Code for America Summit 2013

This post originally appeared on OpenGov Foundation Blog.

There were far too many great talks to summarize them all, but CFA has posted the full agenda online as well as videos of all of the talks.  Here are a few of our favorites.

Clay Shirky’s Keynote

  • Clay covered a lot of ground, and his whole speech is worth a listen.
  • One of my favorite takeaways:  “The output of a hackathon isn’t a solution to a problem, it’s a better understanding of the problem.”
  • He also covers that idea that Sir Winston Churchill summarized so well: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” 

Tim O’Reilly, Seamus Kraft, & Gavin Newsom – Open Gov Crossing Party Lines

  • Tim O’Reilly led this discussion between OpenGov’s own Seamus Kraft (standing in for Congressman Darrell Issa) and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, on how Open Government transcends party politics, and both sides of the aisle come together on this topic.

There were several talks about the problems with procurement in government, and how it is one of the fastest ways to reduce wasteful, inefficient government spending.

Clay Johnson – Procurement

  • Clay has been featured in a lot of interviews lately talking about procurement and the new Healthcare.gov website. He points out that the vendors that win bids on RFPs typically are those that have good legal departments, not necessarily the ones that have the best  team for the job.  He showed off a few tools designed to fix that problem:
  •  Screendoor – a system for creating readable, usable RFPs
  •  WriteForHumans – a simple tool to gauge how difficult to read a piece of text is.

Jeff Rubenstein – SmartProcure

  • Jeff showed us SmartProcure, a system designed for localities to find and share vendor information.

There were several talks around using data and technology to improve the effectiveness of services.

Nigel Jacobs, Joel Mahoney & Michael Evans – Boston

  • There were a few talks about the improvements being made in Boston.  This clip features Michael Evanstalking about City Hall To Go – a mobile van that brings City Hall services to underserved areas, allowing residents to pay taxes, get handicap parking spaces, register to vote, and do other things on the spot instead of making a trip all the way down to Boston City Hall.

Cris Cristina & Karen Boyd – RecordTrac

  • Cris and Karen discussed the RecordTrac system, used in Oakland to respond to public records requests.  This project is opensource, so other cities can adopt this and start using it immediately.

Saru Ramanan – Family Assessment Form

  • Historically, there have been few tools to actually tell how effective social services are in helping families.  The Family Assessment Form is a tool to record and investigate help to individual families, and track their progression over time.

The second day featured many talks on user-friendly tools for local improvement.  This also focused on user experience as a form of social justice.

Tamara Manik-Perlman – CityVoice

  • City Voice is a tool built on Twilio‘s API to collect feedback from residents over the phone, using a very easy-to-use system.  This was originally implemented in South Bend to address the housing situation, but could be used in any locality for a variety of topics where gathering feedback outside of a single forum is useful.

Lou Huang and Marcin Wichary – StreetMix

  • Lou and Marcin gave one of the most entertaining talks of the conference on StreetMix, which allows citizens to propose layouts for streets, using simple drag and drop tools to create bike lanes, bus stops, medians, and more.

Dana Chisnell – Redesigning Government

  • Dana and her team were set with the task of designing a ballot for *everyone*, from adults who have never used a computer, to those have low literacy and low education, those with cognitive disabilities, and other often ignored groups.  This is a must-watch for anyone who spends time on accessibility issues, or is interested in Good UX For All.

Cyd Harrell, Ginger Zielinskie, Mark Headd, and Dana Chisnell – Redesigning Government

  • Cyd led a panel discussion talking about a variety of topics around UX and accessibility in technology for cities.  This was my favorite talk of the conference, and one covering topics that are often overlooked.