End of Year ReportCode for America, 2012fromTeam Philadelphia
OUR APPROACH IN PHILADELPHIAThis year the City of Philadelphia had a broad charter for its partnership with Codefor America: to use technology to facilitate citizen, city, and community resource-sharing and “citizen-source” problem solving. During our five weeks in Philadelphia inFebruary, we pursued opportunities to use new technology, increase transparency, andengage residents.As we met with officials and residents across the city, two broad themes emerged:first, Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. Historically, the area grew as dozensof separate townships and settlements before consolidating in 1854; today medianincomes vary from $17,754 in the Fairhill neighborhood to $110,391 in Chestnut Hill. Alsotop of mind was the digital divide: 42% of Philadelphia residents lack internet accessat home, compared to 32% nationally. These two themes served as the backdrop toour work.Our three main projects impact the city of Philadelphia from three different angles:citizen to city, citizen to citizen, and city employee to city employee. With these threeprojects, we are demonstrating the kind of possibilities that open up through the useof new technology in innovative ways.Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaFifth-largest city in the United StatesA city of neighborhoods Heart of theDelaware Valley Population 1.5 millionMedian Household Income is $36,251Team Members: Elizabeth Hunt, Michelle Lee, and Alex Yule
Citizen feedback is essential to the healthy functioning ofany democracy, especially the urban planning process. Thetypical forum for public participation — in-person meetings —provides an opportunity for citizens and planners to dive intorich, deep, feedback during the several-hour meetings. Butit’s also personnel-intensive, expensive, and usually results innon-representative feedback due to skewed attendance.Our partners working on the Philadelphia City PlanningCommission’s Philadelphia2035 strategic plan lamentedhow many residents couldn’t make it to the few meetingsthe agency could afford to hold. Those who did oftenrepresented vocal minorities, not the public at large.In partnership with PCPC, we designed and built a systemto collect feedback via SMS, called Textizen. Textizen allowscites and community groups to create surveys and collectresponses via text message.In Philadelphia, 41% of residents don’t have access tobroadband internet at home, but over 90% have access tomobile phones with text messaging. Using this medium,Textizen allows even the most disenfranchised groups tobe heard by anyone willing to listen. In June, embracingthe Lean Startup methodology of validated learning anditerative software releases, we launched a 3-survey pilot in2 of Philadelphia’s 18 planning districts. We saw over 800responses to these surveys.Future Textizen surveys will inform Philadelphia2035’sremaining district-level plans. Moreover, Philadelphia is notalone in needing a convenient way to get lightweight inputfrom residents. Over 180 city administrators and communitygroups expressed interest in bringing Textizen home, and wehave begun additional pilots in cities such as Salt Lake City,Monrovia CA, and Denton TX.TEXTIZENtextizen.comcity-citizen dialogue, digital divide, application reuse, knowledge sharingacross citiesPROJECTSTop: Photo of the neighborhood planning meeting format that Textizen aims to supplement(Flying Kite Media). Middle: Textizen outreach ad. Bottom: Textizen survey response.
The interest form on Textizen’s homepage has been the conduit for over 180 city and community group signups.
