connect / 2014

MassKnowtify: Connecting local governments to citizens and communities everywhere

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by MassKnowtify

We will bring MassKnowtify to every part of LA, so everyone can be better connected to information impacting their daily quality of life


Please describe yourself.

Solo actor (just us on this project!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

We will bring MassKnowtify to every part of LA, so everyone can be better connected to information impacting their daily quality of life

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits all of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside
  • All of Los Angeles

What is your idea/project in more detail?

MassKnowtify is dedicated to making communications between government and citizens more accessible, valuable, and effective. MassKnowtify solves distinct problems for both citizens and local governments: citizens can be connected to important localized information wherever they travel; local governments can increase citizen communication and engagement in a more direct and cost-effective manner. To achieve this, MassKnowtify provides a location-based public alerting platform to disseminate a variety of public alerts and notifications that are timely, accurate, and relevant to one’s specific location. MassKnowtify functions primarily as a mobile application but can also be accessed through the web from anywhere on any device.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

MassKnowtify is currently in a limited release in Los Angeles and we have already partnered with local agencies to bring them on board. Our current web app is fully functional and accessible on all devices (smartphones, tablets, desktop browsers); however, our next milestone in our roadmap is to launch “native” apps for both iOS and Android operating systems to deliver better performance and reliability. Most importantly, access and use of MassKnowtify by citizens is completely FREE.

In order to offer MassKnowtify to all public agencies in the entire region, we will implement the following initiatives:

Platform development and enhancements • Convert our current web app to native mobile apps for iPhone and Android • Create an application programming interface (API) to integrate MassKnowtify alerts on city websites and other digital distribution channels • Enhance MassKnowtify’s message analytics capability for public agencies to better assess the effectiveness of their messaging

Local government access and usage, and support for training and onboarding • Provide access and use of MassKnowtify to all local governments in the greater LA region • Provide account setup and training for new local agency users

Citizen and community outreach • Host community forums and events, and partner with neighborhood and community based organizations, to drive citizen awareness and usage of MassKnowtify • Conduct a variety of outreach efforts to acquire public agencies

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CONNECT today? In 2050?

There are 88 separate municipalities in Los Angeles County, each responsible for providing individual city services (police, fire, public works, etc.) through individual agencies within the municipality. For example, as one drives along Santa Monica Boulevard through West Los Angeles, one will have traveled through the cities of Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood all in under 7 miles. These circumstances make it difficult for a citizen to know which city agencies are responsible for emergency notifications and other essential city services. There are several other large clusters of cities throughout LA County—such as in the South Bay, San Gabriel Valley, and Southeast Los Angeles—with identical circumstances which present challenges for citizens to be connected to timely and geographically relevant information.

Looking into the future toward the year 2050, MassKnowtify can provide the basis for greater connectedness and trust in our local governments. In the wake of the recession, local governments everywhere are experiencing greater pressures to provide services in a more sustainable and cost-effective manner. In addition, civic engagement is important to the success and vibrancy of our communities which are in tremendous need of innovative solutions to drive greater civic engagement. By providing a platform to connect local governments to citizens, wherever they may be located, civic engagement can be dramatically increased in many new ways over the long run. Future extensions of MassKnowtify may include crowd-sourced information and alerts, and greater contextualized notification for various types of local information.

Building upon the 2014 Grant Challenge goals using results of the February 2013 Grants Challenge and My LA2050 Report, MassKnowtify addresses Public Safety as a priority focus area, which was the area with the least number of submissions in the February 2013 Grants Challenge. MassKnowtify also addresses cross-indicator trends from the LA2050 Report by addressing Technology to leverage new technology to build LA’s future and a new way of connecting to local government, and addressing Design & Innovation by applying technology and design to deliver a product and service benefitting all in Los Angeles. Finally, MassKnowtify increases and enhances Social Connectedness by making citizens more connected to their local governments–where they live, work, and spend their free time–in a dramatically new way.

Whom will your project benefit?

MassKnowtify is a platform designed to benefit everyone in Los Angeles—residents, visitors, business owners, tourists—by connecting them to local government information that is timely and relevant to their specific location. Our platform is connecting citizens to government alerts and notifications that are categorized into three contexts: Emergencies, Quality of Life, and Community Services.

The Emergency context includes emergency events, natural disasters, and police and fire activity. The agency users include police, fire, and emergency management agencies. A key differentiator for MassKnowtify is that other systems are tailored only to the “local” population—the population of residents who have opted in to the system using a fixed address. MassKnowtify, however, provides notification ability to both the local and “visitor” populations. The visitor population consists of citizens who have not pre-registered for their local system, which may be for a variety of reasons including: lack of awareness of system, registration is viewed as too cumbersome, they live and work in different cities, or they are visitors from out of town.

