New post on Civicist: Toward Sustainability for Local Tech Organizing

Here’s a new post I wrote for Civicist: Toward Sustainability for Local Tech Organizing. Snip:

Sustainability of civic tech organizing is basically resolved in Chicago. The question for me is whether these kinds of tech organizing groups are the model that should be supported.

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Smart Chicago’s focus is on the unmet technology organizing needs in neighborhoods all over the city.

Sustainability of civic tech organizing is basically resolved in Chicago. What remains is a city of 2.7 people million with precious few invitations to range beyond their own block, very few jobs in tech for people with low to medium digital skills, and very few ways to listen and hear the needs of the people.

That’s what we need to build.

 

 

Popularity + Impact in Volunteer Movements: Alcoholics Anonymous, Poetry Slams, and the Path to Impact for the Civic Innovation Movement

Here’s a presentation I’m giving here later today.

Slide01

Hi, I’m Dan O’Neil, and I want to talk to you about popularity and impact in software. All of us here are somehow a part of the civic innovation sector of the technology industry, which has largely been a volunteer-driven movement.

Slide02

There are some lessons to be had by looking at other volunteer-driven movements. Specifically, I want to dive in a tiny bit into other movements that I’ve seen up-close, first-hand, because the more I work in civic tech, the more I see value in these other examples.

Slide03

I am a recovering alcoholic, and have been for some time. I have come to learn and appreciate this program, and it really helps me live a good life. I am also a poet. In the 1980s and 90s, I wrote books and did tours.

Slide04

I considered myself— in kind of a windmill-tilting way— a member of the entertainment industry. It was a shtick. But the idea was real— that poetry should be at the center of society. And entertainment was— and still is— at the center of society.

Slide05

And I am in civic tech. I made my first civic app in 1999. It was called KilleronTheLoose.com. It let people know via Wireless Application Protocol when there was a killer on the loose, and they might kill them. True story.

Slide06

True story. And I’ve worked in civic tech since then. So I have experience with three separate international movements that are based on volunteer labor. Let’s take a closer look.

Slide07

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most successful decentralized movement in history. There are explicitly no leaders. The whole thing is run, to this day, by principles + suggestions codified in 1939 + 1947.

Slide08

The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous have not changed since they were first written down. More than 30 million copies exist. There are dozens of groups— we might even call them “projects” based on this text— Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Smokers Anonymous. Forked code; all of it.

Slide09

The impact of this movement is widespread in the economy. A huge portion of the health industry, every self-help book. Hell, the entire 70s.

Slide10

I’ve never competed in a poetry slam, but I was there at its creation. It, too, has a strict set of rules, and they are maintained over time by volunteers.

Slide11

The rules specifically cover compensation, which is minimal. The winner of the Uptown Poetry Slam gets a $10 bill, presented dramatically onstage. The key is the joy of self-expression, of doing something that is special, unique.

Slide12

Nearly 30 years after its creation, the poetry slam movement has achieved a certain National Poetry Month/ Sunday Styles section – level popularity. In contrast, rap & hip-hop— another sector of the entertainment industry that relies in some part of spoken word— is dominant, and generates enormous dollars.

Slide13

Civic tech doesn’t really have a founding set of rules, but we’ve certainly developed routines and norms with hackathons and other volunteer / “for the civic good” programs.

Slide14

We do have the 8 Principles of Open Government Data, which I helped write, in 2007. It specifically calls out the publication of data with personally identifiable information, noting (correctly) that it should not be published.

Slide15

Due, in part, to the fact that there’s been little effort to re-combine personally identifiable information in our products, it’s fair to say that civic tech has generated little revenue and had little impact on culture. Meanwhile, the larger technology industry is taking over culture.

Slide16

So what’s going on here? If we accept this analysis, what accounts for the vastly different impact patterns? To me, it’s a matter of framing and focus. AA is about product + service for the masses, poetry slam is about individual expression + satisfaction grown city by city.

Slide17

And it’s the underlying attitude toward professionalization and commercialization that makes the difference. AA is radically indifferent— we’re focused on staying sober, not policing adherents. In contrast, the “Slam Masters” from each city that adopts the slam meet yearly. They enforce a sort of sameness that is palpable, and exclusionary.

