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Civic hackathon inspires competition, collaboration around planning and sustainability apps in Denver region

This past weekend, July 27th to the 29th, PlaceMatters presented Colorado Code for Communites: A Civic Hack-a-Thon at the Uncubed Coworking space in Denver.  With the support of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and a number of sponsors and partners, we had a successful event that brought open data, talented coders and designers, and plenty of food and refreshment to produce a strong set of ideas culminating in 2 winning applications to help advance sustainability and livability within the region.  If you don’t get through this whole blog post, please at least jump below for ways to get involved in this growing effort.

Participants watch final presentations at Colorado Code for Communities

Participants watch final presentations at Colorado Code for Communities

First, I would like to acknowledge all of the hard work of the nearly 30 participants and a number of partners and advocates that made this a truly inspiring community driven event.  In the end our panel of judges chose 2 applications that will receive additional support from PlaceMatters and it’s network of partners as well as mentorship from Galvanize (a local firm supporting investment in entrepreneurial activity through 3 pillars: venture, community and curriculum).  These applications were:

  • EndPoint – an app built to provide information about the characteristics of your neighborhood and help to support more sustainable choices.  In a weekend, the team produced an application using open data from the Denver region including crime data, transit stops, libraries, and demographics among other data.  They also managed to pull together a well documented API to serve that data back out to developers in the city.  The team included: Levi Beers, Clay McIllrath, Jon Hemstreet, Jiran Dowlati
  • RadRoutes – pitched by Justin Lewis and Jill Locantore of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), this application crowdsources ratings of the various bike facilities and provides additional mashups of crash data and bike theft data to help improve biking in the region.  It also provides great feedback to DRCOG to make planning decisions on future investments around safety and building a more complete bike network. The team included: Justin Lewis, Michael Lockwitz, Jeremy Thiesen, Mark Scheel, Mehdi Heris
The EndPoint team hacks away at their winning application

The EndPoint team hacks away at their winning application

It was a hard decision and we had a number of other apps including:

  • CityCycle – an application offering a clearinghouse of information to cyclists in the region on routes, bike racks, and BCycle (bike sharing) stations. The team included: Oza Klanjsek, Ian Harwick, Shilo Rohlman
  • MyFairElection – an application offering increased transparency on election day for polling locations.  You can find polling location data, the laws affecting voting in your state, check in and out of polling locations to report wait times, rate polling locations, and share that you voted with friends on your social networks. The team included: Karen Suhaka, Cole Chambers, David Miller, Philip Hickey, David Chapman, Curtis Floth
  • Parking Thief – parking data is notoriously hard to collect and keep up to date.  This app gamifies the data collection process and helps support better decisions around parking and aids in parking management.  For example, get more points if you park at a Park and Ride and take the light rail or bus in to downtown. The team included: Vui Nguyen, Andrew Corliss, George Peterson
  • Transit Trends – in the absence of real time information, this app allows transit users to report the arrival time of their bus or train and rate the experience.  The app could be used to alert users downstream of a late bus.  It can also be used to provide real time feedback to the transit agency on the quality of service and support future service decisions. The team included: Laura Leslie, David Viramontes, David Stile, Jim Lindauer

We have encouraged everyone to keep on hacking and stay engaged as this is just the beginning of building a robust civic hacking community devoted to building more sustainable and vibrant communities throughout the region.  You can check out more presentations and resources from the weekend on the wiki and read a round up of the weekend’s event from Tekhne (our media sponsor). Continue reading

Most Exciting Trends in 2012: Sustainability, Equity, Transparency

End of the World

We’re more optimistic about 2012 than some…

2012 could be the end of the world as we know it. Or not. Either way, some things definitely will be ending–for example, funding for the Sustainable Communities Initiative program hasn’t been renewed for 2013.  Despite the end of funding this year, or perhaps because of it, I’ll point again this year (as I did last year) to the SCI program as something I’m excited about for the coming year.  2012 is our chance to get as much information out of these processes as possible and apply lessons learned to future regional or local sustainability projects (in whatever way they are funded). The projects that were begun in 2010 are well underway, and are already providing a slew of lessons learned for the 2011 grantees and sustainability planning in general.  Grantees have been tackling problems like data acquisition, equitably engaging citizens, managing large groups of partner organizations, and working collaboratively with groups opposed to the SCI process.  PlaceMatters is working with several 2010 grantees, and will be starting work with two more 2011 grantees (the Denver Regional Council of Governments and Erie County, PA).  We also are Technical Advisors around equity and scenario planning for the full program, so we will be sharing our continued lessons learned throughout 2012. Continue reading

