Promoting Peace With a Mobile App

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Today is the U.N. International Day of Peace.

But my social media feed is filled with images and news of the violent protests that happened last night in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It is this dichotomy that leaves me wondering if the ABQ Kindness mobile app that our team is creating for Mayor Richard Berry can help spread a mindset of kindness within our cities.

Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Mayor Berry, came up with the idea for the app, which will be added to his city’s growing suite of civic mobile apps, while he was attending the 84th U.S. Conference of Mayors, where he joined leaders across the national in signing a resolution to achieve 100,000,000,000 Acts of Kindness.

He sees Albuquerque’s initiative as an opportunity for community to come together to help reach that goal.

“My hope is to make kindness a habit for people,” says Mayor Berry. “By encouraging and recognizing people for being kind, we hope to dramatically change mindsets to become one of the kindest cities in the nation.”

The ABQ Kindness mobile application will make it simple for anyone to record acts of kindness in the moment, including school children and a growing list of organizations and companies who have signed on to participate in the city’s kindness challenge which is being led by the city’s Youth Advisory Council, pictured above.

“We are going to need to deploy technology so we can track acts in a meaningful ways,” says Mayor Berry. “We are investing in this app to help lower the cost for other cities to deploy technology to track their acts of kindness in their community as well as provide an engaging system to keep people reporting.”

Imagine what might happen if today’s technology can remind us that while our communities grapple with significant social issues that must be addressed, there are also simple acts of kindness happening around us every day? I, for one, am hoping that this app can help make the International Day of Peace an everyday occurrence.

This column also appears on Huffington Post and LinkedIn Pulse. Portions of this content were originally published on Inc.com.

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.

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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

Adopt These 3 Traits for a Positive Mindset

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In a mere .40 seconds, Google serves up 79,800,000 results on “how to be a successful entrepreneur”.

That’s a lot of advice.

  • Bold headlines: Build Your A-Team … Pitch Like a Pro … Know Your Competitive Advantage
  • Name dropping : Zuckerberg … Jobs … Sandberg … Omidyar … Wozniak … Corcoran 
  • Videos on sleep habits of successful entrepreneurs … from dropout to billionaire … rocking your pitch
  • Catchy words: unicorn … killer … crushing it

With almost eighty million results to sift through, it is possible to find advice or information on just about anything and everything. But, in reality, the biggest determining factor in achieving success cannot be found on a website, in a book or in advice personally shared from the best of mentors. The ultimate success or failure of an individual has far more to do with their own mindset than any other factor. While there are many traits that contribute to mindset, here are three that, when adopted, lead to a powerful shift in thinking and outcomes when confronted with difficulties.

Gratitude

Gratitude is not an emotion but a mindset that allows for the possibility of good being derived from the worst of circumstances.

cropped-img_3192.pngSir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Grouppublished a letter earlier this year with advice on how to be happy, and none of his advice had to do with wealth, success or achievements. Instead, it had to do with mindset. “Happiness shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a habit. Take the focus off doing, and start being every day. Be loving, be grateful, be helpful, and be a spectator to your own thoughts.”

By embracing a mindset of gratitude, we allow ourselves to hope when facing defeat and to feel joy in the midst of difficulties. When we are grateful for the good despite the bad that is happening, we are empowered to move forward, to remain tenacious, to summon the energy to struggle on. Gratitude fuels an entrepreneur to persevere, iterate, pivot or close down one venture with the courage to begin again.

Generosity

A mindset of generosity helps maintain the emotional resources and the social goodwill to survive the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

I first met Alex Wirth, the cofounder of Quorum Analytics, Inc., at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City earlier this year. I had asked a panel of investors and founders for advice on growing visibility for our civic-focused startup, APPCityLife, which is based in the sparsely populated state of New Mexico. Immediately following the session, Alex sought me out and introduced himself as a fellow New Mexican and offered to provide introductions into his own network where it might be of help.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex is one of those inspiring individuals who has found success in his own company by embracing a philosophy of generosity. He opted to extend his own network to another startup founder simply because he could and because he knew it would help. Not once has he asked for anything in return, and he has more than made good on the offer he made to me that day.

A mindset of generosity does not mean we operate in a state of naivety. We can be generous by sharing our network while respecting the privacy of those within our own network by gaining prior permission before sending introductions. We can share insight, give advice, and help others while still protecting our own intellectual property. But when we operate from a protective mindset or a scarcity mentality, where we make sure we get ours by keeping it away from others, we not only fail to help where we could make a difference, but we also fail to surround ourselves with others who embrace a mindset of generosity and who could, in turn, support and help us in a time of need. A wide network built on goodwill that we can access in times of difficulty can mean the difference between survival or failure.

