iPhones Aid Government Transparency

California and Arkansas have developed applications to connect citizens with services and let them drill down into stimulus spending.

For many technology users, the focus has shifted from computers to cell phones. Some state governments have noticed, developing iPhone-friendly applications aiding in government transparency and accessibility.

In California, for example, the state's CA.gov Locator application uses the iPhone's built-in global positioning system to find the user's nearest state government office, offering 10 different categories of government services. Massachusetts and Utah have developed similar applications.

Stacey Walker, senior information systems analyst at the California Office of Technology Services, says the agency developed the free application in response to a growing number of iPhone visitors to the state's website. "We just decided to tackle the most popular task that people perform on the California website, which is to look up an agency or government office information," she says. Since the application's July release, it's been downloaded nearly 1,000 times through www.mobile.ca.gov and iTunes.

The application points users to state offices such as career centers, Department of Motor Vehicle locations, voter registration, public libraries, state parks, food and agricultural field offices and roadside rest areas. Walker says the Office of Technology Services will add more state locations in the future.

Once a category is selected, users can view nearby government offices in list format or plotted on a map. Selecting specific offices or centers brings up detailed contact information -- with clickable links for instantaneous phone or e-mail connection -- and directions, operating hours and available services. Users can bookmark locations for future access, and the application can work without a wireless network by searching using zip codes.

P. K. Agarwal, director of the Office of Technology Services, expects to create more applications like CA.gov Locator because of the growing popularity of mobile computing. "We're watching this very, very carefully, because we're realizing that all of us fairly quickly are not going to be bound to a desktop or PC, or even a laptop," he says. "For the most part, normal interaction is going to be an iPhone or an Android or a BlackBerry."

Government Transparency on the Go

California's not the only state bitten by the iPhone bug. Arkansas has developed an iPhone app that tracks the state's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spending.

With the Arkansas.gov Recovery Projects Search application, users can filter projects by keyword or location to find how much and how quickly stimulus money is being spent on areas such as transportation, crime or efficiency. Each project screen includes location, total allocated dollars, start date, and current total expenditure.

Janet Grard, general manager for Arkansas.gov, says the state saw a need to reach out to the mobile community, and the iPhone presented a good opportunity. "The iPhone's GPS feature is a great way to search for funded programs or projects in the area you live," she says, referencing the application's "Near Me" feature that finds projects closest to the user.

Grard notes that the iPhone's popularity is probably largely due to its ease of use. "The iPhone interface is very intuitive," she says. "It simplifies the process of searching, and the interface provides an attractive way to present your information."

Applications such as those offered by California and Arkansas will become more common as state and local governments focus on accessibility and convenience through mobile applications. Thom Rubel, vice president of research for IDC Government Insights, says "Mobile applications present an inexpensive way to reach citizens and actually hold the potential to substantially decrease the cost of providing services."

Rubel says he believes this helps with the public's perception of the government, shifting it in a positive direction because of the government's willingness to adapt to the citizen lifestyle.

"As these applications become more publicized and marketed, people will increasingly use them because they're convenient and provide useful information," he says.

Jan 05 2010