Who needs laws anyway?

“We don’t need a mandate for those cities and counties and public agencies that will recognize this as best practices. We need the mandate for those few who may not,” Leno said.

Wow, and here was I thinking that we made laws for all the people who would follow them anyway? Brilliant leadership example by Mark Leno in response to the #CPRA debacle that was AB76. For now California’s antiquated public records act is safe.

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Oakland Transparency Hearing

Yes you read it right, on June 25 we’re inviting you to join the Oakland Public Ethics Commission and OpenOakland for the 2013 Oakland Transparency Hearing!

The lineup for this hearing is pretty awesome, there will be a keynote from Tim O’Reilly on Government as a Platform along with these great speakers covering a wide range of open gov and transparency efforts relevant to our city:

Transparency 101Laurenellen McCann, Sunlight Foundation

The Problem with Transparency in California – Robb Korinke, California Forward

Innovations and EngagementAlissa Black, New America Foundation

Public Participation – Greg Greenway, Davenport Institute

Oakland InnovationsSteve Spiker, Nicole Neditch

The event is public and open to all, but please register on the eventbrite page so we can plan for the attendees as this is a collaborative meeting!

Open Data Day in Oakland! it’s official baby.

 At City Council on Tues 19th, Oakland officially declares Saturday 23rd, 2013 to be recognized as Open Data Day! Wahooo!

This is a great step for our city to be officially recognizing the importance of a number of things we’ve been pushing and supporting for some time. The resolution (linked below) recognizes:

 https://docs.google.com/file/d/1fAkQ0dkbLLpdKEfxjfzP_elKkoqtz74v_RpW2q3rzuiWhFzz2voUNiBhmYM6/edit?usp=sharing

Full resolution text below, linking to a PDF is just too ironic for an open data win! Speaking of such, anyone down to work on getting all city notices out of PDF and into machine readable text? Yes, then join us!

RESOLUTION RECOGNIZING FEBRUARY 23, 2013 AS OPEN DATA DAY IN OAKLAND,
CALIFORNIA

WHEREAS, Open Data represents the idea that information such as government databases should be
easily and freely available to everyone to use and republish without restrictions; and

WHEREAS, Open Data increases transparency, access to public information, and improves
coordination and efficiencies among agencies and partner organizations; and

WHEREAS, access to public information promotes a higher level of civic engagement and allows
citizens to provide valuable feedback to government officials regarding local issues; and

WHEREAS, this month Oakland has formally announced the launch of its open data platform
“data.oaklandnet.com,” that will serve as the central repository of the City of Oakland’s public data, such as
data on crime, public works, public facilities, and spatial data, allowing all users to freely access, visualize
and download City data, enabling public scrutiny and empowering the creativity of civic-minded software
developers; and

WHEREAS, Oakland was honored to be selected as one of only ten cities in America to participate in
the 2013 Code for America (CFA) program, where three CFA fellows will work with the City to identify web-
based solutions to break down cumbersome bureaucratic processes and emerge with better systems that will
help cut costs, increase efficiency, and provide better service to the public; and

WHEREAS, Open Data activists have recently founded the civic innovation organization Open Oakland
– a Code for America Brigade, which meets every Tuesday evening in City Hall, bringing together coders,
designers, “data geeks,” journalists, and city staff to collaborate on solutions to improve Oakland’s service
delivery to all citizens of Oakland; and

WHEREAS, on December 1, 2012 Open Oakland produced the first ever “CityCamp Oakland,” inside
city hall, where over 100 stakeholders came together to discuss solutions to improve Oakland; and

WHEREAS, Oakland recently launched a community engagement web site called
“EngageOakland.com,” to encourage community ideas, feedback and suggestions to help shape, grow and
sustain the healthy future of Oakland; and

WHEREAS, “February 23, 2013 is International Data Day,” a day in which citizens around the world
will gather to access Open Data, write applications, create visualizations, publish analyses, and encourage the
adoption of open data policies at the local, regional and national government levels; and

