May 18, 2009

Apps for Democracy: A Yelp for Social Services?

DC was one of the first cities in the country to have a Chief Technology Officer, and CTO Vivek Kundra has displayed some remarkable leadership in his short period of time in office. Last year, he spearheaded a contest called "Apps for Democracy," in which private citizens and public agencies alike created web applications that tapped into DC's extensive public data trove to make some pretty neat web applications (things like a real-time 'location-aware' police alert tool, or a site that matches safe walking routes to popular bars). The contest was hailed as a major success, and they're running it again now.

One proposed idea came to our attention (via Susie Cambria): a guide to public and private social services in DC. Basically, the proposed plan would provide a dynamic map of resources--much like the DC Food Finder--for all kinds of critical services like medical clinics, public agencies, emergency shelters, etc. In addition to all the salient information about how to access a particular site, user feedback could provide a fuller picture of the operational capacity of each site.

In fact, we've previously suggested something much like this here on this blog: think of a Yelp for social services.

Now, it seems like apps built for this particular contest are limited to public data (as opposed to info about non-governmental organizations like Bread for the City) -- and I'm not sure if that is by rule or simply default due to limited participant capacity. But through the FoodFinder we've shown that it is possible to accumulate a city's worth of data about a broad range of NGO services. By crowdsourcing the process, it becomes even more feasible.

I don't want to get too nerdy about this, but it's kind of a big deal. Here at Bread for the City, our staff possess an enormous (though still incomplete) amount of knowledge about how the city works; this is valuable information that, if it could be publicly combined with that of our partners in the field, would create a full view of how the city is working for residents in need. Not only would that help social workers and engaged citizens do their important work, but it would help us all hold our government agencies accountable. So go vote!

From the Sunlight Foundation's t-shirt (which I happen to be wearing today!). They host the Apps for America contest.

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