Code for America 2012 Stories

Submitted by Project Team Story
Tamara Shopsin Blockee Labs Fridays Launched on Aug 28, 2012 got over a 1000 visits on day 1. Show
Matt Hampel LocalData Detroit The short: our app helped Wayne State University students survey 9,000+ properties in Detroit quickly and accurately. A group of Wayne State University urban planning students will present a final report to stakeholders and the campus community following their City of Detroit surveying project. The project, titled Detroit CLICS (Commercial Land Inventory City Study), conducted by a group of 19 WSU students, addressed the lack of data pertaining to the use and condition of commercial parcels in the city, as well as inconsistencies between the use of many of these parcels, Detroit Zoning Ordinance and the city’s current Master Plan. ... Commercial land, consisting of 9,558 parcels (2950.5 acres or 4.61 square miles), was surveyed using a web-based smart phone application built by Code for America to collect data. This technology has the potential to be useful and accessible to city governments and community groups looking to conduct similar inventories in the future. The survey data and the student’s recommendations will be fed into the on-going Detroit Works Project. Show
Sheba Najmi Twitter education Honolulu Thanks to Lauren Reid, we got the City of Honolulu's official Twitter handle changed from @HNL_Info to @HonoluluGov today. #win! Show
Alicia Rouault Detroit Connecting our city contact to other people she might not have engaged with was a somewhat unintended benefit to our events and organizing efforts. Karla Henderson is an executive administrator under Mayor Bing. She had some preconceptions around the work of D3, Jerry Paffendorf (Loveland Tech) and Vince Mazzola of, among civic "hacker" types working in Detroit. Through attending our events and engaging with these types in a less formal setting (and workshop atmosphere), she indicated to us, "I'm here because of you guys." meaning that she wouldn't have been in the room had it not been for CfA. She also indicated we had an uncanny ability to "rise above" all the politics and expose her to people who she otherwise wouldn't have met with. Information was exchanged, and although partnerships may not blossom overnight, it was important both for her and groups like D3 to listen to distinct (at times competing) interests. Show
Sheba Najmi Honolulu City-Community Linkage: The City's Media team is a very traditional, non-innovative team that focuses mostly on press releases in the newspaper. I decided to advocate for a new media strategy to help the city better communicate to citizens all the good work it does. To this end, I arranged for a meeting between Jim Fulton, the city's Media Director, and Tara Coomans, the head of the Social Media Club (a group outside the city), as well as Burt Lum (who straddles both city employment and the tech community outside the city). Having Tara help Jim lay out his goals and the first 5 steps towards achieving them was great. Jim didn't even know Burt, which was a great double linkage. Now Burt and Tara will be working on a social media campaign (for free) for the newly launched Da Bus app (made by 2 of the city's employees) to demonstrate to Jim some of the civic engagement that is possible to achieve on a low budget. It was a great feeling when Jim said to Burt that they should stay in touch. Update: Forest presented the social media campaign to the City Cabinet, who received it enthusiastically. This has now led to the Geeks on DaBus event: Show
Joe Merante Austin While seeking a link to an old press release on the city site, discovered their archives were very limited and inconsistent. There were some errors in how the site automated the deletion of certain posts, and we were told they've been reexamined their entire approach to archiving. I suggested maintaining archives for a much longer period of time (ideally permanently as some cities do, whether required by law or not) for various public interest purposes, and offered suggestions for alleviating concerns about misuse or misinterpretation of past info. Show
Tamara Shopsin Forage City Youth Radio App Lab asked for help with the design of their Forage City app they wanted us to design icons but it seemed to make more sense for the youths to design the icons themselves so Eddie Alicia and I (Tamara) held a workshop where we -taught what an icon was with a brief history -explained vector vs raster images -taught the youths how to use illustrator There was amazing progress made: Before After Show
Nicholas Doiron GridMapper for Emergency Management Macon Visiting the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) in June, we worked to add Bing aerial maps to the grid map, changed interface details, and added a login system to allow a public interface separate from the EMA's main system. Show
Nicholas Doiron Macon-Bibb Zoning Map Macon When I was visiting the local Planning and Zoning Department to talk about business licensing, they mentioned the county's new zoning and parcel maps. They also had put the municipal code with each zone's regulations online. The director said it would be great if they could put it all together, "maybe one day in the far future, when we have all of this technology" or something to that effect. MVP: Show
Liz Hunt Neighborhow Philadelphia After launch of Neighborhow promo site, two articles in local news. Show