Positive Pragmatism

Positive pragmatism is the ability to clearly identify barriers and flaws while maintaining a hopeful environment for exploring creative alternatives.

via Humans of New York: “I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.”

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where some devastating setback threatens to derail all progress forward. It is the self-talk, the story that we tell ourselves about that moment which shapes our perceptions, reactions, and ultimately, our decisions. If we’ve learned to frame those moments in a mindset of positive pragmatism, we are far better equipped to endure the extreme lows that are a common occurrence within the startup industry.

A recent post by photographer Brandon Stanton, the creator of the popular blog, Humans of New York, perfectly depicted this attitude of positive pragmatism. A young entrepreneur’s comment about becoming CEO was met with derision by many readers who questioned how the purchase of a suit could turn anyone into a CEO. But the truth is this: when someone leaves a startup, it leaves a hole. Somebody else has to step up and fill the gap – – and it is usually someone who cares a little more, is a little more committed, and who isn’t yet willing to give up no matter how ill-prepared they are to fill that new role. They assess the new challenges created by the loss of that team member and weigh those new challenges against the potential for success with the remaining resources, talent and traction. And little by little, the remaining team often learns new skills and acquires the knowledge to fill the gaps to the startup forward.

While there are a multitude of factors which affect the outcome of a startup such as team, skills, knowledge, and even luck, adopting the right mindset can help an entrepreneur access deeper reservoirs of mental and emotional energy to overcome the difficulties and barriers which, otherwise, might derail the best of teams.

Watch New Mexico Rise: A Conversation with Peter Ambs, CIO, Albuquerque

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Peter Ambs, CIO, City of Albuquerque, NM

How do you implement twenty years’ worth of innovative technology in record time?

Start with a Mayor that has the innovative vision and drive to upgrade years’ worth of obsolete, archaic business systems and processes while simultaneously creating an innovative, entrepreneurial ecosystem that spurs community economic development.

Shortly after taking office, Mayor Richard Berry of the City of Albuquerque, recognized the need to modernize and create efficiencies in how the city works internally and provides services to its citizens. Through his initiatives, Albuquerque became an early innovator of the smart city movement, establishing one of the world’s first open data policies and portals as well as promoting unique purchasing processes which spurred departmental adoption of new technologies and made it easier to collaborate with startups and innovators in civic technology.

I was thrilled when our Albuquerque-based startup, APPCityLife, was invited to collaborate with the city prior to the open data launch. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of seeing those efforts pay off with significant savings to the city, better processes for addressing the needs of citizens, and greater transparency. It has also generated broader community interaction and served as part of the catalyst of change for the city’s entrepreneurial community, resulting in commitments and collaboration with organizations like Living Cities, the Kauffman Foundation, Bloomberg Cities, and Code for America.

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I recently visited with Peter Ambs, the City of Albuquerque’s CIO. He is the visionary behind the overhaul of the city’s IT infrastructure as well as the implementation of innovative initiatives such as creating an open data portal and has been a significant driver in New Mexico’s rise. The challenge to innovate, he says, began from the top.

“In the very beginning of Mayor Berry’s tenure, he made it clear that we were to embark upon a mission of improving and optimizing the inefficient and obsolete business systems that were in place and creating a drag on the organization,” says Ambs.  “We were also to create an atmosphere and culture of innovation that would radically transform the government/citizen relationship – we needed to better connect our citizens to City government.”

Lofty goals are important places to start, but turning goals into completed milestones is no easy task. Ambs describes that process. “To do this, we have put digital processes at the core of how we do business and provide city services. By upgrading and implementing functionality within the City’s business systems, we have been able to digitally streamline the Financial, Human Resources, and Procurement process to fully achieve automated workflow processes,” says Ambs. He says those upgrades are already paying off. “Payroll process times have been cut in half, and the time to compile and publish financial reports has been reduced by months.”

But it wasn’t just about upgrading; it was also about bringing in innovation, says Ambs.

“We performed the process improvements while innovating at the same time.  We needed to radically innovate while optimizing operations.  Again, Mayor Berry was central to this as we stood up the transparency and open data portals to match his vison of openness and accountability in government.  By publishing ‘open data’, we spawned the dawning of ‘civic tech’.  We moved data that had traditionally been stored behind city firewalls and made it available to the public. By making this data available, citizens and civic tech developers can take this data and synthesize it into meaningful information which helps create a smarter and more livable city.”