The Quality of Life context includes street closures, construction activity, power outages, traffic incidents, and public transit delays. Certain available tools attempt to address this segment but since they are primarily focused on serving the Emergencies segment, they do not emphasize “non-emergency” communications because of the risk of oversaturating messaging and alienating citizens who have subscribed for the system. MassKnowtify allows each citizen user to custom select the types and frequency of messages to receive, and whether to receive them as a push notification, or by simply accessing the MassKnowtify system on demand.

The Community Services context is also an underserved segment of targeting citizens with timely and relevant information. In talking directly with local agencies, this context is very important to reach constituents that seek out or need their services. Examples include public events, recreation programs, tourism information, and public outreach campaigns.

Interest in MassKnowtify shown specifically from YOU through the LA2050 Grants Challenge will help fuel adoption by local governments throughout Los Angeles. Help us dramatically improve how governments connect to citizens with information that’s timely and relevant to them!

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We view each and every local government in the greater LA region as a partner with MassKnowtify. While we already have several local partners which have expressed interest in using and leveraging MassKnowtify in their public communications efforts, we are not identifying any specific partners in the context of this grant application to order to ensure maximum, yet equitable, opportunity for local governments to partner with MassKnowtify in our efforts going forward.

We have also assembled a group of key advisors that include former public safety officials and public communications experts, and we will continue to rely on our network of partner agencies and advisors to enable MassKnowtify to serve the needs of all Los Angeles residents.

To better connect with citizens and communities throughout Los Angeles, we will rely on networking with a broad spectrum of groups, including community based organizations, neighborhood councils and associations, local elected officials, and other civic technology providers.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Connect” metrics?

  • Median travel time to work
  • Attendance at cultural events
  • Number of public transit riders
  • Participation in neighborhood councils
  • Government responsiveness to residents’ needs (Dream Metric)
  • Total number of social media friends (Dream Metric)
  • Attendance at public/open street gatherings (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of Angelenos connected to timely and relevant information from local governments wherever they’re located

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Median travel time to work • Timely and location-specific alerts for both public transit delays and street closures will improve travel times for all commuters.

Attendance at cultural events • The ability to inform citizens of cultural and recreation events happening wherever they’re located–home, at work, or spontaneously while on the go—will increase attendance at cultural events throughout Los Angeles.

Number of public transit riders • Improving the quality of information available to public transit riders by providing better access to real-time bulletins and alerts will increase trust and confidence in public transit providers, ultimately increasing utilization. Examples include service delays, outages, reroutes, safety bulletins, and special events.

Participation in neighborhood councils • By having better information of what’s happening in their communities (police and fire activity, street closures, construction, recreational programs, etc.) citizens will become more informed and empowered to leverage their participation in neighborhood council system, engage our elected leaders and decision makers, and make a difference in their communities.

Government responsiveness to residents’ needs (Dream Metric) • By communicating alerts and other important public information in real time, local governments can increase their responsiveness to residents needs by communicating how incidents are responded to in real-time for a number of city services—police, fire, public transit, public works, utilities, airports, recreation and arts, and more. This also reduces the amount of inbound requests and calls for service, which further enables local governments to prioritize the needs of their residents.

Total number of social media friends (Dream Metric) • Improving the effectiveness and reach of public communications efforts through MassKnowtify will generate additional engagement for local governments through other social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook.

Attendance at public/open street gatherings (Dream Metric) • By publicizing community events on MassKnowtify, citizens will be able to know of events near their where they live, work, and anywhere they travel.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

  1. Metric: Number of local governments (cities and counties) registered • The number of local governments registered throughout the LA region, including the 88 cities in Los Angeles County.

  2. Metric: Number of agencies registered per local government • Ensuring that each local government has the most number of agencies registered based on the services provided within each jurisdiction.

  3. Metric: Number of citizens registered • As more citizens are registered with MassKnowtify, the value to local governments continues increases dramatically.

  4. Metric: Number of alerts sent per message category (police, fire, public transit, public works, airports, recreation, etc.) • Evaluating how each agency uses MassKnowtify—both the types and frequency of messages—will enable us to better tailor our platform to the needs of local governments and citizens.

  5. Metric: Percentage of alerts rated “helpful” by citizens across the platform • MassKnowtify enables local agencies to receive ratings and feedback on their messages from citizens in real time. Using our message rating system, citizens can select either helpful/unhelpful for each notification received, which provides greater insights to local governments on how to improve their messaging efforts.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

We’ve conducted extensive research on how local governments connect with their citizens, and the gaps that limit effective citizen communication and engagement. We’ve discovered two key lessons from our work: 1) local governments have a difficult time connecting directly with significant portions of their constituencies, and 2) citizens are increasingly demanding more accessible and effective ways to receive information from local governments that impacts their daily quality of life.

