Boston has been a techie city for a very long time. The city established the nation’s first Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) and the department’s co-chairs were named Governing Magazine’s Public Officials of the Year. With forward-thinking leaders at the helm, Boston is paving the way for civic innovation. The city has an active Code for America Brigade — a group of local volunteers who meet regularly to attend events, collaborate on new projects and stand up existing apps. For details visit Code for Boston.
Finding little wins that you can discover along the way, moments when people can come together and solve some small issue — that’s critical to the experience of innovation.
Nigel Jacob, Co-Director Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics
In 2011, The City of Boston applied for the fellowship program with Microsoft as their community partners. Given a strong Office of New Urban Mechanics, the 2011 fellows Joel Mahoney, Karla Macedo and Talin Salway knew they were dealing with powerful allies. That being said, when the city requested “backpack apps” (an education API and developer platform) — they received so much more.
Apps created during that fellowship year help teachers send students text reminders, help parents track the school bus in realtime and help students and parents assess their school eligibility.
The DiscoverBPS app has been heralded by the Washington Post as a true feat. Fellows built the still popular application in only 2 months with the bulk of the work falling on the shoulders of developer Joel Mahoney. The app has since been taken over by the City of Boston’s IT department.
Some of the other apps built that year include a developer collaboration platform, tool that turns spreadsheets into APIs, mobile app that locates wifi points and a tool that looks a bit like Foursquare for snow-covered fire hydrants called Adopt-a-hydrant. While “Adopt-a” may seem specific to Boston, it’s since been redeployed to storm drains in Seattle and tsunami sirens in Honolulu.