2

WHEREAS, on February 23, 2013 at Oakland’s 81st Avenue Branch Library, Open Oakland, in honor
of International Open Data Day, will host a day of “hacking” public data and building data visualization tools to
help explain data and make stronger community-government connections; therefore be it

RESOLVED: That the City Council hereby declares February 23, 2013 as Open Data Day in the City
of Oakland; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED: That in honor of International Open Data Day the City Council hereby
recognizes and salutes Open Oakland founders Steve Spiker and Eddie Tejada; Oakland’s 2013 Code For
America Fellows Richa Agarwal, Cris Cristina and Sheila Dugan, and Oakland’s Code for America sponsors:
The Akonadi Foundation, The William H. Donner Foundation, The Robert A.D. Schwartz Fund, The Mitchell
Kapor Foundation, Accela and Pandora, for their service to the City of Oakland and its citizens.

Opening Government: Oakland’s First CityCamp

I recently co-founded an organization called OpenOakland with former Code for America fellow Eddie Tejeda.  One of our passions was that we both believe that government can and should be much more than a vending machine. Those of us in OpenOakland (all 20+ volunteers) dig the idea of government as a platform: a platform that supports safe communities, job growth, excellent schools, strategic business development, and innovation. When our government operates more collaboratively and genuinely engages with our communities (as opposed to acting as a barrier), it facilitates so much more that can benefit our communities.  Too many, this is a new concept, but we believe that it matters how we perceive our governments.  It’s no secret that current local governments have a ton of changing to do, but it’s unlikely that these changes will come about swiftly without all of us being involved and engaged and supporting our government staff and leaders to make these changes.

Instead of lamenting from the sidelines, how can we support this change?  Several years ago some brilliant people created an opensource brand called CityCamp– the idea was that concerned citizens, technologists and government never really get the chance to get together, share successes, be exposed to new, innovative technology, share struggles and openly converse and build relationships with no hidden agendas and with no vendor pitches.  For OpenOakland, running a CityCamp was a clear way for us to move our mission forward-  we exist to support open, agile and engaged government.  So on December 1st we held the first ever CityCamp Oakland, inside city hall and actually based in council chambers.  We welcomed 121 local technology professionals, government staff from almost every city department and community members to a full day’s unconference.

As an unconference, a CityCamp gives those attending the opportunity to set the agenda themselves, we asked registered guests to suggest ideas on a new platform the City has adopted recently called EngageOakland.com.  This approach not only gives people a sense of empowerment that they can create the sessions they want to lead or participate in, it also gives us and our attendees a great way to continue conversations beyond the day using the same web platform for discussion and sharing.  We helped seed the ideas with a few topics of interest to OpenOakland members and started the day with over 30 ideas to consider.  The topics were refined through attendees voting on each idea- in the end we held 16 different sessions throughout city hall.

The session topics covered issues from open data, a GIS/spatial roundtable discussion, pubic safety data, freedom of information (FOIA) requests, civics 101, diversity and the digital divide and Oaklandwiki.org (a local wiki built by OpenOakland to allow Oaklanders to tell their own stories about their community).  While there is a level of initial discomfort for many people, this open format of event does lend itself to unpredictable conversations that could never happen in other settings and also supports a level of openness and candidness that is both rare and valuable.  Can you think of another setting where city staff would spend an hour discussing the limitations and issues of publicly available crime data or the problems in the current FOIA process?  With no unspoken agenda, no forced engagement requirement that town hall meetings carry and no threat of repercussion, we all participated in some rich conversations and came away inspired and encouraged.

Some take-aways were significant and some were minor, but all were things that are only possible in a safe, respectful environment that this event helped to create. Take for example the city staffer who learned that saving data as a PDF is actually a barrier to others being able to easily access and make use of the data, that the habit they considered as helpful was not, and by saving as raw data formats they could enable others to also use these data.  This is no earth changing lesson, but it illustrates the value in communication and of sharing frustrations without adopting a blaming or accusatory approach.

