Apps for California

Published Jan-06-11

Open innovation and crowdsourcing techniques to create better government and make the lives of citizens easier.

The State of California, United States

The Story:

Apps for California The ballot box is not the only means by which the general public can influence the way their neighborhoods, towns and regions are run as open innovation and crowdsourcing are giving people plenty of opportunities to use public data sets made available by local and state governments to make government work better.

In 2010 The Center for Digital Government, in collaboration with the State of California, City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, the City and County of San Francisco, Google, Microsoft and, announced the launch of Apps for California. This web application development contest sought the best ideas to improve government transparency and services.

Data Gold Rush

Participants had over 400 million major data sources and over 100 million records at their fingertips which the State of California had made available online to encourage residents and businesses to come up with apps that would improve access to government information and services.

This publicly available information covered almost every facet of government including: budget, land use, health statistics, highway traffic, labor and much more.

Plumbing the Data Depths

The most exciting part of this contest as with similar mashup competitions is that the creative potential is enormous. Developers can dive deep into the data and then transform it into apps that organizers probably didn't even begin to imagine. The sheer diversity of brainpower at work can create rich new services to benefit the public good.

The competition was open for three months and judges were looking for the most visually appealing, effective and original web-based or mobile apps that fulfilled the following criteria. The apps had to:

• Provide value to California's residents and businesses

• Demonstrate innovation

• Promote collaboration and government efficiency

• Ensure accessibility and usability

Overall there were five winners including California Cage Fight and Zonability ZF. California Cage Fight is an app that allows residents to compare their county with other Californian counties and the state as a whole. The data that can be compared includes population growth, unemployment levels, per capita income and new houses and developments. Zonability ZF gives mobile access to San Francisco zoning ordinance information and provides a mechanism whereby residents can field questions to city planners.

The Benefits of Mashups

Mashups are valuable open innovation and crowdsourcing tools that can reap great benefits for governments and businesses large and small.

• Multiple sources of data and functionality can be brought together in an
almost infinite array of possibilities. This can lead to increased productivity,
improved efficiency and accuracy and better decision making. If you have
ever said to yourself “there must be a better and quicker way of accessing
the information I need”, it is likely that you could benefit from mashups.

Mashups allow employees to decide what information and functionality
they need (on a web page for example) so they can complete their tasks
efficiently and effectively.

• They are cost effective and do not require a great deal of investment.

• They can be used to explore new opportunities and solve problems in new

• Mashups can be assembled and distributed quickly and focused on the
requirements of individual users, thereby creating enhanced customer

• Existing data sets can be used to create new applications and therefore
new income streams. As the data already exists there is faster time to
marker at lower cost.

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