Apps for Democracy: 2 Days Left to Compete
BY Ellen Miller

“The District has been getting major kudos for its IT projects and
which are well-deserved. DC’s data catalog, for instance, has tons of
open data feeds (more than its share about crime, alas), and provides
real-time data from multiple agencies. The District puts it online to
act as a catalyst to encourage agencies to operate more responsively
and timely.

Vivek Kundra, Washington, D.C.’s chief technology officer, launched a
contest (with substantial financial prizes!) titled Apps for
Democracy. DC is looking for useful Web applications using the
District government’s data catalog. The winning designers who create
the best widgets, Google Maps mash-ups, iPhone apps, Facebook apps,
and other digital utilities will split $20,000 in $2,000 to $100
allotments. If interested, you’ll have to work fast. The deadline for
submissions is tomorrow (Wednesday November 12th).”

Vivek Kundra
email :

District of Columbia Launches Open Innovation Challenge
October 15, 2008

Today the District of Columbia Chief Technology Office of the Officer
(OCTO) announced “Apps for Democracy,” an initiative to develop new
software applications to make the DC government’s data more accessible
and useful for the general public and the government. Register for the
contest at

The District collects and maintains vast stores of data on every
aspect of government operations, from government contracts to crime
statistics to economic development and much more. The District has
already organized and published this data in a real-time data catalog
at The new initiative will solicit the best
and most cost-effective ways to package and present this data for easy
viewing, analysis, and repurposing by the public.

Technology developers are invited to compete in creating applications
for popular consumer technologies like iPhones, Facebook, Map Mashups
and others. Developers must use open source programming. The contest
is open to the general public and will run for a month from October 14
through November 14, 2008. The District will host a kick-off on
October 16 and will conduct five open “Innovation Labs” each weekend
to help contestants find collaborators. The contest will conclude on
November 13 with an awards ceremony to unveil the winning
applications. Additional contest details and guidelines for entries
can be found at

The contest will serve as a catalyst to visualize the District’s data
so it will be useful to the citizens of DC, improving their quality of
life; foster innovation in the DC technology community resulting in
startup formation and growth; solve the technology challenges of OCTO
through more cost effective open collaboration; and work towards a new
model for government/private sector cross collaboration that can be
utilized repeatedly to solve our challenges and serve as an example
for other governments.

“The Apps for Democracy contest is part of our drive toward digital
democracy in the nation’s capital,” said District CTO Vivek Kundra.
“Especially in these difficult economic times, it’s crucial to the
government’s mission to find more efficient and impactful methods for
delivering an even higher level of service for a fraction of the cost.
We are ushering in a new age of participatory democracy, one in which
technology is developed by the people for the people.”

DC’s Apps for Democracy: Helping Coders Help the Man (with one small complaint)
BY Matthew Burton / October 24, 2008

“Because this is timely, I reserve the right to say some presumptuous/
incorrect things that I never would have said had I had time to think
it over, as I usually do when I post things here. The Washington, DC
Chief Technology Officer just launched a project called Apps for
Democracy, a contest to create apps with DC’s data catalog.

I love this project. DC doesn’t get much revenue to work with, so this
project makes a lot of economic sense–the tools they will get out of
this contest would, through the standard contracting route, cost about
40 times the $20,000 in prize money they’re giving away. But the
economics, I’m guessing, is what sold the mayor on the project. I bet
the initial motivation was much different: the CTO’s office
understands that the public will create better tools, and more
quickly, than government contractors can. They know that the benefits
of opening their data far outweigh the speculated, yet unproven,

Also, I can tell the CTO likes to experiment. That’s really gutsy,
because an inevitable byproduct of experimentation is failure. This is
why most bureaucrats hate experimentation and would prefer to coast:
sure, you won’t make progress by doing things the same way, but at
least you can’t screw up!

This CTO (Vivek Kundra is his name) gets it. This is exactly the kind
of stuff a CTO should be doing. There are rumblings of such a position
being created under a presumptive President Obama. If it happens, I
hope they use Apps for Democracy as a model for this title: more
technology, less chief officer. Technology is about experimentation,
not red tape. A new bureaucratic position should have an eye for
counteracting the increased bureaucracy it will inevitably engender.
Projects that delegate power to the public are a great way to do that.

