Tag Archives: Government

Transparency Camp 2010: Government, Transparency, Open Data and Coffee

Some unconferences are codathons. Others focus on citizen engagement and Congress.

This weekend’s Transparency Camp in Washington, D.C. brought together technologists, journalists, developers, advocates for open data, open government and open data for discussions, case studies, workshops and even, as Micah Sifry put it, some secular colloquy.

Transparency Camp came at a time of immense foment in Washington and the country beyond. A historic healthcare reform had just been signed into law, including an overhaul of student loans. Midterm elections in Congress loom at the end of the year. And the nation’s economy continues towards an uncertain future, perhaps of  jobless recovery, after the Great Recession.

The Sunlight Foundation’s engagement director, Jake Brewer, kicked off the morning by asking how much had changed around government transparency since the last Transparency Camp. Make sure to read David “Oso” Sasaki’s notes from Transparency Camp for a superb narrative of his Saturday. (Sasaki is the Director of Rising Voices, a global citizen media outreach initiative of Global Voices Online.)

There have been no shortage of transparency wins over that time, as the video embedded below attests. Projects like Earmarkwatch.org,  OpenCongress.org or Punch Clock Map all show the potential for the Web to enable government transparency.

In 2010, there are more reasons to believe government transparency and open government will see more rapid advancement. As the co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation, Ellen Miller, pointed out in her introduction, there are more significant legislative efforts underway around transparency. The The Public Online Information Act (POIA), HR 4858, introduced by Rep. Steve Israel, would embraces a new formula for transparency: “public equals online.” And an omnibus ethics bill, HR 4983, would “amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, the Rules of the House of Representatives, the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, and the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to improve access to information in the legislative and executive branches.”

In looking at the role of this unconference in that context, the Director of Sunlight Labs, Clay Johnson, posed three big challenges for Transparency Camp:

  1. An Open Data Playbook. Clay described that as “an instruction manual for people inside government to teach them how to open their data
  2. A list of all jurisdictions and elected officials around the country
  3. A data exchange format for data catalogs, in a model like Google did with GTFS.

The success or failure of Transparency Camp can’t be measured by those metrics alone, however, although whether Johnson’s challenges are met by the community are absolutely part of the story of this weekend.


Identity and Government

Another excellent session at Transparency Camp came from Heather West and Kaliya Hamlin, aka @IdentityWoman. I had considerable context for their talk, given my coverage of OpenID and the Open Identity Exchange (OIX) and trust frameworks, specifically regarding the OIX trust framework as used for citizen-to-government authentication.

A key element of OIX, as Hamlin pointed out, was the standardization of online privacy principles promulgated though IDManagement.gov. Another important part of the identity picture is Microsoft’s release of part of the intellectual property for its U-Prove ID tokens under Open Specifcation, as detailed at credentica.com.

The Open Government Directive, Datasets and Data.gov

When the “three words” from the unconference were synthesized into a “Wordle” for Transparency Camp, four words emerged as the most powerful themes:

Open, government, transparency and, most of all, data.

The Open Government Directive (OGI) was a significant moment in American history, in terms of putting the data of operations into a format and venue where developers could access and parse it: data.gov.

Now that the resource is up, however, there are outstanding concerns about data quality, frequency and, most pertinently, utility. Andrew McLaughlin, the “Deputy Chief Nerd @ the White House” (aka deputy US chief technology officer), suggested that “to get reluctant agencies to embrace data sharing, focus on “high-reward”, not “high-value”, datasets.”

When asked if new guidance was needed, since “high-value datasets” for Data.gov are written into the OGI, McLaughlin responded that “some agencies will use a citizen-utility metric for prioritizing scarce resources. Others will focus on datasets that will are rapidly doable, to help overcome resistance and ease culture change. Both ways of defining “high-value” make sense.” The Venn diagram above illustrates how that might look.

McLaughlin also acknowledged a feature request for data.gov and apps.gov from the Transparency Camp community: more and better metadata, like data quality qualifiers or FISMA compliance status.

At the In Code We Trust: Open Government in New York

My favorite session for the day was a case study of open government featuring the New York Senate. With a nod to Lawrence Lessig, Noel Hidalgo, Sheldon Rampton and Mark Head showed precisely how law could be turned to code. I livestreamed “In Code We Trust” on uStream. After poor transparency ratings, a broad swath of changes to the New York state senate websites was implemented over the past year. New York was the first state senate to adopt Creative Commons for its intellectual property.

Photo Credit: Sheldon Rampton by Noel Hidalgo.]

