Running for South Kingstown, RI School Committee

I am running for South Kingstown, RI School Committee in the 2016 general election. After several years of attempting to succeed from the outside in I am going to see if working from the inside out produces better schools and a better schooling. In the coming weeks I will write about the successes I see now and in the past, and my concerns for the future.

For now, please Like the Facebook page so that we can share our perspectives and prospectives.

The Open311 Dashboard

"Fifteen months ago, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced the Open311 API that allows citizens to monitor and report problems to their city government through a unified web service. Two cities have implemented the API so far (San Francisco and Boston) with more planning to roll out next year. With all that data so easily accessible, 2011 fellow Michael Evans took on a project to make creative visualizations with it. Thus, the Open311 dashboard was born.

"With the Open311 Dashboard, we aim to take the deluge of data that 311 provides and translate it into a clean and interactive dashboard that will help set citizens’ expectations of service request response times, identify 311 trends in a city and across the country, and provide city administrators data about the efficiency of various city services."

Rebooting Public Notices

"Rebooting Public Notices: Public notices and inquiries should be moved from the newspapers and the bowels of the web online to where we are: networks like Facebook and Twitter."

The spirt of this posting is good. Putting notices in a location where people will see them is important. The location need no longer be the single "newspaper of record". Facebook and twitter are two such locations.

You need to be careful when discussing this issue to clearly distinguish between notice and comment. While a notice can be in multiple locations comments must not. All comments have to be gathered by a central service. The service must allow commenting my many mechanisms -- online and offline. The service must have a means of attributing comments to constituents -- esp. at the local level. Anonymous comments are not allowed. Anonymity within the commenting system must be limited to voting on notices and on comments. But even here, while the vote is anonymously tallied the casting of a vote requires attribution.

Build a Transparency Search Engine - Sunlight Foundation

Google Custom Search is a simple service that lets you create your own search engine based on links that you choose. This is incredibly useful if you regularly need to search through a defined list of sites and want to exclude outside sources. Within a municipality you could quickly create a search that includes the municipal web site and its supporting web sites like ordinances, zoning, state regulation, property appraisal, etc. It is also a great way to make a specialized repository available by only presenting a basic browsing interface and let Google do the rest.

For an example see

Draft legislation that would require the State Building Code Commission to provide the full codes online and free of charge

After viewing Carl Malamud's presentation about the building code industry (at Welcome to Code City!) I decided to ask John Leyden, Rhode Island's State Building Code Commissioner and my local legislators Senator Sosnowski, Representative Caprio, and incoming Representative Tanzi what Rhode Island was doing to make the code available online. After several email exchanges -- mostly about clarifying what was and was not online -- Senator Sosnowski is going to draft legislation that would require the State Building Code Commission to provide the full codes online and free of charge. This is great news. I do not expect the road ahead to make this legislation law to be without problems -- the codes' costs alone might be prohibitive -- but it is good to see Rhode Island taking the lead on this issue. Thank you Senator Sosnowski.
I do encourage commenting here and strongly hold that one should stand up for what one says. This blog is itself not anonymous because I stand up for what I say. To this end, anonymous comments are not permitted. Include your full name and email address along with your comment. I will use this information for confirm that you did post the comment.

Welcome to Code City!

Why are city and municipal codes not public domain? Why, in fact, are copyrighted by private companies? It is a $10B industry.

Jim O'Neill must not be reelected to the South Kingstown Town Council

Jim O'Neill must not be reelected to the South Kingstown Town Council. His campaign placards speak to his "Thinking Ahead", [speaking] "Truth to Power", etc. But O'Neill lacks the basic skills needed to bring synergy with others' ideas and to build coalitions that move their ideas into actions. Spend a few evenings at Council meetings and especially at joint workshops with the School Committee and you will hear the authentic O'Neill. He is belligerent. He is divisive. He is dismissive. In, short, he is a bully. O'Neill has had many terms in office to bring action on the issues he raises and yet he has not succeeded. Nor has he learned from these failures.

A new independence is needed at Town Hall. One that will work with other councilors and interested parties in moving ideas to action. Do not vote for O'Neill this November.

Please share this note with others.

Angst-filled cities look for budget cuts, new ways to do things | Minnesota Public Radio NewsQ

This is a good article on how a municipality and its residents are evaluating the services offered.

