CivicApps for Greater Portland

Published May-15-11

Open innovation challenge contest for citizens and software developers to create apps that address civic issues.

The City of Portland, United States

The Story:

 CivicApps for Greater Portland These days the most forward thinking CEOs see how collaboration can play a big part in their success and are being seduced by the benefits of open innovation. What’s good for private industry is also making giant waves in the public sector as councils and governments at all levels realize that they can tap into a global laboratory of ideas to solve problems, or create new products, initiatives and services.

The city of Portland in the USA, encouraged by the success of the apps contest craze - in particular Washington’s ‘Apps for Democracy’ contest - launched its own open innovation apps competition. Citizens and interested parties were invited to create apps from data sets that would address important civic issues and benefit the greater Portland community.

Richer Data Sets

What marked out this apps contest from similar others according to Rick Nixon, program manager with the Portland Bureau of Technology Services is that the data sets also came from inter-jurisdictional agencies including city, country and regional authorities. One benefit of this was that it provided a rich reservoir of material for participants to work with.

Inter-governmental operation in these kinds of open innovation initiatives are not always easy as additional obligations and duties are imposed on existing levels of bureaucracy. But contest organizers had access to the Mayor who was able to communicate to the highest levels of government the importance of the competition.

One hundred data sets were released and they included information regarding parks and transportation, crime, building permits and liquor licenses.

Two Stage Competition

The competition was divided into two phases. The first was the idea gathering and application stage where residents and developers were invited to pitch their ideas. Those that showed promised advanced. Up to $3,000 was on offer for the most innovative and useful software applications.

Submissions were judged by a combination of community and panel voting and there were several award categories including Most Appealing, Most Useful, Most Original, and Best Use of Data. The overall winner was Andy Wallace for PDX Bus, an app designed for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad that displays arrival times for public transport.

The software program uses the Internet to swiftly access live tracking data from the Portland metro area to display arrival times. It also allows users to bookmark stops that they frequently use. Other features include an interactive rail map and a flashing screen so that commuters can be seen by bus drivers at night.

Other winning ideas included an app that allows users to send an emergency beacon to a real-time map in case of snowstorms or earthquakes, and an app that shows cyclists the best transit routes.

“Through CivicApps, we're harnessing the phenomenal talent of Portland’s mobile and software development communities," said Mayor Sam Adams. "At the same time, we're making the best use of open data to improve government for citizens and increase transparency."

Buy-in required for Success

There was a high level of participation in the contest, and its success was due in no small part to the support and adoption of its goals by users of the data and apps, the public sector and the software community. Buy-in from all three was necessary.

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