Information technologies have a critical role to play in advancing sustainability of our organizations, communities, cities, and nations. In the recent issue of PM Magazine (Vol. 94, No. 5, June 2012), Joe Schilling, Associate Director of the Metropolitan Institute, have a piece that looks at how local sustainability planning and the creative use of information technologies to build sustainable living spaces. Please click here to read the article.
Volodymyr Lysenko and I have a paper accepted in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. Volodymyr is a former PhD student of mine that graduated from the Information School at the University of Washington. This paper draws on work he did while completing his dissertation. The paper is titled, Charting the co-Evolution of Cyberprotest and Counteraction: The Case of Former Soviet Union States from 1997-2011.
In this paper, we investigate the evolution of the modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the associated changes in protest-related tactics employed by two main stakeholders in the contemporary contentious political processes—dissenters and incumbent political authorities. Through in-depth investigation of the cyberprotest cases in the former Soviet states of Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine that occurred during the last decade, a coherent outline is developed of the co-evolution of ICTs-enabled protest tactics of the main counterparts in the contemporary political struggle in these countries. Particularly, it was found that there are at least three highly distinguishable levels of development of modern ICTs and the associated types of protest-related tactics employed by the main stakeholders in these events. We find that as soon as the authorities were able to effectively counteract the previous ICTs-enabled tactics by the dissenters, new developments in modern ICTs always empowered the latter to devise new effective strategies to overcome previously successful counter-revolutionary measures of the political authorities.
Reference: Lysenko, V.V., and Desouza, K.C. “Charting the co-Evolution of Cyberprotest and Counteraction: The Case of Former Soviet Union States from 1997-2011,” Convergence, Forthcoming.
Since I was busy in Lisbon and Guimarães, I could not attend the 2012 Ridenour Faculty Fellowship Conference. Given that I was supposed to be on a panel discussing forms of resilience, I was interviewed before I left for Portugal. The interview was conducted by Maggie Cowell, an assistant professor of Urban Affairs and Planning in the School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech.
Developer: John Schimmel
Bio: John is currently an adjunct faculty member at the NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program. He focuses on teaching courses on assistive technology design for the disabled and web programming. His background is in tech hacking, with a focus on web development (code/design/engineer).
App in Focus: Access Together
Federal Citizen App Program: FCC and the Knight Foundation Apps for Communities
Recognition: Runner Up and Most Replicable
Description of the App: Users open Access Together via their mobile phone’s web browser to check-in to places, and are prompted to answer a series of accessibility questions. The information provided on the app is primarily crowd-sourced, and provides individuals with accessibility restrictions with invaluable information.
Who is the App Intended to Serve: Citizens seeking to provide and view accessibility information about their community.
Why was the app developed: Access Together started in Spring 2011. The app idea was sparked at the New York Hall of Science during a discussion about human abilities and accessibility information in the city. Simultaneously, Foursquare released their location API, allowing individuals to query their system for information (venues). The timing was ideal to integrate accessibility needs because of the ability of the new API. John learned of challenge.gov through Twitter, and was interested in it due to his development background. The combination of accessibility and needs information along with the API could contribute additional, useful data as well as pave the way for future challenges. John thought, “Why not just build it?” so he started app development with a friend (designer).
The app challenge did provide motivation, but it was seen as more of an opportunity to present their app to an audience. The challenge did not start the development of the app, but helped motivate them to get the app project completed for the challenge deadline.
How was the availability of the app communicated to potential users: John shares information about his app to networks accessible to him such as his Facebook network. He also tries to directly contact the organizations he thinks will benefit from his app, and those he would also be interested in working with.
Advice for other developers/Lessons Learned: Using the data available from the government is the motivation behind the challenge. However, developers should not just focus on the provided data, but look towards integrating the data with the community involved and making it engaging. Don’t just make a client to access the data, but make it so that people can engage and interact with it. That was the appeal of this challenge. The only real challenge they faced was their data, as they created it from scratch. They had to create some accessibility data initially to make the app presentable and usable.
Issues of Privacy: Only issue was people with an “older mindset.” Individuals log in using a Google account or Foursquare account, but from there the user may to choose to stay anonymous, use their first name, or use a display name. This way the user’s identification is protected. Some people like to gain recognition by associating a name, but some people don’t want to be known, particularly when giving a negative review. Few concerns were raised regarding privacy so it didn’t need to be addressed.
What recommendations do you have for government agencies that are trying to incentivize the creation of citizen apps and the leveraging of open data programs:
- Having a monetary prize is good, but not sufficient. Provide a way for developers to create closer relationships with the organizations and other pertinent stakeholders. The idea would be to help developers find more resources to continue the project, or to potentially find someone to sustain/hand the project off to if the developer needs to move on to something. In place of money, you could find government organizations that might have some need or interest in the applications. If they want to have government involved, then try to build it into a sustainable program with people involved who keep the ball rolling instead of making it a quick hack competition with a cash prize. If the people involved aren’t pushing it then it won’t go anywhere.
- Increased advertising. There were a lot of false endings when the competition was supposed to end in July, but was pushed back to November due to lack of submissions. They could’ve pushed a little harder in terms of marketing by going to their target people like posting on Hacker News.
After the competition: The app got picked up by a few news sites focused on disability and accessibility, but during that time it didn’t have all the features it does now. John tries to tweet the FCC from time to time wondering if they’ll engage with Access Together more, but no response so far. He has also pursued engaging the city government, but he needs to create a 501c3 (non-profit) for this. However, he would rather be a sustainable business corporation. For now, he uses his networks on Facebook and direct contact.
What do you plan on doing next with the Access Together app, and your interest in app development for tackling social and technical problems: Used the prize money to spend 2 months to further enhance the app. The challenge now is to build an audience, adding new features to the mobile and desktop version, and making it more useful. He didn’t want to walk away when the project was over since he believes this can become something more. John has been in contact with 2 different organizations with similar apps. One organization is in Berlin, Germany called Wheelmap.org, and the other is AccessMap. He plans to meet with them to figure out how to combine their data into one accessible system because they share a common goal and the data is bigger than the individual apps.
Our second profile of developers who have contributed apps to federal challenges. The first profile was on Brad Larson.
Bio: Curtis Chang is the CEO and founder of Consulting Within Reach (CWR), a firm that works predominately with nonprofits and government agencies. He maintains expertise in the realm of social entrepreneurship and innovation, writing for both the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge and Stanford Social Innovation Review.
App in Focus: Homeless SCC
Federal Citizen App Program: FCC and Knight Foundation Apps for Communities Challenge
Recognition: 2nd Prize
Description of the App: Frontline agency staff members during the referral process enter the profile of a client which then matches them to a provider that best serves their needs. The application shares useful information on how to reach service providers, up to date services available, while also tracking all referrals made. Ultimately, it streamlines the process for homeless referrals, and captures useful information for service providers and government agencies to better collaborate.
Who is the App Intended to Serve: The target audience for the Homeless SCC app is frontline staff assisting the homeless, as well as the government and philanthropic agencies.
Why was the app developed: The motivation for the app stemmed from the widespread recognition that many of the most challenging social issues are complex, constantly changing, and often have duplication. The organizations serving the County’s homeless had little data compiled, and furthermore had little idea what others were doing. The app emerged as a response to the understanding that the public sectors and these organizations need a rational way to better collaborate; having data is essential to planning and collaborating effectively. CWR developed the app with funding from private sources with an interest in homelessness. CWR is a private entity, therefore although they conduct work seeking to improve and address challenges in society, they must also think about how to cover development costs.
How was the availability of the app communicated to potential users: CWR worked with the County, who endorsed the application but did not mandate its usage. There was no real incentive for usage. To these ends, the consulting firm produced and conducted several presentations, individual reach-outs/visits, and mobilized a ‘sales team’. This was gauged as partially successful.
What were the key lessons learned during the development of the app: 1) There is a need for someone (e.g. a foundation, influencer, etc) or public agency with a big stick or a big carrot, or even better both with the authority to mandate and build urgency to ultimately spur usage of the application. 2) The amount of work it took to publicize and market the app is not seen as the best method moving forward. The consulting firm itself ate the cost of these efforts. It is not a sustainable process to have the developers themselves hitting the pavement. 3) The technology was the easiest part, building a coalition and getting the app in the hands of users is challenging. Public agencies should provide support and access to their networks for diffusing apps into communities. 4) Public agencies should do more to stay involved with the app developers after competitions so as to learn from their efforts, support them, and work on future iterations of the app.
What recommendations do you have for government agencies that are trying to incentivize the creation of citizen apps and the leveraging of open data programs:
- Cash-prizes very important. Usually these apps have been developed out of some cause-motivation or low-budget gig. Nice to have development costs covered by prize winnings.
- Follow-up motivation and commitment on the part of federal agencies to publicize and market these apps.
- Federal programs need to market the apps submitted, as app developers are looking at this as a viable marketing platform.
- Don’t put property rights on the apps developed for the competition. Too much burden.
- Public agencies who collaborate foundations to develop challenges is seen as attractive.
- As a consulting firm, they target competitions where a suitable app is already developed. Developing an app for a particular competition is pretty risky.
What do you plan on doing next with the Homeless SCC app, and your interest in app development for tackling social and technical problems: The Homeless SCC app model has already been replicated in Northern California and its outdoor youth programs. In this case, organizations and programs are mandated to use the app. In addition, Santa Clara County has expressed interest in developing a similar application for networking local church services for recently released prisoners.
On, April 13, I will deliver a research talk at the Department of Information Systems, University of Minho (in Guimarães). The title of my talk is Policy Informatics: Embracing Complexity, Information, and Systems. The talk will feature my recent work on policy informatics and the policy informatics book project. I will also briefly highlight work featured in my recent book, Intrapreneurship: Managing Ideas Within Your Organization (University of Toronto Press, 2011). I would like to thank my colleague, and friend, Isabel Ramos for organizing my visit to Guimarães. During this visit to Portugal, I will also be giving a talk at the IGU Commission on Geography of Governance Annual Conference 2012 (April 12).