"If you're trying to balance a budget in a rural Minnesota city, chances are you have run through all the options. Lay off personnel, check. Increase fees, check. Raise property taxes, check and perhaps re-think.

"Where that leaves you is at the threshold of redefining how your community governs itself and redesigning how you deliver services. The issue is being driven this fall by turmoil surrounding financial aid from the state, but structural economic and political forces are also making officials and residents alike do a lot of re-examination."

New Urban Mechanics

"What is New Urban Mechanics?

"New Urban Mechanics is an approach to civic innovation focused on delivering transformative City services to Boston's residents.

"While the language may sound new, the principles of New Urban Mechanics - collaborating with constituents, focusing on the basics of government, and pushing for bolder ideas - are not.

"In fact, our Mayor, Thomas M. Menino, who is known as the Urban Mechanic, has been preaching this mantra for years. Through the pairing of big ideas and the knowledge of constituents' specific interests, Menino has become Boston's longest serving mayor and this city has become one of the most envied in the country.

"To speed the rate of municipal innovation and to increase its scope, the Mayor, in 2010, created the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics. This office serves as the City's own research and development lab, partnering with outside institutions and entrepreneurs to pilot projects in Boston that address resident and business needs.

"From increasing civic participation, to improving City streets, to boosting educational outcomes, the office focuses on a broad range of areas. The specific projects are diverse as well – from better designed signs and trash cans to high tech apps for smart phones and super-sensitive sensors for vehicles.

"Across all these projects, the office strives to engage constituents and institutions in developing and piloting projects that will re-shape City government and improve the services we provide.

"If you have an idea on how to make Boston better or want to know more about what we are doing, we would love to hear from you."

What the government doesn’t understand about the Internet, and what to do about it

This is a very good posting outlining where government IT should be going. The gist is that government money should not be spent to perpetuate the continued monopolization of information by the existing monopolizers but instead to enable opening access and looking to reduce citizen costs and inefficiencies. Worth reading in full and so I have copied it here.

What the government doesn't understand about the Internet, and what to do about it
Friday, May 29th, 2009 by Tom Steinberg

Current government policy in relation to the Internet can broadly be summarised as occupying three areas:

1. Getting people online (broadband access, and lessons for people who don't have the skills or interest)

2. Protecting people from bad things done using the Internet (terrorism, child abuse, fraud, hacking, intellectual property infringement)

3. Building websites for departments and agencies.

The government does all these things primarily because it believes that the Internet boosts the economy of the UK, and that IT can reduce the cost of public services whilst increasing their quality. Together, these outweigh the dangers, meaning it doesn't get banned. Gordon Brown's recent speech at Google was an exemplar of this mainly economically driven celebration of the Internet's virtues, telling audience members that your industry is driving the next stage of globalisation".

The first challenge for the government is to understand that whilst these beliefs are true, they are only a minor part of the picture. Tellingly, Browns' speech contained almost no language that couldn't have been used to explain the positive impact of electrification or shipping containers.

The way in which the Internet Is not like Electrification or Shipping Containers
The Internet has been relentlessly undermining previous practices in the running of businesses, dating, parenting, spying, producing art and many other areas. So, however, did electrification and shipping containers. From cheaper raw materials, to cheaper cars to have sex in the back of, economic and social change has always been driven by technological change.

What is different is the way in which the Internet changes social and economic practices – the vector of attack. In the 20th century, advancement of human welfare went hand in hand with the rise of companies that used economies of scale to deliver better goods and services for customers. Technology effectively made it possible and much easier to be a big, highly productive company, to gather expertise and capital together and to target markets for maximum yields.

Now take a look for a moment at Wikipedia, MoneySavingExpert, Blogger or – all big websites, all doing different things. Each one, however, is in its own way is reducing the ability of large, previously well functioning institutions to function as easily.

These services are reducing traditional institutions ability to charge for information, seize big consumer surpluses, limit speech or fix marriages. It has, in other words, become harder to be a big business, newspaper, repressive institution or religion. Nor is this traditional 'creative destruction' going on in a normal capitalist economy: this isn't about one widget manufacturer replacing another, this is about a newspaper business dying and being replaced by no one single thing, and certainly nothing recognisable as a newspaper business.

