This Week in Civic Tech: Ride Hailing Standards, 18F Launches Agile Development 'Beta Deck'

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

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.

oHail Yes, Standards for Ride Hailing

What if cities had a way to publish ride hailing updates in the same way they publish transit data for buses and subways? That’s what technologist Philip Ashlock and urbanist Chris Whong are testing with the launch of oHail, an application programming interface (API) standard for civic ride hailing apps. With cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., investigating how to bridge divides between taxis and Uber, oHail is an attempt to establish a data standard that lets tech companies and civic hackers put real-time ride hailing data into their apps. If something like this became ubiquitous, transit agencies could publish their data and developers could construct apps that were fed from cities across the nation.

“It's time we look at creating an open standard so that hailing a taxi, private car, paratransit or rideshare can be part of common infrastructure where apps can be used across cities and service providers,” the duo states on oHail’s site.

Far from a pipe dream, the idea models what Google did when it drafted the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS
). In the API standard, the Mountain View, Calif., company laid a framework that’s grown to support a host of transit apps today. In fact, any app that displays public transit routes, arrivals, departures and travel dates is most likely using GTFS. Ashlock, who also works at the General Services Administration as chief architect for the federal open data site, is likely to draw on his previous experience creating Open311, a standard for publishing non-emergency service data. oHail is encouraging public contributions through Github.

Agile Methods via 18F Beta Deck

Government thinkers like to banter about “agile development” -- a concept turned buzzword after the civic tech movement took root. Leadership saw it as a selling point for innovation initiatives, and its real-world usage by Googlers and unicorn startups — though noteworthy — has only exacerbated its ambiguity.

Still, the concept remains a staple for civic ingenuity, so much so that the federal tech team at 18F has taken great pains to create the 18F Beta Deck, a set of quick-use “Method Cards” to seed agile practices in government. Available online and in print, the cards are handed out wherever the team visits and contain a color-coded assortment of agile methods sorted by project phases: discovery, decision-making, development, validating solutions.

What’s especially helpful are the step-by-step instructions, time requirements and reasons for usage. The cards teach an assortment of tips for using personas, task flow analysis, wireframing, usability testing, mental modeling, storyboarding, site mapping and more.

GovDelivery Awards

Civic engagement service GovDelivery has announced its 2015 Digital Strategy & Impact Award Winners, which recognize public-sector techniques for communication and innovation strategies.

In 2015, winners -- which include city, state and federal governments -- emphasized service promotion and transformation, enhanced public awareness, and improved citizen involvement.

At the federal level, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's (CDC) Division of Violence Prevention won for significantly boosting engagement on its VetoViolence Facebook page, a campaign dedicated to calling out violence-related issues in America. The CDC’s efforts resulted in a 210 percent increase in Facebook shares, and a 75 percent increase in Twitter re-tweets, according to a GovDelivery release. The other federal winner, the Department of Defense's (DOD) Office of Warrior Care Policy, also took honors for driving more than 60,000 downloads of its Compensation and Benefits Handbook, which explains benefits for sick and injured service members.

At the state and local level, King County, Wash., was one of three jurisdictions to earn the award for its use of data to track reporter topic interests through digital press releases. Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources won for an open data portal that increased visitors to local campsites by 40 percent, and city of Hurst, Texas, won for its “Shop First in Hurst” campaign, which leverages citizen email engagement to promote economic activity.

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