The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation

By Gordon Feller

Gordon Feller is the Co-Founder of Meeting of the Minds, a global thought leadership network and knowledge-sharing platform focused on the future of sustainable cities, innovation and technology.

Nov 6, 2012 | Smart Cities | 0 comments

Click the video above to hear San Francisco’s Chief Innovation Officer, Jay Nath, talk about the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation.

There’s really nothing quite like it inside the hundred upon hundreds of US city governments: The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation (MOCI) utilizes government as a platform for innovation. What exactly is MOCI, and what’s it really doing?

The Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation is…focused on solving problems through city and citizen collaboration.

MOCI works with San Francisco residents and local creative / tech-minded communities to collectively design solutions and new approaches to what we might call the “big hairy problems”. Through partnerships with both private and public organizations, MOCI is working to create community-sourced solutions that improve the efficiency and accessibility of government. MOCI also leverages their national and international networks to increase collaboration — with the goal of sharing best practices between governments and other organizations.

The Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation is working on several distinct projects – all of them focused on solving problems through city and citizen collaboration.

First, MOCI is working with city agencies and department to help facilitate the release of government data. This “open data policy,” which San Francisco has officially instituted, provides new opportunities for both government and the citizenry: enhanced government transparency and accountability; development of new analyses, applications and civic tools; increased civic engagement; social and economic expansion; increased government efficiency and more effective delivery of civic services.

As stipulated in San Francisco’s Open Data Policy, the city is drafting rules and standards for all departments to follow when publishing data to the city’s dataset clearinghouse, DataSF. As part of this process, MOCI has conducted extensive user research with department data publishers so that their experiences to date can inform the policies which San Francisco creates.

Among their open data efforts, MOCI is working with the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors to transition to searchable PDF formats for all meeting agendas, minutes, and associated documents posted on the their website. MOCI is also leading an effort – in partnership with cities across the USA – to launch cities.data.gov, a centralized portal for city data sets.

Second, MOCI organizes regular “hackathons,” which bring together citizen-developers to build apps around San Francisco’s open data. These hackathons are not just a model for civic-citizen problem solving, but also for economic growth. MOCI uses key partnerships to help accelerate the process of deploying prototypes and creating products. For example, MOCI is currently working with The HUB, the Bay Area’s leading co-working space, to create a civic marketplace focused on going from “hackathon-to-market.”

The first test case for MOCI’s policies will be ImproveSF, an online civic engagement platform. ImproveSF brings together community members and government officials to problem-solve civic issues in San Francisco. Users can submit, comment, and vote for ideas. Winning ideas are implemented in the community through partnerships with key private and public organizations.

ImproveSF was built out of the belief that the best way to tackle challenges that affect the community is with the community itself as the agent of change. By using a platform that allows members of the community to contribute from their own homes and on their own schedules, MOCI believes that San Francisco will be able to engage a broader audience. With this broader audience comes a broader range of ideas, solutions, participation, and an improved San Francisco.

In the first two months alone, over 1200 residents signed up for ImproveSF, and over 1000 comments were made – helping users refine their ideas to create stronger civic solutions. One of the first challenges posted to the ImproveSF site asked citizens for ideas on how to improve access to healthy, fresh food for residents of the Central Market/Tenderloin neighborhoods. By addressing the need to store and cook fresh and nutritious food, we could help improve the access to food and reduce malnutrition in these neighborhoods. For the many of these residents this is a real challenge that offers substantial benefits to their daily lives.

Visit the ImproveSF website to find out the results of this challenge, and use the comments below to share your impressions of the Mayor’s Office for Civic Innovation.

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