How does this work?Text your answer to have yourresponse recorded. You’ll get a seriesof 2 follow-up questions.Your privacy is important to us. Wewon’t use your phone number again.Why does this matter?We are soliciting input for thePhiladelphia2035 Central District Plan,which will guide Philadelphia’s physicaldevelopment by making recommendationfor zoning changes, city-owned land andfacilities, and public investments.215·987·5455215·987·9451Text your answers and ideas to:HEY CENTER CITY FAMILIES:What wouldmake CenterCity morekid-friendly?Outreach advertisement for Textizen
During our five weeks in Philadelphia we heard stories of countless creative andtransformative community improvement projects across Philadelphia, from vacant lotcleanups to block planting days to organizing block parties.These activities, however, are not widely publicized between neighborhoods. The lackof documentation means that almost every project starts by performing the sameresearch and planning steps that many, many others have done in the past.Neighborhow is a place to gather “how-to guides” that provide step-by-stepinstructions for completing projects such as organizing a vacant lot cleanup or blockparty. By providing a communal space for this content, we hope to eliminate somebarriers to entry for citizen action.We’ve started by gathering content from city agencies and community organizationsin Philadelphia. These groups tell us that Neighborhow helps them in two ways: 1)enables them to broadcast their work to a wider audience, and 2) provides a tool thatis faster and easier to use than their existing tools. For example, working with the city’sIT department can be time-consuming as updates to a city website page may havea lower priority than other IT work. So Neighborhow allows these groups to put outtimely content with an easy-to-use platform.Though the Neighborhow website is open to anyone, we’re focused on Philadelphiaas a pilot project. And we’re now focusing on gathering content from city residents inPhiladelphia..Code Across America HackathonNEIGHBORHOWneighborhow.orgcitizen-to-citizen knowledge sharing, process transparencyPROJECTSThe current sources of information are impersonal and complex. Left, rules and application formfor holding a block party in Philadelphia; right, the General Court Ruling detailing procedures forobtaining converservatorship of abandoned or blighted properties.
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Using the same codebase as Neighborhow, CityHow is a place for city employees tocollect and share information that is important to day-to-day work activities in the city,but may be to “informal” for a city’s existing knowledge sharing platform, for example,how to reserve a conference room in City Hall.CityHow is being piloted in Philadelphia, but the platform can be used by any city whowants to become part of the CityHow network.We’ve started gathering content for CityHow and this work will continue in the future,led by the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Philadelphia.CITYHOWcityhow.orgcity-employee-to-city-employee knowledge sharing, process transparencyPROJECTSHome Page
Where’s My SEPTA? Awareness Campaign for Local Transit AppsThrough efforts of 2011 Code for America fellows, the Philadelphia’s developercommunity, and open data from SEPTA, over 22 transit apps had been developed byearly 2012 for Philadelphia’s bus, subway, and regional rail.However, most hackathon apps were only marketed to the technology communityitself. This fall, together with SEPTA and Philadelphia’s SEPTA developer community,we created a citywide awareness campaign to put these tools into the hands oftransit riders and gather feedback for further improvements. We identified the appsthat were broadly useful, open-source, free to use, and capable of scaling to manyusers. The owners of these apps committed to monitoring usage metrics and makingimprovements based on user feedback. In doing so, we pioneered a mechanism forincreasing the reach and effectiveness of hackathons.The “Where’s My Septa” campaign launched at the end of October 2012 with large-format print and digital public service announcements in the rail system. As ofthis writing the campaign has been running for 2 weeks and early usage stats areencouraging. From week 1 to week 2, Baldwin’s usage grew over 1,000%. The SMS side,SEPTAlking, has seen more than 2,100 uses in these 2 weeks. Lastly, a first round ofuser experience improvements has already been implemented.After the Fellowship, this initiative will become a project of Code for America’s localvolunteer Brigade.Impact: Increased usage of these transit apps and tools, and better experiences forPhiladelphia transit riders.PROJECTSOne hundred Where’s My SEPTA outreach advertisements were placed in Philadelphia region trains.by SEPTAlking
Code Across America HackathonWe hosted a hackathon in February. Over 80 people attended, including developers,city employees, and a surprise appearance by Mayor Michael Nutter. Seven applicationswere produced and demoed. In July 2012 the hackathon winner, Lobbying.ph,completed a redesign and became a flagship project of the newly-formed PhiladelphiaPublic Interest Information Network.Residency Wrap-up at Next American City’s Storefront for Urban InnovationNext American City hosted a panel discussion for us at the end of our 5-weekresidency. We talked with the audience about what we’d learned in Philadelphia andshared some of our initial project ideas. Then we opened up for a lively 30-minutediscussion.Apps and Maps ChallengeThis year Temple University began a new program called “Urban Apps and Maps,”a joint program of the Business School and the Geography and Urban Studiesdepartment. Urban Apps and Maps hosted the university’s 2nd Design Challenge weekwhile we were in Philadelphia. During the Design Challenge, students observe the areaaround the university, develop problem statements, and design potential solutions tosolve those problems. We attended mentored and advised students as they developedtheir solutions and app ideas. One of the Design Challenge students attended ourhackathon because he was inspired to keep working on the idea he developed duringthe Design Challenge.Philadelphia Girl Geek Dinners MeetupGirl Geek Dinners hosted a happy hour meetup for us at coworking space Indy Hall. Wemet new people and strengthened existing relationships, particularly with local femalecivic developers.EVENTSMayor Michael Nutter observes hackathon teams in action.
