To Do More With Less, Governments Go Digital

"New York has been a pioneer among cities in the use of computing firepower to sift through data to improve services. It began in the 1990s with the city’s CompStat system for mapping, identifying and predicting crime. The system, combined with new policing practices, reduced crime rates in New York and was later adopted by Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore and other cities.

In 2002, the city began its “311” telephone number for answering questions about government services and to report problems down to missing manhole covers. The service receives 50,000 calls a day, and earlier this year began operating on the Web as well. Complaints, response times and resolved problems are tracked and measured to improve performance.

In 2006, the city began an online service, NYC Business Express, to make it easier and faster to start a business. The average time to obtain a building permit, for example, has been cut to 7 days from 40. Such seemingly mundane improvements can add up to big gains in the efficiency of government service systems, experts say, nurturing productivity and growth in local economies. The process, they say, is similar to “lean manufacturing,” a system first mastered by Toyota in which step-by-step changes on the factory floor, made repeatedly, translate into major advances in quality and productivity.”

NY Times, Steve Lohr  Oct. 10th

Use Open Standards for City Services like 311 and Transit D

Cities can develop solutions more efficiently if they collaborate using open standards and open source. Several major cities (NYC, Toronto, D.C., more) are already coming together to help develop an open standard for 311 services with Open311. Cities and developers are also coming together to share solutions for transit, Open Trip Planner for example. Cities first have to open up their public data and civic technology if they want to benefit from developer communities and other cities. As a brilliant example of sharing, the open data and open source legislation that was recently presented in Portland actually borrowed some of the language from similar legislation in Vancouver.

- Philip Ashlock, TOPP Labs, The Open Planning Project, NYC