The ALERT Toolkit: Best Practices in Public Alerting

At MassKnowtify, we have a deep understanding of the needs of public information professionals and the gaps that exist in how governments connect and engage with their constituents.  Our team has several years’ experience working with local government agencies and their communications professionals, and this experience has shaped the development of our platform.  And during our product development efforts, we’ve worked directly with public safety officials and public information officers to refine MassKnowtify to best meet the needs of our two distinct user groups: public agencies and citizens.

Through this process, we’ve observed a range of practices on how government communications are conducted at the local level.  We’ve taken this knowledge and developed the ALERT Toolkit to reiterate the best practices we’ve observed in working with local government agencies.

ALERT covers the entire life cycle of a public notification: Assess, Locate, Educate, React, Terminate.  All five stages are equally important, and neglecting even a single stage can undermine the messaging of an entire event.  In future posts, we will dive deeper into each of the five stages of the ALERT Toolkit.

Developing the ALERT Toolkit is integral to our mission of making communications between government and citizens more accessible, valuable, and effective.


A Guide for the Politically (and Geographically) Perplexed in LA County

We’ve long viewed the fragmented nature of local government and municipal services as a barrier to becoming adequately informed of important information as we travel from place to place, and city to city.

In a blog post at, LA journalist and author DJ Waldie notes that even journalists are confused and unaware of the distinctions made between the different layers and authorities of local governments in the Los Angeles region.  Los Angeles County consists of 88 distinct cities, but some cities share services while certain cities have jurisdiction to provide services inside other cities.  Confused yet?

These dynamics are certainly not unique to the Los Angeles area, but they are particularly pronounced in LA which creates significant confusion for citizens and communities.  Indeed, the fragmented nature of municipal boundaries across the U.S. creates fundamental challenges for public agencies to adequately inform citizens and communities of public information that’s relevant to them.

At MassKnowtify, we view these problems in two related ways:

  • How do you find important localized information if you don’t know where to look?
  • How can you be connected to the most relevant information to your specific location?

The MassKnowtify platform solves these problems by enabling local government agencies to provide location-based alerts that are timely and relevant to a citizen’s location.  The resulting benefits are clear: public agencies achieving more effective public messaging and communication, and citizens and communities becoming better informed and more empowered.

Iterations of Government Innovation

From an interview with NYC’s former deputy mayor for operations:

  • Version 0.5 is putting information online.
  • Version 1.0 is an electronic way to fill out a form.
  • Version 1.5 is providing citizens with ways to complain to government about an issue.
  • Version 2.0 is creating platforms for citizens to collaborate around information to improve outcomes.

The Essence of Open Gov

The forefront of innovation in government is happening in a movement known as “Open Gov.”  The basic concept is for government and public agencies to adopt a policy that government data should be open source.  Then, by opening up databases and providing raw data, new tools and analytical frameworks can be developed by anybody wanting to make government better.

San Francisco was one of the earliest adopters of the Open Gov movement for cities, led by former mayor Gavin Newsom.  At the press conference to announce SF’s Open Gov initiative in 2009, Newsom delivered a model approach for how to communicate the importance of the movement to government leaders and managers, whose cooperation and commitment led to the success of Open Gov in SF.

Full press conference is below, with the first 12 minutes devoted to Newsom, followed by more discussion from technologist Tim Reilly.

How the Internet will (one day) transform government

Clay Shirky delivered a TED Talk on the historical evolution of open source platforms and how they’ve made powerful changes to society through creating “cooperation without coordination.”  He explores how open source principles can be applied to modern day government and democracy.

One quote toward the end sums up his vision:

“There’s no democracy worth the name that doesn’t have a transparency movement.  But transparency is openness in only one direction.  And being given a dashboard without a steering wheel has never been the core promise a democracy makes to its citizens.”