Tech Talk

Government Apps Are Popular, But Are They Useful?

Robert Putnam wrote the thought-provoking book Bowling Alone in 2000, which explored how Americans were increasingly becoming disconnected from family, friends and neighbors. Changes in work, family structure and commuting times, among other things, were contributing to the divide and leading to a decline in traditional community social networks such as bowling leagues and parent teacher associations. But then came social media platforms and mobile devices, and many of these activities simply went online.

Soon governments followed, rolling out a host of apps in the late 2000s in an effort to engage citizens. Now about a decade into the trend, cities are beginning to look at how effective these technologies actually are -- and the data coming in so far isn’t all that encouraging. READ MORE

311 Upgrades Make It Cheaper to Connect With Citizens

When Tulsa, Okla., launches its new 311 service later this month, the three-digit hotline will be just one component of what officials have dubbed as the “Customer Care Center.”

Similar to many retail companies, the Customer Care Center will now let people request city services, ask questions and file complaints in a variety of ways. Besides talking with agents over the phone, people will also be able to chat with agents over the Internet, use social media to interact with the center and track the status of their requests online and via email. READ MORE

Advice for State CIOs: Make IT Interesting

When Doug Robinson meets an incoming IT director, he often has to provide a reality check. “I tell all new CIOs that information technology is not important to governors; it’s only interesting.”

Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), has had to do that a lot lately. Between appointments by new governors, changes in existing administrations, and resignations and retirements, there are 14 new state CIOs this year. And they’ve arrived at a time when the use of IT has never been as important as it is now. READ MORE

A Cautionary Tale for Any Government IT Project: L.A.'s Failed iPad Program

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) tried an interesting new experiment: give every student a tablet computer equipped with a digital curriculum. It was a bold move that was supposed to push Los Angeles public schools into the 21st century. It turned out to be a disaster.

The idea was certainly huge, requiring the purchase of 650,000 Apple iPads, networking gear and educational software from Pearson -- all at a cost of nearly $1.3 billion. L.A. Schools Superintendent John Deasy, who launched the program in 2013, also saw it as a way to help the city’s low-income students. Until Deasy’s announcement, students had limited access to digital education tools at computer labs, which couldn’t accommodate all students at the same time. READ MORE

The Payoffs of Financial Transparency

For years, if residents of Rocklin, Calif., near Sacramento, wanted to review the city’s budget priorities or see how those priorities linked to revenue and spending, they had to sort through numerous PDFs. While the financial information was useful, it wasn’t very user-friendly. And that didn’t satisfy city leaders who prided themselves on Rocklin’s long tradition of transparency, according to Kim Sarkovich, Rocklin’s chief financial officer and assistant city manager.

But when a city posts its financial data in a format that’s easy to find, read and understand, the payoff can be huge. That has certainly been the case with New York City’s Checkbook NYC. The website, which was launched in 2010, lets residents track how the city spends its money through a very navigable dashboard of charts and tables. New York was not the first city to make its financial information so readily available and transparent, but the Sunlight Foundation says it’s “one of the best examples of an open checkbook-style website that we’ve found.”  READ MORE