February 20, 2015

Civic Technology Helps Build a 21st Century Government

CIVIC TECHNOLOGY IS changing communities for the better. Over the past decade, the number of civic tech companies has grown at a rapid rate, bringing with it a slew of new applications and platforms that streamline government and make it more accessible to the public.

Quoting the Knight Foundation, one of the biggest sponsors of civic tech projects, "Civic leaders, organizations, funders and citizens increasingly recognize the power of technology to connect people, improve cities, and make governments more effective."

Civic tech spurs people to participate in public good development, enhancing citizen communications, improving government infrastructure or generally making national and local governments more effective. It encompasses civic applications, platforms supporting government bodies and institutions and other software enabling those goals.

The Knight Foundation's 2013 study and its 2014 update suggest that new civic tech falls under two categories: open government and community action. Civic tech in each category seeks to make data more accessible to citizens and allow them to share civic-minded solutions. Here are six reasons for the emergence of civic tech platforms and how civic tech is helping changing communities for the better:

1. Citizens want more information about their government.

In San Mateo County Socrata is helping the county to provide information to citizens in a more efficient and accessible way. In addition, Code for America helps jurisdictions create custom apps that target specific areas of community need like locating free food sources.

2. Citizens want to be more involved with how government operates.

TurboVote and TrusttheVote allow more citizens to get involved in the electoral process. The platforms allow citizens to track elections, register to vote, view ballots before going to the polls and fill out the paperwork that keeps busy people from the polls.

3. Citizens want to interact with their government, but hate all of the red tape.

In San Mateo County SeeClickFix allows citizens empower to provide feedback on public services and report things like crime, downed power lines, potholes and illegal dumping.

4. Citizens want to share their knowledge, but have nowhere to put it.

Information crowdsourcing tools like Waze make it easier for citizens to share their knowledge with their community.

5. Citizens are passionate about a project, but need to find funding to complete it.

Civic crowdfunding platforms like Kiva and Lenddo provide platorms for passionate citizens to connect with people who can help fund their projects.

6. Citizens want to change or support something, but don't know where to go.

Community organizing has been used for decades to get people who care about an issue, candidate or problem all in the same place to focus their energy on action. Civic technology is streamlining that process. Organizations and platforms like Causes and EngagementHQ allow citizens to connect with other citizens around issues they care about and officials to connect with those group.

February 18, 2015

iPads Used to Gather Petition Signatures

THE DENVER ELECTIONS Division is doing something California couldn't get implemented. That's using technology - specifically iPads - to modernize the petition signature gathering process.

The election office in Denver has come up with what's believed to be a first-in-the-nation way to gather signatures that is fast, efficient and better serves constituents as well as the election workers who have to verify thousands of signatures.

Beginning with the qualifying process for elections scheduled for this May, the office is test piloting a program that allows candidates to use a tablet and stylus to gather ballot petition signatures. eSign, as the office is calling the new application, allows circulators to gather signatures on a tablet that is registered with the Elections Division.

The app allows circulators to verify the voter registration of the signer before collecting the signature and keeps a running tally of the number of signatures collected. Tablets can be borrowed from the Elections Division for a $375 deposit or campaigns may register personal iPads with the Elections Division and download the app to gather signatures.

Currently about 18 campaigns are using eSign for the May election cycle and as the deadline for qualification approaches, more campaigns may sign up.

The office worked with a local vendor - 303 Software - to create the app, which cost about $60,000 to create and implement.

The hope is that following their successful pilot, eSign can be adopted not only statewide, but also for other jurisdictions throughout the country.

I'm not trying to brag here but San Mateo County had this idea way back in 2010. We wrote:

"A new Silicon Valley company launched a smart phone app yesterday...that will allow signature gatherers to collect your signature on a cell phone app!" "California may become the first state in the nation to apply this kind of technology to the collection of signatures for initiatives, referendums and recalls headed for the ballot."

Well, that never happened because California law evidently doesn't allow for electronic signatures for petitions. But, just in case your curious, here is a video of how the Verafirma app worked.

February 17, 2015

Is It Time For Rent Control In San Mateo County? Some Say Yes - Others Say No

ON SATURDAY MORE than 200 people took to the streets and protested Redwood City's high cost of rental housing. The protest included local business owners who said the region has become too expensive for the wages they can afford to pay.

The march was a lead-up to a Redwood City Planning Commission meeting Tuesday night starting at 7 PM, 1017 Middlefield Road (City Hall), where an item on rent control is on the agenda.

High rents are not limited to Redwood City, however. Throughout San Mateo County rents have reached some of the highest levels in California. The average rent for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment is over $2,500 which is second highest in the state, second behind San Francisco.
Dave Newlands/Daily Journal

The result of the high cost of living is
that many residents are being forced out of the rental market while many working-class families question whether they can afford to live in the county, or anywhere else on the Peninsula given the skyrocketing housing costs.

It's been said that the situation is the result of several factors - an imbalance between the surging jobs market and tight housing market; investors looking to flip rental properties; and the dissolution of California's redevelopment agencies, which had spurred affordable housing development. All of this has created a perfect storm.

There are slightly more than 35,000 households in San Mateo County that bring in less than half the county's median household income, but only about 12,000 rental units that are truly affordable for them.

Do the protesters who chanted "si se puede" in Redwood City on Saturday have it right?

Is it time for some type of rent control/rent stabilization in the county?

Let me know what you think.

February 15, 2015

Great Day at the Beach

THE BEACH TODAY at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse was spectacular. I took the Allegro over the hill and down Highway 1. Very little traffic at 7:00 AM in the morning.

My intent was to spend the day at the beach with Crockett, our Goldendoodle.

When we arrived the beach was empty. No cars parked along the road - but when we left it was exactly the opposite. Cars, people, dogs and lots of each. In fact, on the way back to Redwood City, the cars were stacked up on Highway 92 from downtown Half Moon Bay all the way to the top of the hill near the College of San Mateo.

Here are some pictures from our day.

February 14, 2015

How to Get Startup Thinking Into Government

FRUSTRATED BY PUBLIC sector inefficiency, citizens often wonder: why can't government be run like business? Open data advocates argue that's the wrong question.

Government doesn't need to, nor should be run like Silicon Valley. In fact, at CA Fwd's Long Beach Regional Data Forum, former Code for America co-executive director Abhi Nemani joked that since becoming the City of LA.'s Chief Data Officer, he now knows for certain government can't be run like a business.

Instead, Nemani argues, that innovative solutions lie at the intersection between government and startup thinking. Government can improve both efficiency and responsiveness by leveraging technology and applying the innovation and agile thinking of the startup community to solve public sector challenges, Nemani says.

Watch the video below to find out how California governments fair in applying lean startup principles and methodology to government practices and programs.

Next month, leading public sector and private developers of government transparency tools will gather at CA fwd's 2015 Summit on Data to explore how to elevate the use of open data across state and local jurisdictions to advance critical policies. The event, which will be in Sacramento on March 18, aims to stimulate innovation, promote the adoption of technology, and evolve public polices to enable technology-driven improvements.

Register for the Summit here.

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