City Hall, NY — Today, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the New York City Council released Council 2.0 — a roadmap for introducing civic tech initiatives toward opening government and meeting diverse New Yorkers where they are digitally active. The Council’s Public Technology Plan was an element of sweeping rules reform passed by the Council in May of 2014. This Plan reflects the Council’s commitment to transparency, diversity and support of open government.
“Council 2.0 will utilize technology to make the Council more responsive, transparent, and open for every resident in this city,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This is a plan that includes and serves all New Yorkers. Through this framework, we will grow the Council into a digitally-agile institution that adapts with emerging technology while remaining connected to the public.”
The plan was developed by an internal Working Group on Public Technology and Civic Engagement in consultation with a range of experts in building open digital platforms and tools for civic engagement. The Working Group will continue to meet regularly to evaluate progress around the outlined objectives, assist with an inventory of the Council’s data holdings and generate ideas for new tools for public access and participation. Staff will also study web and social media analytics to help study the type and substance of digital interaction. Key stakeholders will be consulted for input on the progress on the Council’s open data initiative, and on what types of datasets would be useful to inform their work.
The plan includes:
- The creation of a Public Tech team to analyze open data, drive social media interaction, lead a re-design process of the Web site, and produce user-friendly content, with the objective of driving a digitally savvy culture at the Council.
- A partnership with Civic Hall --a growing physical center for the civic tech community-- to bridge this community and the Council and tap its talent and expertise towards digital solutions.
- The introduction in Fall 2015 of “Council Labs” as an experimental, mobile-friendly website for new ideas and tools, such as those that will allow New Yorkers to understand and visualize the budget process.
- A Digital Inclusion Summit hosted by the Council this July to convene voices from diverse communities to develop best practices for the Council’s public tech initiatives.
- A more accessible legislative database that presents information people are seeking upfront.
- A soon-to-be available API (Application Program Interface) that will allow civic technologists to access and analyze legislative data in different ways.
- A pilot and evaluation of engagement via texting.
- A social media strategy for sharing information and crowd-sourcing questions and comments for hearings and other Council proceedings.
“Local democracy thrives when people can interact with their representatives to express their opinions and get the information they need, in real time. So I’m thrilled that the City Council’s Public Technology Plan – required as part of the ‘rules reform’ we passed last spring – will strengthen the digital bridge between New Yorkers and the Council,” said Council Member Brad Lander, Chair of the Rules Committee. “By providing open access to Council data, improving our social media platforms, and taking concrete steps to pilot new models of engagement, we are building a more inclusive city. Like participatory budgeting, more engaging public technology helps us to hear the voices of New Yorkers – an essential step to doing our job right and strengthening our local democracy. Congratulations to the Speaker for her leadership in lifting up the voices of all New Yorkers, to my colleagues for working together, and to the Council staff who are making the plan real.”
“This is an exciting moment for civic engagement and public service. By focusing on making information more accessible and improving social media outreach, the Council will have new opportunities to reach diverse communities through the platforms they most often use and meet their specific needs at individual levels as never before,” said Member Vanessa L. Gibson, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety Council. "As technology continues to evolve, it is imperative that we stay up to date in reaching our constituencies in the most relevant and useful way possible. I commend Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for her tremendous vision for a digitally savvy City government, all of the members of the Public Tech and Engagement working group, and all the stakeholders involved in this project. Thanks to your dedication and leadership, communities all across this City will have the opportunity to have their voices included in conversations of governance like never before.”
“I am proud to join the Speaker and my colleagues in the New York City Council to unveil the long-awaited Public Technology Plan,” said Council Member James Vacca, Chair of the Committee on Technology. “Over the past few years, it has become clear that there is a greater desire for government transparency through technology, and the Council answered that call through our passage and expansion of the Open Data Law. Today’s plan goes even further, ushering in a new culture of proactive digital engagement. The Council as a whole will be able to interact with the public at an unprecedented level. Council Members will be able to promote civic participation through new methods of social media and applications, and we will make all information on our website more accessible than ever. I would like to thank the Speaker for her leadership on this initiative, and I look forward to actively participating in bringing this plan to life.”