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I also had the opportunity to hear Amb’s view of our own company’s role in the city’s adoption of civic tech. “APPCityLife was at the forefront of this movement, creating a portfolio of civic apps for Albuquerque.  A good example is ABQ RIDE, which provides real-time bus location and route schedule information and has transformed how our citizens receive information about our public transportation system.” The app also features route-specific filtered push notices for delays, emergencies or route changes and bike route mapping.

The city worked with several early civic tech startups as they explored new avenues of innovation, including See Click Fix, who collaborated with the city to deliver 311 services to citizens via a mobile app. “The ABQ311 app is another example of how we have digitally connected citizens to City services,” says Ambs. “Early on, Mayor Berry told me he wanted an app where he could take a picture of a situation that needed a City service  – like a pot hole or graffiti – and have that ticket entered and assigned to the City Department responsible for remediation.  We now have that app and many more that provide information and access to City services and amenities.”

Ambs’ long-term plan has allowed the city to move quickly.

Says Ambs, “We adopted the attitude of ‘two-speed’ IT, where one IT area focuses on the running of the business, keeping the lights on, and the other area focuses on innovation and disruptive technologies.  By bifurcating IT this way, we have the ability to go fast (innovative) while not jeopardizing the business of running the City.  We also tend to get the buy-in and sponsorship much better when the business owners (the Departments) own and sponsor their innovation projects; IT becomes more of a facilitator.  A good example of this is our Planning Department, running and owning the new application to allow for online permitting, licensing, and business registrations.”

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It was because of the city’s creative approach to innovation projects that our own company was able to build a globally-focused end-to-end mobile platform  for civic app development.  Through apps like ABQ BioPark, which features cool new tech like beacon integration and Roadrunner Food Bank‘s game-changing food finding app, we’ve continued to add civic-focused features. The platform’s rapid prototyping and open source templating features make it possible to quickly and easily integrate mobile and spur innovation to a wider network of cities and govtech companies.

What is most exciting is that Ambs says open data is just the beginning.”We are just now scratching the surface of what open data and innovation can do to create a smarter and more livable city,” he says. “We want to see Albuquerque and its citizens enabled with a raised digital quotient that will sustain innovation such that civic tech companies such as APPCityLife and others can flourish and provide economic mobility to our citizens.”

It’s been a privilege to have been even a small part of the changes happening in Albuquerque. Thanks to the committed efforts of many in our community like Peter Ambs, we’ve made the leap not just into the present but are moving full steam ahead into the future of civic tech. It’s exciting to watch New Mexico rise.

This post also published on What’s APPening® and Huffington Post.
Note: APPCityLife has worked with the City of Albuquerque since 2012.

Civic Tech: Refining the Vision to Focus on Problems that Really Matter

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After spending two days absorbing a wide array of perspectives and ideas presented at the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) hosted by Civic Hall in New York City, I am more convinced that ever that it is vital for companies like mine which are focused on civic tech to continually push the boundaries of the status quo and find ways to use emerging technologies to disrupt the way we interact with our cities and each other to solve problems that really matter. Sometimes we get so immersed in our own particular flavor of tech and perspective that we fail to notice what else is happening in this rapidly expanding industry, so I was grateful for the opportunity to learn about other innovations and experiences which might provide better insight for our own team.

From the stage at PDF, we learned from Jess Kutch, Cofounder and Co-Director of CoWorker.org, how one individual’s decision to speak up about her employer’s dress code policy led not only to an international movement supporting her efforts but to a groundswell of others who followed in her path in calling out violations and unfair policies of other corporations across globe. Andrés Monroy-Hernández, a researcher at Microsoft Research, how one young South American woman who initially created an account on Twitter so that she could follow pop culture celebrities like Justin Bieber has grown into one of the most influential voices on social media reporting in real time the atrocities and violence of drug cartels. And Emily Jacobi, the Founder and Executive Director of Digital Democracy, demonstrated what happens when we “build with” and not for those in need by sharing how a small community of individuals in Guyana built their own drone to help build visual documentation and mapping as they work to protect their way of life.

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Those are just three of the inspiring stories told about individuals using technology to effect change and drive social change forward. For those of us immersed in civic tech, we can become so focused on the “tech” of civic tech that we lose sight of the civic part of our mission – to innovate technologies which empower others to change for the better their own lives, communities, cities and countries.

