Bhatt has one product ready to go: a mobile application that turns a BlackBerry smartphone into a data capture and communications device for Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation. Field workers use the app to file inspection reports, including photos and GPS coordinates. “I offered it to the group, so we can work on making it generic and configurable and then post it on a common code site where all the municipalities can utilize it,” he said.
Sivak would like the group to expand on the open 311 API concept, creating an API that connects to a city’s entire IT infrastructure. It would give developers access to data on procurement, transit, crime, personnel and a great deal more, even if the city hasn’t published all that data in a public catalog.
“Anything a city does that has systems and data behind it really should be accessible via this type of interface,” Sivak said. With an API of this sort, a developer could write a program that, for instance, alerts a vendor of janitorial supplies whenever the city releases an RFP that mentions cleaning products.
Standards for Data Catalogs
Schrier would like the group to work on uniform standards for the data catalogs that some cities publish for use by third-party application developers. Right now, if a developer wants to create an application that tracks crime incidents in a neighborhood, for instance, the developer will need to write a different application for each city.
“I would like to be able to standardize the way that’s done, or at least have a catalog that cross-walks it, so that an application that’s written in Seattle to display crime data would work in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Boston,” Schrier said.
Post hasn’t identified specific applications for the list. But like many cities, New York is looking for ways to harness social media and mobile devices to interact more effectively with constituents. She would like to take advantage of common tools and platforms to support such solutions. “That would be an agenda item I very much want to pursue,” Post said.
One item on Oates’ wish list is a set of social networking tools to encourage citizen engagement with city government. Boston has a project under way that would use social networking technology to provide incentives for city youth to get involved in positive activities, he said.
Boston was chosen to participate in Code for America, a fellowship program that lends talent to city governments to help them create innovative applications. The city could use that program to further develop the civic engagement and youth incentive ideas, and Oates expects to share the fruits of that labor.
“I think that’s a great opportunity, for us to be looking at how to leverage our Code for America resources to work on projects that will absolutely be sharable among the other folks in the [G7] organization and beyond,” Oates said.