The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation recognized last week more than 60 innovative government programs as part of the 2017 Bright Ideas initiative. This post highlights some of the Bright Ideas focused on increasing citizen participation, making government more transparent and responsive, and using technology to improve governance.
This is the fifth cohort recognized through the Bright Ideas program, an initiative of the broader Innovations in American Government Awards program. For consideration as a Bright Idea, programs must currently be in operation or in the process of launching, have sufficient operational resources, and must be administered by one or more governmental entities; nonprofit, private sector, and union initiatives are eligible if operating in partnership with a governmental organization. Bright Ideas are showcased on the Ash Center’s Government Innovators Network, an online platform for practitioners and policymakers to share innovative public policy solutions.
The Ash Center also announced the 100 programs named as Semifinalists in this year’s Innovations in American Government Awards program, which will compete to be named Finalists and will have the chance to be awarded the two $100,000 grand prizes in Cambridge this spring. These programs advanced from a pool of more than 500 applications from all 50 states, and were selected by the Innovations Award evaluators as examples of novel and effective action whose work has had significant impact, and who they believe can be replicated across the country and the world.
See below for a few examples of this year’s Bright Ideas.
AskThem.io — City Questions & Answers
City of New York, NY
AskThem.io is a free and open-source website for public dialogue, created by the 501(c)3 non-profit Participatory Politics Foundation (PPF), and launched publicly in February 2014. The site is available to any United States elected official, and any user with a verified Twitter account is able to participate in the dialogue. Users ask and share questions, which are shared over e-mail and social media to gather signatures towards delivery. At launch, over 80 elected officials nationwide signed on to participate, and since then the platform has held nationwide question-and-answer campaigns with partners such as OpenSecrets.org, the Student Net Alliance, the Participatory Budgeting Program, and Fight for the Future. In 2014, AskThem was awarded a Knight Foundation Prototype Grant to develop free question-asking widgets for government partners and issue groups to create questions directly on their own web pages and social media accounts. The AskThem open-data model of verified local accounts was later adopted by PPF’s NYC Councilmatic, for city council legislative tracking, where community groups and local media partners come together in monthly public comment programs.
City of Boston, MA
CityScore is a unique tool created by the city of Boston to provide a way to instantly understand Boston’s overall health by scoring departments on individual metrics and a single, numeric indicator. CityScore displays near real-time data on operations and quality of life metrics, making the city more responsive and effective. Since CityScore’s public launch in January 2016, the city has held monthly performance meetings with the mayor to address any resource or process issues highlighted by the scores, and has delivered improvements including an 18 percent increase in streetlight outage repairs completed on-time between January and March. The mayor’s office has also used CityScore to vet department allocations for the FY17 budget, including adding 10 ambulances to the city’s EMS fleet to improve emergency response. Cabinet chiefs, department heads, city employees, and the general public alike are highly engaged in the process of improving CityScore, with suggestions for additional metrics being vetted and new ones added on a frequent basis.
Paperless Online Absentee Ballot Applications
Commonwealth of Virginia
In 2011, the Virginia Department of Elections began laying out a vision for an online system that would enable voters to complete all voter record-related transactions, and began working to secure funding and qualified staff to make the necessary technical infrastructure changes and to secure administrative policy changes necessary to turn this vision into a reality. After the Virginia General Assembly passed a law authorizing online voter registration in 2013, Virginia launched the first phase of this new concept by introducing an online voter registration portal, enabling all voters with a Virginia DMV ID to apply to register to vote and update their registration record online. The Department was able to use the success of this initial online offering to create widespread support for additional functionality to make the voting process more efficient. In 2015, with the support of the Governor, the Department expanded the capability of its online voter registration portal so that registered voters could apply to vote absentee completely paperlessly. This additional tool allows voters to more easily exercise their rights to participate in the franchise, and streamlines processes for election administrators and voters, while ensuring the integrity of the election system by confirming the identity of absentee ballot applicants through the system’s DMV sync. The program has been immensely successful, accounting for over 60 percent of all mail absentee ballot requests sent in to local election offices during the 2016 presidential election.
Connecticut eRegulations System
State of Connecticut
The Connecticut eRegulations System is an efficiently designed end-to-end electronic workflow for drafting, reviewing, and publishing agency regulations and tracking regulation-making activity. The system has increased efficiency by successfully implementing standardized drafting and editing processes, automation of approval workflows, document management, publication, and archiving for end-to-end regulation management by augmenting existing state technology and requiring minimal additional staff. At the same time, it facilitates government transparency with access to a free, online, updated version of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies, permanent and real-time access to all agency regulation-making records, user-friendly search and browse, and citizen engagement tools like regulation tracking and online comment submission. Its basic architecture provides a template for consolidating management of the creation and publication of government laws and regulations which could be tailored to a wide range of varying state, legislative, or agency requirements.
City of New York, NY
In January 2015, New York City’s Department of Records and Information Services, supported by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications and the Mayor’s Office, began the OpenRECORDS initiative to increase transparency in the city government by creating an online portal the public could use to submit and track freedom of information law (FOIL) requests to all city agencies. The centralized portal provides city agencies with a standardized, simplified platform. It ensures accountability by showing response times and making responsive documents available to the public. Using the portal, with a few simple steps, the public can submit requests, monitor progress, and easily determine whether the requested record or information is already available on the portal. FOIL officers can now process requests in a consistent fashion across all city agencies. The portal allows them to track requests to avoid duplicate requests and subsequent delays. The portal also helps direct the public to the correct agency minimizing delays due to misdirected requests, and will likely reduce the overall number of requests by allowing the public to access previously released information.