On Feb. 8, the California Department of Technology (CDT) announced the Office of Digital Innovation and Technology Engagement — a new office designed to promote civic engagement, the use of open source software and data-driven decision-making in the state.
The office will be led by Geographic Information Officer Scott Gregory, and its first major project is to form the California Innovation Lab (CIL) — a “tech-habitat” where California’s government agencies can build open source solutions and step outside their usual technique.
The first project CIL will develop is an application called Green Buyer, a purchasing tool that helps agencies identify contracts that align with the state's mandate to purchase "environmentally preferable products" (EPP). Green Buyer was the winning app at Green Gov Challenge, a two-day sustainability hackathon last October.
Modeled after the federal government’s 18F, the new office will be California’s vehicle for saving money by allowing citizens to help the state solve problems, said Chris Cruz, chief deputy director of operations for CDT.
“I think our hope is to bring citizens into the solution process and, by providing new ideas on how to make government more efficient and effective and how to, by open source, use code that we can repurpose that’s less costly in how we manage and procure information technology projects today,” Cruz said. “I think it’s a great way to solicit millennials and get them involved in government, and give them a chance to make government more efficient and effective through what I call civic engagement.”
If the state can recycle someone else’s open source software to accomplish the same goal, where previously they would pay a vendor millions for a similar framework, that would be huge, Cruz said.
“This is a mode of communication between the government and the citizen that I think strengthens and bolsters our economy and our democracy,” he said. “Now you’re getting people working with you and we’re letting out more government transparency. Citizens know what our problems are and they can help us provide effective solutions to deal with those problems and create opportunities for us. And that’s a breath of fresh air in government from where we’ve been previously.”