I’m excited about Apps for Democracy, but I have some reservations,
which I voice below. As a segue, here are a few possibilities for app
* Use the Speed Detector GIS data to build an iPhone app that
alerts drivers to their presence (though that won’t go over well with
the mayor’s budget office)
* Use the Bicycle Lane and Bike Routes GIS data to build a Google
or Yahoo! Maps mashup that creates cycling-friendly directions
* Use the Trails, Trails NPS, and Crime Incidents data to create
safe jogging routes
* Mash any public safety data–Crime Incidents, Juvenile Arrests,
etc–with a SIMILE timeline to spot trends
* Use that same public safety data to spot correlations between
incidents and the proximity of other facilities; for example, maybe
juvenile arrests near banks spike in June, while arrests near current
construction projects spike in December. (Whether the revelations
would be valuable, we cannot say. But I’m sure sociologists and
criminologists would find it interesting.)
* Use any number of the tourism- and transportation-oriented data
files to make the ultimate online day planner for

I guess some of those ideas are decent. The problem is, I’m just a
citizen. So most of my ideas are for public-facing tools. Only one or
two would improve District operations. Public-facing tools are great,
and the project is accepting them, but is that really the spirit of
this project? I see it differently. The goal here is to help
government, and I imagine Kundra is hoping people will create tools
that do that. As the CTO, his job is to “develop and implement the
District’s IT infrastructure” and provide “technology solutions to
improve services.” What he really wants are tools that help the DC
Government do its job better. This project can yield a slew of neat-o
iPhone apps, but remember: projects like Apps for Democracy ultimately
happen because of the possible budget savings, and if the project
doesn’t deliver on that front by cutting internal IT costs, there may
not be an Apps for Democracy ‘09. So he has to deliver at least one
great new tool for the inside.

What to build, what to build…there are surely countless opportunities
for improving DC’s systems and data management. The problem is,
people like me don’t have the good ideas, because we don’t experience
the day-to-day frustrations of the problems we’d be fixing. We don’t
understand the environment. We don’t know what’s lacking.

The most beneficial tools will probably never be thought of by the
general public. People with no understanding of municipal water
systems can’t (or don’t) ponder ways to revolutionize the DC Water
Authority. Even more important, even if I did have the idea, I would
have little incentive to build it on my own. Unless I understand the
good that will come from creating that tool, I’m not going to spend
time on it. Someone at the Water Authority needs to say, “We need a
tool that will do X, Y, and Z, and it would help us because _____.”
The _____ is the most important part. I’d love to help DC, but only if
I know I’m helping. That’s why there needs to be a way for DC
employees to share ideas with developers. Has this project been
promoted to District employees? The project site is not targeted at
them: it grabs the attention of tech firms and indy developers, but
there’s no mention of the end user. Do they have a forum for voicing
ideas? Whip up a way for those developers to team with District
employees so we can put together something that really changes your
business. What do you say, Mr. Kundra?

UPDATE 10/25 : After posting this, I sent an email to Apps for
Democracy project manager Peter Corbett to tell him about it. He wrote
back in less than an hour saying he’d already read it:

I just read that, Matt and it’s a really good post. I just sent it
to Vivek. We have up for collaboration purposes
and I suggested to Vivek that he broadcast to that we need
ideas from them about what they need built!

I often complain that although the federal government is finally
abandoning clunky enterprise software for more modern Web tools, their
procurement model has not changed: they still rely on the slow,
expensive, clunky contracting route instead of trying the more agile,
release early-release often approach that makes Web tools great in the
first place. But the speed and content of Peter’s response, and his
allowing me to post it here, are all signs that this is a much
different DC software project. I like it.”

Related: Why I Help “The Man,” and Why You Should Too

Mayor Fenty Announces Three National Awards for the Office of the
Chief Technology Officer
NASCIO honors bring OCTO award count to 10 in 2008
September 29, 2008

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced today the National Association of
State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) has honored the Office of
the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) with three national information
technology (IT) awards. The new honors bring the District’s total IT
awards to 10 in 2008.

