Innovation and Open Government in Toronto

At BIF6 in Providence we were asked by Torch Innovation to come up to Toronto for a speakers series aptly titled Unfinished Business. The event, Disrupting For Good, by all means was a success.

We got a chance to tell the founding story of SeeClickFix as well as some user stories. Of course the biggest hit was telling the story of Juli who painted her own crosswalk in New Haven.

During the question an answer period a gentleman smartly requested that the Dave Wallace CIO of the City of Toronto and Ryan Merkley of the City of Toronto, both in the audience, come up and speak on Open Government as he was not sure when he would get to hear from his public officials again.

Both Ryan and Dave are leading in the open data movement in Toronto. Though Ryan will be leaving office in 6 weeks Dave will be staying on and I am hopeful that they will stand up the Open311 API and we can connect to Toronto. For now we will email 311 🙂

A bunch of really good questions were asked in which I'd like to recap here:

@Remark: What do cities like detroit do with no budget to pay for repairs?
My Answer: Be open and honest that they can not repair the potholes and do it publicly in the comments section on SeeClickFix. And use SeeClickFix to manage constituents complaints as its free.

Dave Wallace: How do you feel about collaborating w/ other developers, cities and apps contests?
Answer: We want to help spark innovation in the open government space and think of ourselves as a platform. If you build a better app we hope you'll connect it to SeeClickFix so other governments and citizens can use it.

SeeClickFix User Patcon: Can I use your API to build a game layer on top of SeeClickFix?
Answer: Yes Please!

At one point in the conversation I acknowledged the new wave of muni workers who are embracing open government and pulling the pins on the open government hand grenades when we toss them over the walls. A good conversation w/ intrigued web dev's inside Toronto 311 ensued. Much of the questions are around change management and simplifying bureaucratic process. How many questions are too many when talking to a citizen? Keep it simple and adjust your business process to the info that they are willing to give. How can we trust that the new wave of data is accurate? More people providing more information will make the data more accurate - look at the Wikipedia. Will this create a new burden on the system? The system that exists will go away and the resulting distribution of information will become cheaper (goodbye call center) and allocation of resources more efficient.

We strongly believe that governments need to make the change to open and less constricted processes weighing the benefits of the outcome over the nuisance of adjusting.

The open government process changes the way we do government and as such the culture will not adapt to the government, the government has to adapt to the culture.

In the end if the city employees have trouble shifting policy from the outside we suggest that they go outside and just start reporting issues on an open platform.