Joe Merante Austin Prior to the SXSW festival in Austin, I noticed that the street closings info on the city web site was not conveyed in a mobile-friendly format, also only displayed in pdf's. Emily suggested creating a Google Custom map, which I did using the closings listed on the city's site. The city updated their online press release with the embedded map, which got about 4,000 views. After the event, I tried to use the map as an example of why the city should release their street closings and special events road closings data in a machine-friendly format, or at all. Those efforts are pending. Show
Joe Merante Austin Our city contacts had been asking us for more examples of apps built using city data to use in their discussions with departments about open data policy. Using an app Jesse built for Chicago called DeepDish, I modified the code to use a data set from Austin's data portal containing restaurant inspection scores. Both Jesse and Mick helped with a few coding questions that came up. The city contacts replied that this is exactly what they were looking for. App is live at Show
Joe Merante Austin Over the weekend, I noticed a Tweet about broken links appearing in Google for Austin's 311 web site. In February, we had communicated with the web team about SEO in general. The general SEO issues related to the city's new web site appear to be resolved, and they have set up a redirect from the old 311 page (which appears in search results for 'Austin 311', 'Austin Texas 311' etc.) to the current page. We've offered to help with SEO more generally. Show
Amir Reavis-Bey New Orleans On Monday April 30th, Oakland City Council reviewed an open data policy initiative put forth by city councilmember of the 4th District and Oakland native Libby Schaff. I approached the stand as an Oakland resident and representative of CfA and addressed the council stating numerous CfA goals which include promoting open data, making local governments more transparent, better connected to its citizens and more efficient. I also shared details of various open-source civic software applications (ie: Adopt-A-Hydrant) as examples of the impacts that open source civic software these contributions have made in cities around the country. The city council proceeded to vote on the data policy and unanimously decided in its favor. The city is allowing 90 days to devise a plan implement the open data policy ad and all costs and labor involved. Oakland open data is on the way! Show
Joe Merante Austin Emily created an awesome infographic for the City of Austin Sustainability Department to highlight their "Rethink Austin" campaign in advance of Earth Day. She produced the first drafts then worked with the stakeholders to make sure their objectives were in alignment as the project progressed. The final product can be viewed at one of two uber-long url's that hopefully we'll remember to update once it's posted on a CfA site. Show
Joe Merante Austin Prior to Code Across America on 2/25/12, the Austin public library provided us with a data set containing the number of materials checked out and public Internet users per branch each month, compared to the same month in prior years. When we forwarded the data set for addition to the city's portal, we were provided with a form that a library Director needed to fill out first, which has been a consistent issue in the release of more data to the portal - who wants another form to fill out? We asked the library's webmaster to complete the form, which he told us he did. More important, he replied and told us that they'll be releasing monthly updates of this data set to the portal. Show
Sheba Najmi Honolulu I helped Louisa Tei in the Customer Service Dept for the City of Honolulu implement a quick little phone tree (e.g., "press 1 for motor vehicle registration..."). The city's information phone line (768-4385) has seen an 85-95% reduction in incoming calls requiring conversation with the city's information staff. Callers can now press a single digit that transfers them to the relevant service. Previously, ALL calls went to the city's information staff. Mary Jen in the city's Dept of IT was quick to implement this change, which targets the most frequently asked questions. As a result, the city's information staff is able to use their expertise to answer more complex questions. One happy thing about this little win is that it wasn't a project anyone considered worth focusing on (other than myself, Gordon Bruce, and Louisa Tei). I'm so glad Louisa stuck with me through it, because the 85-95% reduction is way more than we'd foreseen! Show
Alex Pandel New Orleans At our hackathon, one team worked to create a mobile website for a local public health non-profit, 504HealthNet. The organization's executive director, Lindsay Ordower, made a plea to the tech community at our kickoff to help her make information about free and low-cost health clinics more readily available to citizens from their mobile phones, and a determined team of 5 quickly assembled around her. Lindsay explained that while many NOLA citizens without health insurance do not have reliable access to the internet via a computer, a large percentage do have web-enabled mobile phones, which would allow for much quicker and more widespread distribution of this valuable information than her current paper booklets can provide. The team got straight to work and made great headway, presenting a working MVP at the end of the day, which allows users to search for health clinics in their area by location and insurance accepted. Results are ranked in order of distance from the user, and each includes a prominently-featured "Call" button to encourage users to follow through and take advantage of the services available to them. Show
