Civic Commons to Help Government Share Technology and Cut Costs

Washington DC  - September 8, 2010 – As public sector budgets continue to shrink across the country, a consortium of public and non-profit organizations today launched a new effort to reduce government IT costs. Civic Commons is a new public-private partnership that will help governments share software they have developed, eliminating countless duplicative software development efforts and accelerating the spread of innovation across the country.

Civic Commons is the brainchild of one government technology agency, the District of Columbia’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), and two non-profits focused on technology innovation and open government, Code for America and OpenPlans. The two non-profits tapped OCTO to help sponsor the new venture because of the agency’s leadership role in technology innovation and data transparency and its already substantial catalogue of sharable applications. The three Civic Commons sponsors will incubate the new initiative and then spin it off as a separate entity in 2011.

Initially, Civic Commons will work with government entities to identify, document, and relicense technology now in use to make it available for sharing. Civic Commons will then house these share-able applications and list them in a Civic Commons directory of applications so that other government entities can find applications they need. Civic Commons will also enable governments to contribute additional applications as they are identified or developed.

“In the District of Columbia alone, we have a large set of applications that other governments may find very useful,” said District CTO Bryan Sivak. The OCTO will be adding multiple applications into the “commons,” including a data warehouse application, a new agency performance management application, TrackDC, and numerous GIS applications. Sivak explained, “Not only will other jurisdictions benefit from the public release of these applications, we will benefit from external individuals and organizations contributing to the codebase and sharing exciting and innovative applications they have created.”

At launch, over a dozen governmental agencies — including the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York — have committed to sharing their open technology, the New York State Senate plans to contribute their Open Legislation application and API, and the US CIO Vivek Kundra has pledged the Federal IT Dashboard.

Civic Commons will also serve as an information resource for government technology professionals and citizen activists alike who want to support the use of open technologies, open standards, and open data. The informational wiki, developed by OpenPlans and Code for America, is now part of the Civic Commons project.

“Civic Commons isn’t a technology,” said Jennifer Pahlka, Executive Director of Code for America, “because the technology needed to share code is a solved problem. The barriers to sharing are organizational, legal, and human, so our efforts are focused on providing resources, fostering community, and building a sustainable organization.”

Civic Commons also plans to foster an ecosystem of developers and other IT vendors that support the projects in the commons.  “For a true commons of civic software to exist, we need a wide range of players filling a variety of needs,” said Nick Grossman, Director of Civic Works at OpenPlans. “For government entities to reuse software, they’ll need vendors who can provide support, maintenance, and service guarantees.  We think this is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs and for the open source community.”

About Civic Commons
An independent non-profit organization, Civic Commons helps government entities share code and best practices, reform procurement practices, and engage developers and vendors to participate in the recoding of government.

About Code for America
Code for America (CfA) connects the talent of the tech industry with local governments to make cities more open, responsive, and efficient. Inspired in part by Teach for America, CfA recruits civic-minded, tech-savvy individuals to work with industry and governmental leaders to develop innovative applications that can be used in cities across the country.

About OpenPlans
OpenPlans is a nonprofit technology organization focused on open government and citizen engagement.  A leader in Geographic Information Systems, transportation & urban planning tools, and “open city” information technology, OpenPlans produces and supports open source software for the civic sector.

Washington DC CTO’s Office
The Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) is the central technology organization of the District of Columbia Government. OCTO develops, implements, and maintains technology solutions to improve services to businesses, residents and visitors in all areas of District government.

Contact Information
For media inquiries or more information, please contact:
Abhi Nemani, Civic Commons

Rebekah Kenefick, District of Columbia