Project Tracking (AUS0005)
Action Plan: Austin, United States Action Plan
Action Plan Cycle: 2017
Lead Institution: City of Austin Office of Innovation
Support Institution(s): CS Partner: Mateo Clarke, Open Austin\
Policy AreasE-Government, Fiscal Openness, Public Participation, Publication of Budget/Fiscal Information, Subnational
To better track our progress towards ambitious goals, we commit to transparency and accountability by creating an online project-tracking interface, using our OGP commitments as a first project. Short Description: Create an online resource to track the progress of open government projects. Leads: Civil society partner: Mateo Clarke, Open Austin 15 Government facilitator: Kerry O’Connor, Chief Innovation Officer Project Brief: We design this project to answer these pain points from our civil society partners: 1. How might we get a better sense of what departments are working on, what state of progress the projects are in, and how the status and details relate to making progress towards our goals? - ATX Hack for Change participants 2. How might we build a platform for collaboration on any civic project? - Vision of ATX Hack for Change participants. 5.1 Desired Outcomes: 1) The public will have a better sense of what projects the City is working on, the state of progress of those projects, how the projects relate to critical goals, and how they are funded. 2) Members of the public have meaningful ways to engage and collaborate on these projects. 3) Public engagement and commitment to civic goals increases. 4) City Departments have a better means of cross-pollinating projects with each other and collaborating with the community. 5) The public has a better understanding on how projects are funded. 5.2 Exploration Questions: 1) What examples already exist that we might be able to borrow from? 2) What criteria does the public want us to use when deciding what projects to publish? 3) What information is critical in conveying project progress succinctly and with integrity? 4) How might we create meaningful opportunities for the public to engage with and collaborate on city projects? 5) How might we leverage Austin’s civic tech community to improve the design and engineering of the solution? 6) Who will maintain the data about active projects?
IRM End of Term Status Summary
5. Project Tracking
To better track our progress towards ambitious goals, we commit to transparency and accountability by creating an online project-tracking interface, using our OGP commitments as a first project.
1. Clarify Phase. Expected deliverables: Report out on existing platforms; Report out on public and inter-departmental interests in projects; Report out on inventory of possible projects beyond these commitments.
2. Framing Phase. Expected deliverables: Decision about what data about projects will be collected; Status update to Community Tech & Telecom Commission, Open Austin Meetup, other public squares.
3. Conceive/Prototype/Test Phase. Expected deliverables: Alpha release of Project Tracking interface; Online resource for viewing work in progress and tracking issues, questions, and feature requests from the community.
4. Plan/Build Phase. Expected deliverables: Beta release of Project Tracking Interface in alignment with ATX Hack for Change 2017; Live release of Project Tracking Interface; Prioritized backlog of potential improvements.
Overall Objective & Relevance
The City of Austin’s fifth OGP commitment addressed the need for a public-facing project tracking tool. By creating this resource, city officials and their civil society partners would provide the citizens of Austin with a better understanding of projects in their community, how those projects are funded, and each project’s status. The city has introduced several open government initiatives “City Council Open Government,” City of Austin, Accessed July 21, 2017, http://austintexas.gov/page/city-council-open-government. in recent years, including an open data portal and an online city finance tool. A project tracking tool, according to city officials, was a natural next step in Austin’s continuing embrace of open governance.
Austin’s fifth commitment addressed the OGP values of access to information and technology for innovation and transparency. By proactively increasing the amount of information available through a user-friendly web-based tool, city officials would foster increased transparency at City Hall. The project tracking tool was described as a new technology (“Project Tracking Interface”) that would allow citizens to access key information on demand about city projects. While online tracking tools have the potential to strengthen public accountability, the action plan, as it is written, did not specify a mechanism for public redress. Such a feature could easily be built into future iterations of the tool, qualifying it as a public accountability measure. Public accountability commitments provide new mechanisms that allow the public to “call upon government actors to justify their actions, act upon criticisms or requirements made of them, and accept responsibility for failure to perform with respect to laws or commitments.” OGP IRM Procedures Manual, version 2.0, page 52-53.
Specificity and Potential Impact
Austin’s fifth commitment was coded as medium specificity. The milestones are objectively verifiable but lack measurable indicators. City officials intended to produce an online resource for tracking city projects, beginning with Austin’s OGP commitment projects. However, the action plan, specified very few characteristics of the tracking tool. The IRM researcher understands that these characteristics may have been decided and developed as part of the research included in the early milestones.
