Applications for Democracy

Published Mar-10-10

The Applications for Democracy open innovation contest created dozens of workable solutions at breakneck speeds.

Government of the District of Columbia, United States

The Story:

Applications for Democracy Open innovation has been the driving force behind a number of inspiring initiatives to make governments more open and transparent. Not only do they foster better communications between citizens and ruling bodies, but by addressing problems with technological solutions they can also generate real wealth and enhance quality of life.

Governments do not always have the best ideas and so in 2008 Washington DC’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer approached digital agency iStrategyLabs to see if it could come up with a way of making DC government's Data Catalog useful for the citizens, visitors, businesses and government agencies.

The Catalog contains a wide variety of open public data including school test scores, poverty indicators, and real-time crime feeds.

The traditional way that government bodies operate when they want a problem solved is to throw a few million bucks at a contractor and hope they come up with a solution within a couple of years. But there is another way ...

Ideas at Breakneck Speeds

iStrategyLabs adopted a new method and created an open innovation contest called “Applications for Democracy” that cost Washington DC a relatively paltry $50,000 but yielded 47 web, iPhone and Facebook applications. They added an estimated $2,300, 000 value to the city.

That represented a 40% plus return on investment. On a scale of how governments usually do things this was the bargain of the century.

What’s more these ideas were submitted within a 30-day period - an accelerated timetable that would be almost impossible to achieve in most corporations and organizations.

Competition Launch

The competition was launched in October 2008 and invited the general public to generate mashup applications (web-based applications that mix data from more than one source into a single tool) using popular technologies such as Google Maps, Facebook and iPhone. And as an incentive $20,000 in cash prizes were on offer.

More than 25 applications were received and they were judged on their originality and usefulness to citizens and government.

The open innovation contest awarded prizes in gold, silver and bronze categories, and the winners included: -

DC Historic Tours - a mashup of Google Maps. Flickr and Wikipedia to create customized tours of historic DC. – users enter a DC address and they can immediately see graphical and text information about the neighborhood, such as the nearest grocery store, bank and local crime statistics.

Open Innovation Benefits

The competition was a clear demonstration of the benefits of citizen-driven open innovation to swiftly deliver solutions.

"If state and local governments realize that the most valuable assets they have are citizens, they are going to solve their problems so much faster," said Peter Corbett, CEO, iStrategyLabs. "Using digital media to understand how to reach and harness the power of citizens is the promise of government 2.0 and revitalized American democracy."

The Apps for Democracy competition was so successful in engaging citizens to develop technological solutions that many copycat initiatives have spring up in dozens of cities all over the world.

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