NASCIO named OCTO the winner of its Recognition Award in the IT
Project and Portfolio Management Category, an award for state
initiatives that develop governance processes, policies and systems
for the efficient management of IT investments from concept, funding,
implementation and operation to retirement.

The award-winning project was the “stock market model” developed by
Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Vivek Kundra for managing the
District’s IT investments. Kundra’s innovative idea was to manage IT
projects as a portfolio of stocks, with each project as a company, its
team as the management, its schedule and financial status captured in
market reports and customer satisfaction as the market reaction. By
applying these stock-market practices to government technology, Kundra
was able to identify problem projects early and either switch managers
or kill the projects, freeing resources for more promising
initiatives. Earlier this year Kundra was honored for his ground-
breaking stock market model by both the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium,
which recognized Kundra among outstanding IT innovators, and by
InfoWorld Magazine, which named Kundra among the nation’s top
25 CTOs.

NASCIO also awarded OCTO its Recognition Award in the Government to
Business Category. This award recognizes innovative applications that
reduce business costs for regulatory compliance, help companies
establish and grow a business, or improve day-to-day government-to-
business interactions.

OCTO’s winning project was its Certified Business Enterprise (CBE)
online Resource Center. District CBEs are businesses certified by the
District’s Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD)
to participate in the District’s contracting program. The program
directs spending to District-based businesses to create local jobs,
strengthen the local economy, and increase the District’s tax base. To
maximize participation and benefits from the program, DSLBD needed a
user-friendly, comprehensive online certification and contract
compliance application. OCTO developed the application in consultation
with DSLBD, the District’s Office of Contracts and Procurement (OCP)
and the Office of the City Administrator (OCA). The result was a
application that:
* Allows qualified business owners to submit online applications
for CBE certification;
* Enables DSLBD to process the applications via the District’s
* Provides a transparent and efficient process to verify agency
compliance with CBE participation requirements;
* Tracks prime contractor payments to subcontractors to verify
compliance with CBE participation plans; and
* Provides outreach tools to inform the CBE community about
upcoming business opportunities, training classes and DSLBD/District
business events.

The site has enhanced agency and prime contractor compliance with
District CBE requirements, it has dramatically increased the accuracy
of DSLBD data and it has improved the efficiency of certification
processing and compliance tracking.

The third NASCIO award OCTO won was the Recognition Award in the
Government to Citizens category for governmental applications that
provide innovative and/or more efficient services to citizens. OCTO
won the award with its CapStat “Building A City That Works” website.
The site supports CapStat, a cross-agency accountability program
launched by District Mayor Fenty. The Mayor and City Administrator
hold regular meetings with agency directors to review agency
performance data, assign action items, and hold the managers

The CapStat website is central to the program. CapStat meetings are
recorded by video and broadcast on the site. The site offers
performance data from CapStat sessions as well as agency performance
reports. It is updated after each session to provide links to full-
length session videos, resulting action items, and a revised schedule
of upcoming topics. The site offers data catalogs and live feeds on a
wide variety of District performance measures, such as violent crimes,
service requests, permits, and many more. An interactive map
illustrates the reports and shows, for example, where each crime
occurred or which buildings received permits. By providing the
detailed data District leaders need to assess agency performance and
hold managers accountable, and by creating a vehicle for the District
to share all of this data with the public, the CapStat website has
played a vital role in delivering on Mayor Fenty’s commitment to
transparency and accountability in District government.

“For my administration, improving services for citizens and ensuring
accountability and transparency in government are paramount goals,”
said Mayor Fenty. “These important awards from NASCIO, along with
many other recognitions OCTO has received in the past two years,
testify to the key role technology plays in meeting our objectives for
the District.”

“I’m honored by these awards that reflect the evaluation of our peers
around the country,” said District CTO Kundra. “We have assembled some
of the smartest and hardest working people at OCTO so the District can
lead the nation in innovation and service delivery.”

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