First, we’ve discovered that local governments have a difficult time connecting directly with significant portions of their constituencies. The most significant portion is the “daily visitor” population, which we define as people who live and work in different municipal (city) jurisdictions. According to the US Census Bureau, 60% of the entire population in LA County is a daily visitor to another city. Despite this significant percentage, there are no tools available to local governments to quickly and effectively target the daily visitor population, or any of their other constituents, while they’re on the go.

Second, we’ve conducted extensive market research on the demand for this type of platform from citizens and communities. Our survey data clearly shows that gaps that exist and what citizens demand. For example, we asked the following questions to over 100 citizens:

“How would you rate your city’s ability to communicate directly to you?” Responses: Poor – 40%, Fair – 38%, Good – 21%, Excellent – 2%.

“In the event of In the event of an emergency or disaster, how confident are you in your local city’s ability to quickly notify you of important information?” Responses: Much Lower Confidence – 10%, Slightly Lower Confidence – 13%, Some Confidence – 47%, Higher Confidence – 23%, Much Higher Confidence – 7%.

The responses to these two questions indicate that local governments are not adequately equipped to be communicating directly and when it matters most, during an emergency.

Further, these same survey respondents were presented with an overview of MassKnowtify, and were asked to identify on a five-point scale their likelihood of using MassKnowtify as a smartphone app. According to the scale (1= Very Unlikely, 2=Unlikely, 3=Undecided, 4=Likely, 5=Very Likely), the average response was 4.3 which indicates strong demand for this type of platform.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Our team has performed extensive research on the needs of local government agencies in their public information and communications efforts. We have successfully translated this research into the development of the MassKnowtify platform to create what is currently available to local governments and citizens.

Now, we are no longer in the pilot and development stage, and the service is available to a limited beta group in Los Angeles. MassKnowtify has received notable recognition in just the past few months with awards and honors from UCLA, Amazon Web Services, and Accela Software.

The LA2050 Grant Challenge will add to significant momentum to our effort. This funding will substantially grow and enhance what we’ve already built, and will provide for continued growth as we expand to all areas of Los Angeles and acquire both local government users and citizen users.

Presently, MassKnowtify’s platform development has reached the following milestones:

• June 2013: Completed market research with citizen users and public agency users demonstrating the demand for the MassKnowtify platform • September 2013: Completed our version 1.0 product which includes separate interfaces for public agency users and citizen users • January 2014: Established a test group of local government partners • May 2014: Won 1st Place at UCLA’s Entrepreneur Venture Competition • June 2014: Named Finalist at Amazon Web Services’ City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge, a global competition for apps that solve local government challenges • July 2014: Won 3rd Place at Accela Software’s App Challenge, a global competition for apps that open up government data for citizens and enable citizens and businesses to connect with local governments • July 2014: Completed our version 2.0 product which incorporates the feedback received from our test group

Our upcoming milestones are the following:

• Fall 2014: Begin acquiring live content (alerts and notifications) from agency test users • Fall 2014: Launch iPhone App v1 on Apple App Store • Fall 2014: Begin outreach campaigns targeting local governments in limited areas in Los Angeles • Winter 2015: Begin wider outreach campaign for all of Los Angeles area • Winter 2015: Launch Android App v1 on Google Play • Spring 2015: Target date to acquire all 88 cities in LA County as MassKnowtify users

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Challenge 1: Acquiring two distinct sets of users – citizens and local government agencies. • Strategy: MassKnowtify is connecting to two distinct groups of users: citizens and local government agencies. In order to successfully grow these user groups simultaneously, we will focus on building partnerships with smaller areas to create a more complete offering of notifications from all public agencies in a given area. Examples of these clusters of cities include: the Westside, South Bay, Southeast Los Angeles, and San Gabriel Valley. We will work with cities on an individual basis to focus on the specific message categories and use cases that can best be addressed with MassKnowtify.

Challenge 2: Continuing product enhancements while scaling and reaching new users. • Strategy: MassKnowtify is built upon the most advanced and most secure server infrastructure available in the market through Amazon Web Services. The ability to scale our service effectively is critical to our success, so we’ve placed a high priority on system reliability and security. With the necessary infrastructure in place, our goal is to offer an enhanced user interface and native iOS/Android apps to achieve wider distribution of MassKnowtify. Funding awarded through this grant opportunity will enable MassKnowtify to scale effectively and serve all of Los Angeles.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach