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Dean Jenkins, Creator of PapayaHead App, Second Place @ Department of Agriculture’s “Apps for Healthy Kids”

We are half-way through our research project on Citizen Apps. Below, you will find our findings from our conversation with Dean Jenkins who created the PapayaHead App.

Developer: Dean Jenkins

Bio: Dean holds an Executive MBA degree from the University of Washington. Prior to establishing PapayaHead, Inc. in 2006, Dean spent 14 years working as an Enterprise Software Program Manager at Intel Corporation. In addition to his work at PapayaHead, he serves on the Pastoral Staff at Mountain View Church in Tumwater, Washington.

App in Focus: PapayaHead

Federal Citizen App Program: Department of Agriculture’s “Apps for Healthy Kids”

Recognition: 2nd Place

Description of the app: PapayaHead is a family meal planning website and app that allows family members to fill out a unique and individual profile of food preferences. Logging things such as likes and dislikes, as well as allergies and other nutritional requirements. From these profiles, a family can build meal plans for the day which display the nutritional value of their meals and its impact on their profiles. In addition, the plans, recipes and shopping lists may be printed.

Who is the app intended to serve: Families and individuals looking to coordinate and plan their meals.

Why was the app developed: The initial motivation was for a website application to meet his own meal planning needs for his family. He always had the desire to be an entrepreneur and start his own company. Dean saw this as a business opportunity to do something he cares about and start a successful business.

The application was not developed for the contest. It was already under development. A registered dietician on their team heard of the contest and recommended they participate since they met the challenge’s criteria.

Examination of other apps: The team looked at what was available like Jenny Craig, they found that nobody was doing what they were specifically proposing to do. Other programs were doing bits and pieces, but not exactly what they were trying to build.

How was the app developed: They spent 2 years planning (benchmarking and functionality), and came up with the functional requirements that answered what they would want to be able to do with it. The PapayaHead team worked with an offshore development firm to build the web app, but due to communication issues and other complications, the app turned out to be more of a prototype. However, through the process they learned about things they hadn’t considered before. In addition, to technical roadblocks, they also had to pause development a couple times to fund raise, primarily from friends and families.

He launched a beta version in 2009 to gathered user feedback and addressed necessary changes. The app did a full launch in 2010. This app was a web-based application. They do have a derivative product that uses the main engine on their web app which was recently launched.

Communication of app availability: They started out using word of mouth to share their product. They sent emails to ask others to look at PapayaHead, to provide feedback, and to share it with others. They did some small Facebook ads, but did not spend much on a major marketing push and relied on word of mouth.

Issues of privacy: The best way to ensure the privacy and security of users is to limit the data they collect. All large organizations have breaches of security, so there really is no system that’s 100% safe from a breach. They just limit the data they collect in order to better protect their users. They do have system protections in place like firewalls. Within the application, rather than ask for sensitive things directly such as, “Do you have any heart diseases?” they would ask, “Do you want a healthy heart?”.

Realization of original goals: They would like to see more users on their site. They were hoping the site would go viral on its own, but unfortunately this hasn’t been the case. They have more features they want to add, but it’s a slow and gradual process.

Overall Challenge experience: In sum, Dean noted it was enjoyable to go to DC, but it would have been better to see the First Lady Michelle Obama there since she sponsored it. They were hoping to be able to get a picture with her it would have enhanced their experience.

Advice for federal agencies:

  • After looking at other challenges, these challenges aren’t something an entrepreneur is able to take too seriously because the prizes and amount of effort going into most of these isn’t significant. Right now it seems more directed towards hobbyists and enthusiasts. It’s hard for someone who is looking to turn this into a serious business to take these challenges seriously.
  • Some winners may want to take things further and turn their thing into a company. It would be more beneficial for the challenges to have the goal of helping their winners build companies that continue to tackle these problems if they so choose. It would be better putting together a larger prize because the current prize offerings for most challenges aren’t something you can gain much from. Even better, would be to provide connections and mentoring to build a business. Something similar to GE’s challenge.
  • The only feedback they received from the challenge was being informed that they had won 2nd place in the challenge. People like Steve Wozniak and Mark Pincus were among the judges for the challenge, but they did not interact with them at all. It would have been extremely beneficial to receive feedback from them or, even better, have a chance to talk with them and others, such as venture capitalists.

James Pol, US Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office.

As part of our Citizen App project, we interviewed James Pol at the US Department of Transportation on his experience with the Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge.

