Working on opposite coasts, communicating mainly by e-mail, the cities’ IT innovation groups collaborated on an API that allows social networking sites to “talk” to both the Lagan and Motorola 311 systems.

Around the time Vein and Sivak started laying plans for that project, they and Bhatt, Levin, Oates and Schrier began discussing other potential ventures. They wanted to develop open source applications that their cities could use, and that they could share free of charge with other local governments. As those talks progressed, members started calling themselves the G6 and then when Post joined, G7.

When the members converge in the same location to attend a conference, the G7 meets in person. But most of the work gets done in a series of conference calls, held every other week and chaired by Vein.

Common Concerns

Although application sharing is a major focus of the G7, members also like having a forum where they can discuss common concerns and get advice. For Levin, one big benefit is the chance to hear how other cities are coping in the current economy. “It’s really nice to be able to share and see what they’re doing,” she said.

Post has e-mailed the group several times for advice on specific issues, such as how other cities choose locations for disaster recovery sites. The answers tend to be informal and off-the-cuff, she said, “But the speed of the response and the level of insight is such as you wouldn’t be able to obtain through typical research processes.”

Besides exchanging ideas and experiences, G7 members are planning to create new products. The first order of business is to get more cities using the open 311 API. Bhatt, Oates and Levin said they plan to adopt the system, although severe budget constraints may slow the project in Los Angeles. Schrier said the Seattle government hopes to use the API when it upgrades its constituent relationship management (CRM) system. Post said that in principle, New York City would like to adopt the API, but the extreme complexity of its 311 system might make it difficult.

G7 members also are drawing up a list of open source applications that they would like to develop and share in the future. Two or more members could develop these products together, or members could share applications that they’ve created on their own.

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer