Transparent Public Works Becomes Reality as Web-based Systems Come Online

Are Gov 2.0 Standards Coming?

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Posted: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 2:48 pm

What would happen if citizens were able to take a photo of a pothole with their cell-phone camera, and then upload it directly to the municipal work-management system?

Quint Pertzsch, GIS coordinator for the city of" target="_blank">Golden, Colo., believes a better question might be: What wouldn't happen?

"The concern was that citizens might abuse the system," Pertzsch said of Golden's "YourGOV" web portal launched on Sept. 5. Instead, he said, only about 20 citizen submissions have been entered into the system since the launch, and they've all been legitimate issues. Also, since members of the public are able to track the status of their reported issues online, the system helps reduce, not increase, the number of phone calls fielded by city staff.

Pertzsch said the system, developed by" target="_blank">Cartegraph, is a good fit for his "connected" city of approximately 17,000, where 95 percent of residents have Internet service.

YourGOV allows citizens to report non-emergency issues to the city via the web or mobile phone. By using YourGOV, citizens can submit an issue and track its progress from submittal to completion via the web. Issues are brought directly into the city's work-management system where they can be forwarded on to the responsible departments.

Once registered and logged in, a citizen can add a request and enter an address or click on a map to specify the location of the issue; and then enter any pertinent details or upload a photo, Pertzsch said. Once submitted, the issue will be reviewed by city staff and the appropriate action will be taken within 1-2 business days, according to the city's web site.

Pertzsch said the system enhances the city's "transparency" by displaying the description and status of all public works projects assigned to city crews. And, average citizens aren't the only ones using the system.

"We know at least some of the submissions are coming from (city) council members," he said. Pertzsch said the web portal is a good way for the council to track how city crews are responding to and servicing their constituents. And, the photo capability allows staff to immediately assess the severity of the situation.

"The photo can tell us a lot," Pertzsch said. "If it's really severe, we can get a crew out there right away. And I'm sure some of the issues that have been submitted online wouldn't normally have been reported until the next day, or even a few days later."

Bexar County, Texas, which includes the city of San Antonio, shows how the web portal concept can work in a larger metro area.

"It's been nothing but great," said Jeffrey Booth, senior IT project manager for the county.

Bexar (pronounced BEAR) County has more than 1.3 million residents. Its Constituent Services Web Portal allows citizens to submit real-time infrastructure maintenance requests 24 hours a day. Booth said the county has operated the web portal for about a year, and will be launching Cartegraph's smart-phone application later this month.

Tony Vasquez, Bexar County streets and drainage manager, said new submissions are checked twice a day: at 7:30 a.m. and again at noon.

"So, it's not really a big deal. It's just another way for people to tell us what's going on out there," he said.

All work orders are entered into the system, regardless of how they come in, so citizens and county leadership can monitor work-flow without calling staff.

"It's really cut down on the calls," Vasquez said.

Booth said citizens are required to create a user profile before submitting a service request, and so far between 300 and 400 people have created accounts.

Pertzsch, Booth and Vasquez offered their perspectives as part of a larger discussion about Gov 2.0 at CONNECT 2010, an interactive event for Cartegraph software users and managing members of their organizations in Dubuque, Iowa last week.

Gov 2.0, is a concept championed by Tim O'Reilly and others beginning in 2005 and culminating at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C. in September. According to" target="_blank">, the summit brought together "innovators from government and the private sector to highlight technology and ideas that can be applied to the nation's great challenges."

The group, which included representatives from Cisco, IBM, Microsoft and Google, discussed how social media, cloud computing, web, and mobile technologies can provide new capabilities that government agencies can harness "to achieve demonstrably better results at lower cost."

Jake Schneider, executive vice president of product strategy at Cartegraph, said Gov 2.0 addresses technical protocols that could become standard conventions for required data sharing in the future.

"We're seeing some top-down movement," Schneider said. "In other words, cities might be required to provide certain data in specific formats at some point in the future." Schneider said there is no way to know whether or not enforceable standards will be required by federal and/or state governments, but Cartegraph is planning to migrate its software toward meeting the Gov 2.0 standards.

"Whether you agree with it or not, we think more transparency in government is coming," he said.

Cartegraph is a public works software company whose work- and asset-management systems are used by more than 1,000 organizations throughout North America.

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