In broadest terms, giving the population access to municipal data doesn't just generate apps, it changes the relationship between citizen and city. "It's greater than applications," said Jay Nath, chief innovation officer for the City of San Francisco. "For me, it's almost a new type of civic engagement."
That's the ethos that guides Code for America, which serves as a developer version of the Peace Corps for federal, state and local government. The nonprofit teams volunteer developers, known as fellows, with municipalities looking to create new apps and services with their data.
One signature Code for America app is Boston's Adopt a Hydrant program, which solved a persistent and dangerous city problem -- hydrants plowed in after snowstorms -- by pairing concerned citizens with individual hydrants to maintain. Honolulu uses the same model to deputize citizens to make sure the tsunami warning sirens near their homes have working batteries.
In total, Code for America has partnered with 11 American cities, developing and brainstorming apps similar to Boston's. "You can demonstrate to the large bureaucracy, 'This is what you get when you open up data,'" said Mark Headd, government affairs director for the organization
by Jason Slotkin
11 Jan 2013