This Week in Civic Tech: California Launches First True Open Data Portal, KC Takes Another Step Toward Innovation

A look back at highlights and happenings in the world of civic tech.

by / September 2, 2016
At left, Stuart Drown, deputy secretary for innovation and accountability at the California Government Operations Agency, offers details about California's first statewide open data portal. Jason Shueh

This Week in Civic Tech presents a line-up of notable events in the space that connects citizens to government services. Topics cover latest startups, hackathons, open data initiatives and other influencers. Check back each week for updates.

California Launches Open Data Portal

The Golden State’s first agencywide open data portal is now live. Officials from the California Government Operations Agency (CalGovOps) announced the launch after a successful pilot that began earlier this summer. The intent, technology leaders say, is to make the state’s vast collection of data easier to access and more intuitive to use.

The site, located at Data.ca.gov, can arguably be called California’s first real open data portal since its previous attempt, released a number of years back, was mostly a directory of links to state data sets and agency portals. This revamp bundles the state’s diverse data sets into downloadable spreadsheets and PDFs for citizens; for developers, the portal connects the info to APIs so apps can instantly access it.

As for the digital framework, state Chief Data Officer Zachary Townsend said in a release that the tech is completely open source via DKAN — a popularly used data management platform from NuCivic.

“This effort represents the next logical step in our open data work,” Townsend said. “DKAN is not just an open source solution; it’s the best tool we’ve found to support our efforts to make the state’s data assets more accessible through visual, compelling stories.”

Similar to city portals, the state hopes to enhance decision-making for governments, businesses and residents while also providing a stream of data for academic research, entrepreneurial ventures and government watchdog groups. Stuart Drown, CalGovOps deputy secretary for innovation and sccountability, coordinated much of the effort after directing the GreenGov Challenge, a sustainability code-a-thon that eventually transformed into a pilot for the site.

“It’s open data to push, ultimately, a culture of data-based decision-making,” Drown said when announcing the pilot last February.

Going forward, the California Department of Technology’s (CDT) Office of Digital Innovation has promised to manage the data, and both the CDT and CalGovOps plan to reach out to departments to further data collection and publishing.

But Wait, There's More ...

California is also close to a decision on a massive overhaul of Cal-Access, its beleaguered campaign finance database.

The site hasn’t seen a major upgrade in nearly 20 years (and it shows). This has compelled lawmakers to pass a bill that would require a complete rebuild of the system by 2019. Drawing bipartisan support and a strong endorsement by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the site would modernize the system with open data tools and aim to reduce labor costs associated with public record requests from researchers, academics, journalists and government information resellers.

Phillip Ung, the legislative and external affairs director at the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), said in March that public officials are just as frustrated with the system as citizens are. Moreover, he said its unwieldy structure has gradually built a wall between citizens and their right to know about public officials' investments, monetary holdings, conflicts of interest, gifts and travel expenses. Case in point: To identify all these things within the current system, a visitor would need to know exactly how to request the information, and open roughly 20 different browser tabs.

"Right now — in its current form — it is nearly impossible to navigate and do some of the data work that people are interested in doing," Ung said.

Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to sign the bill into law, but if he does, it will still have a few hurdles to overcome. Chief among these is its funding sources. The new system will cost an estimated $11.6 million for development and $2.8 million annually for maintenance —  and where that funding will come from has not been identified.

Kansas City, Mo., Reveals Innovation Partnership Program Startups

In advance of its launch date on Sept. 6, Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James has revealed the seven startups that will work with the city in its second annual Innovation Partnership Program.

In a release, James said the venture aspired to discover alternative ways to enhance Kansas City’s services.

“This partnership is a unique approach to the procurement process,” James said.  “Historically, cities identify areas that need improvement and issue RFPs to address them. This program allows companies and city hall to identify challenges and innovative solutions together.”

Like similar startup collaborations in major metropolitan cities such as San Francisco and Philadelphia, startups will be embedded within departments to craft potential solutions in a variety of areas like economic development, job growth, environmental sustainability and operation strategies.

