3 Local Examples

I’m spending a lot of my CityCamp time these day on two things, 1)  talking to people in different cities about hosting camps and 2) building out the infrastructure for making CityCamps recognizable and repeatable for anyone to use.  In thinking about what describes the essence of CityCamp, including the 4 Goals, I’ve realized that most important to me, personally, is the 4th Goal:  Create outcomes that participants will act upon after the event is over. I want to witness conversations converted into actions.  That seems like a tremendous task given a relative lack of awareness and understanding of Gov 2.0 at the local level among anyone but early adopters in big, urban markets.  But it’s not a tremendous task if we talk in concrete terms among people who are positions to enact change.  Here in my city of Virginia Beach, Virginia I can think of 3 specific examples of what this means.

Calendar Events

There are at least two departments in my city that publish event calendars that I care about.  One is the school system and the other is the city’s events department.  For parents and kids with busy schedules, events matter.  In a tourist town, events matter.  Because no one from Web 2.0 Land is talking with municipal employees responsible for publishing events, these employees resort to things like:

  • Manually copying and pasting events from Outlook calendars into Word documents that are attached to manually compiled email lists
  • Publishing calendar data as text and images in PDF files

City events calendars would be incredibly more useful and easier to publish if they were simply exported from Outlook to iCal files and posted to URLs on the Web.  Everyone on both sides of the producer/consumer equation will spend less time managing the technology and more time managing the events.  Lucky for me here in V.B., the Director of Beach Events is a long time friend so it’s easy for me to talk to him about this.  It turns out in that case the solution requires ZERO cost and ZERO technology investment of any kind.  His office literally manages events using Microsoft Office Outlook.  We just have to work through the process change to make this routine.  The school system is a lot more complicated because there are scores of calendars in use at offices all over the city.  Here again I am lucky.  The tech lead responsible the school system’s intranet is a former colleague from Bridgeborn.  He also shares my understanding and enthusiasm for making school events more usable and easier to manage through better use of the Web.  How do a couple of  one-off connections in two separate departments translate into a better events IT strategy for the whole city?

Data Publishing

Data catalogs are popping up in cities all over.  Here in my city we are still behind the curve.  Crime and school data are published in formats that are not easy to use and reuse.  A local newspaper has taken up the task of screen-scraping and converting data into tables and databases, which are used to create push-pins-on-maps, headline feeds, and re-formatted web pages for the paper’s online sites.  No one was taking the next logical step and publishing the data from the source in formats portable enough for further visualizations and analyses.  So when the editor of my neighborhood section wrote that he was looking for feedback on how the paper could do a better job reporting crime data I was quick to write him back.  Eventually I was connected with an enterprising programmer who knew just what to do.  He was sitting on the data.  He just needed to put an API on it.  The first cut was done in HOURS.  I was mashing it up minutes later.  But neither of us is talking to anyone in the police department or with the city’s IT staff responsible for publishing data through city sites.

Non-Emergency Communications (311)

Have you heard of the “SeeClickFix Effect?”  Tech geeks like me will recognize the analogy to the Slashdot Effect.  The SeeClickFix Effect is when a city’s non-emergency communications department (311)  is flooded with trouble tickets from the free mobile Web app, SeeClickFix.  It’s incredibly easy to set up a direct channel from any smart phone to any city email account to file 311 reports that totally circumvent whatever processes and systems are already in place.  I applaud my city and others that have the “can-do” attitude that any open channel from citizen to gov is a welcome channel.  To say that further adoption of SeeClickFix is on anyone’s priority list would be an overstatement, however.  By talking with the city I was able to learn that the Director of Non-Emergency Communication is open to a discussion about Open 311 and how to leverage the city’s existing 311 data.  I have a meeting Thursday, but I’m no 311 expert.  It’s clear that connections that need to be made aren’t being made.

So this, via 3 local examples, is what CityCamp is about.  I want my city to turn innovative success stories into success strategies.  I want citizen data consumers to talk to city data publishers about value in data for both parties.  I want people with opportunities to connect to people with experience.

Do you have 3 local examples in your city?  Please share them in the comments.  Want to start a CityCamp?  Click here.

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About Kevin Curry

Kevin Curry is a co-founder and director of CityCamp and is Chief Scientist and co-founder of Bridgeborn, inc..

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