GOVERNMENT INNOVATION MAVEN

GOVERNMENT INNOVATION MAVEN

Marketing Visionary. Thinker. Thought-provoker. Curator. Blogger. Cupcake addict. #Crowdsourcing enthusiast. Interested in all things #startup. Especially in #civicgood, #gov20, #opengov, and #socialgov.

#austin (at Texas State Capitol)

#austin (at Texas State Capitol)

Tagged: #austin

Citizen Engagement: 3 Cities And Their Civic Tech Tools

Though democratic governments are of the people, by the people, and for the people, it often seems that our only input is electing officials who pass laws on our behalf. After all, I don’t know many people who attend town hall meetings these days. But the evolution of technology has given citizens a new way to participate. Governments are using technology to include as many voices from their communities as possible in civic decisions and activities.

Here are three examples. 

Raleigh, NC

Raleigh North Carolina’s open government initiative is a great example of passive citizen engagement. By following an open source strategy, Open Raleigh has made city data available to the public. Citizens then use the data in a myriad of ways, from simply visualizing daily crime in their city, to creating an app that lets users navigate and interactively utilize the city’s greenway system.  

Fort Smith, AR

Using MindMixer, Fort Smith Arkansas has created an online forum for residents to discuss the city’s comprehensive plan, effectively putting the community’s future in the hands of the community itself. Citizens are invited to share their own ideas, vote on ideas submitted by others, and engage with city officials that are “listening” to the conversation on the site. 

Seattle, WA

Being a tech town, it’s no surprise that Seattle is using social media as a citizen engagement tool. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) uses a variety of social media tools to reach the public. In 2012, the department launched a first-of-its kind hyper-local twitter initiative. A police scanner for the twitter generation, Tweets by Beat provides twitter feeds of police dispatches in each of Seattle’s 51 police beats so that residents can find out what is happening right on their block. 

In addition to Twitter and Facebook, SPD created a Tumblr to, in their own words, “show you your police department doing police-y things in your city.” In a nutshell, the department’s Tumblr serves as an extension of their other social media outlets.   

3 Startups Proving That ‘For Good’ & ‘For profit’ Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Several days ago civic tech startup Citizinvestor shared with its followers their company values. What stood out to me was their eighth core value:

For good, for profit

Profit and social impact are not mutually exclusive. We believe the best way to create real change is by creating new value in the marketplace.

There is a misconception that if a company is for profit, it is inherently not “for the people.” — not surprising considering the turbulence we’ve seen on Wall Street over the past several years.  

Thankfully, dozens of civic tech companies, along with organizations like Code for America and the Knight Foundation, are proving otherwise. 

The intersection of ‘for profit’ and ‘for good’

Mark Headd, Philadelphia’s Chief Data Officer and civic innovation thought leader, provides great insight into what a civic startup looks like. He explains in his blog, Civic Innovations, that civic startups have particular qualities that make them attractive to both governments and citizens. Both parties have an interest in seeing these kinds of startups succeed because both will realize benefits when they do. Mark provides an excellent definition:

“Civic startups are those companies that, through the pursuit of their core missions, produce what economists call a positive externality. In other words, there are benefits inherent in the services these companies provide that are not reflected in the cost of that service.”

Here are three examples of startups who embody Headd’s definition. 

Citizinvestor: the Public Sector’s Answer to Kickstarter 

Citizinvestor (whose core values are the basis for this post) is essentially Kickstarter for government. Citizinvestor is a crowdfunding and civic engagement platform for local government projects. Any government entity can post public projects to Citizinvestor.com where citizens can make a tax-deductible donation to the projects they care about most.

ArchiveSocial: Ensuring Social Media Compliance One Tweet at a Time 

ArchiveSocial enables public agencies to engage with citizens via social media, while automatically ensuring compliance with state and federal records laws such as FOIA. It provides a legal safety net, and eliminates the time and effort required to respond to public records requests. Essentially, citizens benefit from increased engagement with their government, and the promise of government transparency (i.e. freedom of information) being fulfilled.

SmartProcure: Changing How Government Does Business 

SmartProcure is an online information service that provides access to local, state, and federal government procurement data. With 60 million government purchase orders in their database and counting, SmartProcure enables government agencies to make more efficient procurement decisions and save taxpayer dollars, while simultaneously enabling businesses to sell more effectively and competitively to government agencies. 

Why I Joined a Civic Startup

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I am proud to be a part of a civic startup. After working with big government contractors for over five years, I knew the business of government. Several months ago I began looking for new career opportunities. I wanted to continue working with government, but I wanted to actually make a difference. In my job hunt, I focused only companies that fit the civic startup bill.

The definition of a civic startup

Mark Headd, Philadelphia’s Chief Data Officer and civic innovation thought leader, provides great insight into what a civic startup looks like. He explains in his blog, Civic Innovations, that  civic startups have particular qualities that make them attractive to both governments and citizens. Both parties have an interest in seeing these kinds of startups succeed because both will realize benefits when they do. Mark provides an excellent definition:

“Civic startups are those companies that, through the pursuit of their core missions, produce what economists call a positive externality. In other words, there are benefits inherent in the services these companies provide that are not reflected in the cost of that service.”

Those are the businesses that I targeted. Not only did I stumble across some amazing companies (Measured VoiceSmartProcure, and Appallicious, to name just a few), but my research led me to several startup founders who I now consider career mentors, and ultimately to ArchiveSocial.

Why I went with ArchiveSocial

After several months of reaching out to a multitude civic startups, (and basically doing a guerilla marketing campaign to promote myself), I was offered positions at 3 companies. And then came the tough part.* I had to choose.

After a one-month trial period to test my fit with the company (a fairly common practice in the startup world), I packed up my apartment,made the move to Durham, North Carolina, and started with ArchiveSocial full-time.

I chose ArchiveSocial because of the company’s mission in the public sector: increasing citizen engagement and government transparency. By archiving social media records, ArchiveSocial eliminates the compliance risk that is preventing government agencies — especially at the municipal level — from using social media as a two-way communications tool, or from having any social media presence whatsoever. Citizens benefit from increased engagement with their government, and the promise of government transparency (i.e. freedom of information) being fulfilled.

The future of civic startups

Like all civic startups, or any startup, for that matter, ArchiveSocial faces many challenges. We have limited resources and we’re competing against the government establishment (those big government contractors I mentioned at the beginning of this post).

Luckily, there are several well-established organizations that are committed to the success of civic startups. ArchiveSocial is part of the Code for America accelerator program, for example. Cities are also taking notice. Philadelphia is one of the cities nurturing startups and recently launched a program called FastFWD, a 12-week social enterprise accelerator focused on public safety.

Civic startups are still a relatively new concept. As more and more governments strive for innovation, I can envision a future where we are widely accepted. Only time will tell.