This event demonstrated how powerful communication and open engagement really are, and the attendees illustrated to those of us in the Open Government movement just how important it is that we can provide more environments like this to allow for better collaboration in future.  The real test of any social or civic change is that of time, and so it remains to be seen how lasting the impacts of this CityCamp will be.  I’m optimistic that we are on the right track here, that positive, supportive approaches can help to transform our city governments into the 21st century institutions we need them to be.  One city staffer wrote that “We can look forward to a whole new push in communications, data, transparency, ease of access because of these people’s (OpenOakland) efforts to work, partner with us and join in to the larger civic conversation”.  We even have excited city staff wanting to take part in OpenOakland now- some initial proof that the concept of a Code for America Brigade really does meet a local need!

Some of the guests were dubious about this format and carried some serious distrust of city staff into the day.  As someone who has tussled with the city publicly I could sympathize with them, however we were stunned to see the impact of open conversations with city staff as peers on some of these hard edged residents.  I truly believe that these type of events can go a long way to healing some of our past wounds and to opening up doors to not only better collaboration, but to informed engagement on our part.  The typical closed door, gatekeeper approach maintained by many departments does nothing to encourage goodwill or trust. It does in fact encourage distrust and doubt about the intentions and capabilities of that office which cannot have any positive results for either the agency or the public it serves.  From an outside perspective we hear about all the dumb, corrupt things that city officials do, but when we talk in person about things we have a common interest in I find my respect for city staff increases as I learn about more of the great things they are doing or are trying to do.

One of the city staff in attendance provided this perspective on the civic hacker community:
“they are our new age city advocates – just like our tried and true volunteers who wear vests and bring shovels, these new style digital folks, use an iPad, the cloud and zeros & ones to engage the citizenry, help govt get the word out, make things easier- faster-better! They are committed to Oakland, and are generous with their skills and amazing abilities and know how”.

If you think that this kind of event would benefit your city I’d encourage you to consider hosting one- opensource is not just a concept that promotes “free” software, it applies to ideas too- as an opensource idea, anyone is free to hold a CityCamp and to reuse this brand and this idea- after all, cities are one of the earliest examples of us sharing communally- we share our libraries and roads, why not share great ideas too!  This is one of the most powerful concepts in urban society- if an idea or a project works in one place, why not reuse it elsewhere? This is the core of opensource technology and it’s the core of OpenOakland also. But that’s another story.

Original story posted here: sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2013/01/11/opening-government-oaklands-first-citycamp/

Leadership- as a platform?

Over the past few years, two things have been prominent in my thinking and the subject of much of my internal monologue; government as a platform, and leadership.

I’ve forced more time into my schedule during the day and after work to think, to abstract the work we’re doing, what is means, why it matters and what is important that we’re not aware of. Government as a platform is an idea from a wonderful guy- Tim O’Reilly, who suggested that government truly should be a platform to enable society to function, grow, create.  Similar to software platforms that allow developers to create on top of them and produce amazing new things incredibly easily and cheaply, government is a base for our society that allows us all to live and create and prosper. As opposed to the common perception of government as a vending machine- taxes in, services out. The problem here is that vending machines are dumb and do not adapt.

I’ve had excellent opportunities these past few years to grow into a leadership role in my work place, in our community and in some networks I value greatly. I’ve not yet had any formal leadership training but I do read, quite a bit.

I grew up with strong, blunt bosses in most jobs. Aggressive, forceful and dominating men in most part. And the boomer generation seems to contain a lot of these people, people who have a style of management or “leadership” that is dominating, aggressive and controlling. The exceptions were two wonderful people in the WA Health Dept, Dr Jim Codde and Sally Brinkman. Reflecting on what I’ve started to understand about my own style of leadership with my team and my side projects has given me pause to reflect on what I’ve witnessed as leadership styles and characteristics that I value.