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: August 19, 2011

EngagingCities reviews IBM’s new city modeling tool, Systems Dynamics for Smarter Cities, concluding that it “offers a very robust model for exploring outcomes and planning beyond immediate and obvious results,” but also noting the importance of a complementary engagement strategy.

Rob Goodspeed, also reflecting on the new IBM tool, posted some ruminations on the use and limitations of big models for city decision-making.

Although working from a different prompt, Ethan Zuckerman earlier in the summer described an Adam Greenfield (of UrbanScale) presentation on the same set of issues. It’s worth a read.

Gov 2.0 Watch discusses how the field of UX (user experience) might apply to government agencies and staff. They link to an interesting article in UX Magazine outlining a way of thinking about the Gov 2.0 – UX problem. We share the sentiment. The best-run local governments, in our experience, tend to be very good at managing infrastructure, financial management and long-term financial planning, and providing high-quality community services. Even the best, however, don’t tend to understand design or UX, and the Gov 2.0 community would do well to focus some energy on helping government folks redesign points of interaction with UX in mind.

MIT’s Technology Review has a nice video interview with Metaio showing off the state and potential of their augmented reality applications. We’ve noted before how much potential AR applications have for community planning and engagement. It may be a while before we see these tools hit their stride, but they offer a lot.

inCommon writes about an engagement process with some unusual elements, including a “Deliberative Theater” performance.

inCommon also notes that a participatory budgeting process seems to have helped the City of Chesapeake, Virginia, maintain strong credit ratings.

The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation announced the launch of their new “Idea Incubator.”

TheCityFix blogs about crowdsourcing, especially in the context of community services like transit.

On the PlaceMatters blog, you’ll find posts about Angry Birds and community decision-making, mapping the community decision process, improving the connections between the community decision-making world and folks who focus on other types of community engagement (e.g., museums, architects, social networking experts), and sharing the lessons from our experience with the Creating Resilient Communities hazard mitigation project in South Carolina.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: June 8, 2011

Mashable has a great roundup of where augmented reality technology is and where it’s headed. It’s quite easy to imagine a ton of useful and amazing applications in the community engagement context.

inCommon writes about California’s first ever statewide deliberative poll: randomly selected residents participate in shared learning and opinion forming on complex policy issues. Intellitics writes about it as well, and offers a few thoughtful observations, including how critical it will be that participants trust the briefing information provided through the process or at least come to trust that information through the shared learning.

Engaging Cities thought out loud about the use of video- and film-based storytelling in urban planning and commented on the potential of immersive technologically-mediated approaches to community participation.

Involve offers an extended reflection on the new AlphaGov project (“an experimental prototype of a single UK Government website”) and the challenges involved in the shift from a unilateral decision-making process to a more collaborative, consultative process.

Open Plans reports that their Civic Commons initiative is moving out of their Civic Works incubator and into full-fledged adulthood.

Both The Dirt and The City Fix had interesting posts about the growth of the very cool “intelligent cities” idea, which is tied to the availability of data and the increasingly real-time nature of so many of the data streams. It’s interesting that the idea is framed largely (though not entirely) in terms of data – collection, access, analysis – and not much in terms of process or community engagement. The City Fix post includes a cool physical data visualization of educational attainment data against crime data.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 19, 2011

A high-end, high-def, multiuser, multi-touch table. Photo by flickr user ideum.


FutureGov has a really nice overview of Planning 2.0 concepts and tools (thanks to Engaging Cities for the link).

