martedì 11 gennaio 2011

A simple vision for the e-governance of a city

[X-post from TheITGuys]

Governments should expose platforms. By platform, we engineers mean a set of standardized and simple to use modes of access to commonly needed information. The idea of a governance platform is very complex and this complexity cannot be underestimated: different areas can have different laws. A great analysis of what and why a Government Platform is needed is exposed in the second chapter of Open Government, published by O'Reilly.

In a very simple analysis the platform should expose more features and services than the normal city hall offices. This means that great amounts of information should be generated autonomously by different systems and by the people through crowdsourced systems.


The city hall manages information about the citizens. This means that it can have the role of authenticator (openid) in the public services. And this means that this data can and should be available to the citizens themselves through the web. Different cities should be federated and should enable the login as “visiting citizen” using the features available on other city sites, like open311, general services, transfer services. The authentication is both username+password and smartcard (electronic ID card/SSN) based.

Beyond the role of authenticator, the city hall offers a whole set of services that form an interface between the citizen and both the central government and the different local authorities (hospitals, schools, transports) and entities (police, associations, coops, activities). In different countries this means different degrees of separation; nonetheless the idea of city hall as interface can be considered a sensed factorization.


In this analysis the most important part is the effect on the citizen. First of all it means that most bureaucratic procedures should be transformed into automatic workflows and simple forms where the user can express his requests. These forms should be offered via web and at the same time as APIs for third parties (authorized companies via oauth) to use for applications.

The city hall should offer the possibility to interact with touristic entities within the city, being both information booths (maybe with Bluetooth/wifi connectivity and broadcasting touristic/environmental/entertainment information) and historical/artistic monuments. This should be made possible through both maps and open semantically linked informations.

Ecologic metrics should be taken in real time and made available via RSS and specific formats to the citizen.


For sanity, the city hall should offer a set of tools easing the search for emergency pharmacies (maps, gml, kmz) and eventually a set of contacts (both through VCards and Forms)

For schools, the city hall should offer a set of tools enabling the citizen to know where the scools are (maps, gml, kmz), what kind of schools they are (opengraph), maybe integrating with the school’s authentication system (in the end even students are citizens). The city hall should be a waypoint about the general statistical data about the schools, which should be published as raw information in RSS streams.

For transportation, the city hall should offer tools easing both the usage of the public transports and the private transport. The first can be aided first of all, through the publishing of an Open311-compliant set of services for the users to send inofs about problems within the infrastructures. A second set of services should be made available enabling the users to request the nearest bus/train/taxi stop. Further, a service showing the works hindering public and private transports should be made available. Finally a service giving information on the schedule of the various trains/busses should be available. These services have to be given to the public as raw services. The usage statistics of these services will enable the emergence of new services.

For private transportation, the already discussed services on works and open311 are very important. Obviously the other services have lots less sense, while the most useful information are about traffic and parking (and eventually then the services will be the ones for public tranposrtation again). Both have a set of free standards to comply in order to be interoperable with commonly used tools like the traffic overlay of google maps for traffic and simple raw rss or numeric responses for the various parking facilities or areas.

The City Hall should be able to monitor in real time which vehicles enter the LTZ if an area of the city is under restricted access. The information should be published in real time through direct requests and at the same time an RSS with aggregate data should be made available daily.

For interactions with police, the city hall should offer the citizens a map with the stations (map, gml, kmz), the times and contacts (vcard, form, xform). If the station has peculiar services available through the web the city hall should offer a simple client working as a proxy for the police station.

The city hall should become proxy for the various associations in the city offering both a showcase and a set of info on the services offered. These services should be made available through a local proxy (if appropriate)

The city hall should promote local commerce through a completely local e-commerce site enabling disabled people the usage of the shops in the city and limiting the traffic. This local commerce should be extended even as a km0 farmers market creating a localized (but federated) shop for farmers to sell their products within the city or neighbouring cities.


The citizen should be "tricked" into participation. This can be done in many ways:

  • Tracking statistical information on citizen usage of services can enable the emergence of new services and the implicit critics on provided services.

  • Tracking the movements of citizens in the metropolitan area can enable the mining of the areas to be better controlled by police. This information has obviously to be returned to the citizen via APIs.

  • Digg-like applications where citizens can put proposals and can be voted by other citizens

  • Twitter-like messages enabling the public interaction with the local government

  • Integration with social media can enable the city to interact with the “virtual world” without losing grip on reality.

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