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A Guide to California's Civic Hacking Projects

BY Nick Judd | Friday, October 21 2011

From Nook e-Readers on loan at the Sacramento Public Library to San Francisco's open data initiatives, California's cities are turning online in the hopes of saving money and improving services, according to a report by the New America Foundation released this month.

The report, "Hear Us Now? A California Survey of Digital Technology's Role in Civic Engagement and Local Government," is a round-up of the Internet-enabled projects scattered throughout California framed as a call for cities to get their act together on civic innovation. Authors April Manatt, Stephen G. Blake, Joe Mathews and Troy K. Schneider write:

The timing of eGovernment’s rise is at once problematic — and fortunate. Public frustration with government and cuts in public spending are natural obstacles to launching new programs. But the same factors also create an opportunity to redesign how government interacts with, and services, the public. Technology, if deployed wisely and efficiently, may provide better engagement, better information and better service delivery, at less of a price.

How is California doing so far at this task? The early results are uneven. California’s powerful culture of innovation has produced clear progress from the days of simple government web sites. But the progress has been unevenly distributed. And success stories have yet to be identified, much less encouraged and disseminated. When it comes to eGovernment, Californians don’t know what other California are doing, don’t know what works, and don’t know how to measure success.

For people interested in civic hacking and technology in local government, the report is worth a read. Among other things, it recommends that governments do more to track what these types of projects deliver for them, and to create a clearinghouse of information about web portals for cities and counties.

"Such an effort should include a portal that allows Californians to type in their zip code and receive a list of the overlapping local and state government portals that cover their location," the authors write.

The full report is here.

(Via Abhi Nemani)