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Archive for the ‘CfASummit’ Category

And on that farm he had a cat… #cfasummit

Posted by smathermather on November 4, 2013

Two of the sets of conversations I really enjoyed at the CfA Summit in the 3rd day unconference were on the topic of Chief level technology positions, from Chief Innovation Officers to Chief Technology Officers to Chief Information Officers.  It was interesting to hear others’ interests, frustrations with both ends of recruitment, and the realization that there wasn’t a central repository for such position descriptions available.  So with the help of people in those sessions plus a few people after the Summit, I started a little repo to centralize the PDs and other relevant info for C*O tech positions.

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 10.09.20 PM

From the repo:

“A number of C-level technology related positions have been created in local governance in the last few years, from traditional Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer, to newer descriptions including Chief Data Officer, Chief Innovation Officer and others. This repo is meant as a source of C*O position descriptions and other relevant information for the creation of these leadership tech position in the civic sector.”

A number of people have been involved in the discussion, including the following folks at the Summit:

Steve Allen, David Burns, Jennifer Anastasoff, Matthew Barron, Noel Hidalgo, Brian Chatman, Zachary Vruwink, Jake Levitas (and a couple I unfortunately forgot the names of…)

as well as a number of people who weighed in post-Summit, including: Jonathan Reichental, Bill Haight, Deborah Acosta, Yiaway Yeh, Vakil Kuner, Mark Headd, and of course, CfA’s own Abhi Nemani.

If anything is wrong in the repo, I take credit.  Anything right?  Check the above list of names.  Oh, and fork it, so I’m not the only one being wrong… .

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Favorite Slide, #cfasummit

Posted by smathermather on October 22, 2013

So, if I had to choose one iconic slide from the CfASummit (and I do as I really need to catch up on sleep, so long posts will wait until the end of the week) this would be it presented by our illustrious MC (David Eaves) for the event:


The gist of the slide is that CfA has gone from the simple website/front end design overhaul within governance to addressing rules, processes, and culture, and is aiming for the root of the government stack, processes of procurement and their impact on tech in government, and establishing and “open by default” culture for governance.

There are three things I like about this diagram:  the analogy of government and software stack, the idea that these changes are part of a culture of “play” (which by the way is a wonderful encapsulation for the process of experimentation and learning taking place), and finally that the plan is to address through thought leadership and practical solutions underlying issues of procurement and culture that are at the root of the disconnect between government and technology.

Speaking of government, technology, and procurement, it’s refreshing how on-point the media that I have caught on is.  Nice that this has moved from a niche issue to something that is being commonly discussed.

Finally, a quick link to my only (and humble and nacent) post on open government:

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Building something really useful #CfASummit

Posted by smathermather on October 20, 2013

I just came back from the CfASummit, 2013 and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I met a whole bunch of really dedicated, intelligent, and idealistic people who have been blessed with a position to change the world, the presentations made me laugh and cry (really).  CfA represents many the changes I have been hoping for in the public sector since I entered it 5 years ago, and many I hadn’t thought about.  And the Kool-Aid was amazing.

I have a few really good posts regarding these experiences in the queue that I haven’t finished yet, but just saw a post by Steve Citron-Pousty called “Hey Civic Hackers! How about leaving the ninja skills at home and building really useful applications?“.  Steve had 4 core points:

  1. At the very least, the only programming languages you should use on the server are (in decreasing order of priority) PHP, Java, or Python.
  2. Next up, most civic hacks should use a popular framework.
  3. Document your project more than you think you need to document it.
  4. Finally, in truth, most civic hacks should really make a plugin for a platform like WordPress, Drupal, Django, or Magnolia.

The core idea being civic hackers should be providing tools that can be changed and adopted by the municipality.  Responses on twitter have varied, with a nuanced response from @spara:

Screen shot 2013-10-20 at 10.54.20 AM

Screen shot 2013-10-20 at 10.50.20 AM


So, I want to be nuanced too.  I have a lot of affection and respect for the CfA Fellows who serve our neighbors and partners in Summit County.  They have built a simple and beautiful interface for finding trails in the park systema.  I celebrate what they built, and have enjoyed watching this product develop.

But, one frustration I have had with the process was the balkanization that resulted from the project–here all partners (I am not employed by a partner, but I’m a trouble-maker with the Brigade) involved were hoping for some regional product from the work of the Fellows.  There was already locally commissioned work complete built on (gasp) PHP/Codeignitor application with similar intents.

The Fellows application is compatible with the existing application in no single way– not employing a similar back end, not sharing any front end code, not even sharing API compatibilities.

So let’s return to Sophia’s comment on twitter above: “We are there to start process of changing everything rather than bolting on to entrenched process and infrastructure.”  This, I am afraid, right or wrong, is the language of colonization.


So where does this leave us regionally?  Now we have two related applications, which share no heritage, front end, back end code, nor API, and an expectation from local leadership to avoid the mistakes of the past of balkanization, those very same entrenched processes that CfA aims to undo.

So, when civic hackers enter a space and see change for the good happening, is it better to build that rails race car that Steve’s post points to, or should we be, in addition to changing the existing civic tech space also be celebrating and enhancing good things that are in progress?


From a practical standpoint, how do we put the pieces back together?  I want to emphasize again, the great and meaningful work work the Fellows did.  But they will leave us in a few weeks with a real challenge.  Thoughts?

Code for each project can be found (naturally) on GitHub.

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