Slide18

The result is a default openness in AA. Onboarding is a breeze. People desperately want what people in recovery have— sobriety. Slams, in contrast, have complex modes of operation, full of insider references and tight networks. Above all, glorifying the singular poet with a microphone.

Slide19

We have our own poets in civic tech, our own open mics, our own singular heroes. The result is separation and divorce. Meanwhile, aggressive startups, all about disruption and de-regulation, eat our lunch in our cities, building software people love.

Slide20

They are popular. And through their popularity, they have impact. And we don’t make popular things. And we have to, because we’re better than everyone else. The larger technology industry needs us. Let’s make products, not projects.

Let’s Build on the CTA’s Open Standards Fare System

Though it seems to have dissipated as people get used to the new system, there has been a lot of sturm und drang about Ventra over last year.

Now that the drama is over, it might be time for us in the civic innovation sector of the technology industry to turn our attention to building on the open standards fare system infrastructure upon which Ventra was built .

Continue reading “Let’s Build on the CTA’s Open Standards Fare System”

Some Thoughts Toward the Maturation of the Civic Innovation Sector of the Technology Industry

I saw this blog post by Derek Eder of DataMade last week and it made me feel good that we are taking steps over at OpenGovChicago to have some concrete discussions about  IT procurement in the municipal government of Chicago.

Almost invariably, when one looks at things more closely— as the people of Chicago should expect when the government is spending their money— things are more complicated and less glib than it first seems.

Over the last few years (we’re not a new movement anymore) we’ve had lots of great examples of innovations in the display of civic data but less innovation in the complicated tasks of collecting, managing, and publishing civic data. In order to move forward as a movement, the existing enterprise systems have to be better.

That means it has to be easier for tens of thousands of City employees enter data from across hundreds of miles of area, easier to pull data from systems in fluid & secure ways, easier to upgrade existing systems, and so on. We need to break the cycle of enterprise IT, where large companies with proprietary systems equate a one-time contract with an evergreen source of revenue. In short, we have to apply the principles that we hold dear— openness, loosely coupled systems, quick adoption of new technologies— to government IT.

But the civic innovation sector of the technology industry must mature if we want to take part in this change— to force it to happen. Currently, we’re playing around the edges. We have to move from our nascent non-revenue stage into sustained impact. That means forming real companies, creating products with revenue models, and, yes, getting business insurance and hiring accountants to create things like audited financial statements.

Here are some basic observations I have about the current state of the civic innovation sector of the technology industry as it relates to government IT procurement and systems:

  • In an effort to build a supportive community, grandiose proclamations in the civic tech world are habitually high-fived and retweeted with very little analysis or fact-checking. A main thrust of this bravado is the conflation of the *display* of data & information with the far more expensive and complicated tasks of collecting, managing, and publishing data
  • “Government IT procurement” is not a synonym for “Government IT systems”, though they are often conflated. Gov IT procurement currently does little to encourage innovation in civic tech. But w/o existing legacy gov IT systems, there would be no civic tech. The data we use for our civic tech projects doesn’t get collected, managed, and exported by itself
  • There’s often a stunning lack of appreciation (not in the “gosh, you’re awesome” sense, but in the “gosh, I can’t do anything without you” sense) for city IT systems in the civic hacking movement
  • In order to move from our nascent, non-revenue, anecdotal impact stage, the civic innovation sector of the technology industry must mature. That means forming real companies, creating products with revenue models, and, yes, getting business insurance and having accountants to create things like audited financial statements

I look forward to talking  more about this on Thursday!

Boss Second Season Filming Locations, Chicago

Socrata filter for Boss filmingsNote: this is a post about civic data and the promise of machine learning disguised as a post about a really good TV show. Here are some more unnaturally-detailed posts along the same lines as this one and a good primer on the overall concept here.

I like Boss, the Kelsey Grammer vehicle about a ruthless Chicago mayor. Good show, and season two begins this Friday night, August 17. I also like civic data, like Public Right-of-Way Use Permits published by the City of Chicago.

