Federation for
Housing and

San Francisco – City of Transparency and Innovation

The IFHP Travel Squad reports from San Francisco: Co-creation in so-called ‘hackatons’ drives innovation in San Francisco. Experts talk about a new civic rights movement.

Innovation as part of the city DNA
San Francisco has a strong tradition of technology and innovation, setting the city in the driver’s seat when it comes to open data. When the Obama administration promoted government transparency and boosting of the economy through open data, San Francisco was the first city to embrace it by releasing public data through the portal San Francisco Data. “Our former mayor Gavin Newsom was very influenced by the technology leaders of San Francisco”, Peter Hirshberg, Chairman and Partner at Re:Imagine Group, explains. “Innovation and technology is the DNA of this city”.

Transparency fuels innovation
The open data policy is provided to enhance open government, transparency, and accountability by improving access to data. As a side effect, the new ease of access leads to innovation in how residents interact with government – at the best resulting in social and economic benefits for the City. Mayra Madriz, Urban Planner at Re:Imagine, elaborates how “it is connectivity and the technological aspect that make the current wave of innovation”.

Photo: Mayra Madriz & Peter Hirshberg from Re:Imagine Group.

It becomes apparent how increasing government efficiency and transparency have fueled entrepreneurship and economic growth in the Bay Area. By providing researchers and entrepreneurs with previously unavailable information, San Francisco has spurred the development of new private and public products and services – creating jobs in the process. Uber, Lyft ridesharing, Yelp, and SFPark being just a couple of them. “There are now more wireless devices than wired ones. That means we are all walking around with a platform that can operate the city”, Peter Hirshberg points out, referring to the numerous entrepreneurial initiatives based on open data in San Francisco.

Photo: Lyft ridesharing - taxis recognizable by their pink moustaches.

The open conversation
The philosophy in San Francisco is that if you have transparency, you have a more just city. Through efficiency and insight into city data, the possibility to connect is strengthened. “If you open up data, you open up a conversation”, Peter Hirshberg says. “San Francisco has a strong tradition of technology and innovation, and a really strong tradition of activism and socialism.” Merged together, Peter Hirshberg and Mayra Madriz predict that the civic innovation movement will turn into a ‘civic rights movement’ that will use technical power to bring about economic justice.

Photo: TechSoup Global is a nonprofit organisation founded on the belief that technology is a powerful enabler for social change.

Currently, the strong civic engagement shows in the co-creation taking place at San Francisco’s popular hackatons. Any given weekend you will see candidates, bureaucrats, experts from the non-profit community, and developers collaborate intensively. “The apparent benefits of this cooperation is the tech industry’s opportunity to test something and keep improving it until it works, which is very new to governments.“, Hirshberg explains. “In San Francisco, we acknowledge that there is a need for something to drive innovation. Our guess is that it is not a government institution, but probably a non-governmental organization – with a strong research agenda and connections in academia”.


Read the previous blogs on San Francisco
IFHP Travel Squad reports from San Francisco
San Francisco – green and growing
San Francisco at a glance with IFHP
Living Innovation Zones - a tool to improve public space
San Francisco innovating through data sharing
San Francisco - City of High and Low
Parklets - claiming back the streets