What's New in Civic Tech: Government Portals on Facebook, Spreading City-Startup Partnerships

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

by / November 17, 2016
San Rafael-Richmond Bridge Shutterstock/Michael Warwick

Startup in Residence Philosophy Spreading?

In 2008, the city of San Jose, Calif., started tinkering with the idea of partnering with clean tech companies to get their ideas off the ground. In 2014, San Francisco launched its Startup in Residence program where tech firms got the chance to work on civic issues from inside the municipal government. The idea was to spread — and it has, to three other cities in Northern California.

Now Region Technology, a business advocacy group in the Sacramento, Calif., region, has started pushing three more city governments in the area to consider following in the footsteps of San Jose and San Francisco. According to the Sacramento Business Journal, the group has asked the cities to look for ways to enable entrepreneurs to demonstrate their products without necessarily going through a procurement cycle or signing a ream of contracts.

Such partnerships have become increasingly important for startups working on civic tech. For example, OpenGov, a budget and open data management company, got its start demonstrating its product with Palo Alto, Calif.

Region Technology approached the cities of Sacramento, Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova with the idea, according to the article. Sacramento, in particular, has been pushing to aid its tech startup culture. This year the city hired its first chief innovation officer and set up an $8.2 million fund for the role to draw from — all with an eye toward working with startups to create jobs and nurture a tech culture in the area.

Putting a City Portal on Facebook

San Rafael, Calif., now has two portals — one on its website and one on its Facebook page.

The city is an early adopter of the just-launched ProudCity Service Center, a tool that can be embedded directly into Facebook, a mobile app or as a widget on any website. The center acts as something of a how-to guide, using iconography to direct citizens to the services they’re looking for and then directing them on how to get what they need.

Users can also send feedback, including attachments, directly to the city through the service center.

“Data from the ProudCity Service Center application is pulled from the same content management system used to manage core digital operations, so there’s no need to manage or configure the display multiple times,” a press release reads. “Once the service center is configured, it’s just a simple embed that can be placed anywhere.”

Naperville, Ill., Votes for Open Data

On Nov. 15, the City Council of Naperville, a Chicago suburb, embraced open data. The council adopted a formal open data policy, and then staff promptly announced the first project under the new policy: a public safety incident map.

The open data policy, which Naperville identified as a result of its participation in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities program, calls on the city to:

  • Make funding available for open data projects.
  • Conduct a data inventory and prioritize data sets for release.
  • Identify data champions in each department.
  • Set up an open data portal.
  • Publish an annual open data report.
  • Support innovative uses of the data.

The first project, the public safety map, will plot out incidents reported by the fire and police departments on a map. Users will be able to customize the map based on time frame, incident type and location, according to a city press release.

“This map will give residents the ability to view and analyze data, spot patterns or trends, and simply be more informed,” Naperville Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said in the statement.

The map will launch Nov. 28.

Ben Miller Staff Writer

Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.