“Government is going mobile first, from a click away to a swipe away. Inclusive government means using every tool at our disposal, now and in the future, to engage New Yorkers where they’re at, whether by text message or online,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “Thank you to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rules Committee Chair Brad Lander, who opened up the rules reform process to provide a voice for members, the civic tech community and the Free Law Founders for their technical assistance in implementing an open API for Open Legislation in New York and nationally. I look forward to working with Council Labs, Civic Hall, the public tech team and New Yorkers online to provide a place to test new ideas and tools as we seek to improve upon this experiment we call democracy.”
Improving the Council Website
The New York City Council website currently hosts a great deal of useful information, but accessing it can be an arduous task, especially for first time users. The working plan calls for the Council to develop a new site using the .nyc domain that will allow for improvements to be tested. With the understanding that one size doesn’t fit all, this website will allow exploration new virtual spaces for Council Members that are tailored to their districts. One example of current project to create a more user friendly webpage experience is the Council’s interactive street co-namings map. Using Google Technology, the Council displays an interactive map detailing all streets co-named in New York City.
The new website would aim to:
- Offer a strong user experience through simple navigation and clean organization
- Include timely information and frequent updates
- Clearly direct users to information they are looking for
- Consider Limited English Proficient New Yorkers and special needs groups
- Build and sustain a connection with diverse visitors, based on their interests and needs
- Show all of the entry points for civic participation in local government
- Create opportunities in which council members and their constituents can interact
- Utilizing Social Media to Increase Outreach and Participation
Social media platforms are more than just new ways to have a conversation. When used creatively and widely, they can help bring government to the people. The Council has already begun incorporating social media into its community engagement strategies and will work to expand the ways New Yorkers can meaningfully engage in civic life. This strategy will reflect the unparalleled diversity of New York City.
To achieve this, the Council will:
- Establish Council-wide standards for sharing materials and gathering feedback for proposals and initiatives via established digital channels, such as Twitter and Facebook
- Continuously assess the Council’s reach on platforms already in use, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, in industry-standard metrics
- Provide Council Members with the tools and support to explore interaction via social media during hearings
- Expand each district’s online capacity through staff trainings, digital toolkits and messaging guides
- The Council has already begun to implement elements of this plan to make government more accessible for the public For example, this fall, New Yorkers posted approximately 1,700 ideas for Participatory Budgeting (PB) projects on an interactive online map. Additionally, a pilot texting platform for PB has recently launched. New Yorkers can sign up by texting “vote” to a specified number to receive alerts about proposals on their PB ballot, their polling place, and hours of operation.
Building and Creating Partnerships
Partnerships with diverse organizations are key to tackling much of this plan. The Council is already collaborating with several civic tech leaders and plans to build on these efforts. The Council will partner with the open government community and others that have already broken ground in a proven and cost-effective way on some of the work the Council is interested in doing on behalf of New Yorkers. In the coming months, an API (Application Programming Interface) will help civic technologists access and analyze the Council’s legislative data and build applications that could enhance the connection between the Council’s work and everyday New Yorkers. The Council will also consider innovative strategies for engaging the diverse public and sparking interest in creating applications based on Council data.
Steps to building such partnerships include:
- Increase digital exposure, knowledge and capacity of current staff through trainings.
- Document, diffuse and promote best practices throughout the Council.
- Periodically determine resources needed to support initiatives as they are prioritized
- Consulting with local experts
“Digital technology has dramatically changed our lives at home, at work, at school and at play. The Council wants to dramatically change how New Yorkers communicate with their elected representatives, harnessing the phenomenal momentum of the digital age to inform, involve and encourage their constituents," said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
“In the 21st century, New Yorkers deserve a government that is as connected and accessible as our favorite apps, social platforms, and shopping websites,” said Andrew Rasiej, founder of Civic Hall. “We applaud Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the New York City Council for taking critical steps towards robust digital engagement and greater digital inclusion for all New Yorkers. We look forward to working with those in both the public and private sector at Civic Hall.”
“We applaud the City Council’s innovative efforts on digital inclusion and transparency, particularly its work to serve diverse and non-traditional audiences,” said Jukay Hsu, founder of Coalition for Queens. “We at C4Q provide tech training and job opportunities to empower the world’s most diverse community. These bold new initiatives by Speaker Mark Viverito build toward our shared vision: that all of our communities should participate in the digital economy.”