March 25, 2010 By Russell Nichols
The apps contest craze has officially blazed into Portland, Ore.
Following in the trail of cities including Washington, D.C., and New York City, Portland has launched an open source design contest where innovators use data sets to create applications that address civic issues and benefit the greater Portland community. Developers of the best ideas and apps can win prizes totaling more than $10,000.
But even as a copycat of competitions such as D.C.'s Apps for Democracy and NYC BigApps, CivicApps for Greater Portland is slightly different from its forbears because CivicApps is one of the only competitions in the country offering data sets from inter-jurisdictional agencies including the city, county, regional and the transit authority, said Rick Nixon, program manager with the Portland Bureau of Technology Services.
As part of the city's Open Data Initiative (ODI), the 100 data sets released include information regarding crime, building permits, parks, transportation, liquor license applications and more.
"Releasing data sets from inter-jurisdictional agencies does two things," Nixon said. "It provides richer, more far-reaching examples of data and it eliminates the siloing between governments."
The CivicApps event includes two separate phases: idea gathering and application development. In the first phase, residents can pitch ideas and the best ones will advance. On the site, a few ideas have already been submitted.
Currently the top ideas include a mobile construction app that would allow citizens with smartphones to pull up a GIS-based map and data about public works or transportation projects. Another idea is an iPhone app for residents to vote on city resolutions, county ordinances or other local legislation.
The second part of the phase, the Apps Challenge, features two development rounds for innovators. All apps from the contest will be available to the community to use and customize. First-round app winners will be announced June 14, followed by the second-round announcement July 26.
"We want the site to be a forum for citizens to share ideas and applications for the future," Nixon said.
The cash prizes, he said, might not be as much as other competitions, but developers can win multiple awards in categories that include Most Appealing App and Participant Choice App. Nixon added that the city is looking into finding corporate sponsors to cash the winners out, so that in the end, the contest will cost Portland no money. The contest will run every year as new data sets become available.
"Through CivicApps, we're harnessing the phenomenal talent of Portland's mobile and software development communities," Mayor Sam Adams said in a statement. "At the same time, we're making the best use of open data to improve government for citizens and increase transparency."
Photo: Chris and Jamey writing apps at the Portland Weekly Hackathon, 2009. (Photo by Igal Koshevoy. Creative Commons Lic. Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic)
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.