Tax Payer Money Helps Citizen Engagement Software Evolve Faster

If Boss Tweed could see us now!  City living isn’t what it used to be thanks to new software in cities that is built to inform, engage and satisfy citizens.

An explosion of new software for use by cities and by citizens will, where the software is used, eventually improve the efficiency of services and the quality of life in cities. New software and mobile apps are:

  • Using crowd sourcing to fix current systems (think potholes in streets) when they are broken
  • Changing existing systems (think pay on line for parking tickets) so they are more efficient for the city and citizen
  • Evolving new systems (think virtual community meetings or digital polling on zoning or new dog parks) to involve a wider range of the public in shaping new ideas
  • Making it easier to find information on events, services and schedules intuitively, not just by knowing the right departmental tab to look under on the city website

And as new software techniques accumulate, existing databases become more usable and new data bases are born …

Citizens will be able to break open the deep dark box of government information and find out things they didn’t even know they wanted to know.

Staff at the new federal agency, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (kudos to now Senator Elizabeth Warren who, in 2010 got a law passed establishing this agency to give individuals information to better understand their credit card debt) has dropped another gift into the public’s lap.  Rather than just create a tool that could be used by citizens looking for information about consumer finance, the federal agency (yes, an agency supported by and for the taxpayers) has created an award winning open source software platform that can serve up and combine large sets of data.

The CFPB staff wanted a tool to provide citizens with the huge amount of complicated data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (remember “redlining”?).  But it isn’t just for HMDA.  The software built by CFPB is a free and open source platform that anyone can use to build their own data APIs.

The result:  CFPB built Qu. Qu lets users query complex data, combine it with other data and then summarize it.  But it just gets better,  better in the iterative way that 21st century software works when it is good and open source.  Qu is a tool that can be used by other software developers who want to make useful tools to help citizens engage with government services in a meaningful way.  The cost to software developers:  $0.  CFPB has even provided the recipe for creating more citizen empowering software: on GitHub.

The team that built Qu is not a small startup in silicon valley. CFPB is a government entity with immense tech talent building software the way startups and large tech companies create products: quickly and iteratively, based on user needs. Qu is one example of the great products that can definitely be built from inside government, including city government and shared with citizens.

Follow Barbara Thornton @AssetStewards
Sign up to receive the latest posts via email.

see also:

Leave a Reply