Alicia Rouault Detroit When meeting with the Chief Procurement Officer for the City of Detroit, Andre DuPerry, as well as his Director of Purchasing, Boysie Jackson, the topic of competitive bids came up. Currently Detroit's government has a problem with BIDs getting too few vendors. This encourages using the same vendors over and over again, driving costs up, and encouraging corruption. The purchasing team also described how different departments will team up on contracts that cover more than one area, i.e., instead of three contracts for gas for different departments with the same vendor, make it one big contract; as well as a history of attending purchasing trade conferences nationally to see what other cities are doing. Through these conversations came a desire to be able to post BIDs/RFPs/RFQs online to open them up to a wider audience. This in turn would allow Detroit to engage more directly with other cities' best practices around vending and contracts, and drive down the cost of contracts and vendors through competitive BIDs at a national scale. Show
Tamara Shopsin City Camp planning Santa Cruz Santa Cruz When Ruthie and I met with Scott to plan the citycamp, there was a question of what the venue was like. Ruthie suggested we walk over to the venue (NextSpace). While there we met with the founder Iris who turned out to have extensive community resources. Scott had never been NextSpace and never met Iris. On the walk back he thanked Ruthie and said he should leave city hall more and talk to ppl more. Show
Alicia Rouault Detroit Fire and Planning Department staff rarely (if ever) end up at the same meeting. Bringing together a lower-level GIS-analyst and planning staffer with the CIO of the Fire Department at an early meeting sparked discussion about data needs and enthusiasm for inter-departmental information sharing. Show
Tamara Shopsin Santa Cruz In Santa Cruze there is a 5% admission Tax per a ticket sold. This fee is supposed to be applied to yoga casses and gym memberships. The rule is not enforced but people are told about the law and told they must comply. In our research everyone in city hall thinks this tax is harsh. It was brought up to Peter. He said he would bring it before city council and try to get the code altered to exclude fitness. Show
Prashant Singh Detroit Data Driven Detroit (D3) collects and analyzes many data sets in Detroit. They typically are somewhat closed off in regards to data, although they produce maps and other analyses for some nonprofits in the area. They are very excited about the different people coming together around Code for America, though, and they want to contribute to that energy. They have created an open data repository, to which they are contributing some of their own datasets. They have access to some propriety data, but they have started thinking creatively about opening the portions that they are legally able to share. Show
Alicia Rouault Detroit City complaints are received by the City of Detroit in a multitude of channels. 311 is the minority channel -- many other areas -- City Council staff desks, city ombudsmen, The Mayor's Office and specific departments all receive information and city service requests on a regular basis. All of these different desks manage requests differently. Some have excel spreadsheets, some don't keep track, some use the 311 complaint management system, and some have had their own complaint tracking systems built. In the latter case, there is one currently under development in Councilwoman Jenkin's office called "Jenkin's Case." When meeting with City Council in Detroit, we were in dialogue with the young, tech-savvy staff under City Council President Charles Pugh on a regular basis. We had a great meeting letting the Council President's staff what we had observed and pointed to the possibility for streamlining at least the City Council's request systems across the board (making Jenkins' Case the standard). They want to do this and are eager to eliminate redundancies toward providing constituents with better "customer service." Show
Prashant Singh Detroit The Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) has useful information for riders, but it is often missing from the website or poorly called out on the site. We learned from a meeting with the web team that city employees can take a training course and earn edit permissions for their portion of the city website. One of our DDOT contacts advocates very actively for DDOT usability issues, so we mentioned the training. She immediately looked up the web group's phone number and called to sign up for the training session. We apparently made her day with that information. Show
Prashant Singh Detroit Detroit Venture Partners is interested in hosting and supporting hackathons in Detroit. From a conversation with the Social Media Manager at Ford, we knew that Ford wants to hold hackathons or similar events in Detroit (rather than in the suburbs). Ford and Detroit Venture Partners are going to meet to discuss partnerships for such an event. Show
