The Future of Civic Technology

1*E5zPVnwZGRNLPybbr-WPsA

In the coming weeks, we will see a flurry of post-election opinions and predicted changes resulting from the recent U.S. election. I will leave that to those with far more experience and insight into this year’s voting data.

As someone who has spent the past few years working closely with government leaders throughout the U.S. in order to harness emerging technologies and data to make civic services and support more accessible to more people, my own mission and vision remain clear .

We must continue to develop and share the technology and tools that can deliver better self-service access to the information and services we need within our own communities, urban or rural, that empower us to make informed decisions, interact with our government, and improve our own economic mobility.

Today, people living in cities are still accessing civic technology for instant information about their transit systems to make decisions about their commute to work. Parents are still launching mobile applications to access information about the schedules, lunch menus, and even notices of frightening lock-downs at their children’s public schools. And business owners are still using today’s technology to not only serve their customers but to interact with the government entities which regulate their companies.

Cities all over the country are continuing to open up more data and to deploy more automated tools which allow citizens self-service options to apply for permits, pay fees, and report issues to their government leaders.

The industries of Civic Tech and Gov Tech were barely getting started only a decade ago, and thanks to the rapid expansion of technology and data, these industries are now mature enough to step up and address the bigger challenges of resolving the rural and poverty gaps in access to reliable, affordable internet and to scale existing user-friendly technology platforms which can empower more ordinary citizens to create their own solutions which address their unique barriers to economic growth, stability and security.

Through our work at APPCityLife we have already helped cities deploy mobile apps and integrated smart technologies to make services more available to citizens. We have worked with the youth and mayor of Albuquerque to deploy a mobile app to track one million acts of kindness.

And by collaborating with organizations including the Living Cities Foundation, the McCune Foundation and the City of Albuquerque, we are nearing the launch of a new integrated technology solution and mobile app, TrepConnect, which will empower small business owners and entrepreneurs to independently learn about and access the wide variety of available services within their own community so that more business owners can achieve their own economic stability and mobility.

I am especially thrilled that this solution has been designed to scale and to be shared with other cities and rural communities, so that the efforts and funding into this pilot project can allow other regions to now use the same solution to support their own economic growth through small businesses and entrepreneurship.

I am encouraged to know that with the continued support of foundations and investors focused on using technology to improve the operations of government and access to information and services, those of us working within Civic Tech and Government Tech can continue to use the tools at hand and to invent new technologies which can continue to improve the lives of Americans wherever we live.

This post originally appeared on Broad Insights via Inc

Cycle of Civic Innovation

1*lGHFflHc2sAQXQVlNaK68g.pngIf cities are to thrive, they cannot — and must not — hold back the rising tide of innovation, but when you consider that cities are also tasked with protecting their citizens from harm, finding the balance between protection and innovation is not easily achieved.

For Airbnb and Uber, their respective disruptions of the status quo were widely embraced by the public — just as their problems have been widely criticized. Both companies are part of the Sharing Economy, which came on the scene around the turn of the century and encompasses a wide variety of companies based on peer-to-peer sharing of access to goods and services.

By embracing the unique approach of the Sharing Economy, both companies enjoyed a meteoric rise to global adoption, but both companies have also been plagued with lawsuits and resistance from governments concerned over the lack of protection for citizens and the inability to regulate or collect conventional taxes from these innovative startups which often operate outside of current regulatory structures.

Airbnb

When Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with the crazy idea of using a few air mattresses on the floor of their apartment to sell sleeping spaces to attendees of a sold-out tradeshow, both were unemployed and just looking to make a few bucks to pay their rent. Their impromptu “Air Bed and Breakfast”, complete with un-toasted Pop-Tarts, landed three paying guests — and the short-term rental platform, Airbnb, was born.

Despite early skepticism that people would not want to spend the night with complete strangers, Airbnb grew in popularity by building an online platform which, among other things, removed the barriers so that anyone with an extra room could easily earn extra income. In addition, the platform focused on delivering a unique experience by enabling travelers to live like locals and enjoy the conveniences of home at a fraction of the cost of staying in a hotel.

