The Power of Data Goes Mainstream

A few weeks ago in New York City, government innovators from all over the country convened for the first ever “What Works Cities” Summit.


What Works Cities (WWC) is an initiative of the Bloomberg Philanthropies that aims to bring open data and data analytics to 100 small and mid-sized American cities over the next several years. At the  Summit, the first cohort of 27 cities came together for some presentations and practical advice from the leaders of a collection of organizations spearheading the WWC effort – the Center for Government Excellence, Results for America and the Sunlight Foundation.

A number of the 27 cities currently taking part in the What Works Cities initiative are Accela customers and it is gratifying to see investment and energy focused on an area that we at Accela have long believed could bring tremendous benefits to state and local governments. In fact, bringing open data and data analytics to smaller cities was the focus of one of our presentations at the 2014 Code for America Summit.

Accela’s Construct API and our CivicData platform are ideal tools that we provide to our customers to help them unlock the value in their data. Our Developer Evangelist team works closely with customers to help them find innovative new uses for their data and to develop national standards for data around Accela’s strong competencies in land management and permit issuance.

We’re at the very beginning of the data revolution for state and local governments and Accela is proud to be playing a leading role in helping governments make smarter decisions by making new use of their existing data. We’re looking forward to seeing the next group of cities step up an participate in the WWC Initiative.

At Accela, we stand ready to help these innovators.

2015: The Year in Building Permits

2105 was a big year for building permits.

This year, Accela led a coalition of civic technology companies and other stakeholders in the development of the first ever shared data specification for building permit data. This new standard is being implemented in cities across the country and will provide new and powerful insights into the operation of cities and the changing character of communities.

To demonstrate the power of this new standard, we’re updating our year-end building permit review web app from last year to showcase four jurisdictions that are now publishing data in the new Building and Land Development Specification (BLDS) format.

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The Robots are Coming!

Earlier this week, the company behind the productivity tool Slack announced a number of new initiates aimed at fostering and supporting third-party development on the Slack platform.

Slack is an incredibly powerful tool that can making working with members of a team (particularly if those members are remote, and located in disparate locations) much more efficient. Even fun! We use it at Accela extensively to collaborate and ensure team members are in regular communication with each other.

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Code for America Summit Recap

Accela is proud to have once again been a major sponsor of the Code for America Summit, an event that has become the can’t miss gathering of the civic tech world.


This year’s Summit was held for the first time in Oakland, CA at a much larger venue – recognizing the strong growth in attendance at the event over the past several years. In addition to our presence in the tech fair with other technology companies, Accela Developer Evangelists lead two of the breakout sessions over the course of the Summit.

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Announcing the 2015 Accela Civic App Challenge Winners

Last week in Los Angeles, at the annual Accela Engage Conference, we announced the winners of our 2015 Accela Civic App Challenge.

This year’s app challenge saw an increase in the number of participants, and the projects that were submitted for final judging were among the most creative and innovative solutions for leveraging the Accela Civic Platform that we have seen. The judges – which included the Accela Developer Evangelism team as well as Accela customers – were very impressed with the quality of all of the submissions. In short, the field of entrants this year was extremely competitive.

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Announcing the 2015 Accela Civic App Challenge

At Accela, we’re committed to finding ways to leverage the talents and ideas of civic entrepreneurs and open data hackers to benefit the governments we serve.

That’s why we’re excited to announce the 2015 Accela App Challenge.

Building on the success of our inaugural App Challenge last year, this year’s challenge offers a total of $22,000 in cash prizes to developers that build a civic application to work with Accela Construct API and utilize open data. The grand prize winners will be flown to Los Angeles to have their idea showcased to governments officials from all over the country at our annual Accela Engage Conference.

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Accela at Personal Democracy Forum

We’re very proud to announce that Accela is a sponsor of the upcoming Personal Democracy Forum (PdF) in NYC on June 4-5.