I was recently reviewing this new data set and saw that film permits are a subset of Public Right-of-Way Permits, so I made a Custom view using the Socrata data display system to filter for only permits related to the filming of Boss. I used the Permit Type Code of “Filming”, the Company of Boss Kane Productions (they even have a Yelp page), and a Date of after 3/1/12 (because otherwise I’d be catching Season 1 filmings as well).

Next I exported this data and imported it into a Google Fusion Table so I could make a quick map. Here it is:

Boss Season 2 Filmings

So let’s take a look at some of the locations to see what to look out for come Friday.

One chunk of filmings centers just east of Douglas Park, near 16th and Rockwell. There are 12 filmings up and down California, including down to the Cook County Jail and Courthouse at 26th and California. This set of filmings is at or near the Cinespace Chicago studio.

Boss Season 2 Filmings Near Doglas Park in Chicago

This is also the address listed for Boss Kane Productions, which (I think) is where the interior action is shot. My guess is when they need a generic outdoor location, they pull a film permit to go outside and shoot.

Boss Kane Productions Location

There’s another set of filmings (six) in the Pilsen area, scattered around Halsted, 18th, and Roosevelt.

Boss Season 2 Filmings in Pilsen

One of the locations is 1733 S. Halsted, which is the address for Kristoffer’s Cake and Bakery.

Kristoffer's Cafe & Bakery

There’s a set of eight filmings in the Kenwood neighborhood, most of them in a particularly green region bounded by Drexel, 47th, Lake Park, and 50th. This includes one permit at the Drexel Towers, 4825 South Drexel Boulevard.

Boss Season 2 Filmings in Kenwood

Satellite view of Boss Season 2 Filmings in Kenwood

There is a single shoot at 1035 E. 67th Street, which is the address for Oak Woods Cemetery. My assumption is that the scene at the end of this trailer was shot here.

Kitty O'Neil of Boss

There are two film permits in the Illinois Medical District, including one at 1750 West Harrison Street, the Rush University Medical Center Jelke Building. Here it is from 1960:

Rush University Medical Center Jelke Building

On July 10 of this year they worked on Northerly Island.

I would also expect to see a shot this year with Buckingham Fountain (500 S. Columbus Drive) in the background. Maybe it will be a Married With Children spoof.

There’s a permit for 125 E. Monroe, which is basically the Crown Fountain.

They’ve also got the obligatory City Hall shoot (121 N. LaSalle), a “beneath the train tracks” shot on Lake Street between Wabash and State, and two downtown shots at Monroe and Dearborn. You can also expect to see a shot of 225 N. Michigan, a nifty Mies Van der Rohe edifice. At some point there should be a riverwalk shot on or about 70 E. Wacker. Here’s Boss Kane in the City Hall Roof Garden from a new season trailer:

Boss Season 2 Filming: City Hall Roof Garden

Here’s the tracks:

Boss Season 2 Filming: Under the tracks

And looks like there’s a scuffle at Monroe and Dearborn:

Boss Season 2 Filming

Speaking of the river, there is a permit at 333 N. Canal, the Riverbend Condominiums, and one at 300 North Canal, Left Bank at Kinzie Station. I’ll be looking for those exteriors in upcoming episodes— let me know if I miss it (@juggernautco).

Since there is a permit for 702 W. Fulton Market, we can expect to see some dining going on at Carnivale at some point this season (careful– restaurant Web site sound explosion upon click).

There’s a clump of filmings around Franklin and Chicago:

Boss 2 Season Filmings Near Franklin and Chicago

If you see a set of row houses, that would be the Cabrini Row Houses north of Chicago Avenue– four filmings there, including 850 North Cleveland Avenue.

Boss Season 2 filming: 850 N. Cleveland

This looks like T.I. is out in front of that place:

Boss Season 2 Filming: Cabrini Row Houses

There are four Gold Coast filmings, including one outside of the Drake Hotel.

Boss Season 2 Filmings: Gold Coast

West of the Kennedy, there’s a single filming at 2214 W. Walton

Boss Season 2 Filming: 2214 W. Walton

…and one at 835 N. Wood.

Boss Season 2 Filming: 835 N. Wood

All of this info was made possible by civic data, Google search, and a connection to the Internet. What if there was a machine that could do this for me? God bless us all.

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