This common pattern of more powerful tools for citizens making life harder for traditional institutions is, for me, a cause for celebration. However, I am not celebrating as a libertarian (which I am not) I celebrate it because it marks a historic increase in the freedom of people and groups of people, and a step-change in their ability to determine the direction of their own lives.

How the government can be on the side of the citizen in the midst of the great Internet disruption
Disruption like this is scary for any institution, which will tend to mean that as a public entity which interfaces with other institutions the temptation will be to hold back the sea, not swim with it. Government must swim with the tide, though, not just to help citizens more but to avoid the often ruinous tension of a citizenry going one way and a government going another. There are various things government can do to be on the right side.

1. Accept that any state institution that says "we control all the information about X" is going to look increasingly strange and frustrating to a public that's used to be able to do whatever they want with information about themselves, or about anything they care about (both private and public). This means accepting that federated identity systems are coming and will probably be more successful than even official ID card systems: ditto citizen-held medical records. It means saying "We understand that letting train companies control who can interface with their ticketing systems means that the UK has awful train ticket websites that don't work as hard as they should to help citizens buy cheaper tickets more easily. And we will change that, now."

2. Seize the opportunity to bring people together. Millions of people visit public sector websites every day, often trying to achieve similar or identical ends. It is time to start building systems to allow them to contact people in a similar situation, just as they'd be able to if queuing together in a job centre, but with far more reach and power. This does open the scary possibility that citizens might club together to protest about poor service or bad policies, but given recent news, if you were a minister would you rather know about what was wrong as soon as possible, or really late in the day (cf MPs' expenses, festering for years)?

3. Get a new cohort of civil servants who understand both the Internet and public policy, and end the era of signing huge technology contracts when the negotiators on the government's side have no idea how they systems they are paying for actually work. Coming up with new uses of technology, or perceiving how the Internet might be involved with undermining something in the future is an essential part of a responsible policy expert's skill-set these days, no matter what policy area they work in. It should be considered just as impossible for a new fast-stream applicant without a reasonably sophisticated view of how the Internet works to get a job as if they were illiterate ( a view more sophisticated than generated simply by using Facebook a lot, a view that is developed through tuition ). Unfashionably, this change almost certainly has to be driven from the center.

4. Resist calls from institutions of all sorts to change laws to give them back the advantages they previously had over citizens, and actively appoint a team to see where legislation is preventing possible Internet-enabled challenges to institutions that could do with shaking up. At the moment, this is mostly seen in the music and video fields, but doubtless it will occur in more fields in the next decade, many of them quite possibly less sexy but more economically and socially significant than a field containing so many celebrities.

5. Spend any money whatsoever on a centrally driven project to cherry pick the best opportunities to 'be on the side of the citizen' and drive them through recalcitrant and risk averse departments and agencies. Whilst UK government is spending £12-13bn a year on IT at the moment, almost none of that is being spent on projects which I would describe as fitting any of the objectives described above. And the good news, for a cash strapped era, is that almost anything meaningful that the government can do on the Internet will cost less than even the consulting fees for one large traditional IT project.


There are, obviously, more reasons why the Internet isn't like electrification or shipping containers. But keeping the narrative simple is always valuable when proposing anything. The idea that a wave is coming that empowers citizens and threatens institutions makes government's choice stark – who's side do we take? History will not be kind to those that take the easy option.

I like Ellen Dunham-Jone's TED presentation on retrofitting suburbia. A good synopsis of what is happening and where it is going (in the short term).

"Ellen Dunham-Jones fires the starting shot for the next 50 years' big sustainable design project: retrofitting suburbia. To come: Dying malls rehabilitated, dead "big box" stores re-inhabited, parking lots transformed into thriving wetlands." More....

Sidewalk Graffiti Provides Navigational Assistance For Subway Commuters

"A considerate cartographer wielding a stencil and a can of spray paint has left a helpful navigational compass at the top of the stairs outside the NRW train at Prince Street for commuters exiting the station. As even native New Yorkers cant attest, everyone has exited a subway station and needed a moment to reorient themselves; a directional compass will make it that much easier. The unknown compass crusader stenciled the sidewalk at the uptown 6 train station on Spring Street as well. "

I love simple, unobtrusive signage. It can be used in physical space and virtual space. Brainstorming on this example from NYC that painted a compare rose at the exit of subway stations you could use the same technique too

* point to bathrooms near parking

* point to information booths

* point to insert-your-favoriate-coffee-franchise-here

What would you point too?

