Jul 11

By Bright Side Staff

One of the great things about Bright Side is that we often get the opportunity to showcase some of the innovative things Microsoft does to make our communities a better place. Just recently for example, we had the chance to talk to Dave Grobleski, a Senior Consultant within Microsoft Public Sector’s Justice and Public Safety Practice to talk about how citizen outreach programs like Tweet3po and Citizen 360 are working to keep neighborhoods safe and residents aware of their surroundings.

To give us a little insight into his brain child, Tweet3po, we asked Dave to answer a few of our questions about how it’s being used by real people each day, and some best practices that can be applied at state and local governments around the country.

Bright Side Staff: Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of this initiative?

Dave Grobleski: Tweet3po was imagined as a way to disseminate relevant, timely, hyper-local information to communities.  We were sitting outside my house one day, wondering what those sirens and flashing lights were all about, when we decided to look online.  We found a feed of “Active Police Calls” for the City of Orlando and marveled at its potential usefulness yet current impracticality.  911 calls for the entire city are displayed on a web page, a dozen or so at a time, refreshed every 60 seconds.  We stared at the screen for about a half hour but never saw our call come through.  Our thought was, if we could grab this data, figure out which neighborhood it was in, and push updates to various social media platforms, based on neighborhood or other natural community boundaries, we would have something quite useful … and so, Tweet3po was born.  I have the belief that traditional neighborhood watch does not work.  Street signs and a “phone tree” have been traditionally ineffective.  I have neighbors I don’t know well, and I have other neighbors who go to bed very early.  The thought of having to call five people and them calling five people seems very ineffective.  Social media allows folks to communicate and collaborate without knowing each other.  Social groups formed based on geographic boundaries allow people to participate in their communities deeply, while leveraging technologies that are already in most people’s pockets.  Remember, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous one in the world.  We thought it was a logical and largely convenient outlet for this useful information.

Bright Side Staff: What is the difference between Citizen 360 and Tweet3PO and how are they working together?

Dave Grobleski: Tweet3po is a community project that takes open government data and disseminates it in a hyper-local, relevant way via social media platforms. Citizen 360 is a Microsoft Justice and Public Safety initiative whereby we give local government agencies a platform to disseminate useful government data. Both these efforts reinforce citizen involvement, support community outreach, make our neighborhoods safer, and of course, strengthen our democracy. 

Bright Side Staff: How have you seen local law enforcement agencies embrace the capabilities of Citizen 360?

Dave Grobleski: As a citizen project, I’ve seen surprisingly good feedback when I’m able to explain what we are doing.  Most local officials “get it”, but are afraid of the pitfalls of social media in general.  This is why, as citizens, we work solely with public data feeds.  This is data that the community has already designated as “public.”  We are simply trying to disseminate it in a more effective way.

As a Microsoft Justice and Public Safety initiative, the feedback has been overwhelmingly supportive.  The main initiative of Citizen 360 is to allow agencies to post relevant messages to neighborhood social media accounts in a process driven way, while allowing the agency to “control the message.”   Our goal is to create a social media Platform that enables:

· Centralized Management to review, approve and disseminate your message all on one platform.

· The ability to Control Your Message with customizable approval workflows

· Encouraging Collaboration across your communities using social media platforms to reach out and listen to your community.

· Engaging the Public by giving citizens the ability to provide immediate, anonymous tips and intelligence

· Strengthening Ties to the Community through the dissemination of information to custom groups such as neighborhood watches, businesses, and local schools and campuses.

Bright Side Staff: What are some of the hesitations or objections you’ve encountered with regards to open data and how do you address them?

Dave Grobleski: They typically surround the appropriateness of opening up government data in general.  As a citizen initiative, Tweet3po leaves these discussions up to the community and only consumes data that has already been approved by our legislatures and local agencies.  We also point to other cities like San Francisco and Chicago who are entering into broad open government data initiatives.  More often than not, our message to local officials is “You can be a leader in this space, or your successor will”.

We are not trying to say that the concerns of public officials are not valid.  These objections are what led directly to the Citizen 360 initiative.  Its purpose is to answer these concerns by giving local agencies a mechanism to control, vet and disseminate this information in a managed fashion.  

Bright Side Staff: Can you give some examples of how citizens are using the technologies?

Dave Grobleski: As part of this Open Government Data and community activist experiment, we began tweeting Orlando Police Dispatch calls to neighborhood based Twitter accounts using Microsoft technologies about 4 years ago.

Then we created a neighborhood Facebook account and began spreading the word.  We now have a pretty active 100+ member FB group and I’ve been discussing with the Orlando police department the possibilities of having an officer join the group using an official FB account.  Since it is neighborhood based and community focused, it’s like the 21st century version of walking a beat.  However, like most agencies, they have very strict social media policies.  We have a surprising amount of activity though.  Everything from recycling, surveillance video and pictures uploaded, to suspicious activity and lost/found pets.  It’s become an active community.  911 calls are up and crimes are down in the past year.

For more information on other Microsoft Public Safety initiatives, check out their homepage, here.

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