberation, through their paradigm of “Do-ocracy”.

The session concluded with a presentation from Brazilian entrepreneur, Daniel Bittencourt (Co-Founder, Lung) who introduced an engagement system called Wikicity. Wikicity is a collaborative platform where, through use of mapping systems, residents highlight city problems as well as projects that may be developed by communities themselves. Each point on the map turns into a lively discussion on the Internet, through the debates promoted on Facebook. The ideas are then sent to local governments who help to create and implement these concepts. In Brazil, the initiative mobilized over 15,000 citizens in PortoAlegre.cc, and a growing number of cities around the globe are starting to use this innovative solution to become better places to live!

Niagra Open Data

niagraI had written myself a note to check out Niagra Falls’ new website and Open Data Catalogue.  I’m not sure where I heard about it, but something about the small-town-with-big-ideas caught my eye. Niagra Falls, Ontario is a small city of about 80,000.  About a year ago, they set out to redefine their city website, which gets about as many visitors a month as the city has residents.  It launched last month with a few local news sources picking up the story. I visited the site today to look around.  The homepage is overwhelming, with lots of images organized in an unclear way.  At first, I really didn’t like it.  I don’t think it works, visually.  I’m just not sure where they want me to go when I land there.  This is a common feeling I have when looking at municipal websites, but I digress.

What is amazing about the site is the plethora of information available.  It takes a little digging, but the GIS data is really quite incredible.  You can do a genealogy search for a particular name and find out exactly where that person is buried, with a GIS-based map display.  You can see live data on calls to the fire department.  You can even “go to a park” – it’ll identify for you which parks suit your needs whether you need an arena or just track.

The point here is that Niagra Falls has joined the movement towards transparency and open government.  It isn’t elegant, but first trys rarely are.  If they can do it, so can other small cities.  It’s one small step in the right direction.

- Terra Curtis

 

Niagra Open Data

niagraI had written myself a note to check out Niagra Falls’ new website and Open Data Catalogue.  I’m not sure where I heard about it, but something about the small-town-with-big-ideas caught my eye. Niagra Falls, Ontario is a small city of about 80,000.  About a year ago, they set out to redefine their city website, which gets about as many visitors a month as the city has residents.  It launched last month with a few local news sources picking up the story. I visited the site today to look around.  The homepage is overwhelming, with lots of images organized in an unclear way.  At first, I really didn’t like it.  I don’t think it works, visually.  I’m just not sure where they want me to go when I land there.  This is a common feeling I have when looking at municipal websites, but I digress.

What is amazing about the site is the plethora of information available.  It takes a little digging, but the GIS data is really quite incredible.  You can do a genealogy search for a particular name and find out exactly where that person is buried, with a GIS-based map display.  You can see live data on calls to the fire department.  You can even “go to a park” – it’ll identify for you which parks suit your needs whether you need an arena or just track.

The point here is that Niagra Falls has joined the movement towards transparency and open government.  It isn’t elegant, but first trys rarely are.  If they can do it, so can other small cities.  It’s one small step in the right direction.

- Terra Curtis

 

Advancing open government/Gov 2.0 in San Francisco

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu_-D44rCwE&w=439&h=250] The Gray Area Foundation for the Arts has partnered with the San Francisco Department of Technology to launch Summer of Smart, a three-month intensive program that brings together designers, planners, architects, technologists, developers and other urbanists to create bold new ideas to address pressing issues in San Francisco.  At the conclusion of the program, leading ideas will be presented to Mayoral candidates to inspire lasting change in the city.

The program includes three weekends of workshops covering Community Development and Public Art; Sustainability, Transportation, and Energy; and, Public Health, Food, and Nutrition.  Each weekend, attendees are asked to focus on the following question: What projects and applications should be built around urban issues facing San Francisco, and then presented to mayoral candidates for their feedback and support?

This is perhaps too big a question to start with.  It seems that necessarily the process must start by identifying the existing issues and examining the feasibility of tech or open government-type solutions.  That’s why it is so important that attendees include both those working within the government and those from the tech world.

Some solutions mentioned in their Twitter feed (#sfsos) and on the website so far include:

  • Publicly-visible eBay for government contracts
  • A management system for transit agencies to view real-time delay information, change operations
  • The Neighborhood Game, designed to inspire people to meet their neighbors and learn more about their neighborhood
  • Permit This, aggregating building permit info with building codes

A major success of the program could be simply to bring open government and technology into the mayoral debate.  This video highlights the tech (il)literacy of each of the candidates.

