Is talk about civic technology leaving you with more questions than answers?
Have you clicked on one of the ever increasing-number of articles with the terms “big data”, “open data” and “open government” in the title, only to close it immediately because it doesn’t appear to be written for you?
This is the third installment of a three-part series exploring those very concepts as they relate to informed, engaged citizens and transparent and efficient governments.
If you missed the first two installments, check out part one and part two of the series for even more information, then read on!
Quick Review of Parts 1 and 2
When Big data, Open data and Open Government principles of transparent government practices, government accountability and citizen oversight are combined the result is Big, Open, Government data:
- A very valuable,
- Collection of stats and facts,
- That is massive, often complex and dynamic,
- Free to be used, reused and redistributed by anyone, and
- Was collected or commissioned and distributed by a government agency.
By providing access to their Big, Open data to anyone who wants it for free or at very low cost, governments of all levels empower their citizens to question policies, affect change and influence decisions.
Developers, many of whom are private citizens, create desktop and mobile applications (apps) that turn specific Big, Open, Government datasets into useful information for the benefit of their communities.
The apps created to translate Big, Open, Government datasets into useful tools for citizens are civic technology, or civic tech. While the precise definition of civic tech is somewhat contentions, it can be described as technology that enables and supports the principles of Open Government, including transparent government practices, government accountability and citizen engagement and oversight.
In essence, civic tech involves creating tools to support the public good.
Civic tech often opens up direct and effective communication channels between citizens and government. Those channels can be used by:
- Governments to keep citizens safe by alerting them to potential hazards, and
- Citizens to alert government departments to infrastructure and safety issues, creating responsive & efficient city services.
In the first post of this series we mentioned that Big, Open, Government-produced data gathered through integrated GPS networks allows scientists to anticipate future earthquakes with increasing accuracy. Though civic tech, governments are sharing that information with their citizens.
Earthquakes Canada is a great example of this in action. Their website is a wealth of information including links to recent significant earthquake reports, a detailed map showing all earthquakes of the last 30 days, and even a live seismogram viewer showing you a life feed of waveforms from any of their 64 stations.
In conjunction with their detailed webpage, they also broadcast “notifications of earthquakes significant to Canadians” through their automated Twitter account.
Health and Safety Information
Public access to health and safety inspection reports through a city’s open data portal is incredibly important for, well, our health and safety.
Evanston, IL and San Francisco, CA are taking their commitment to open data, civic tech and citizen engagement to the next level through a collaboration with Yelp and Accela government solutions.
Evanston and San Francisco’s commitment to open government data, combined with their use of Accela’s Civic Platform, allows them to automatically share restaurant health inspection information on Yelp.
The types of information available to citizens through an establishment’s Yelp business detail page includes:
- Restaurant health scores,
- Food inspection dates,
- Specific violations, and
- Previous health inspection scores.
Through a collaboration of the cities’ Manager’s Office, Information Technology Division, Health Department, Yelp and Accela’s civic tech citizens have the latest health and safety information at their fingertips. Read more about it here.
Parks, Trails and Greenspaces
RGreenway, a smartphone app “designed to make the 3800 acre 115 mile Raleigh Greenway system an integrated park,” exists as a direct result of Raleigh, NC’s open government initiative.
Because of the mass amounts of Big, Open, Government data for the app to pull from, it includes highly detailed information about the greenways including the mileage, whether it is paved or unpaved, the closest places to park, and current weather conditions. Citizens can also report issues like necessary trail maintenance and graffiti directly to the appropriate government departments through the app.
These two short sentences from the app’s home page say it all: “Few have committed themselves to the principle of open data like Raleigh has. Together this presents an opportunity to create America’s Smartest Park.”
Just the Beginning
This series is just an introduction to the concepts of data, Big data, Open data, Government data and civic technology. There’s so much more to talk about!
If you’d like to know more about anything we covered, please let us know in the comments section of the blog or through our LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook pages. You can also contact our team directly by visiting our Contact Us page.