A year ago, when we made the choice at APPCityLife to pivot and focus on the civic space in mobile, embrace open data initiatives not only within our home city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, but also to innovate solutions which promote and progress initiatives throughout the United States and the world, we embarked on a journey that not only changed the culture of our own company but how we viewed ourselves within our community. We were no longer “simply” entrepreneurs setting out to innovate in a new technological space, we were committed partners with so many others within the community to change the way cities were able to interact with their community and the way citizens and small businesses could participate in economic resurgence. Open Data became so much more than an initiative to create a more open government; it became the platform for creating new avenues of communication and commerce that benefitted everyone involved. We metamorphosed from a startup into a community partner of civic innovation. And in the process of this past year, I’ve identified three key components that I believe transform an open data initiative from a good first step to a thriving portal of communication that benefits city government, the people who live there and the companies who do business there.
Committed Administration and City Departments
One of the reasons Albuquerque’s Open Data initiative has been successful to date is because it was embraced from the beginning from the top level of administration. When Mayor Berry chose to roll out an open data initiative, he approached it from the perspective of creating an example that highlighted new possibilities. Data is only as valuable as how it is used, interpreted and accessed, and the initiative in Albuquerque has led to several independent mobile applications and websites developed by individuals as well a suite of mobile applications for specific city departments which are managed by marketing directors, technology specialists and open data managers. Because of this teamwork on the deployment of city-managed apps, the quality of data being delivered to independent developers comes from insight gained from analytics and user feedback. As has long been the mantra in the software development world, “Eat your own dog food.” The city is using the very data it leaves open to the community, meaning the quality of that data continues to improve both in quality and quantity. New features to any given mobile app, live or under development, means new content available free to the public as well.
The duality of city-managed apps and community-driven apps leads to more resources for the public, too. What is possible in the highly governed, rule-driven world of city government is very different than what can happen in a community-created app, so both serve very different purposes. People who live in a community still want official communication and access to city government, and providing mobile apps that do both of these things mean communicating with people in government who can immediately respond and effect change where needed is much easier than before. Whereas community-created apps swing wide the doors of innovation, creativity and the ability to innovate outside of the restrictions placed on official government communication. The community benefits from having both options available.
Involved Educators, Community Groups, Developers, Hackers
With the launch of the open data initiative in Albuquerque, many within the community stepped up not only to embrace the ideas behind open data but to contribute effort, funding and, sometimes, just a free place to work. And because of this, a dialogue between open data specialists within the city and the community using the open data has grown to new levels of partnership and several community-wide events to discuss options, learn specific skills and celebrate successes. The University of New Mexico, New Mexico Technology Council, ABQ Open Hack as well as several other groups have all worked together to make open data in Albuquerque a platform for innovation and change. In fact, this fall, Albuquerque will host its first ever ABQ Tech Fiesta, an entire weeklong celebration of technology in the city with demo days, lectures, seminars, panels, and even a pool and ping pong tournament. In fact, we’re planning on hosting the ping pong tournament at APPCityLife as well as an event focused on women entrepreneurs. Also planned for our team is a demo of our mobile development and couponing platforms – and that’s before we have an official schedule that may lead to even more involvement. We’re excited to be a part of the event and even more pleased to see several other tech companies committing and joining the growing conversation of tech and open data and innovation.
Value to Citizens and Local Businesses
Open data in a vacuum will deliver information, but if developers can’t make a living and support themselves in the process, then it will only become another good idea that dies on the vine. We were well aware of this challenge from the very beginning and spent a great deal of our time over the past few months architecting an intricate system which serves up open data through mobile applications while also delivering monetization options through both city-developed mobile apps and those created by independent developers and community groups. By adding monetization to this quickly growing initiative, our goal is to foster economic stimulus within local communities. Through our automated mobile coupon delivery tool, we put small businesses and the advertising and couponing agencies who represent them back in the driver’s seat of mobile advertising. Through our tool, which will go live in a beta program in Albuquerque and be available to the public by late fall, a coupon can be created with only three simple lines of text, be immediately deployed into open data civic apps and become available for viewing within seconds. Our goal is to create a monetization model that shares revenue with cities to make open data initiatives self-sustaining while also making it possible for developers to commit to creating civic mobile apps for their own communities and make a living doing so. In addition to local coupon delivery, APPCityLife is also developing a gamification platform targeted at civic groups wanting to engage communities in challenges such as get-fit or clean-air challenges. ABQ RIDE will launch the gamification platform with their clean air challenge this fall, where app users will be able to check in on their ride and earn points towards prizes.