I am returning from this year’s PDF with a more focused vision of our own mission to empower others to envision and deploy mobile apps which solve real problems and improve the experience of people in their community. And having heard some of the inspiring work of others has left me even more excited about some of the projects we’re currently bringing to the public that have the potential through the integration of mobile apps, beacons and wearables to not only positively impact the lives of others but disrupt more expensive, prohibitive models used today. We will soon deliver several civic Apple Watch apps supporting civic apps in education, transit, and other civic agencies. But one project we are currently working on has the potential to disrupt how civic agencies address ADA support, not only within mobile but in general.

When Jay Hart, the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, reached out to our team, it was at the suggestion of a colleague who had heard of some of the innovative work we were doing with cities. Hart was facing a cost-prohibitive roadblock on a unique project in his city. We are all quite aware of the prohibitive processes – some with good reason – that must be addressed for any civic project. But imagine the additional challenges you might face when tasked with developing a public park built to include everyone – but specifically designed to provide an interactive, supportive, inclusive experience for individuals with disabilities. It’s not just the layers of red tape, laws and mandates that have to be navigated which create difficulties, but developing such a park requires extensive funding beyond the ordinary civic project in order to meet the long list of accommodations needed. Carving out necessary funds from today’s limited civic budgets is already difficult, but finding sponsors and contributors to build a park with the necessary ADA-enhanced equipment is almost impossible.

But the core team who have worked for several years alongside Hart, including a nonprofit formed specifically to raise funds to defray costs, have managed to pull off the impossible. Agencies, foundations and individuals within the state and nationally have contributed funds, expertise, and equipment to help make their vision a reality – and while the need to raise additional funds to support the park is ongoing, the current funding couldn’t cover the significant cost of needed braille signs (an incredible $50K each) to support the visually impaired within the park.

imageWhen Hart reached out to our team, it was with the hope that we might have an affordable solution. After gaining a better understanding of the needs within the park, our design team proposed an unconventional solution providing the needed ADA support at a fraction of the cost.

By deploying all-weather beacons throughout the park and integrating the beacons with a unique smart phone app as well as an Apple Watch app, our mobile platform will make it possible for the park to deliver interactive, auditory and haptic alerts and instructions to park visitors. Beyond cost savings, this innovation in tech will also change the way individuals with visual impairments interact with their environment. Instead of standing and reading braille on an immobile sign, a moving person will be able to receive a warning when entering a high activity area of the park as well as instructions for navigating the area safely. Other in-app features include infographics and videos for properly using the park’s specialized equipment, in-app reservations for parties, schedules for special events, and general park information. Most exciting of all, once developed, our platform will make it possible to easily duplicate this fully developed solution for similar needs elsewhere.

While there is still a significant need to push forward initiatives to provide reliable internet and cellular access to citizens everywhere, a new report indicates that 2014 saw 4.9 Billion smart phone subscribers, and it is projected that globally, 90% of those 5 years of age and older will own a smart phone by 2020. It is reasonable to expect that wearables will follow a similar path of adoption. So, while some may see the new Apple Watch as a bit frivolous, I don’t agree at all. When compared to the prohibitive costs of many current solutions for ADA requirements and enhancements, the adoption of smart phones and wearables as civic tech greatly reduces current costs while improving independence and individualized access to civic services. Civic tech is just getting started, and it’s exciting to imagine where we might be by the time next year’s Personal Democracy Forum rolls around.

How Urban Tech is Disruptive Government Procurement

(originally published on What’s APPening)
IMG_6565I spent the past few days with our COO at the Smart City Startups Festival in Miami, Florida, interacting with some of today’s most visionary, innovative urban tech startup founders who are disrupting almost every facet of the urban landscape. All of the startups showcased at the summit have the potential of changing the future of our cities. Some are implementing solutions which are quite ingenious in their simplicity, like Loveland Technologies, which makes ownership of land parcels transparent (and raised funds through creative sales of inches of Detroit land parcels through “inchvestors”, and Vizalytics, which filters through the cacophony of data to help small businesses quickly understand what policies, work orders, or inspections will directly affect their business. Other showcased teams are immersed in big ideas like those of, BRCK, whose rugged tech is bringing internet access to remote regions of the globe. It was an incredible honor to have the opportunity to demonstrate how our own company, APPCityLife, is helping deliver powerful mobile apps in cities which can change the way people interact with their city, from being able to get to a job on time by using a real-time tracking app for transit to finding out about distributions of fresh fruits and vegetables at a local food bank.