This commitment, as written, was considered as a positive, yet incremental step towards improving access to information. The IRM researcher considers that it had the potential to create a minor impact on the way that city projects are monitored and evaluated, including open governance initiatives. City departments currently track projects using a broad spectrum of tools. According to interviews with city staff, the amount, type, and availability of data made available varies drastically by department. Daniel Honker (City of Austin), interviewed by IRM researcher, 13 September 2017 By providing the public with a transparent, uniform method for tracking projects in their neighborhoods, the city could potentially increase access to information about individual projects and encourage increased understanding of local governance. The IRM researcher believes that this commitment was a key step toward increased transparency in Austin. However, without a mechanism for increasing civic participation and securing buy-in from a wider spectrum of city departments and initiatives, this commitment was unlikely to create major changes to city governance structures in Austin.
Austin’s fifth commitment was completed. Grackle, the project tracking tool promised in Austin’s OGP action plan, was officially launched at the city’s Open Government Showcase in December 2017. The tool was designed by staff from the City of Austin Innovation Office and Communications and Technology Management Department (CTM). The project team developed Grackle “to make it easier for people in Austin to have a sense of what projects the City is working on, the state of progress of those projects, how the projects relate to critical goals, and how they are funded.” City of Austin Innovation Office. Project Tracking - Overview: What We’re Doing – Background. http://projects.austintexas.io/projects/project-tracking/about/overview/
During the research phase of the project, the commitment team cataloged similar platforms that had been launched by other governments. Ibid. The team also interviewed eight community advocates and twenty city staff members to learn more about what civil society and government employees need from a public project tracking interface. City of Austin Innovation Office. Project Tracking – Research – What We’re Learning. http://projects.austintexas.io/projects/project-tracking/research/research-findings/ The commitment team identified recurring themes in interview responses, organized key insights into “user stories” and published those insights as a public-facing dataset. City of Austin Innovation Office. User Stories. Project Tracking Research Findings. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1rAnVbjACz96UKvEEs2A2h5hTq1M99McJ9SKfxEgtVLU/edit#gid=0 The commitment team shared their research findings, project updates, and next steps during public research presentations in August and September 2017. City of Austin Innovation Office. Project Tracking Research Share-out. August 2017. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1WVsssiWdkbcEr7g1DDyW7_IvK8TBan3X1J899fhOY7A/edit#slide=id.p , City of Austin Innovation Office. Project Tracking Share-out. September 2017. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1F2Vsn0A5kmpaIV0Sm5aO_RS4qYa5tIkjtkZvwGGwkjw/edit#slide=id.p City staff published a summary of insights from their interviews with civil society and government representatives. City of Austin Innovation Office. Project Tracking – Interview Insights. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1k2tcNtSqFl0kYA-h6BnNR_utRnwDjdu36nTLB4z8lF4/edit The team also published a list of project tracking tools previously and currently used by city departments. City of Austin Innovation Office. Project Tracking Research and Design. Dataset. https://airtable.com/shrv3psTrtf6mXAOH/tbldwDPGvhyE07dxQ/viwv60rsecNRcK1NP
Research insights and next steps were shared with civil society partner Open Austin at the organization’s general meeting in September 2017. During the design phase of the project, the commitment team used insights from their interviews to decide which data fields would be included in the first iteration of the project tracking tool. City of Austin Innovation Office. Projects – Project Tracking. Research findings. http://projects.austintexas.io/projects/project-tracking/research/research-findings/ The commitment team engaged a designer from the City of Austin’s Design, Technology, and Innovation Fellows program to design mock-ups of the initial project tracking tool. City of Austin Innovation Office. Project – Project Tracking. What We’re Making. http://projects.austintexas.io/projects/project-tracking/design/what-were-making/ The commitment team consulted with CSO partner Open Austin several times during the implementation process, including a formal presentation and feedback session in September 2017 and several informal meetings between Open Austin representatives and Innovation Office/CTM staff developing the project tracking tool. During IRM interviews, Victoria O’Dell, Open Austin Brigade Chair, confirmed that the organization was consulted regularly during the implementation of this commitment and that O’Dell attended commitment team meetings, providing input on the development of the tool. O’Dell said that the Grackle project tracking tool created better visibility of city projects and allows CSOs and citizens to track progress of projects that affect them. O’Dell expressed hope that the tool would put the city’s project information in one place. This would make it much easier for community members and organizations to find information and give input on city projects. “If we can get our ideas plugged in, that is open government,” O’Dell said. Victoria O’Dell (Open Austin). Interview with IRM researcher. 15 November 2017.