Permalinks and hashtags for city council agenda items

"Among the agenda items that came before the Keene City Council last night was a request by Tom LePage, who runs Armadillo's Burritos, to extend his sidewalk cafe around the corner onto Railroad Square. I'm in favor of it! As we head into the summer season, I'll be going to Armadillo's a lot. I always want to sit outside, but there are only a few tables out front, and they're usually occupied. Around the corner, where the restaurant abuts Railroad Square, there's more space available, and it'd be fun to have a ringside seat for the various musical, artistic, and political activities that happen in the square.

"Tom's proposal came up at this point in the meeting. The relevant piece of video, served up byGranicus, lasts only about five seconds. That's how long it took for city clerk Patty Little to mention the item, and for mayor Dale Pregent to refer it to the Planning, Licences, and Development Committee. But thanks to a new feature added to the Granicus service, that bit of city business now has a permalink and also a hashtag (#granicus732_7716)."

Christina Gagnier: Government Must Give a ****: A Lesson from @garyvee

"The attitude to accompany the technology is simple. It is just a matter of letting people know you are there, listening and caring about what they have to say, whether it be about their communities, statewide policies or national issues. Civic iPhone applications like SeeClickFix and CitySourced work because their users feel like the city government actually cares when that pothole finally gets filled. They are not magic; they just give citizens the validation that they matter and their actions count. The application itself is not what transforms the citizen experience, rather, it is the physical act of the government itself that comes as a result from the data collected by the application."

Sacramento City Council Receives Agendas on Kindles and Netbooks

"Distributing meeting agendas to Sacramento City Council members has become less expensive and greener now that members receive agendas electronically on Amazon Kindle e-book readers and netbooks.

"Before the switch, the city consumed one ream of paper per day for each council member for all necessary documents, according to Sacramento City Clerk Shirley Concolino. That amount of paper cost $1,500 per year, per council member."

I would really like to know how the council members use the e-books with the other information sources -- their own memory, and that is in print and online. Nevertheless, this is a good sign of growth -- willingness to accept change.

Comprehensive Community Plan now online

The Planning department had underway the re-digitization of the Comprehensive Community Plan. Better news is that it is now online at Vincent Murray, Director of Planning, was kind enough to send me a copy of his letter to the Town Manager.

Letter to the TC regards putting online the town's comprehensive plan

Dear Councilors:

Would you please include in the Comprehensive Community Plan five year update work the placing online, as one or more PDF documents, the full text, maps, etc of the whole plan — the updates and the original, unchanged, portions as a comprehensive document.

I understand that the electronic sources of the original Comprehensive Community Plan have been lost and so the additional work is not a light undertaking. I also understand that very few printed copies of the plan are available for purchase. And, further, new printed copies require the time consuming activity of assembling the original with the amendments and additions since its 1992 publication. This document is the framework within which so many of the town’s decisions are made that its easy and broad availability should be a priority during this five year update.

Yours truly,
Andrew Gilmartin

Four Steps to Gov 2.0: A Guide for Agencies - O'Reilly Radar

If I am an agency head and want to embrace Gov 2.0, what should I do first? ... Four Steps to Gov 2.0: A Guide for Agencies - O'Reilly Radar

Redefining the Role of Citizen in a Gov 2.0 World

John Kamensky's posting Redefining the Role of Citizen in a Gov 2.0 World is a good summary of the new citizen ideas coming out of the various open government efforts these last few years. Read the whole post. The headlines are

"A prominent role these days is engaging citizens in oversight and accountability. "

"we can’t become a nation of fault finders"

"Increased involvement in dialogue. This is where conversations are back and forth, and where both sides learn."

"Being better informed about issues. This is where citizens can gain a broader understanding of the implications and tradeoffs in making big decisions, or even local decisions."

"Providing ideas and solutions. Sometimes people with different perspectives can solve problems that the experts have a hard time with."

"Being empowered by information to solving their own problems. Too often, complexity creates a need for “middle men” such as tax advisors, lobbyists, and attorneys. Reducing complexity, or providing information more openly or using “plain language” to describe things can make a huge difference."

"Becoming involved in co-delivering public services."

"Becoming engaged in framing public decisions. In some communities, such as Des Moines, IA, citizens became engaged in measuring the performance of city services and then involved in helping set city budgeting priorities."