- Terra Curtis

 

Advancing open government/Gov 2.0 in San Francisco

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu_-D44rCwE&w=439&h=250] The Gray Area Foundation for the Arts has partnered with the San Francisco Department of Technology to launch Summer of Smart, a three-month intensive program that brings together designers, planners, architects, technologists, developers and other urbanists to create bold new ideas to address pressing issues in San Francisco.  At the conclusion of the program, leading ideas will be presented to Mayoral candidates to inspire lasting change in the city.

The program includes three weekends of workshops covering Community Development and Public Art; Sustainability, Transportation, and Energy; and, Public Health, Food, and Nutrition.  Each weekend, attendees are asked to focus on the following question: What projects and applications should be built around urban issues facing San Francisco, and then presented to mayoral candidates for their feedback and support?

This is perhaps too big a question to start with.  It seems that necessarily the process must start by identifying the existing issues and examining the feasibility of tech or open government-type solutions.  That’s why it is so important that attendees include both those working within the government and those from the tech world.

Some solutions mentioned in their Twitter feed (#sfsos) and on the website so far include:

  • Publicly-visible eBay for government contracts
  • A management system for transit agencies to view real-time delay information, change operations
  • The Neighborhood Game, designed to inspire people to meet their neighbors and learn more about their neighborhood
  • Permit This, aggregating building permit info with building codes

A major success of the program could be simply to bring open government and technology into the mayoral debate.  This video highlights the tech (il)literacy of each of the candidates.

- Terra Curtis

 

Code for America

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkceyKlYrJo&w=440&h=278] I was surprised when I realized I hadn’t yet blogged about Code for America.  I mentioned it in a post last week about the future of technology and planning, and then came across it again reading Arc User: The Magazine for ESRI Software Users. For those unfamiliar, ESRI is the company that produces the most widely-used GIS software – ArcMAP.  Turns out they’re also advising the Code for America program.

So, what is Code for America (CfA)?  They’re a new non-profit that teams with cities, figures out a challenge the city is facing that could be solved most cost-effectively with a tech/web 2.0 solution, and recruits technologist fellows to spend about 10 months working out the solutions.  The result is that cities get their problems solved cheaper (and faster) than doing it on their own and the technologists get to do good while doing what they love.

This round, CfA has partnered with Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.  The intent is that they’ll solve each city’s challenge in an open and transferable way, creating solutions that apply to any municipality in the US.  Boston has challenged the fellows to improve high school education through an engaging web platform; Seattle is looking for a mechanism to enable more fluid collaboration between and among communities and public safety officials; Washington DC is expanding upon its own Apps for Democracy project, creating a manual to assist other governments in their open data programs; and, Philadelphia has asked for a solution to allow citizen collaboration on neighborhood services.

CfA is currently in full swing, with all fellows working together out of San Francisco.  We should expect the first round of solutions in September with a hand-off to cities in October and November.  In the meantime, they’re already recruiting for the next team of technologist.  Act fast because the early deadline has already passed!

-Terra Curtis

 

Next Generation Government

We have talked about various “government 2.0” initiatives on this blog, and now the Living Labs Global Award 2011, in partnership with San Francisco, is searching out companies that promote, create, or encourage the next generation of government. One such group I have found has created OpenGovernment.org, a “free and open source public resource website for government transparency and civic engagement at the state and local levels.”  This is a follow-up to their project OpenCongress.org, a similar resource but for the national U.S. Congress. They’ve taken open data to the next level – merely by undertaking the project, they’ve uncovered the sad truth that many governmental agencies are not in compliance with the Principles of Open Government Data, meaning OpenGovernment has to go out and find it on their own (and they do) and additionally they have provided an accountability service in so doing, encouraging more states and localities to comply and upgrade their data.

So far, five states have been covered in the project (California, Louisiana, Maryland, Texas, and Wisconsin).  Recent bills, key votes, congressional makeup, and noteworthy events are all listed on the main state page.  It’s a quick and easy way to catch up on all the civics homework you’ve been putting off as a citizen.  It may also be a quick and easy way to hold elected officials accountable for their decisions.

-Terra Curtis

Sant Cugat: Deemed Most Transparent Municipality in Spain

Yesterday, the Sant Cugat del Valles, a strategic member of Living Labs Global and a Showcase Award Partner, was awarded a prize for transparent public management in by Transparency International Spain. The mayor of Sant Cugat, Lluis Recoder, received the award yesterday in Madrid; he commented that this award is the result of years of hard work and a commitment to good public management.

The city’s commitment to transparency is couched in its commitment to develop a new economic management model for the city. Among other outreach efforts, the public administration runs a survey of citizens’ perceptions of public services every 6 months. Here is an article about the award written in Catalan.