Open innovation--the passion behind the Civic Commons community

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Open innovation

From the beginning, Civic Commons has been a dynamic community initiative.  What began in January 2010 as a simple wiki of open government policies and practices (originally called “OpenMuni”, domains for which were simultaneously and independently obtained by Code for America and OpenPlans), grew into a partnership between the two organizations to support the growing open government technology movement, and is now an open community of civic hackers, government technologists, entrepreneurs and many others.

Over the course of the past year, thanks to the generous support of the Omidyar Network, the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation, we’ve been able to expand our activities, providing technical support to a number of civic open technology projects, from continuing development of the Open311 standard to working with governments to open source in-house projects like Checkbook NYC and the Weave data visualization platform, and building out community information resources like the Civic Commons Marketplace.  We’ve done all of this with our amazing team, including a group of 2011 Code for America (CfA) fellows.

Most importantly, we’ve been able to spark community involvement around our efforts.  Since we launched the Marketplace (a wiki-database that tracks the technologies that governments are using, like a “Crunchbase for civic tech”) just before the new year, a community of over 100 editors has cataloged 307 apps in 118 cities (as of this writing), logging hundreds of connections between apps, places, and organizations. Likewise, the Open311 project has seen tremendous growth, with adoption in over 40 cities worldwide, support by a number of large enterprise vendors, open source contributions coming from cities across the US, and a very active community guiding the development of the specification.

Now, we’re gearing up for another change. This month, I’ll be moving on from Civic Commons to focus my efforts on another important issue: protecting innovation on the Internet.  Our work at Civic Commons, OpenPlans, and Code for America is all about bringing infrastructure for open innovation into the government and civic technology space, and we’ve consistently looked to the Internet as a model that demonstrates the values of open architecture, standards, open source, and distributed collaboration.  My new work will focus on supporting those characteristics of the Internet itself.

With this change in my own plans, we’ll be making making some adjustments to our organizational and program structure here at Civic Commons. We entered 2011 with the expectation of growing Civic Commons from an informal partnership (formally housed inside of Code for America) into a stand-alone nonprofit organization, but have since decided instead to continue to house Civic Commons as a Code for America program, in partnership with OpenPlans.  From here on out, Code for America will continue to develop the Marketplace product (and its counterpart, Engagement Commons); Phil Ashlock, the founder and technical manager of the Open311 project, will continue that work with OpenPlans, and Karl Fogel, our resident open technology guru, will continue his technical assistance work through his consultancy, Open Tech Strategies.  We’ll also expect to see a lot of work on the Open311 platform as the 2012 Code for America fellows build Open311 apps in this year’s CfA cities.  So, from all of our vantage points, we will continue to build and support Civic Commons’ community resources, and will all be working to further the values of openness and collaboration in civic tech.

Thanks to everyone who has joined in with us on these efforts over the past two years, and we look forward to continuing our work with you out there on the internets.

Originally posted at and re-posted with permission.

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Nick Grossman is the Director of Civic Commons. Follow him @nickgrossman and on his blog.

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