Engaging Cities posted the slide deck from their “What’s Next for Planning Technology” panel at the APA conference, and it’s worth a look if you didn’t make the session. Their ten: text messaging, social media, mobile interaction, 311 reporting, virtual worlds and gaming, community mapping, crowdsourcing planning, interactive data, augmented reality, and touch tables. Most of these are subjects and technologies close to our heart at PlaceMatters: powerful tools that can, if integrated thoughtfully, add a great deal of power to a community engagement process.

countably infinite reflects on the APA conference and gives our Beers in Beantown event a nice shout-out.

Open Source Planning also offers a nice word about our Beers in Beantown event and mentions IMMBYs (“I Mapped My Backyard”) and their implications for planning.

Cairns Blog posts a thoughtful reflection on the open government movement.

Planetizen reports on the upcoming Urban Design Marathon (quoting from a Good Magazine article): “A hundred designers, 10 urban challenges, very little money, and no sleep. That’s the recipe for 72 Hour Urban Action, a three-day marathon for designers to improve their city.” This approach doesn’t include any public engagement elements, but it fits the charrette model of quickly and intensively powering through what is often a very long, drawn-out process. The really interesting twist would be figuring out how to fold in real community participation.

You know QR codes are starting to hit the mainstream when the Denver Post writes about them. Although their use is still early-stage (but growing in buzz and popularity), they can clearly have value in public processes. Mashable offers some tips for making your QR codes a little more interesting.

A guest post on Museum 2.0 covers civility and conviviality in museum design, the idea of which seems to translate well to designing public engagement. A good design will enable people to “share their common humanity and to offer opportunities not only for learning and social engagement, but also for reflection and solitude in the presence of others,” and, in the case of community engagement, help lead to genuinely participatory decision-making.

SocialFish posts a great slide deck on the seven core concepts of effective gamification. Whether gamification per se makes sense in a community engagement process will depend a lot on the process and the circumstances, but elements of good gamification are probably useful in process design regardless. Their seven core concepts: 1) know who’s playing; 2) Build fun, pleasure, and satisfaction into your core activity loop; 3) Change the user experience over time; 4) Build a system that’s easy to learn but hard to master; 5) Use game mechanics to light the way towards mastery; 6) As players progress, increase the challenge and complexity; 7) Embrace intrinsic motivators.

The Augmented Reality Blog writes about the future of the technology. It seems pretty likely that augmented reality tools, as they mature, will become an important component of community engagement efforts.

On the PlaceMatters blog, Ken reviewed a pile of new online idea creation tools (and the winners are: Spigit and UserVoice), Jocelyn talked about avoiding public participation pitfalls, and I ruminated on the magic of good decision-making.

ReadWriteWeb reports on Microsoft’s new software development kit for the Kinect, scheduled for release this spring. While you can do a lot with clever hacks of the existing device, the SDK opens things up a lot, enabling third party developers to create a wide range of applications that take advantage of the Kinect’s cutting-edge motion sensing technology. We should expect to see plenty of innovations with direct application to community decision-making.

What did we miss?

A Dashboard Roadmap

Dashboards seem to be coming into vogue (again?) in the nonprofit and local government sectors, but the term gets used to describe a wide range of information displays. Over on the BrightPlus3 blog a couple of days ago, I took a stab at delineating types of dashboards, and I’ll include that post below.

At PlaceMatters, our focus for a while has been on Scenario Comparison Dashboards . . . these are tools that help make sense of the difference in expected outcomes from multiple scenarios. CommunityViz and MetroQuest are the two I cited on BrightPlus3, and both are tools we’ve dealt with quite a bit. But another type of dashboard – Accountability Dashboards – seem to be gaining traction as well. Lately we’ve spent a lot more time working with clients – communities – that are using or want to use dashboards to report to their community members on campaign outcomes in a transparent and highly visible way. We’d love to know, dear reader, about any great examples of Accountability Dashboards that you’ve come across lately, on budget and financial status, on sustainability efforts, or on anything else.

The cross-post from BrightPlus3:

Photo by Flickr user istargazer.