Alicia Rouault Detroit One evening Team Detroit decided to take public transportation along with a DDOT transportation analyst and a legendary Detroit-based transportation cartographer. Detroit has a history of unreliable bus service, cold weather and long waits. There is currently no way to find out a) what time the bus is coming b) if its on time or not, and c) there are no route maps on the bus stops. We briefly engaged with a typical rider, a young woman who shared with us her daily reality -- giving herself a 2.5 hour buffer in order to take two buses to get to work. A bus ride that she'd missed 7 times already due to poor service and no way to tell her boss at Walmart that she would be late/miss work that day. She has a cell phone, much like most Detroiters (FCC says 105% cell phone penetration rate) with SMS access. This experience and many like it pushed us further to want to implement an SMS-integrated Real-time bus data alert system. Onward! Show
Alicia Rouault Detroit Following our initial communication with Department of Transportation (DDOT) we had encountered Portia Roberson, a woman working with the federal SC2 program. We mentioned potential for launching an SMS-based notification/alert system for riders to know when their bus would come. We were then connected to Stewart McKenzie, of the federal transportation administration , who indicated the option for federal support for this initiative and DDOT generally in the amount of $17 million which needed an avenue for application in Detroit. We then connected our contact at DDOT, Tim Roseboom, to a potentially significant partnership and funding stream for an underresourced department. Show
Aurelio Tinio Austin During our Hackathon event in Austin, it was nice to see a city employee with the GIS department *eventually* get involved. In the morning it seemed like she was hesitant and trepid about getting involved but by the day was over was very much involved. This included her logging in directly to city computer to try and figure out what datasets were available. The change in attitude throughout the day was just very apparent. Show
Diana Tran Honolulu In one of our first meetings with the Director and Deputy Director of the Department of Design and Construction, we were talking about opening up data from their department. We ran into skepticism and curiosity about how Open Data can be beneficial. We gave them the pothole example saying that citizens complain about potholes all the time but if you open up the data about where they are and the individual citizen can see that there are thousands of potholes, it creates awareness that there are many problems to fix in addition to "their pothole." At this point in the meeting, the Deputy Director leans back in his chair and thoughtfully says the word "Transparency." It was as if he'd heard the word before and in that moment had a better understanding of what it meant. Show
Joe Merante Austin Getting the 311 group on our side. We contacted the 311 group before our residency and were told they couldn't meet until upgrading their system. After a few followups, then having an Assistant City Manager and the City Communications Director contact them, we had an hourlong meeting which included the 311 Director, a few of his project managers, the city's data portal lead (from the web, not 311, department) and Motorola (311 vendor). We discussed the open311 spec and how to implement it; Motorola would have to enable the Connected Bits module in the city's system. We went over examples of apps built from 311 data, discussed concerns that 311 and departments would have (security, standardization, etc.) and next steps forward. Matt Esquibel, the city's data portal lead, highlighted Baltimore's open data and 311 apps approach which uses the same Motorola platform and Socrata data portal. We felt like we won over the 311 team by the end of the meeting and set up next steps to keep things moving toward APIs and apps, beginning with regular dumps of csv's to the city's data portal. Show
Liz Hunt Philadelphia The winning team from our hackathon developed an application that exposes newly available information about lobbyist activities in Philadelphia. When we met with Desiree (Communications Director), we told her about the application. She said that the city's Ethics Board would be interested in sponsoring the application and driving it forward. So this app from the hackathon might find a sustainable home. Yay! Show
Liz Hunt Philadelphia Our city contact arranged a meeting for us with the Chief Customer Service Officer (Catie), the Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy (Moira), and the Office of Education (Travis). During the conversation, it turned out that Catie and Moira were both working on projects that involved the same local park. They were completely surprised by this, even though they work in offices next door to each other. We didn't really do anything here - we were simply the catalysts for these 2 women to attend the same meeting and talk. A good example of how information and projects are sometimes siloed so that people don't know other people who are working on the same topic. Show
Tamara Shopsin City Hall Campus Map Santa Cruz Working on the map at the onset was a great way to get to know Santa Cruz Show
Alex Yule Philadelphia We connected the folks in the Mayor's office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy who have data they want published, with the GIS office in IT who have the infrastructure and skills. Show
Tamara Shopsin Bike Lockers Santa Cruz Crystal said she was inspired that I was able to get a color chosen let alone 4 bikes painted. Show
