Making Government Work

The 7 Smartest Uses of Technology in Government Today

July 25, 2014
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The 7 Smartest Uses of Technology in Government Today
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This is what Government 2.0 looks like.

Ahead of our July 30 lunch with Rachel Haot, we’re surveying the best applications of new technology in government across the country. Click here to write Rachel a question or idea, and we’ll pose it to her.

  • ShotSpotter

This Milwaukee-based program relies on microphones in public places to instantly identify a gunshot by its sound signature. One thing this technology helps to prevent is false alarms: sometimes people confuse fireworks or tires going flat with gunfire. But more importantly, it notifies the authorities to actual gunshots, since in the vast majority of cases residents do not report them — even when they clearly identify the noise as such. In Milwaukee, one city that’s found success in ShotSpotter, only 14 percent of residents dialed 911 upon hearing gunshots. This is partly out of fear of retribution, but also a tragedy of the commons problem. ShotSpotter is now live in 75 American cities, including Washington, D.C. and most recently, New York City.

  • NYC OpenData Portal

After Rachel Haot wrote the era-defining Digital Roadmap for NYC in Spring 2011, the city followed up on her instruction to make as much data open to the public as possible. Since then, New York City has published more than a thousand datasets on the usual topics like education, health, transportation and crime. This is an inherently transparent move: more of what the government knows about itself is now available to its citizens. Even better, it’s also proven to be a good first step in government-citizen collaboration. Some amazing visualizations have been derived from the data, including the Breathing City and the Collisions by Time of Day map:

  • Grade.DC

Our nation’s capital is on the vanguard of discerning public opinion through digital interaction. Check out grade.DC.Gov: through it, any Washington, D.C. resident can grade any aspect of the city’s service. Every day, the mayor and his staff receive an analysis of the feedback, so they can focus their efforts on what citizens need most at that moment. They can also geo-target the responses, enabling them reallocate resources by district. In June they averaged an A-. Not bad.

  • Predictive Policing (PredPol)

We know what you’re thinking: Minority Report. Yeah, kind of. This California program uses data to allocate policing resources to areas where criminal acts are more likely to occur. Its advantage lies in its bigger-picture comprehension of crime. Instead of issuing a blanket designation that certain areas are heavily problematic, PredPol analyzes each individual crime against a history of similar transgressions from the past, to calculate an array of probabilities. When the LAPD ran the program against its own internal data processing, PredPol was twice as good at predicting where wrongdoings would occur. Founded by a mathematician from Santa Clara University, the system incorporates some of the techniques that geologists use to predict earthquake aftershocks.

  • Diplopedia

The State Department has this well-named internal wiki where diplomats and their staffers share vital but sensitive information about all kinds of things. The rules and principles are very similar to Wikipedia’s, including the requirement to adopt a neutral point of view, cite professional sources, and defer to others. It’s almost two years old and a model of intra-government collaboration and information sharing.

  • FastFWD

This program is like Code for America, but for infrastructure. Run out of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, FastFWD pairs entrepreneurs with local governments to solve civic engineers’ and public officials’ infrastructure problems. Their goal is to push projects through the pipeline much faster, more affordably and with greater impact. Its first class of entrepreneurs graduated this summer.

  • Smarter Sustainable Dubuque

Dubuque is a town of 58,000 on the eastern border of Iowa. In 2009, it partnered with IBM to install smart water meters — which flag overuse and monitor leaks — in 300 homes. During the program’s first year, participating residents used almost 7 percent less water.

Sources: Digital Transformation: Wiring the Responsive City; WhiteHouse.gov; StateTech Magazine

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