Wonkageekathon – GovLabs and the Birth of CityMission

and on their experience at the GovLab Experiment (fullversion at PediaCities): “Last month, we were invited to participate in the Inaugural Experiment of GovLabs. It was a mind-blowing experience!…

Unlike a traditional policy workshop, the GovLab Experiment was unique in that it liberally sprinkled thinkers and doers, not only from the government, industry and academia, but also Civic Hackers as well!  All in all, for the 125+ policy experts, there were 24 Hackers/Designers as well from diverse backgrounds, split across six sessions with 4 Hackers teaming up with 24+ policy experts per session….This was not your average hackathon….

We were motivated by ideas from the “We the City” group for building trust in government through better listening and feedback loops that moved beyond transaction and into citizen collaboration. Building a platform for improving feedback loops around data, personal and public, addressed the requirements of Fitbit for the City. When we struck upon the idea of framing these feedback loops around Missions, we found a way to incorporate requirements of Public Advocacy Network idea as well. The CityMission platform that we began to flesh out could help citizens establish a give and take relationship around data with the government, but it could also be a platform for advocates to leverage data through data-driven missions around a cause important to them.

The development of CityMission was inspired by Joshua Kauffman’s articulation of a new type of civic identity around data and the tagline, “Know yourself, know your city”. The success of our group was possible because of the great ideas from all the experts from “We the City”, but Joshua Kauffman went above and beyond, meeting us just before midnight to help us refine our use cases and messaging as Lenny got started with a super fast prototype deployment.

CityMission connects personal data with urban data, enabling people to see their impact on the city and how the city affects them. CityMission provides tools for people to ask questions about the city and collect data together. CityMission is a platform that aggregates opportunities for data volunteering. A government agency, advocacy organization, or scientific research group can propose a Mission defining the scope of data needed, how personal data will be used, and what participants will get out of volunteering their data. For example, if you sign up for the Quantified Commute mission from the transit agency you can volunteer two weeks of your transit data, helping the transit agency generate better trip demand data, and helping yourself understand how your commute stacks up to your neighbor’s commute. If you volunteer your blood type, this data can be placed in a personal data locker that is only accessed to send you alerts when your blood type is needed in emergencies. Other CityMissions could enlist volunteers to track bird migrations, categorize noise on your block, or take a tree census after a storm.

We all know that lots of personal data is being gathered about us, but it often feels like we don’t have control of how it is used, and the vast stores of public data about the places we live, work, and play in are often inaccessible or unintelligible to us. CityMission turns both of these paradigms on their head by inviting people to volunteer their personal data on their terms, connected to big issues they care about.”

Prototype URL:


Team CityMission:

  • Pablo – User Interface/User Experience Ninja
  • Lenny – Developer Extraordinaire
  • Nathan – Urban Planner and Civic Product Design
  • Joel – Data Wrangler/Geek and all around Civic Hacker

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