Liz Hunt Philadelphia This year Temple University began a new program called "Urban Apps and Maps," a joint program through the Business School and the Geography and Urban Studies department. Urban Apps and Maps hosted the university's 2nd Design Challenge week while we were in Philadelphia. During the Design Challenge, students observe the area around the university, develop problem statements, and design potential solutions to solve those problems. The director of the Urban Apps and Maps program had met with 2011 CfA Fellows last year and asked us to be involved in the Design Challenge this year. We attended the event and mentored/advised students as they were developing their solutions and app ideas. The Urban Apps and Maps director attended our hackathon on 2/25. He presented the top 3 ideas from the Design Challenge. One of the hackathon teams chose to work on one of those ideas (vacant properties). Also one of the Design Challenge students came to our hackathon because he was inspired to keep working on his ideas. The Urban Apps and Maps program LOVES CfA. They want CfA to come back during the summer to work on campus with 2 different programs. Show
Nicholas Doiron Macon In our first week in Macon, we were invited to a meeting with the Fire Department. The deputy fire chief and our IT contact told us that only 3 of 19 fire stations had internet access. They also needed to borrow a firefighter's iPhone to get internet access in the field on their ToughBook laptop. Getting internet access would be a crucial step towards digitizing fire department records and communications, as well as improving access to online classes and hazardous waste / fire response resources. By the end of the month, our IT contact reported that all of the fire stations had internet access. This was possible because the ISP was already providing cable TV to all stations. Unfortunately... not all have computers. Show
Emily Wright Austin First day: Team Austin decided to walk to city hall (about 25 minutes). Wore our nice office clothing and Code for America track jackets, and were the only people walking along a busy road. Looked and felt like internet mormons. Show
Nicholas Doiron GridMapper for Emergency Management Macon The director of the Macon-Bibb Emergency Management Agency (EMA) came to our first meeting with print-outs of last year's CfA projects. He asked us if we could create a color-coded grid map, on the internet for citizens to see. A rectangular grid was ready the next day, and future meetings made it possible to match their county-wide map. During a meeting on 2/16, the Operations Director and Director reviewed the MVP and suggested adding fire districts and city wards. Later we added city wards and an archiving system Show
Michelle Lee Philadelphia During meetings OIT and Mayor's Office staffers, they mentioned that an open data proclamation was on the mayor's desk for review, but had stalled. We weren't sure what to do next. Fast forward to the hackathon, where Mayor Nutter made a surprise appearance. He toured each working group, got demos, and excitedly asked his Director of Communications: "People just... sit there and make things?" Director: "Yes." Mayor: "How do we get more of that?" Director: "Well, there's a proclamation on your desk." Mayor: "Oh, is that what that is? I'll read that now." Show
Emily Wright Austin #artATX interactive art show web app for the people's gallery. We had a meeting with Council Member Laura Morrison and she suggested doing something to work with the annual art show: The People's Gallery, the largest and best collection of local work she knew about in Austin. Together we decided to move forward with a twitter based project to allow people to tweet about and link back to their favorite pieces, as well as display the tweets coming through downstairs at the entrance by hashtag. In moving forward, we got lots of resistance from the department putting on the art show. After three meetings and them saying no 3 times, our city contact Doug essentially pulled rank on them. They came up to his office and we hashed out their concerns... the largest of which was "will these comments be on the internet forever?" only to be followed up by a realization that they didn't understand twitter in the slightest. (Big "ah-ha" moment for me.) Once all was explained they were filled with excitement at the potential and want to utilize it in the future. Lesson for team Austin: start at the beginning of the story, and explain everything. Show
Jesse Bounds Community Tech Education Chicago We attended an after school class and gave a short demonstration of iPhone app creation. We promoted technology as a valid career path for inner city kids to choose. Also, encouraged them to explore and analyze civic tech and data and help build apps that service their communities (instead of just consuming applications like facebook and foursquare). Show
Emily Wright Austin At Code Across, Feb 25th Hackathon... A developer, Phil, while presenting his final project went on a very articulate rant about the lack of current data on the data portal. (I later found out he was taking a class on public speaking, and using it as time to practice.) There were several city employees there, and their reactions were in this order: surprised at his passion, amazed at the potential of what he was requesting, embarrassed at the old data, and finally a more proactive resolve to help this bold developer get what he needs. It was about a 15 minute surprise ignite-style story. Show