Flu App Spreads

Less than 36 hours after Boston declared a public health emergency over this year’s dangerous flu virus, Boston’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics redeployed Chicago’s flu shot app.

Originally developed in Chicago by Tom Kompare, the flu shot app helps users find nearby clinics offering free flu shots by entering in their address or by using a GPS-enabled mobile device. It also allows users to get public-transit directions to those clinics at the click of a button.

Built at the request of Chicago’s Department of Health, Kompare started work on the app after representatives from the department dropped by Chicago’s OpenGov Hack Night during the Google API challenge presentation in October, and asked about an easy way for citizens to find out where to get a free flu shot. Within weeks, Kompare’s app was built, adopted, and hosted on Smart Chicago’s Collaborative’s servers.

Hours after Boston’s Mayor Menino had declared a public health emergency, Boston’s Brigade Captain Harlan Weber reached out to me about the use of the flu shot app.

Harlan said Code for Boston had taken a look at the list of clinics that the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC ) had put out and thought that they might be able to expand on this work by creating a map that would be more usable and useful for citizens trying to figure out where the closest flu clinic is. Then, he remembered about the flu shot app here in Chicago.

We looped in Kompare to provide both the source code and guidance for the Boston development team. From there, the Code for Boston worked with Boston’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics to deploy the app in Boston. The app was launched and ready for the public less than 36 hours after the initial email was sent.

This experience provides several lessons to be learned as city governments and citizen activists enter into similar collaborations.

  • There is real power in open-source civic software. As civic hackers across the country build apps, they will be available for reuse to address a variety of civic issues, while collaborative tools such as GitHub increase the speed of development and deployment.
  • Well-documented source code is important for reusability and adaptation. Having well-documented code allows other groups to redeploy apps quickly and easily.
  • A network of civic hackers around the country is a valuable resource, especially for collaborating between cities. Cooperation between groups of hackers reduces redundancy of effort, and the ability to quickly reach the original developer of an app is enormously useful when trying to get that app redeployed. As Kompare said, “Glad to support Boston with their flu emergency. The open government movement at its best.”
  • Communication and collaboration between city governments and civic hackers can yield a swift, efficient response to emerging civic issues.

Not only will 2013 be a year where civic hackers help their neighbors through technology, but it will also be a year in which cities help other cities through the redeployment of civic apps.

Harlan Weber contributed to writing this post.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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