IMG_3988But the invention of cool urban tech doesn’t mean it’s going to be available to you, the citizen, any time soon. One of the biggest barriers to getting this tech into the real world remains the challenge of navigating archaic government procurement policies. If you think waiting in the customer service line of a Department of Motor Vehicles is a practice in frustration, try pushing a single contract through almost any city government. But there is good news. Because the clamor for better tech is now coming from within and without government agencies, some civic leaders, organizations and entrepreneurs are exploring alternative paths to engage with urban tech startups.

Nonprofits like the Knight Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Living Cities, Bloomberg PhilanthropiesNew Cities Foundation as well as many others funding programs aimed at disrupting solutions for select issues such as education, entrepreneurship and economic development. In addition, organizations like Code for America have also helped to disrupt through advocacy, by forming brigades of volunteers within communities to address local issues, and by deploying carefully selected fellows into select cities each year to address a particular need. Other organizations, like Citymart, are focused on disrupting the procurement process itself. With several successes under their belt within the European community, the Barcelona-based company has opened an office in New York City’s Civic Hall and signed on several initial cities to participate in a series of challenges which invite innovative urban tech startups to submit solutions with the chance to move forward with a larger contract should an initial pilot prove successful.

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

And then there are the city administrators who are choosing to disrupt the way they work with urban tech startups. One nugget of advice often shared by government administrators is for startups to work for free. I have to admit that the advice that startup founders should work for cities for free can be a bit disconcerting, if only because it is almost always given by someone who not only stands to benefit from free tech but is certainly not working for their own government agency for free. While this model does have its benefits, there are also drawbacks that must be taken into account. When a startup is delivering a service for free, they are far more likely to run out of cash and leave a government agency adrift with a non-working technology – and no one to hold accountable. Additionally, entering the market with a free model may help startups determine the willingness to use a technology, but that is not the same a willingness to pay for that same technology. When founders give away services to any customer, government or otherwise, it is very difficult to begin charging at some later date. We’ve seen this free-first model pay off in very big ways, but it takes setting up clear boundaries ahead of time as to what parts of service will be free, how long the free model will last, what next steps will be possible if initial free phase is a success, etc. When a free-first model can prove a startup’s ability to deliver and the city’s ability to save money or deliver services better, it can be an excellent opportunity to get a foot in the door and disrupt the status-quo. But when it is not set up with clear expectations and end dates, it can eat a startup’s budget with nothing to show for it.

Here are a few additional ways we’ve found to be successful in disrupting current procurement policies to get new urban tech into the hands of the people who need it. When startups devise business models which generate revenue from sources outside of government, it becomes a win-win for everyone around. In addition, proving future savings to a government agency can be a good way for urban tech founders to gain early customers. If new tech will streamline processes, improve efficiencies, or encourage citizens to embrace more affordable options – and if the startup can track the data needed to prove those cost savings, every sale after the initial pilot will be easier. And lastly, when founders take the time to understand the problems a city department is facing – what their biggest headache is within a specific task or as an agency – and when a startup can show that their tech will solve that problem, founders can gain the buy-in and willingness from the government to find money or babysit a contract through procurement processes to gain access to that pain-reliving solution.

Of course, the bigger issue is the procurement policies themselves. Most have not kept up with emerging civic tech. But we cannot afford to wait for politicians and legislators hash out the nuance of new policies. Working at the slow pace of policy change is not an acceptable solution for anyone. Until better procedures manage to gain enough votes to become law, those of us within the urban tech community must continue to disrupt not only the way cities interact with the people who live there but the way cities work with urban tech startups. As a society, we cannot wait for legislators to get up to speed and pass laws that make sense for this new world of smart cities – there is too much at stake. When we have the power to lift entire communities out of poverty by delivering better city services like reliable transit or helping deliver needed supports like food-finding apps to food banks, there is a moral imperative to find new ways to foster urban tech startups and deliver the successful solutions throughout the world.

3 Ways Branded Mobile Apps Help Cities

My latest post to our official APPCityLife blog, talking about what we’ve learned from our civic clients on how official, branded apps can help cities.

APPCityLife: What's APPening®

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As initiatives go, Open Data is still in its infancy, with most early-adopters only two or three years out from the release of their first data sets. As the CEO of APPCityLife, a civic tech company supporting the delivery of those data sets into useful civic mobile apps and tools, I’ve had the privilege of being a part of the Open Data movement from those early days and have learned a bit about what has worked well for some of our early clients. Here are three reasons I believe that every city with an open data initiative should be producing and supporting official mobile apps from some of their own open data feeds.

High Quality Open Data

ABQride1One of our earliest open data projects was through a public/private partnership with the City of Albuquerque. As an early adopter, a major concern of the city’s administration was ensuring the open data produced would be consumable and…

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