Everyday is Democracy Day at appRenaissanceWe ended our year in Philadelphia by hosting an Election Night event to set the stagefor Philadelphia to continue its innovative work in the civic technology space.During the day, we visited polling places to invite city residents interested in makingtheir city a better place to live. About 50 people attended our evening event with a mixof city residents, city employees, and technology folks.During the evening we presented the major applications we worked on this year. Andwe explained how people in Philadelphia could continue this work by working with theCode for America Brigade and with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.EVENTS (cont’d)Invitation
MailChimp Workshop for Philadelphia City Planning CommissionThe Planning Commission was sending newsletters from individual phila.gov emailaddresses. They could only send 500 emails at a time and needed to do this after 6PM, otherwise the system couldn’t accommodate their request. We asked if they’d evertried MailChimp or another email newsletter system. They said no, and that they didn’tknow anything about those sort of systems. We showed them how MailChimp worksand identified that a free account would meet their current needs. And it blew theirminds that a free, easy to use tool exists that could make their work more efficient.Impact: The Planning Commission will be able to send out communications morequickly than before. Because it is so easy to use, the MailChimp platform will allowPlanning Commission to communicate more frequently with the public, which issomething they would really like to do.Publish new GIS DataWe worked with the GIS department in the city’s Office of Innovation and Technologyto get a fresh set of police boundary data published in both API and raw data forms.The datasets are now available on the city’s GIS server, Open Data Philly, and thePennsylvania Spatial Data Clearing House (PASDA).Impact: Allows CfA and citizens to build apps that target more specific policegeographies.Google Sites Workshop for Mayor’s OfficeThe Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males includes more than 20 membersfrom both inside the City of Philadelphia and out. Thus, they didn’t all have accessto internal file-sharing systems to share their work, documents, and reports. We didan educational skillshare and provided documentation on using free Google Sites tocreate an intranet site for the group.Impact: Reduce friction for partnerships between the inside and outside of citygovernment, and enable faster work from the Mayor’s Commission.STORIESScreenshots: Hackathon winner Lobbying.ph after a recent redesign, and Police District boundary data on the Open Data Philly catalog
BEYOND THE FELLOWSHIPTextizenThe Philadelphia pilots of Textizen have drawn interest from over 180 city officials andcommunity-based organizations across the country and around the world. Based onthis interest, we will transition Textizen to a for-profit civic startup and continue toprovide software and services for bringing citizen feedback into the digital age.Making Neighborhow SustainableA team member is planning to continue working on Neighborhow after the fellowshipends. We want to use Neighborhow to experiment with different business and citizenengagement models to determine what makes the most sense and has the greatestimpact for this type of content. The major outcome of this work in 2013 will be toexplore, evaluate, and document these models so that other non-profits and civicstartups can take advantage of our learnings.Where’s My SEPTAThrough the Code for America Brigade (see below), we will evaluate and documentthis effort so that other hackathon communities can take advantage of these learnings.Later in 2013, the Brigade plans to kick off a second outreach campaign aimed at appsfor subway, bus and trolley riders.BrigadeThe Brigade will become Philadelphia’s permanent Code for America presence.The Code for America Brigade is an organizing force for local and national civicengagement, a network of Philadelphia-based “civic hackers” who contribute theirskills toward making the web a platform for local government and community service.