Funnily as I write this Alain De Botton is on in the background mentioning that the best way to get work our of people is by frightening them. Weird.

These two ideas have merged in my head now- the platform, and leadership to be exact.  I feel that to enable my team to do the best work possible, to grow professionally and to move our work to the next level I need to support them, to encourage them and to set examples I want them to follow of how to think, create and innovate and to maintain quality standards in all they do.  It feels like doing that type of support, being their cheerleader and inspiring is a much more effective way to do our work and create a space that people want to be attached to and to stay at. Rather than a eagle eyed micro manager drilling out work, it seems that being a leader is more like providing a platform for others to excel, to succeed and to learn and grow.  There is some conflict here, obviously a leader must be out cheer leading, promoting, fundraising and trumpeting the amazing work of their team, but that also must fit into the concept of a platform- to enable more great work, more exciting opportunities, one must support their team and marketing and bringing in new work is part of that support platform. 

It’s quite likely that these thoughts pertain more to the creative industries I’ve been privileged to be part of for some time. A factory setting or a construction boss perhaps is not a great place to suggest these approaches?  That caveat aside, this whole idea of leadership is something that has huge implications for our organizations, our longevity and our retention and achievements.  The longer I spend in the start-up and tech worlds the more I realize that the open, unstructured environments where software is created have a lot to teach us about better ways to run creative, thought heavy organizations and teams.

What I don’t know yet is how to translate the vision and goals we develop into formal action across the board. We need to be able to convert these into tangible plans and to make the case to people who may not think or function the same way. Just like making the case for the ROI for a new technology, we need to find ways to make the case for new leadership approaches, for pivots in organizations that do not pivot, to capture opportunities for funds and for new abilities, to take risks.

These are the same things that we are pushing for in the open government movement. It is imperative that we to consider everything we advocate for (from others) and apply those asks, values and challenges to ourselves. If we cannot adapt, cannot be open, cannot create a supporting platform in our own work, then we will have a hard time making that case for government. In this we need to lead by example. Take risks. Experiment. Be open. Innovate.

They are our new age city advocates – just like our tried and true volunteers who wear vests and bring shovels, these new style digital folks, use an iPad, the cloud and zeros & ones to engage the citizenry, help govt get the word out, make things easier- faster-better! They are committed to Oakland, and are generous with their skills and amazing abilities and know how.

A City Staffer and attendee of CityCamp Oakland talking about OpenOakland!

Can we multitask Opening Government?

I love this idea from the Opening Government project:

our intent is not to make smarter, decentralized, or collaborative government—it’s to do all 3 at the same time.

This is exactly what we’re trying to do at OpenOakland! It’s not sufficient to try to achieve just one of these goals- they are all related and critical. It’s hard to re-imagine government with just one of these areas reformed.

If this sounds like something important or something you have any interest in then join us to help redefine citizenship and government at CityCamp on Dec 1st: http://citycampoak.org

If this event really gets you excited and you want to do more for your community then we’d love for you to join up with OpenOakland- we meet weekly in City Hall on Tuesdays. Find out more here: OpenOakland.org

Finally a CityCamp in Oakland!

Amid the craziness of an election season, negative press all around, people getting political on Facebook, our nation becoming more and more polarized and a never ending stream of government corruption and scandals it’s hard to expect that regular people have any trust or interest in government anymore.  But that can and must change.  And guess what? You can play a part in this important change! Even in Oakland, a city with quite a mixed history…

CityCamp is in town! We at OpenOakland are proud to announce the first ever CityCamp in Oakland, visit CityCampOak.org to register now, it’s free and it will be inside City Hall on December 1.  This is an important event for those of us excite about this thing we call Open Government and for those of us who love this city!

