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Capitalizing on Collaboration

Capitalizing on Collaboration

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Published by Civic Commons
How Shared Services are Saving Local Government Budgets
How Shared Services are Saving Local Government Budgets

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Published by: Civic Commons on May 25, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Capitalizing on Collaboration
How Shared Services are Saving Local Government Budgets
By Todd Sander, Director of the Digital Communities program, with the assistance of the Digital Infrastructure Task Force
   L   o   c   a   L   G   o   v   e   r   n   m   e   n   t   S   h   a   r   e   d    S   e   r   v   i   c   e   S
Economists have declared the GreatRecession dead, that, in fact, it endedin the summer of 2009. Newspaper col-umnists and bloggers sprang on the storywith headlines teeming with sarcasmand ridiculed the announcement by theprivate nonprot National Bureau of Economic Research. The incredulous“The Recession Is Over. Yeah, Right” ranin a
Washington Post
The San Ber-nardino Sun
was skeptical: “Recessionover! Are you ready for some euphoria?”Others were snarkier: “Thank Goodnessthe Government Cured the Recession.”Whatever the headline, the messagewas clear: American citizens are notfeeling more condent about the nation’seconomic plight. It is easy to see why;the scene remains bleak across thecountry and the national unemploymentrate is still hovering near 10 percent.It is a tough time to be in the publicservice business. Many communities arefacing the same harsh realities as theirconstituents — and may continue tostruggle with strained budgets for yearsto come. A survey jointly conducted inmid-2010 by the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties found that, from 2010 through2012, local governments are expectedto lose nearly 500,000 jobs. Specicexamples show cities like Central Falls,R.I., which has a decit that’s 42 percentof its budget and the city of Denver thatis looking for creative ways to tackle a$100 million decit.There is a silver lining, though itmay be hard to see. The Center forDigital Government’s paper, “Life After
Regaining Your Balance, Survivingthe Reset and (Re)Building a Govern-ment that Works
,” noted that in movingforward from the recession the public’swork is likely to be done differently. The“differently” alluded to in the paper refersto a more collaborative type of govern-ment where jurisdictions nd strengthin numbers and a more efcient wayof governing through shared servicesapproaches. Bryan Sivak, chief tech-nology ofcer of Washington, D.C.,believes cities don’t just need anothercool software project. “What we need isa way to share what we have with othercities, and for them to be able to sharewhat they build with us.” Big changeshave to start somewhere and greater,policy-neutral, technical collaborationseems like a good place to start.
Capitalizing on Collaboration:
How Shared Services are Saving Local Government Budgets
“What we need is a way to share what we havewith other cities, and for them to be able to sharewhat they build with us.”
– Bryan Sivak, Chief Technology Ofcer, Washington, D.C.
 o  c  G  o m S   S i   c  S 
“This collaborative theme is the themeI’ll highlight for Life After…,” said NationalChief Technology Ofcer Aneesh Chopra.“In almost every major domain, we’regoing to nd ourselves with a much moredramatic productivity imperative than weface today because the long-term demandcurve for public services likely will exceedour long-term revenue curve, at least asit’s currently seen through the federal,state and local ecosystem.”Chopra seems to be on to something.Difculty can often spawn creativity andin this case it seems extreme difcultyhas helped jump-start collaborative cre-ativity in the form of local agencies and jurisdictions battling buckling budgetsby sharing applications and services in a“build it once and everybody use it often”approach. (See Civic Commons sidebarfor more information.)Local government leaders are realizingthat, not only do other cities and countiesshare the same challenges in providingincreasing amounts of services to constit-uents during tough economic times, butthey are providing the same services andrequire the same applications and softwareto get the job done. Agency leaders withincities and counties are nding themselves
Shared Services or Bust
“You can go after the ‘Cadillac solution’ together.”
– Ken Price, Information Services Director, Littleton, Colo.
The Civic Commons
The newly formed Civic Commons group is an organizationthat aims to empower governments to share technology for thepublic good. Civic Commons is the brainchild of the nonprotsCode for America, a Teach for America-inspired program forthe technology-minded, and OpenPlans, a group focused oncivic engagement and open source government software.The organizations teamed up with Washington, D.C., Chief Technology Ofcer Bryan Sivak to create Civic Commons —essentially a repository of open civic code for governments toaccess. “We consistently heard exactly the same thing — we’reall working on the same projects,” Sivak said. So they decidedto create a place where these shared projects can be viewedand discussed — the Commons.A main section of the Commons is the “civic stack,” a sharedbody of software and protocols for civic entities, built on openstandards. Currently included in the stack are iPhone applications like Citizen Reports, an app for reporting and requestingservice calls regarding city infrastructure, contributed by Portland, Ore. Also there is an App Store from Washington, D.C.,where people can download or submit applications that use government data — things like parking meter locations,emergency information and historic data. The group has U.S. Chief Information Ofcer Vivek Kundra on board; he hasapproved providing the Federal IT Dashboard to the stack.Jennifer Pahlka, executive director of Code for America, described Civic Commons as a way to help governments sharesoftware they have developed, and thereby reduce IT costs, foster collaboration and spur innovation.

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