While a majority of visitors have had positive experiences using the platform’s services, an increase in reported mishaps, injuries and crimeshave lawmakers concerned. In fact, many cities are not making it easy to operate an Airbnb rental, including global tourist destinations like Paris, Amsterdam, London, San Francisco and New York City.

Taking it a step further, some city and state governments are pursuing legal action, with one New York City apartment owner now facing a $300,000 lawsuitfiled by the owners of her building in response to a city administrative law judge fining the landlord for their tenant’s “bad acts”.

And, of course, the short-lived Airbnb listing for a $200/night igloo which was hastily constructed after a blizzard in New York City, while humorous, highlights the inability of the company to fully control the quality or honesty of the listings on its platform.

Airbnb is making some effort to address mounting concerns by offering a compromise of sorts at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, promising the mayors in attendance that in exchange for their support, Airbnb would begin collecting upwards of $200 Million in new taxes within 50 of the largest cities in the U.S.

In addition, the company’s pledge of transparency and release of New York City data was lauded by many as a step in the right direction. But others, like Mark Headd, a longtime advocate for open data and government, pointed out that the release of data is only one small step in the right direction, especially since the data was never published in a digital format. In fact, anyone wanting to view the highly redacted data had to do so in person at Airbnb’s New York office.

Uber: Destined to Repeat the Past?

In 2013, four people filed a lawsuit against Uber claiming the company should classify drivers as employees instead of contractors and asking for reimbursement of such expenses as gas, insurance and car maintenance.

Today, that lawsuit has attained class-action status and mushroomed to encompass 160,000 individuals worldwide. It is but one of many lawsuits and complaints lodged against ride-hailing startups which are disrupting the taxi industry.

Eric Posner points out in his 2015 essay that something quite similar happened to the taxi industry in the 1920’s with the introduction of the mass-produced automobile. In New York City, riders hoping to avoid the higher cab fares would hail part-time drivers who were using their own personal vehicles.

As more independent drivers took advantage of this opportunity, the glut of unregulated drivers negatively impacted taxis to the extent that the government stepped in and began issuing medallions to registered taxis in an attempt to stabilize the industry and protect consumers.

Today’s taxi drivers often spend years paying off loans to afford their medallion, which until recently cost over $1 Million — and it is the cost of those medallions which many attribute as the catalyst for the success of today’s new ride-sharing companies like Uber.

And just to bring things full circle, in late 2015 cab drivers filed a lawsuit against New York City, claiming that the city misled cab drivers about the value of the required medallions and that the city has allowed companies like Uber to usurp the property rights of cab drivers through disparate regulation.

Disrupting the Cycle of Civic Innovation

It would be easy to blame the dysfunction within the cycle of civic innovation on the failure of lawmakers and regulations to keep pace with innovation, but, in a chicken-and-egg sort of quandary, the more difficult question is whether it is this perceived dysfunction, this lack of regulation, that makes it possible for innovation to even happen.

Neither Uber nor Airbnb were overnight successes; it took years of testing and pivots to achieve market adoption. By innovating outside of the system, the companies were able to disrupt established industries and deliver new options to consumers. And while the hour of reckoning with heavier government regulation appears to be nigh, innovation resulted from freedom of inventing outside of those regulations.

In today’s rapid pace of technology changes, cities have discovered they cannot innovate fast enough to keep pace with the constantly changing smart city and civic tech inventions which are already beginning to deliver more efficiency and easier access to city services and information.

Many government agencies are partnering with this new breed of tech startups despite the barriers of outdated 20th Century regulations by implementing new procedures to experiment or implement pilot programs. As more cities disrupt their own established procurement processes, the question is whether cities will become tomorrow’s disruptive innovators.

If cities can collaborate with private enterprise to keep pace with new technologies while simultaneously addressing needed changes to regulations — we might be witnessing the best disruptive innovation yet.

this article first appeared on inc.com