How many times have we walked down the street, seen a government sign or posting and asked the question – “What’s going on here?”

Now there is a new technology that will help San Franciscans with Smartphones be able to answer that question right away – simply by scanning a “QR” code on the government sign.

Last month, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the Big Apple would begin using QR (Quick Response) codes on construction permits throughout the city. QR codes are those square bar codes you may have seen around that can be scanned by smartphones to get additional information.

When New Yorkers scan these codes, they are taken to a mobile website that gives information regarding what is being built, who is building it and more – including complaints – about the project. It also provides a direct link to New York’s 311 system that enables New Yorkers to call and ask questions or make their own complaints.

This easy-to-integrate tool would be ideal for a city as creative and innovative as San Francisco to use in order to foster a more open government.

This is the kind of information that makes a difference in our daily lives.  When we see a restaurant health grade – we want to know if that 90% score is for a small problem or perhaps the kind of health issue that is less than appetizing.

When a building permit goes up in our neighborhood, wouldn’t it be useful to quickly scan it and get a picture of just how high and how dense that building is going to be? And when and where we can testify about it at the planning commission?

In the past, providing interested citizens with documentation and information for everything city related – from restaurant health inspection reports to building inspections – would have been a difficult and arduous process. But that is no longer the case. The integration of Web and Gov 2.0 has given us the tools we need to be a truly transparent city government.

San Francisco Should Lead on Gov 2.0 and Technology Innovation

As one of the most progressive cities in the world – and with Silicon Valley just down the road – San Francisco should be at the forefront of utilizing Gov 2.0 technology. And while we have made great strides, we are still not doing enough. Other cities – New York, for example – are already implementing transparent, Gov 2.0 systems that bring important information seamlessly into people’s busy lives.

From iPhones to Blackberries to Androids, San Franciscans love their smartphones. Imagine being able to access information about multi-million dollar city construction projects or see why your favorite restaurant didn’t make the health inspector’s grade in between checking Facebook and playing Angry Birds. Holding that information in the palm of your hand instantly makes you more connected to The City – and each other.

One More Way to Help Reset San Francisco

The potential for using QR codes to improve our city and make government more transparent seems almost limitless. QR codes could be put inside MUNI busses and riders could scan to see if that particular bus has ever been in an accident or when the last time it was serviced. The City could put them inside cabs so that tourists (and locals alike) could scan them and find places nearby to eat or shop. New York has them on Department of Sanitation vehicles and when scanned, they open a page with a public service announcement regarding recycling. San Francisco could do something similar to better inform people about our recycling program.

According to Nielson’s December 2010 report, 31% of people using cell phones are using smartphones. That number is expected to top 50% by the end of this year. So, what are we waiting for?

San Franciscans’ busy schedules may preclude them from attending Board of Supervisor meetings or reading up on the newest building being constructed. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want information about their city. Let’s bring this important innovation to our buildings, restaurants, streets, busses and more importantly, put government easily and quickly into the palm of our hand.