By: Luke Crouch: Civic Engagement, Innovation and Technology OpenMine Panelist
Tim O’Reilly gave a keynote message at the 2008 Open Source Convention: “Work on $#!+ that matters.” You see, at the time, “Super-Poke” was a hot start-up. It let you slap, grope, sucker-punch, drop-kick, hug, and pinch your friends on Facebook. Facebook acquired Super-Poke for $50 million. 9 of the top 10 paid iPhone apps were games. iBeer was the other – it made your iPhone screen look like a glass of beer while you pretended to drink it. So, Tim’s question was simple and obvious: “Are we working on the right things?”
The same year in Toronto, Mark Surman – the Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation – spoke to his city’s leaders. He explained that Firefox had created a culture of openness & participation on the web. It created a better internet. He asked: Could the same kind of openness & participation create a better city?
Since 2008, these questions have driven my career and craft as a software developer. I don’t have the answers. But, I’m privileged to live out these questions with a community of fellow software developers right here in Tulsa. Tulsa Web Devs is on a mission to make Tulsa one of the best cities in the world for web developers. Tulsa Web Devs started a Code for America brigade – Code for Tulsa.
Code for Tulsa volunteers have created civic apps and services for Tulsa Transit, Tulsa Library, Eastern Oklahoma Food Bank, INCOG, Tulsa City Council, Tulsa Fire Department, Blue Thumb Oklahoma, and others. We have learned that technologies like SMS & GIS help engage citizens. We have learned that technology is the easiest part of civic innovation. People – not technology – drive the best innovation.
Technology is a tool – almost a super-power tool. But technology alone can only solve the easiest problems – i.e., where we just need information. The poster-child for civic tech in the last decade was fixing pot-holes. Because it’s easy: there’s no pro-pot-hole lobby to go up against. We just need to know where the pot-holes are, and that’s easy for a technologist.
The next civic innovations need to happen where there’s a tension between government and citizens. These innovations are harder because they need constructive engagement between citizens and government. These next-level innovations are impossible for technologists alone.
The OpenMine panel brought technologists and civic experts together. Experts who understand the objectives of government and citizens. Who identify and define the problems caused by these tensions. Who will work with technologists to build an experiment, measure its results, and learn what the next step is.
In a 10-minute session at the OpenMine, technologists from Code for Tulsa and civic experts from OK Policy Institute started a public safety budget data-visualization experiment. We plan to launch it within 2 months.This is the model for civic innovation in the 21st century. It’s what I experienced at the OpenMine event and we’re making it happen right here in Tulsa.