Dashboards have been used heavily in parts of the private sector for a long time, but they seem to be making inroads in the nonprofit and government worlds as well. The premise: just as with a car or airplane dashboard, a nonprofit staffer can quickly glance at the gauges and clearly understand the real-time status of key systems and indicators across the organization. The understanding won’t be deep – they may need to probe more thoroughly to fully understand anything they are seeing on the dashboard – but they can very quickly get a sense of how well the organization is functioning and if any problems are emerging.

In our view, dashboards have the following characteristics:

  • They are dynamic. They display information that is changing on a regular basis.
  • They rely heavily on gauges or other data visualization displays to convey information in readily understandable formats.
  • They allow for quick status assessments, although they may enable deeper inquiry

Even with these criteria, however, the dashboard concept is used to describe a diverse range of displays, each distinct in function and design from the next. As the dashboard concept takes great hold among nonprofits we are encountering some confusion among our clients about which is which and what people mean when they use the term.

We took at stab at delineating five distinct types of dashboards:

1) Business Intelligence Dashboards
These display detailed information about a particular area of an organization’s operations. Many customer relationship management systems, for example, like Salesforce and Raiser’s Edge, include dashboards to make it easier for the development staff to track fundraising activities, donations, and other performance measures. Fundraising and advocacy management tools like Convio use dashboards to display campaign status. Google Analytics, with its robust dashboard system displaying key web site metrics, is another example. Technical dashboards help specialized staff keep a close watch on what’s happening within their organizational purview. Technical dashboards are typically inward facing, so that only staff and perhaps board members can view them, but they can be outward facing as well. The Indianapolis Museum of Art’s dashboard is an oft-cited example.

2) Status Dashboards
Organizational status dashboards, like the one the software company Panic described on their blog, are another variant. In contrast to technical dashboards, which tend to focus on a single functional area within an organization, status dashboards display less information from a wider range of functional areas across an organization. A status dashboard is the answer to the question: what is the critical information everyone in the organization should be able to view all the time? Rather than probing deeply into any one area of an organization’s operations, they offer a broader overview of value to everyone.

3) Accountability Dashboards
Increasingly, we are seeing dashboards used in external accountability contexts: a nonprofit or local government that wants to share its real-time performance data with its donors and its community. The Town of Oro Valley in Arizona maintains a financial dashboard displaying the town’s financial performance compared to past trends. It’s not a great example in that it is only updated monthly, and not in real-time, but it’s at least in the ballpark. Over at PlaceMatters (where I spend part of my week), we’ve been doing a lot of work on sustainability dashboards, web-based tools that openly share a community’s performance against its sustainability goals. Incidentally, we described the Indianapolis Museum of Art dashboard as a Technical Dashboard because of its depth, but it really serves as an Accountability Dashboard as well.

4) Tracking Dashboards
These can be inward or outward facing, and typically show visualizations of unfolding data streams in real-time. These aren’t organizational in nature but, rather, are tracking events that are taking place outside the organization. The data stream may have implications for an organization, but it isn’t specific to that organization. Al Jazeera’s “Region in Turmoil” dashboard shows the volume of Twitter traffic by country in the Middle East as a proxy for the level of political activity.

5) Scenario Comparison Dashboards
These are typically designed to compare likely outcomes of a range of future scenarios across a range of key metrics. For instance, MetroQuest uses dashboards to compare multiple regional development scenarios across factors. CommunityViz, a GIS-based data visualization and decision support tool, allows user to analyze the environmental and other community outcomes from a range of land use scenarios, and it uses dashboards to display those outcomes across a range of factors.

We shouldn’t entirely neglect the category of “Displays That Are Called Dashboards But Aren’t.” It probably isn’t useful to use ‘dashboard’ to refer to web pages full of relatively static narrative information, for example. One example is the recycling portion of the Emory University Sustainability Dashboard.

We would welcome your thoughts. Does this seem like the right breakdown? Are we missing anything? What are the terrific examples of each category?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 4, 2011

A clever public engagement approach: Common Sense California posts a video involving legos and something that vaguely sounds not-quite like hip-hop.