Current Position: Team Leader, Program Management and Evaluation at the US Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office.

Bio: James is a classically trained civil engineer, receiving his Bachelors from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a MS in Computer Systems Management from the University of Maryland. He has experience in both the public and private sector. Over the last decade, James has worked in the Federal Highway Administration as a program manager, with a particular focus of real-time information. In 2008, he began work with the US DOT and currently supervises the US DOT’s Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) research projects.

Federal App Challenge in Focus: The Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge is centered on collecting innovative ideas and uses for dedicated short range communications (DSRC); wireless technology enables vehicles to communicate. The challenge did not require technical submissions, and winners were awarded with a free trip to the Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress. The challenge received a total of 76 submissions.

Motivation for initiating the challenge:

  • In general: The Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office has an eye towards advancing technologies, and helping to generate forward progress in the transportation practice. The office focuses on getting newly developed technologies out of the research space and into deployment. The challenges help them to carry out their mission, which includes engaging a larger audience of stakeholders and connecting beyond the usual RFPs. James notes that often when one works in the contracting arena, one is limited to certain audiences. This lessens one’s ability to reach some of the newer and more innovative technologies.
  • Challenge specific: ITS sought to broaden awareness of connected vehicles technology (establishing a network of communication between vehicles), and its role within the research field. Moreover, they targeted students, seeking to engage the next generation of engineers, economists and others interested in this arena. The ITS program realizes that these individuals are the ones coming into the workforce, therefore being in touch with this technology is essential.

Process for organizing the challenge:

They defined a challenge, targeted a specific group of participants and determined a prize. The prize was a paid trip to attend the World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems and provided exclusive access to technology demonstrations. A total of 3-4 Individuals were involved in defining the challenge, while an additional 6 provided further input. There were 10 panelists to review the challenge submissions upon their completion.
In terms of managing the challenge.gov platform, once a challenge is created and coordinated with GSA (the manager of challenge.gov), a moderator is established for the account. Both the moderator and James reviewed content and submissions on the site. In this challenge’s profile on the challenge.gov platform, some example submissions were provided. In addition, they also provided access to background information on connected vehicles to aid participants in understanding the underlying technologies.

They did borrow from existing programs, for things such as their judging criteria. However, the challenge was written by DOT’s ITS. The planning and design of the challenge was done prior to the establishment of the America Competes Law.

Publicity:

ITS developed a publicity plan to build awareness on the work the government was already doing with connected vehicles. The challenge was announced at a PR event at the annual Transportation Board Meeting. From there it immediately took off, and subsequently received 200 press impressions of all sorts; from blogs to webpages, to Wired magazine. One result of the immediate and extensive press coverage was the ability of ITS to refocus on other efforts and research. However, they did maintain support for the challenge, re-engaging the public at other events held by the agency.

Judging:

Internal judges were volunteers from around the DOT and ITS. The department varies significantly, and ITS worked with 6 other agencies (Federal Highway Administration, National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, and Federal Railroad Administration) within the department. These internal judges then chose the five best submissions, while also eliminating irrelevant or unrelated proposals. In total 90 submissions were gathered, 75 submissions were made available for public voting. A submission from a team out of Clemson University won the people’s choice award. After the ITS World Congress, the agency has had minimal contact with the winners.

Meet expectations/goals:

Overall, the response out paid their expectations. They would’ve been happy with 40 submissions, however they received close to 90 submissions. Challenge.gov allows people to ‘like’ and comment on the challenges, this is one way to gauge interest. The challenge was well within the top 10 of the challenges listed at the time for activity and submissions. The challenge out performed even those with cash-prizes.

In terms of content, the challenge was devised to gather new concepts. Overall, the submissions helped validate some of their research endeavors, such as electric vehicle fleets and autonomous vehicles. However, nothing specific from the challenge has been directly translated into their research activities.

Critical Lessons:

  • Spend time early-on developing and crafting easy to convey messages. Connected vehicles is an inherently complex research field; the solver community out there, even for smart people, requires a bit of effort to express what it takes to achieve this and submission expectations.
  • Low barrier to entry for this challenge. As such, must be very specific as to what is expected for submissions.
  • Require that it be an original thought. One concept was very closely aligned with another research project from around the country. Thus, better safeguards are needed against this type of submission.