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Why should you care, and attend?  We all rely on our local governments for so much, from delivering clean water, removing garbage, maintaining streets, parks and libraries and for hosting cultural events.  Like it or not you and I rely on government for a lot, and that’s cool.  In the USA we are blessed with a democracyfor the people and of the people. This system only works when we are all civically involved.  Contrary to popular press there is no “them” and “us”, we are our government, and our government consists of a whole bunch or “us”, that is people who live in our communities.  But there is a twist in this system. If we simply treat our cities like service vending machines- taxes in, service out, then we cannot expect innovation, efficiency and openness.  That is a closed concept, a limited function system that is dumb and doesn’t adapt.

But government can and should be much more. Many of us dig the idea of governmentas a platform: a platform which supports safe communities, job growth, solid schools, business development and innovation.  As a platform we can enable so much in our communities.  To most of you this is likely a new concept, but trust me this matters; our governments have a ton of changing to do, and they will not and can not do it without all of us being involved and engaged.

So come to CityCamp Oakland – it’s a whole day of amazing conversations, sharing, learning and ideation with people from inside city hall, local technologists, community members, journalists, advocates, teachers and other awesome people who care about their city and what it can really be.  CityCamps are unconferences- we build our agenda on the day. It’s fun. Seriously. You can lead a session on anything you want, it can be a new idea for a government/community partnership, a data issue, a possible technology solution.

CityCamps are a gateway drug to modern civic engagement.  We have two big choices in a Democracy- to sit back and be consumers (read- let others do the leading and have no say in how our country is run) or we can be citizens- actively involved in our communities. 

We just heard that the City Administrator is taking a lead from Mayor Ed Lee in SF and offering staff a day’s leave if they attend too, which is brilliant leadership- it’s often hard to encourage overworked, isolated city staff to waste a weekend day like this. So thank you Deanna for supporting your team and helping us to build a stronger community through real conversations and collaboration!

See you there December 1st!  This is a rare positive event in this political climate, come help us write the future of active, engaged democracy!!

CityCampOak.org

Open Government in Oakland’s Elections

This month the OpenOakland brigade launched the OpenGov Pledge for all candidates seeking election for Oakland’s City Council and Attorney seats. As of today we have nine candidates who have signed on to our campaign in just a couple of days work, check out who has been quick to the draw and which of your local candidates have yet to commit here:

OaklandCandidates.org

Why would an organization of techs, software developers, engineers and advocates bother with something like a pledge?  It’s because this community is being activated more than ever to participate and to become active, engaged citizens, and we’re bringing with us many of the ideals, perspectives and design approaches common in opensource technology development community. Openness, collaboration, sharing, networked communities and networked project teams.

From our perspective we believe that open government is important for a thriving and accountable democracy. With the technology that exists today, government and citizen can interact with one another in ways that were unimaginable before. By opening conduits from which the public can communicate with government and access the pertinent information about their city, the needs of the public are better served.

One powerful (and commonly referred to) example of how a commitment to open government can better serve the public is by offering taxpayer-produced data online in a free and easily accessible format. A web portal can be a clearinghouse for public data without the need to engage in potentially lengthy and costly public record requests. Such initiatives, which can be powered with open source technology as we are demonstrating, could save the city money and time while also allowing the public easy access to important information immediately.

As OpenOakland, we’re asking all 2012 candidates for City Council and City Attorney to express support for open government principles by signing the candidate open government pledge, here. Similar pledges were signed by mayoral candidates in San Francisco in 2011 and Honolulu this year.

We all recognize that Oakland is poised for greatness, however this will only be fully realized should governance be improved. We thank candidates for showing they believe in Oakland through their candidacies. We want all those running and all voters to know that the Oakland tech community is eager to pitch in to help you make good, responsive, transparent, open government a reality!

Lastly we are not undertaking this pledge as a means of political maneuvering, as a way to shame any candidates or as a tool to later use as a weapon against anyone, OpenOakland will always be a nonpartisan, nonpolitical organization with a focus and a habit of doing positive, supportive things in ways that lift up our community.  We believe this is important and that our candidates need to know that opengov is a serious issue and that there is a local and worldwide community looking to help them make this a reality, especially when it comes to using technology in new, creative ways!