The live version of the project tracking tool, Grackle, launched in December 2017. Grackle, the City of Austin’s project tracking tool, can be accessed at grackle.austintexas.io. An initial catalog of eighteen city projects were organized under six city priority themes: government that works; economy and affordability; safety; health and environment; mobility; and culture and lifelong learning. Summary information about each tracked city project is detailed on a dedicated project page. Project pages identify each total budget, links to project offices, status of completion, and direct contact information for an individual representing the project. At the time of this report, the commitment team was identifying the next round of projects to add to the tracking tool and developing a roadmap for intaking new and existing project data.
Early results: did it open government?
Access to Information: Marginal
Civic Participation: Marginal
When this commitment was designed, the city government lacked a central, public-facing project tracking tool. The commitment team identified a need “to make it easier for people in Austin to have a sense of what projects the City is working on, the state of progress of those projects, how the projects relate to critical goals, and how they are funded.” The city’s open data portal provided raw data, but departmental engagement was limited, and many city projects were not represented in the portal. Many departments tracked progress of departmental projects through different tracking tools, but there was no central collection of project information or uniform method for presenting key project. The commitment team identified a series of potential outcomes from the development of a new project tracking tool, including increased availability of project information, new opportunities for public engagement and collaboration on city projects, and increased collaboration on projects across city departments.
By the end of the implementation period, the commitment team had gathered input from government and civil society contacts and published their research findings online, one of several first steps toward the commitment’s expected outcomes. The team launched the project tracking tool with information on eighteen city projects. One remarkable feature of the tool was the adoption of open source technologies by its design team. “This website/webapp is freely available and reproducible because the code is released to the public domain. One aspect of ‘opening government’ is liberation from restrictive software license and vendor lock-in,” said Mateo Clarke, a lead developer on the Grackle tool. Clarke identified this approach as a key principle of the digital services strategy for the Innovation Office and the Office of Design and Delivery.
These initial steps constitute a positive, yet incremental step towards increased access to information. City project information on these eighteen projects is now available in a central location. However, departmental engagement with the project tracking tool is voluntary. City departments continue to maintain their own project tracking and the departments that provided information to the commitment team constitute a minority of city departments. Until more departments engage with the project tracking tool and provide uniform project information to the public, this promising development can only represent a marginal change in government practice.
Although the commitment, as written in the action plan, was not considered relevant to the OGP value of civic participation, the project team undertook steps during implementation that achieved a marginal change related to this value. The commitment team engaged civil society directly during the development of the project tracking tool. City staff interviewed civil society leaders, seeking input on what types of information members of the public desired from a project tracking tool. During the implementation period, civil society representatives were asked to evaluate a beta version of the tool. This engagement provided a direct opportunity for civil society to influence the development of the tracking tool. During IRM interviews, Victoria O’Dell, Open Austin Brigade Chair, confirmed that these direct consultations with the public reflected an increase in civic engagement and expressed hope that such engagement was an important first step toward increasing direct collaboration between civil society and government in Austin. Although the commitment ultimately produced a new project tracking tool, the publication of project data at the time of this report was still underway. By continuing to populate the tool with city project data, city officials can achieve new changes in government practice related to the OGP value of technology and innovation for openness and accountability.
While this commitment was fully implemented, the new project tracking should be developed further by city staff and CSO partners. The tool should ultimately reflect all available project data from every city department. The city manager’s office can support this effort by requiring all city departments to organize departmental project data in a uniform, useable format. Whether as part of future action plans or outside of the OGP process, city staff should work with CSO partners to continue testing and improving the tool until it contains all city data in a useable format. If improvements become a part of future action plans, city staff should take steps to include CSO partners more heavily in the design process.
Links to further evidence
Community Climate Resilience Pilot
AUS0006, 2019, Environment and Climate
Inclusion in Court Contracting
AUS0007, 2019, Anti-Corruption
Public Participation In City Anti-Displacement Efforts
AUS0008, 2019, E-Government
Public Safety Data Analysis
AUS0009, 2019, Capacity Building
AUS0001, 2017, Capacity Building
Equity Assessment Tool
AUS0002, 2017, Capacity Building
Open Governance Operating Board
AUS0003, 2017, Public Participation
City Public Meetings
AUS0004, 2017, Capacity Building
AUS0005, 2017, E-Government