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Civic Engagement as Citizens of Open Source Communities
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Civic Engagement as Citizens of Open Source Communities



Slides from a talk I gave at CapitolCamp in Albany NY. August 2010...

Slides from a talk I gave at CapitolCamp in Albany NY. August 2010

Hi I’m Phil Ashlock, I’m the Open Government Program Manager at an organization called OpenPlans and I’m going to talk to you about a civic engagement from the perspective of an open source community. To start, let me give you some context of the work that I do by describing OpenPlans



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  • Hi I&#x2019;m Phil Ashlock, I&#x2019;m the Open Government Program Manager at an organization called OpenPlans and I&#x2019;m going to talk to you about a civic engagement from the perspective of an open source community. To start, let me give you some context of the work that I do by describing OpenPlans <br />
  • OpenPlans is a not for profit civic technology organization based in New York. The work that we do aims to support a more informed, participatory, and livable society by engaging communities through journalism and open source software. <br /> <br /> The software that we develop is largely aimed at improving public services and democratic processes at the local level. More specifically, much of our focus is on community based planning and public transit. All the technology we develop is open source. Part of our organization is called OpenGeo and they help to lead and facilitate the open open source projects that make up a complete GIS mapping stack . We also manage a project called OpenTripPlanner which is the world largest open source transit project. <br />
  • On the most fundamental level, open source, refers to a legal framework that provides access to the underlying knowledge that makes up a body of work and makes that distributable without restriction to others. For software, this is the source code. But the most significant effect of open source is the collaborative processes that it encourages. <br /> <br /> Its uncompromised access to participate in a meaningful way rather than to simply observe or consume is what makes it so powerful. With an open source project, someone who is non-technical can still be integral to the the well being of the project by reporting problems and providing suggestions and if your technical skills are sufficient anyone can submit a patch to fix or improve the software. <br /> <br /> This is the same principle of non-hierarchical distributed accessibility that underlies the architecture of the internet and it is the internet that is responsible for proliferating open source processes, not just as applied to software, but to just about everything. <br /> <br /> Web2.0 follows the same principles. It&#x2019;s the network effect with bite sized opportunities to contribute. <br /> <br /> If you know you can have an effect on a system, your interaction with it changes dramatically. You can see micro-movements develop in mere hours that have a lasting effect; it&#x2019;s the network effect, it becomes viral and decentralized <br />
  • Civic network <br /> <br /> It turns out that there&#x2019;s a lot of alignment between the fundamental architecture of the internet and the fundamental architecture of American Democracy when you consider some core principles like accessibility, participation, and transparency. With this alignment you might draw other parallels like say an analogy between campaign finance reform and net neutrality. <br /> <br /> For web-native generations there is now an expectancy for opportunities to participate. <br /> <br /> <br /> <br />
  • Sometimes the analogy between open source processes in software and in the real world can get blurry. This is FixMyStreet, the first widely released example of collaborative geospatial issue tracking. This was created by an organization called MySociety in the UK. Here in the U.S. 311 systems don&#x2019;t provide any community interaction, so companies like SeeClickFix help provide this functionality. <br />
  • SeeClickFix brought accessibility to this process beyond the UK <br />
  • With Open311 we aim to bring the location-based functionality of 311 services to the web in a more open and collaborative way. First, this means delivering the same kind of ubiquity of the 311 shortcode to new applications on smartphones and the web, but it also means rethinking how existing 311 services can be leveraged to be more participatory. <br />
  • Open311 is meant to change the way we report and address problems with civic infrastructure in our city, by making these interactions more like a public forum . An analogy can be found in open source software development where there are collaborative issue trackers to show and accept bug reports as well as the patches that that anyone might send in to fix the bugs. <br />
  • This analogy is so accurate, that we even developed a set of geospatial extensions on top of the open source Trac bug tracker to create GeoTrac. The analogy between free & open source software and our communities is a powerful one and historically it makes sense. The &#x201C;free&#x201D; in &#x201C;free and open source software&#x201D; refers to the same &#x201C;free&#x201D; referred to in &#x201C;free societies&#x201D; <br />
  • Yet maybe the most significant example of this type of interaction has been through Ushahidi, the open source crisis-mapping platform which has been used to collect and manage reports throughout many crises including the terrible earthquake in Haiti earlier this year. Note the modul, atomic level, opportunities people had to contribute. <br /> <br /> Crisis commons. <br />
  • Yet these tools aren&#x2019;t just for reporting problems, they can also be for reporting solutions. An example of reporting and tracking solutions is fixcity.org, a pilot we developed in coordination with the DOT to report and verify where bike racks are needed. With a system like this is in place the DOT is able to efficiently deploy a bulk order when a neighborhood hits a critical mass of requests <br />
  • I hope these examples show how creating a more community driven approach to addressing issues can lead to more effective action. Partly this is simply enabled by moving from real-time one-to-one phone calls to more asynchronous many-to-many forums on the web and leveraging the network effect. <br />
  • I want to come back to the notion of a civic network. What do I mean by this? What I mean is for government bodies like cities to act more like interoperable nodes in a network. Where new ideas an innovations can more easily span across the network and government bodies can more easily learn from one another. <br />
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  • Cities like SF, DC, Boston, and NY are at various stages of coming on board with the Open311 specification and companies like SeeClickFix are already supporting it. Please help us spread this type of coordination to other forms of civic engagement and civic technology to build a more robust civic network. <br />

Civic Engagement as Citizens of Open Source Communities Civic Engagement as Citizens of Open Source Communities Presentation Transcript

  • 911 for Emergency Action 311 for Emergent Action