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San Francisco innovating through data sharing

The IFHP Travel Squad reports from San Francisco: To position itself as a city driven by technology and entrepreneurship, San Francisco opened its first office of civic innovation in the beginning of 2012.

Promoting a focus on citizen engagement and data sharing, The Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation (MOCI) has set the scene for innovation offices spreading all over the US. In San Francisco, the accessibility to data has spurred citizen-oriented initiatives growing from the city’s numerous creative tech companies.

MOCI’s innovation mission
The Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation (MOCI) is working to make San Francisco more efficient and act as a platform for innovation. “Our mission is to help government be more responsive, open and transparent. At the same time generating economic growth and engaging citizens in the public process. And there are a lot of different ways to get there”, Mayors Innovation Fellow, Krista Canellakis, explains.

MOCI works with San Francisco residents and local tech-minded communities to collectively design solutions and new approaches. Through partnerships with both private and public organizations, San Francisco is working to create community-sourced solutions that improve the efficiency and accessibility of the local government. “Public bureaucracy is by nature conservative and there is often a resistance to change within governments” Paul Chasan, Urban Designer at San Francisco Planning Department, explains. “MOCI works as a facilitator to help bring forward new ideas and germinate a new culture within government itself.”

The open data revolution
San Francisco has officially instituted an ‘open data policy’, providing new opportunities for both government and citizens. The innovation office is working with other city agencies and departments to help facilitate the release of government data - publishing it all to the city’s dataset clearinghouse, DataSF. DataSF is a platform that allows San Francisco to share its data publicly.

In addition to public open data, the hope is that private sector companies, non-profit organizations, and universities are encouraged to contribute with data to the City’s open data portal. In this way, San Francisco hopes to enhance government transparency and accountability, develop new analyses, applications and civic tools, increase civic engagement and social and economic expansion, increase government efficiency and improve the delivery of civic services.

Public Benefit
Powered by the City’s open data, numerous entrepreneurial initiatives and start-ups have blossomed.
DataSF has resulted in public availability of 524 machine-readable datasets – supporting cost-effective development of new applications and civic tools and creating large-scale public benefit. Krista Canellakis emphasizes that “data is one asset the city has that it can open up to spur creativity and innovation. A lot of creative businesses and art projects have been created since the city opened up its data”.

Some of the user-oriented projects fostered by the readily available public data are ‘100plus’; a personalized health prediction application promoting healthy living in San Francisco and ‘SF Recreation and Parks App’; a new mobile application to help residents and visitors find nearby parks, playgrounds, museums, facilities, and restrooms.

Private initiatives
One of the independently-owned start-up companies benefitting from the SF open data policy is the design and technology studio Stamen. The studio takes advantage of the emerging digital media and the increasing availability of open data to build maps and data visualizations for a wide variety of clients. Based on complex data input, Stamen creates geographical mapping of human behavior. They often use the data distributed openly in San Francisco.

“The SF government asked us to do a crimespotting application for San Francisco and we agreed that the data needed to be free, so we built an entire new interface on top of the open data, making it easy to use by the public”, partner and interaction director at Stamen, Shawn Allen, explains. By processing the data, Stamen makes the information more readily available to the public. “We allow people to zoom in on a particular area of interest, building it intuitively and making people able to build their own reports”.

The way forward
The coming years it will be interesting to follow the development of data sharing and the tech community in the US innovation capital. Will the available city data to everyday citizens help government explore new solutions to old challenges? One thing is for sure, the innovative approach to data sharing in San Francisco has already unleashed immense creativity in the private sector.

For more information
>> InnovateSF
>> Jay Nath, SF's Chief Innovation Officer
>> DataSF
>> Stamen Design
>> Apps/products created with open data
>> Housing Data Jam

• San Francisco is home to more than 1,800 tech companies that employ more than 42,000 people.
• The City of San Francisco appointed its first Chief Innovation Officer (Jay Nath) in January 2012. The Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation was established shortly after.
• San Francisco is one of the first cities to build an open data platform after the White House opened federal data in 2009.

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