The partner startups include: Big Bang, an open data company; Integrated Roadways, a company specializing in smart streets; Pomerol Partners, which offers financial analytics; Reality Technology, which digitizes task management; medical app developer SORA; data cloud company SpiderOak; and Stratex Planning, which offers data-driven strategy solutions.

The city has outlined more about its participating departments, the projects and the startups below:

Company: Big Bang
City Department: Office of Innovation & Public Works

Big Bang is bringing real-time open data to Kansas City. Software developers will be able to access information for all city transportation services in a single convenient location. This will also be the foundation for future transportation services, such as autonomous and connected vehicles. Kansas City residents will benefit from new apps that incorporate real-time transportation information along with their location to help them navigate in a carefree and enjoyable way. Imagine planning your next trip across town and selecting from options such as “greener,” “cheaper” or “faster,” and being presented with results that reflect the full range of available transportation in the city. Find the best electric vehicle parking along the streetcar line, or ride the last mile with Bike Share KC. Real-time open data will make it possible.
 
Company: Integrated Roadways
City Department: Public Works

Bolstering its ongoing smart city efforts, Kansas City Public Works and Integrated Roadways will collaborate on a plan to upgrade city streets with Integrated Roadways' Smart Pavement system, which makes roads sustainably self-funded by providing value-added wireless services to support mobile connectivity and next-generation electric, connected and autonomous vehicles. Smart Pavement is modular, upgradeable and removable, making it easy to deliver new features, replace damaged sections and access underlying utilities for service.
 
Company: Pomerol Partners
City Department: Office of Performance Management

Pomerol Partners' primary goal is to use investment banking grade analytics to bring insights out of the department's data, enabling city leaders to make quicker and more informed decisions. The startup will use its Qlik Analytics Platform to turn data into information, information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. A concurrent goal is bringing transparency to both internal and external users of the city’s data by building custom interfaces for different user types and giving them rapid access via mobile devices.
 
Company: Reality Technology
City Department: Procurement

Reality Technology's RS Compliance Manager software will allow Kansas City to automate, track and manage the post solicitation procurement process from negotiation through award compliance. The importance of small business to a vibrant economy is well known. Research has shown that expenditures with local businesses generate a higher local economic impact than big box stores. RS Compliance Manager includes the ability to monitor and manage compliance to laws and local ordinances designed for small business, thus improving local small business participation, leading to increased local economic shared prosperity.
 
Company: SORA
City Department: Kansas City Fire Department

SORA Medical Solutions creates easy-to-use mobile apps that reduce medical error. SORA's Code Blue app, based on the American Heart Association's guidelines, interactively navigates health-care professionals through a cardiac arrest event while documenting it in real time. The startup's hope is that providing actionable clinical decision support to the city's first responders will improve health outcomes and save lives.
 
Company: SpiderOak
City Department: Office of Performance Management

SpiderOak gives individuals, teams and organizations control of their data online. The company’s encrypted Zero Knowledge cloud backup solution, SpiderOakONE, and new collaboration software Semaphor are designed to make teams like that of Kansas City more productive, connected and secure in today’s online world. SpiderOak provides a messaging and collaboration tool that would be a secure alternative to email, providing an internal communications system within City Hall.
 
Company: Stratex Planning
City Department: Finance & Office of Performance Management

Stratex Solutions solves the problem of ineffective and inefficient strategic planning processes that fail to deliver meaningful change to the organization in alignment with the most important goals for the organization. Many plans are developed; few are fully implemented. The plans developed end up in a three-ring binder on a shelf or lost in a shared drive because everyone's too busy doing their day job to figure out what to do with the plan. The Stratex Planning system will be used to gather and collect the city’s key strategic and tactical data to develop an example of a robust plan. The plan elements will include strategic goals and objectives, tactical strategies, measures, and workforce plans. The system will cascade all elements of the plan to ensure alignment between the city's most important goals and the work executed by employees. Every employee working in the plan will know how their work aligns with the plan and will be able to access the plan within the system. Organizational governance is conducted using the system making strategic planning-related data and status available at any time.

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.