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Regionalization and Open Government: Key Themes of This Week's Civic Engagement Roadshow

The Accela Crew was out in full force this week in the heart of the South, with stops in Atlanta, GA, and Charlotte, NC. Our gracious host cities invited us into their offices to talk about Accela's new mission for #civicgood, to preview the new Civic Hero 311/service request app, to hear a brief introduction to the Accela Developer Portal (available at developer.accela.com), and to interact at the first ever Southeastern regional user group meetings.



Accela Sr. Software Architect Kris Trujillo discusses App Development in Atlanta

In our discussions with Accela administrators and users, government leaders, and others from the local development community, several trends emerged:

Engagement Is HOT Indeed!

Just a few years ago, discussion around the concept of civic engagement centered around making government services more accessible to citizens over the Web or on their mobile devices. While this is an important part of government's purpose and responsibilities, this is not what we'd consider engagement today. This week we didn't have to explain what Civic Engagement is.  Agencies have moved on, and now want to talk about strategies to engage their constituents. When we talk of Civic Engagement these days, we mean facilitating conversations between citizens and their governments, involving them in both the definition AND consumption of civic services, and in the case of those who are part of the Accela Community, building apps and fostering local developers to innovate on top of the Accela platform.

Haseeb Chaudhry from our developer partners at CityGovApp was also on hand to give the perspective of an ISV (Independent Software Vendor) who is currently using Accela's Developer Portal and resources to build and market their own apps to government agencies across the country. One concept I wanted to convey to agency staff was, if you have a great product, feature, or app idea you no longer have to wait on the sidelines. With Accela's platform and Developer tools you can dive right in, build your own components, and make your civic engagement ideas a reality, faster and with less effort than ever before! If you're not comfortable coding your own app, you can work with CityGovApp or any other of our growing list of development partners.  When you build an app for your agency, you'll also have the opportunity to share it with other agencies by listing it in the Civic Store. We'll even help you market your app to other agencies.

Regionalization Is Gaining Steam

When we talk about Civic Hero we often refer to how people don't typically live in one city or one town, but rather in a region, and how the app addresses this problem. You may work in a city 20 miles away from your home, and you may often visit neighboring towns for shopping and entertainment. In all of these places you're likely to uncover issues worth reporting through the Civic Hero app. One of the best features of Civic Hero is that the app takes location and jurisdiction out of the equation.  When we receive a new report, locational information from your Smartphone is automatically attached. We then route the appropriate types of reports to the responsible agency and department. Because Civic Hero takes a regional approach to service request management, we're able to provide a consistent and convenient solution for citizens to report problems. It's seamless engagement.

Our platform also supports the concept of regionalization or shared resources. When your agency IT staff build their own app and invoke Accela Automation data via our APIs, that app is not just useful to the agency you work for. It can also be shared with other Accela customers, so when you build your own app, you're effectively building an app that can be shared immediately with Accela's 500+ customers worldwide.

Open Government Is Open for Business

Open data was also a key theme. Civic Hero is adopting the Open311 standard in order to increase interoperability with other systems and to promote transparency. Governments are finally realizing the value of open data. Opening up is not just good customer service, it promotes accountability and can be profitable for governments as well. We often cite an example we heard from David Chiu, the President of the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors, at a Tumml talk we attended a few months ago.  He cited that data which SF once charged an access fee for (reaping a modest amount of revenue) was opened up and resulted in a net gain to the City/County through increased innovation (startups, apps, and new businesses) which leads to sustained revenue. Accela is also promoting Open Data. We're working on ways to make it easier for you to share your data in convenient formats for both citizens and developers to consume.

Thanks to all who participated in this trial run of the Civic Engagement Roadshow.  Based on its initial successes, we will likely be expanding our tour later this year.  Contact us if your town or city is interested in bringing this event to your community.

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