Do you see challenges being important to other agencies:

In short, the answer is yes, but it is difficult to quantify. The Department of Transportation is rather committed to applying this type of initiative. In terms of, conducting research he sees it as evolving into a major component. Moreover, it is a useful method of achieving a knowledge/technology transfer, and a way to boost participation by individuals. Other agencies have contacted him on advice and he has been invited to judge other challenges.

Currently, there are three other agencies in the department defining challenges. He has been approached by agencies within DOT and colleagues in the ITS program with ideas for new challenges. James is additionally a part of a department-wide work group to provide guidance to agencies in conducting challenges.

Major risk/concern with running these challenges:

Major risk is making sure to abide by America COMPETES Act, whether or not the challenge is being conducted within what the law establishes agencies to do. A lot of discussion and negotiation with legal and procurement must exist during the design and implementation of a challenge. Challenges are new for agencies, and it will take time to gain awareness and a level of comfort. However, enthusiasm is building for it.

How clear is the America COMPETES Act:

Interpreting the law is still a work in progress and questions do remain. America COMPETES includes requirements such as, requiring judges from both agencies and the industry. As a result, vetting conflicts of interest becomes necessary. This adds a significant amount of time to just defining and selecting a judge. Efforts are still underway to figure out how early in the process to include the judging panel. As well as, how to compensate non-federal employees.

Community Intelligence Platforms: The Case of Open Government

Akshay Bhagwatwar (Kelley School of BusinessIndiana University) and I have a paper accepted at the Eighteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS), to be held in Seattle, Washington, August 9-12, 2012. This paper builds on our ongoing work in policy informatics, citizen apps, and design of participatory platforms.

Community Intelligence Platforms: The Case of Open Government

The focus on collaborative and participatory governance has led to interest in studying how ‘intelligence’ in citizen communities can be leveraged towards creating robust solutions for complex social and policy problems. In this paper, we present four models that uncover the process of leveraging community intelligence. We analyze multiple case studies that capture the varying roles of citizens and public agencies in the problem-solving process. Employing Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of citizen participation as an analytical tool, we outline the strengths and weaknesses of each model, and suggest design recommendations for the development of participatory platforms for open government. 

 

Leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds through Participatory Platforms – Planetizen

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

April in Lisbon – IGU Commission on Geography of Governance Annual Conference 2012

I will be presenting a paper at the Annual Conference of the IGU Commission on Geography of Governance in Lisbon, Portugal (April 12-14, 2012) .The paper, Citizen Apps and Urban Governance: Understanding the Landscape of Apps and their Impacts, draws on my current research project with  Akshay Bhagwatwar (Kelley School of BusinessIndiana University) and my IBM Center for the Business of Government research grant.

Citizen Apps to Solve Complex Urban Problems – Journal of Urban Technology

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.

Abstract:

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.

New Project – Examining Public Participation in ACTion Alexandria

The Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech has entered into an agreement to partner with ACT for Alexandria to advance the design of citizen engagement platforms.I will lead a team of researchers who will work in collaboration with ACT for Alexandria personnel to examine public participation on the ACTion Alexandria platform. The team will look at how user interactions on the community platform can guide design choices that promote more robust forms of citizen engagement.

ACT for Alexandria is a community foundation founded in the the fall of 2004 by a small group of citizens who came together to decide how best to stimulate philanthropic giving to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in their community. The ACTion Alexandria project is a new citizen engagement platform which provides interactive tools that make it easier for residents to take a more active role in addressing community problems. ACTion Alexandria connects individuals to nonprofit organizations they want to support, but with a strictly local focus. Individuals have the opportunity to take action on behalf of nonprofits working to improve the community.

ACT for Alexandria is a prominent player in the non-profit space. We are excited to partner with them to study the dynamics of public participation in action. The ACTion platform gives us access to real world scenarios of how citizens use technology to engage each other.

This initiative will advance the work being done in Policy Informatics at the Metropolitan Institute. Designing better collaborative and participatory platforms remains a critical challenge in the public arena. We are not only interested in this project from a research point of view but also from a design and policy point of view. The Metropolitan Institute will be analyzing information on user behavior on the platform, designing experiments to test various strategies for increasing engagement on the platform, and contributing to the design of the overall platform.

Collaborating on this effort allows us the opportunity to make a difference in our community. The MI is based in Alexandria and we want to be part of the community. ACT for Alexandria provides an amazing array of services, from scholarships to leadership training. ACTion Alexandria is where the idea of community engagement meets the newest technological innovations.

See here for the press release from the Metropolitan Institute (Link)