This year’s PdF conference will focus on an issue that Accela is deeply involved with and committed to:

“[T]he theme for this year’s Personal Democracy Forum, our twelfth since 2004, is ‘Imagine All The People: The Future of Civic Tech.’ We want to take you into a future where everyone is participating, a future that we build together using technology appropriately, powering solutions to shared civic problems.”

Our participation in this important conference is consistent with our support for other great organizations like Code for America, our work to help our customers publish open data and our work to develop a platform for civic innovation.

More details on our participation will be announce in the next few weeks. If you’re planning to attend the conference, we’d love connect with you while in NYC.

Stay tuned for more on Accela at PdF.

Building A Permit Data Standard

At Accela, we understand the power of permit data.

For the past several months, Accela has been working with a broad consortium of stakeholders to develop a data standard for building permits issued by cities and counties. We’re helping a growing number of our customers publish their data in this format and we’ve been hard at work building prototype application based on this new data standard.

Now we want you to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty using this data – we want to hear what people think of the data we’re currently publishing, and what they’d like to see in a new building permit data standard.

You can find sample data from a growing number of government agencies in the new Building and Land Development Standard (BLDS – pronounced “builds”) here, and sample apps that use this data here and here.

Why Building Permits?

Thousands of government agencies around the world use the Accela Civic Platform to automate core business processes, including the issuing of building permits, as part of the job of providing essential services to citizens. Accela’s customer base covers an estimated 60 percent of the U.S. population, with customers using our platform to manage the building permit process covering almost one quarter of the U.S. population.

That’s a lot of building permits! And, that’s a lot of building permit data.

Building permit data can provide huge insights to those working to improve communities. Permit data can be used as a proxy for economic activity and allow for insights into how an upswing (or downturn) in the economy plays out at the community level. It might show the changing character of neighborhoods, and how gentrification is playing out in cities.

This data also has the potential to help improve government operations. A shared standard for building permit data that can be adopted by multiple governments will help foster the development of new solutions that can be shared between jurisdictions. It will allow for analysis across jurisdictions, helping to highlight what works well and what doesn’t. And, most importantly, it can help foster a better understanding of the permit process – which can have a direct impact on the neighborhoods we live in – by ensuring a common vocabulary for important events and activities.

How you can help

Data driven decision making is becoming more common in larger cities and states, and there are now efforts underway to help improve the adoption of data analytics in smaller cities as well. We think that data standards – shared specifications that are governed by a broad array of stakeholders, that can be adopted by any government – are a key component in the new data “revolution” we see happening in government.

We need your help to make the BLDS data standard better.

Check out the sample data that has already been published, and open an issue to report a problem, ask a question or suggest an enhancement in the GitHb repo that is being used to develop this new standard.

Together, we can build a better building permit data standard.

Visualizing Boston at HubHacks 2

The City of Boston is running a visualization contest, encouraging people to use open data to “highlight trends, opportunities, and decision points, and providing deeper insight for the City and better transparency to citizens.”


Called HubHacks 2, the event is a follow up to a similar event last fall focused on creating new apps to support the city’s permitting process. I had an opportunity to participate in the previous HubHacks event, and Accela is a sponsor of HubHacks 2.

The kickoff event this weekend in Boston at District Hall was packed with local civic hackers and innovators, and the City of Boston used the event to unveil a few dozen new open data sets.



While I used the event to hack together one view of Winter in Boston using 311 data, I also had a chance to speak with officials from the city (who were ubiquitously present at the event in red shirts, and enormously helpful to all of the participants) about a new open data standard for permit data that Accela is working on with other technology partners.

This event is just one indication of what the City of Boston is doing to leverage the talents of its local technology community to help create new solutions and new visualizations to give people a deeper understanding of how their city works and engage with city officials. It’s worth noting that as part of its strategy, the city is making open data and civic hacking a centerpiece.

We at Accela are very proud to support the City of Boston’s innovation agenda. We’re looking forward to seeing all of the great ideas that participants come up with, and we’re excited for the winners to be announced on April 4th.