Common Sense California also posts about Yo Yo Ma and the Citizen Music Initiative, a music-based approach to community engagement.

Museum 2.0 describes a terrific crowdsourcing participatory engagement technique they developed at the San Diego Museum of Natural History using visitor feedback to develop labels for the museum specimens. I’m guessing the technique could be adapted for any number of community engagement purposes.

The Collaboration Project reviews online idea generation tools for public managers and published a guide to designing online community brainstorming.

The Spring 2011 issue of Planning and Technology Today is out, and it includes pieces by Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (“New Technologies for Visualizing Sustainable Planning”), Karen Quinn Fung (“Urban Planners and Open Data: Making the Connection), and PlaceMatters’ own Ken Snyder (“The Power of the Kindergarten Art Supplies in Planning”). Thanks to the Goodspeed Update for the heads up.

Deliberations reports that Recife, Brazil is the recipient of the Reinhard Mohn Prize for democratic innovation for its participatory budgeting process.

Another flavor of participatory budgeting, the Backseat Budgeter, is the subject of this Denver Post article.

We’ve noted IBM’s new City Forward effort a few times already, but Engaging Cities offers a bit more background.

Engaging Cities also posted a video on the Kennedy Plaza planning process in Providence, Rhode Island. Part of the effort involved actually programming community activities and events in the plaza as a way of testing ideas and introducing community members to the redesign possibilities.

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: March 8, 2011

Bill Gates at TED uses collapsing state budgets as a launching point to make the case for improving civic engagement, while National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation simultaneously asks if better conversations can help solve those very same budget crises. NCDD goes a step further, in fact, and challenges dialogue and deliberation professionals to “come together to STRATEGICALLY deliver free or heavily discounted services to 5-10 towns, cities or states for well-done, well-studied, well-documented, and well-publicized work on their budget crises.”

Intellitics explores crowdsourced policy making using wiki-based tools. They point out the challenge of shifting from a conventional fact-driven wiki process, like Wikipedia, to one that is as much about values as it is about factual information.

Cooltown Studios takes this idea a step further, exploring an effort in Bristol, Connecticut to crowdsource the entire downtown revitalization effort.

Cooltown Studios also offers a FAQ on “crowdsourced placemaking.”

Yet another take on crowdsourced decision-making: Createquity argues that we should reinvent arts philanthropy with the use of “guided crowdsourcing,” an approach which could offer the power of conventional crowdsourcing but also the benefits of guided creativity and engagement. Their post spells out a detailed proposal for how this might work.

The idea of guided crowdsourcing is similar to the idea of facilitated engagement covered in this week’s Museum 2.0 post on their recent experiments in “participatory audience engagement” (and an idea Museum 2.0 explored last week as well).

Our own Jocelyn Hittle (who runs PlaceMatters’ Vermont office) reflects on Vermont Town Meeting Day.

PlaceMatters also published a new report on using complex science in community decision-making processes.

Common Sense California reports on Palo Alto mayor Sid Espinosa’s “Open City Hall” efforts to foster more civic engagement in his community.

Chris Brogan writes about the future of location-based applications, thinking aloud about how cool it would be if location-based apps offered functionalities like temporary groups. Although we haven’t seen location-based apps used a lot yet in community decision-making, we suspect they will ultimately be really useful, and Brogan’s idea is one example.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space posts about a provocative public art display in New Orleans: a huge chalk board with the prompt, “Before I die I want to” with a line for anyone to answer. We probably wouldn’t want to use this precise engagement invitation in a community planning process, but the idea is pretty cool and it’s easy to imagine a bunch of creative variations.

Digital Urban writes about an engagement experiment at the Grant Museum of Zoology using iPads, QR codes, and Twitter hash tags. It’s a museum context, but we get excited about any sort of tool, technology, or technique that may make for stronger, more effective community decision-making processes.

Development Seed describes TileMill, their new open source map design tool. Govfresh also blogged about it, explaining that the new tool “dramatically increases the accessibility of custom map generation for enterprise users, including the government.”

What did we miss?