We’re pleased to announce that our Civic Commons project, incubated in partnership with OpenPlans, is taking off with the leadership of Andrew McLaughlin, formerly Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the U.S., and Nick Grossman, formerly Director of Civic Works at OpenPlans. They’ll be leading a team of with staff from CfA, our fellows, and from Open Plans, all thanks to the generous support of the Omidyar Network — already a strong ally of Code for America.
I met Nick when Code for America was a twinkle in my eye, and immediately bonded with him over our common vision for getting governments to work within a new model of technology. Nick is one of the smartest and most competent people I know, and working with him to get Civic Commons funded and staffed has been a privilege and a pleasure. Andrew is not only incredibly accomplished, wise, and fun to work, with but also an old friend. These two amazing folks are also leading a fantastic team who has been making progress on this ambitious mission for months.
You can learn more about Civic Commons and the new team in the announcement. To get a great sense of Andrew’s vision for Civic Commons, take a few minutes and look at his inaugural blog post — it’s terrific:
Walk down any major street in any city in the world and you’ll pass by hundreds of pedestrians — and, let’s be honest, more than a few drivers — typing into smart phones. Each of these individuals holds in one hand more computing power than the entire NASA space operation that delivered men to the moon and back in 1969.
Amazing, right? But here’s the problem: As William Gibson puts it, “the future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.” In particular, our governments — the agencies and departments and legislatures and courts that our democratic processes have ordained to serve the public — are finding it extraordinarily difficult to understand, much less embrace, the possibilities created and imperatives imposed by the technological advances we take for granted in our private lives.
Civic Commons, the new initiative I’m pleased to be joining today, is an effort to answer that problem. We believe that governments — especially the cities, towns, and counties that are on the hook to deliver public services every day — can now take advantage of the same technologies and techniques that have generated such enormous efficiencies and enabled such impressive new services by private enterprise. In a digitally interconnected world, cities don’t have to operate in isolation. They don’t have to reinvent (or re-procure) the wheel every time they face a problem that technology could help address. Cities can pool their resources — their talents and ever-shrinking budgets — to build shared technologies. Just as open standards (e.g., the Internet protocols), shared infrastructures (e.g., cloud computing), and collaborative software (e.g., open source projects like Linux, Mozilla Firefox, and Apache Hadoop) have powered astonishing advances in personal and enterprise computing, it is now time for governments to put them to work for the public good.