The Lowdown on the Back End of NYC Tech

| October 29, 2011 11:55 AM video

The Digital Communications panel on Oct. 28 discussed how crowdsourcing and open source data can improve government. Photo by Andrew Schwartz/City Hall News.

On Oct. 28, a panel of leading technology innovators discussed how open source and crowdsourcing initiatives are improving government, particularly in New York City.

The event, “What’s Next? Trends in Digital Communications and Information Management,” was the final discussion in a four-part City Hall News-hosted series, “Digital Communications,” for which MetroFocus served as the media sponsor. The series brought together leaders in government, business and the nonprofit world to discuss the future of new technologies in effecting change.

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The Digital Communications panel on the morning of Oct. 28, discussing crowdsourcing and open source initiatives. MetroFocus/Daniel Ross.

The panelists included Andrew McLaughlin, director of Civic Commons,  former director of global public policy for Google and former deputy chief tech officer for the White House; Carole Post, commissioner of the Department of Information Technology for the City of New York; John Steinback, director of marketing and communications for Foursquare; Brandon Kessler, CEO of ChallengePost, a company that creates most of New York City’s crowdsourcing initiatives; and Rich Robbins, digital strategist for the public relations firm MWW Group. The discussion was moderated by City Hall News Editor Adam Lisberg and MetroFocus Editor in Chief Laura van Straaten.

The panel covered the following topics:

  • The way people interact with and participate in government has changed dramatically and will continue to do so.
  • Open source collaboration and crowdsourcing have and should continue to replace the older, clunkier methods of solving government problems.
  • Instead of requests for proposals and laborious procurement processes, creating competitions such as NYC Big Apps (or others like those that the federal government has engaged in) where only the winner is rewarded for completed work saves money and allows more citizens to participate in a meaningful way in government.
  • Crowdsourcing can’t work effectively without open source data. The city has massive amounts of data from every agency. If that data were more regularly updated, then tech entrepreneurs could use more effectively.
  • The traditional processes that government uses to accomplish large projects involve many contracts and middlemen. As a result, there is increased opportunity for fraud, as evidenced by the CityTimescandal and the recent arrest of Assistant Housing Commissioner Wendell Walters in a kickback scheme that most recently led to contractors hiring thugs to beat the whistle-blowers in the case. Opening up government projects to the tech community in the form of competitions reduces the possibility for corruption and waste. In part this is because government then only pays for work that’s essentially been completed.
  • Cities around the world are using New York City’s models as an example. That’s beneficial for New York. For example, Chicago is currently using the code for 311 to create a similar system.  While that city will have to go through the same iterative process New York did in creating content and protocols to respond to citizen requests, whatever new features or improvements are made in Chicago later can be adopted by New York.

“It’s an ecosystem. There’s no one right way,” said Carole Post, in support of greater digital transparency and sharing.

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