A City Partnership Extraordinaire


“I still remember the moment you told me you’d found Adopt-a-Hydrant on our Github account, Forest. I was so impressed, so excited, and so happy. It was like a dream coming true.”

— Jennifer Pahlka to Forest Frizzell (Deputy Director of IT, City and County of Honolulu)

“The moment” Jen refers to happened at the first CfA Summit in October 2011. Our Honolulu city partners have not disappointed since. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and call it a model partnership. Allow me to exemplify:

Last year, Honolulu’s IT Department provided Linux and Ruby on Rails training to its staff in anticipation of our fellowship, to be able to manage the codebase by themselves with the sustainability of our applications in mind. For the city to take steps towards becoming more modern-web friendly is a massive win, and one that we may use as a model to other governments.

Just before our fellowship got underway, Honolulu’s IT Department organized a CityCamp unconference, launched an accompanying UserVoice site to solicit input from citizens and to draw them into engaging with our fellowship, implemented a transparency site and kicked off Honolulu’s first civic hackathon. All very proactive steps towards supplying us with civic input at the ready.

This year, as we prototyped an application we call Honolulu Answers, the city identified four members of its IT Department to develop the skills needed to help build, maintain, and enhance Honolulu Answers. As a fellow, it’s incredibly heartening to see the sustainability of our products be an early priority for our partner city.

The city has also been very supportive in our launches. Not only were the Mayor and DIT participants at the very heart of the Geeks on DaBus experiment, they have also stood behind the creation and launch of our RouteView traffic application, as well as Adopt-a-Siren which launched last week with great results (adoption of nearly 15 percent of the sirens in just the first four days) and Public Art Finder — the latter two refashioned from last year’s CfA open source applications and adapted to the particular needs of Honolulu.

In addition to Honolulu Answers, city officials have been proactively involved supporting a couple of other applications that are currently in the works: a mapper of all the AEDs on O’ahu; and a social media guidebook for the city and its departments to better communicate with residents. For the latter, an enthusiastic cross-departmental social media team self-organized within the city, collaborated with us, and fervently shared the writing of the content for the guidebook. We’re fortunate to have found incredible change agents to partner with, who are working to make government better for everyone.

What’s fantastic is that the City and County of Honolulu is actively embracing Open Source and Open Data and quickly bringing its own employees on board with these philosophies. Last month, Mayor Peter Carlisle issued a brief but pointed memo to all department heads, mandating staff to work with the IT Department to publish and maintain Open Data. The memo resulted in Honolulu’s Open Data portal. Here’s a direct quote from the memo:

“By freely sharing data amongst the citizens of the City & County of Honolulu, we hope to develop opportunities for economic development, civic engagement, and create a more informed citizen.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a mayor who gets it. I’ll admit to doing a hula dance of glee as I read the memo in awe.

To modify a quote from Jen, it’s not just the launch of these applications, rather it’s the way in which they were developed and implemented that shows how Honolulu is leading in its use of technology to work directly with citizens.

“By using lightweight, innovative approaches, reusing existing software, and building deeper connections with residents, Honolulu is creating real value and strengthening the fabric of the city.”

A model partnership indeed.

Photo credit: The Weather Blog

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