February 26, 2010 By Karen Wilkinson
"We can't rely on Washington to solve all our problems." It's a familiar adage, but for San Francisco it's a catalyst for innovation and self-reliance.
Instead of depending on the federal government, San Francisco officials are using the Web to share popular policies and make collaboration easier with other communities. Mayor Gavin Newsom announced this week the launch of PolicySF.org, a site that showcases some of the city's groundbreaking efforts in one space.
"This is the beginning of something that San Francisco has been committed to -- a new way of looking at government," said Brian Purchia, San Francisco's deputy director of communications.
Highlighted programs on the site include the city's universal health-care program, plastic bag ban, education and employment programs and its open source IT policy. Since San Francisco in late 2009 implemented DataSF.org -- its open data policy -- city staff has received nearly 50 phone calls from inquiring public officials, from New Mexico to Australia, Purchia said. And that doesn't include e-mails.
"There's a lot of interest in many of the policies San Francisco has implemented," Purchia said. "The mayor wants to make it easier for them to follow San Francisco's lead."
The site hopefully will decrease the amount of time city staff spends talking with cities, states and countries about policies, Purchia said. And if other municipalities have success stories of their own, there's a tab on the Web site where they can share the news.
"Our hope is that by opening up our policy achievements to a broader community of government and civic leaders, these ideas can grow and take off in other cities," Newsom said in a press release.
PolicySF contains "policy toolkits" that provide an overview of the policy, frequently asked questions, an explanation of the policy-making process and a copy of San Francisco's legislation used to initiate the program, the press release said. The site gives step-by-step instructions on how the policies were implemented in San Francisco.
The cost of launching and hosting the site was minimal because it was through WordPress, Purchia said, and it only took two to three weeks to get online.
In what may be the first attempt by a major city to share policies with other cities in this manner, San Francisco officials are hopeful this type of interaction catches on. "We're always kind of a little ahead of everyone else and taking a little risk," Purchia said. "We need to highlight programs that are working on a local level and this is an attempt to show those best practices."
PolicySF is a part of the city and county of San Francisco's larger Open Gov Initiative, which focuses on open data, open participation and open source.
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.