Over the next few weeks, my research team and I will be interviewing prominent App Developers. All interviewees contributed apps for various challenges run by Federal agencies (e.g. the FCC/Knight Foundation Apps for Communities Challenge, NLM Show Off Your Apps Challenge, etc), and, in most cases, even received prizes and recognition for their apps. These interviews are being conducted for our project, Citizen Apps as a Democratizing Technology: Challenges and Opportunities for Federal Agencies, which has received funding from the IBM Center for the Business of Government. When we complete interviews, and conditional on receiving permission from the interviewee, I will be featuring the developer, their app, and key take-a-ways from the conversation on my blog. Below is a list of developers who we have interviewed to date:
- Brad Larson (creator of Molecules, Honorable Mention at the NIH/NLM “Show off your Apps” Competition)
- Curtis Chang (creator of Homeless-Santa Clara County, Second Prize and Best Design and Visualization at the FCC/Knight Foundation Apps for Communities Challenge)
- John Schimmel (creator of Access Together, Runner Up and Most Replicable at the FCC/Knight Foundation Apps for Communities Challenge)
This is an exciting project and we are learning a lot from our interviews. Our goal is to arrive at actionable knowledge that will increase the effectiveness of challenges run by federal agencies. In addition to publishing our findings in a report, we will be writing several smaller pieces for various outlets. If you are interested in receiving a copy of our report, please contact us at the Metropolitan Institute.
Please send me an email, if:
- you are App Developer and would like to be interviewed for this project (our highest priority is to interview developers who have contributed to various challenges sponsored by federal agencies)
- you use an app that was developed for a government challenge
- you have connections within the federal government that can connect us with agency personnel that designed (or managed) challenges
My article on Leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds through Participatory Platforms was published on Planetizen. The future of design and planning is certain to be around participatory platforms, designers and planners should embrace these platforms and leverage their potential towards designing smart(er) cities through open, inclusive, and collaborative approaches.Planners need to learn how to orchestrate participation on these platforms so as to arrive at plans that are representative of community needs and within scope, budget, and resource constraints. Failure to achieve this will result in plans that fall prey to the foolishness or the rowdiness of crowds. I outline five simple guidelines to consider. To read more, click here - LINK
I recently completed an examination of how the US Census Bureau leveraged technologies during the 2010 Census with Akshay Bhagwatwar (Kelley School of Business, Indiana University). I am pleased to announce that this paper will appear in a future issue of Public Administration Review. This paper is an illustrative outcome of the policy informatics initiative at the Metropolitan Institute. Policy informatics is an emerging field of both research and a community of practice focusing on 1) advancing decision-making in the public sector through information-centric analysis of evidence that leverages computational and technological advances, and 2) designing, managing, and evaluating of information systems and infrastructures for policy construction, analysis, and implementation. Policy informatics expands to the multi-disciplinary nature of the public administration discipline by infusing it with the advances of information technology, management of information systems, and computational and informational science perspectives.
Abstract: Emerging technologies are transforming government agencies and the nature of governance. In this paper, we outline how under the leadership of Steven J. Jost, Associate Director for Communications, the US Census Bureau leveraged emerging technologies during the 2010 census. The US Census Bureau used technologies not only to complete the 2010 census under budget, but also deployed them innovatively to engage citizens through the design of viable participatory platforms. The Census Bureau also managed risks associated with using emerging technologies effectively. The 2010 Census campaign focused on increasing response rates and encouraging citizen participation through innovations in the communication process with citizens and the infusion of technology.
Citation: Desouza, K.C. and Bhagwatwar, A. “Leveraging Technologies in Public Agencies: The Case of the US Census Bureau and the 2010 Census,” Public Administration Review, Forthcoming.
I have a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Urban Technology. Co-authored with Akshay Bhagwatwar (Kelley School of Business, Indiana University) this paper looks at how citizen apps are employed to solve complex urban problems.
Tackling complex urban problems requires us to examine and leverage diverse sources of information. Today, cities of all kinds and sizes capture a large amount of information in real-time. Data is captured on transportation patterns, electricity and water consumption, citizen use of government services (e.g. parking meters), and even on weather events. Through open data initiatives, government agencies are making information available to citizens. In turn, citizens are building applications that exploit this information to solve local urban problems. Citizens are also building platforms where they can share information regarding government services. Information that was previously unavailable is now being used to gauge quality of services, choose services, and report illegal and unethical behaviors (e.g. requesting bribes). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper to examine the range of citizen applications (‘citizen apps’) targeted to solve urban issues and their ensuing impacts on planning, decision-making, problem solving, and urban governance. We examine citizen apps that address a wide range of urban issues from those that solve public transportation challenges to those advance management public utilities and services and even public safety.
Citation: Desouza, K.C., and Bhagwatwar, A. “Opening up Information for Tackling Complex Urban Problems: A Study of Citizen Apps,” Journal of Urban Technology, Forthcoming.