This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Code for America moving Beyond Transparency to Civic Disruptive Innovation?

Last month the post Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation continued to reassess the potential of Code for America as a viable agent for change in light of the previously made statement that it basically creates sustaining innovations rather than truly disruptive innovations.

Since then there has been an increasing appreciation for the role that Code for America could have in the future in implementing disruptive innovation of the public sector by elements of the civic arena.  The question is how to incorporate such a possibility within a new community paradigms endeavor.

It is the publishing of Code for America's recent print and e-book Beyond Transparency; Open Data and the Future of Civic Innovation that holds the most promise but to what degree that promise will be met is still an open question both inside and outside of the organization, reaching a level of disruptive innovation is yet another matter.

Before getting to Beyond Transparency, it is necessary to first get to basic transparency or the establishment of open data by government. This was covered by a Code of America panel Open Data - Getting Started wiki-page on the New Community Paradigms wiki.  The Open Data - Getting Started panel discussed how to get communities to adopt and establish open data policies and practices.  As was noted in the Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation, "The discussion, at one level, reenforced the perspective that Code for America was for the most part a source of sustaining innovation.  On another level, it helped to plant the seeds for innovation applied through what can be termed disruptive design."

First, let's establish that Code for America is primarily geared towards hackers, using that term in the best and widest sense. What Code for America does is for the benefit of communities or the people living in those communities, usually through local government institutions, but the main body of people engaged in Code for America are hackers. 

Code for America has its own community online, which is to be expected, or more accurately communities, all of which seem loosely organized. Code for America Brigade has a Google Group with at last count 1910 members which discusses among themselves such topics as how city size affects city open-data-ness? More relevant for later in this post, Mark Head discusses Open Data and "Exoproduction" based on his blog post on the same topic. Code for America Brigade features specific geographic locations like Code for Los Angeles with 54 registered civic hackers at last count. Overall organization seems amorphous in structure though not in purpose.  

Code for America does connect with other online democratic efforts such as the E-Democracy forum extending into the public square online or with the even more on the ground efforts of CNU Public Square. They are teaming up with Code for America, through MindMixer, to talk about how to use technology to improve the way governments and citizens work together through a nationwide call for ideas — Ideation Nation. Non-hackers can to interact with Code for America through the online newsletter #Meta Sights and Sounds from Code for America. The November issue provided a chance to Advocate for open data through an article by Tim O’Reilly, What’s Really At Stake in Better Interfaces to Government and a Book Review: Beyond Transparency by Susannah Vila. 

Vila recognizes that Beyond Transparency could be an important, but still early step in broad based community based civic innovation.

Beyond Transparency is a milestone for the civic innovation community both because it codifies what’s been learned and delineates what has not yet been learned. As Goldstein, the former CTO of Chicago and co-editor of the book, said recently, the civic innovation community now needs “to launch past to the next step, we have made good work, but there’s a lot more to do we do government as smart as we do other sectors? That should be our challenge.”

The participants in the Beyond Transparency - Meet the Authors video Featured in Beyond Transparency - Code for America wiki-page of the New Community wiki also addressed the issue, both from the idealism of advocacy and the pragmatism of creating viable public programs.

Steve Spiker, @spjika author of CHAPTER 9 Oakland and the Search for the Open City talked about the human aspect of open data and extending it into other social areas that are not currently using open data. "Design can take open data to a different level by  providing information to the public in a different ways then when the government controlled all the data from a single point.", according to Cyd Harrell, Code for America author of CHAPTER 12 The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: Data and Design in Innovative Citizen Experiences.  Greg Bloom, @greggish, author of CHAPTER 19 Towards a Community Data Commons, spoke of discovering and making available civic resources outside of government.

John Bracken of the Knight Foundation and author of CHAPTER 20 The Bigger Picture: Ten Lessons for Taking Open Government Further put forward two focuses, first news and information and second community. "Think past the progress we've made and think a little bit about the gaps where we really haven't made progress." Bracken also expressed the desire to move beyond the hopeful Idealistic stage to a more practical heavy lifting door-to-door level of work. John Fry of Revelstone, co-author of CHAPTER 18 Benchmarking Performance Data believes, "You can progress by sharing your information with others." And that "Sharing information with the public in a meaningful way can actually get you to the goals that you want." Jonathan Feldman Chief Information Officer City of Asheville, North Carolina and author of CHAPTER 5 Asheville’s Open Data Journey: Pragmatics, Policy, and Participation expressed the perspective that you need vendors and the market place because you can't do it by your self. 

Finally, Mark Head, Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia, blogger at CIVIC INNOVATIONS  and author of CHAPTER 21 New Thinking in How Governments Deliver Services, discussed dealing with information technology procurement being situated in between raw data and community hacked apps as explained in Open Data and "Exoproduction" blog post cited above.

Nancy Scola, in her Next City article, Beyond Code in the Tomorrow City asked Jennifer Pahlka, the organization’s founder and executive director, to pinpoint what might be the most relevant criticism of Code for America. 

You can’t,” Pahlka says, “solve the world’s problems through apps.”  “No, of course you can’t,” she continues, on the potential for apps to save the universe. “But you can start a dialogue. You can figure out ways that give people new tools and get them re-excited about government. You can give people opportunities to be the agents of culture change.” 

Scola goes on to write, “In fact, asking what happens to the apps post-fellows leads us to a critical, if behind-the-scenes, debate about the future of Code for America. It boils down to whether the non-profit will be most successful if it focuses on refining its often rough-hewn apps or, instead, what seems to be its raison d‘être circa 2013: Rallying others around the government innovation flag.”

Rallying around the government innovation flag would be a good start but that would only be at best government blessed rebellions and what is needed is something closer to a revolution, not a violent one through the disruption of force but one made possible through the disruption of innovation.  As was observed in the Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation post,

Moving to open data can be more though than a means of providing an online community-based infrastructure allowing for future innovation. The establishment of an open data platform could help move an institution from a system of centralized, complicated-oriented, mechanistic control system to a more open complex adaptive system.  

That would greatly increase the likelihood for civic disruptive innovation and enhance our ability to meet the wicked challenges facing our communities.

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