The New York state senate is integrating open government with social media (see @NYSenate), live video, YouTube and code, at Github.com/NYSenateCIO. I saw Mark Heead, a developer, looked up a bill using the New York Senate API with an application on his smartphone. That API is behind a law browser for New York state legislation. The In Code We Trust Transparency Camp session is archived at uStream.

Health Information Technology

One of the basic principles of an unconference is the “law of two feet.” If you don’t like a session, you move. You own your own experience. Given that livestreamed parts of Transperency Camp, I also “voted with my feed,” moving my window to the Internet along with my body. After a session on the relationship of open government descended into somewhat unproductive discussion about open policy, I moved over to the healthcare information technology (HIT) session, which I recorded in part. Given the billions of dollars that will be flowing into healthcare IT over the next few years, as provisions of the Recovery Act are implemented, this was an important discussion.

Brian Behlendorf, a notable open source technologist, led the session. There’s now an Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to direct action, available on the Web at HealthIT.gov or on Twitter at @ONC_HealthIT. As Andrew McLaughlin noted, Brian Ahier maintains a great blog on health IT, including details on how the healthcare reform bill affects HIT.

Local Government and the Digital Divide

Another excellent session featured discussions about how transparency is coming to people closer to home.

Literally.

OpenMuni.org provides some perspective on that effort. The Ideascale model of crowdsourced recommendations for better efficiency and governance has been applied to local government, at least in beta, at Localocracy. The first pilot has been put into action at Amherst, Massachusetts.

The local government session at Transparency Camp was also fortunate to have the D.C. CTO, Bryan Sivek, and staff from @octolabs present.

Sivek defined his role as integral to both enabling better services online, like the city resource request center at 311.dc.gov, finding efficiencies for government through IT, and in bringing more citizens the benefit of connectivity. He illuminated a yawning gap in Internet use, observing that “DC has a huge issue with the digital divide. In Wards 5, 7 and 8, 36% of the people are connected.”

One of the stories of the digital divide in D.C. is told at InternetForEveryone.com. The importance of offering technological resources to those without access at home was evidenced by recent research showing that nearly one third of the United States population uses public library computers for Internet access.

Bryan Sivek is  now looking for feedback on how to use technology better in the District, elements of which are evidenced at track.dc.gov.

Odds, Ends, Resources and Takeaways

I was reminded of a great travel resource, FlyOnTime.us, and learned about a new one for Washington, ParkItDC.com.

I wish the former existed for Amtrak.

I learned about data and visualizations of local campaign spending at FollowTheMoney.org and government transparency at OpenSecrets.org.

Most of all, I was reminded by how many brilliant, passionate and engaged people are working to improve government transparency and efficiency through technology, collaboration and advocacy.

The Flickr pool features many of the faces.

I look forward to learning more from others about what happened on day two of Transparency Camp.

Update: The Sunlight Foundation posted a video of Transparency Camp attendees on April 1.

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Transparency Camp 2010: 3 Words from the D.C. unconference

You can access and embed this Wordle for 3 Words from Transparency Camp 2010 at Wordle.net.

Learn more about Transparency Camp at TransparencyCamp.org. There is a Transparency Camp livestream.

Here’s a second Wordle for Transparency Camp 2010 that removes the transparency duplicate, since Wordle.net dupes words when they’re capitalized.

Finally, there’s a final Wordle for Transparency Camp 2010, with all capitals removed. Fittingly, I had to clean my data to get a good visualization that accurately represented the data I reported upon.

Here’s a fourth Wordle, with a more vibrant take:

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SupremeCourt.gov relaunched: Fresh design, old PDFs, broken links, still no video. [#Gov20]

There’s a new .gov on the block: after years of a decidedly dated website, the Supreme Court has a new look — and address — at SupremeCourt.gov. The Supreme Court announced the new site without a great deal of fanfare, sending a release which SCOTUSblog.com posted as a PDF.

As Orin Kerr observes at the Volokh Conspiracy,  the new site replaces the old supremecourtus.gov and drops “us” from the URL. Users still have to enter “www” in, however, which is less than ideal. C’est la vie.

My Supreme Court preview for 2009-2010 has been a constant source of traffic to this blog, demonstrating a continued interest from the online audience in the cases before the highest court in the land.

Despite the “updated and more user-friendly design,” that the release promised, some users may be frustrated.

There’s a separate concern for the rest of the Web, however: as clicking on the links that post show, SupremeCourt.gov webmasters have not forwarded many old URLs to new ones. Many links simply default to the home page. I suspect a few law librarians around the world may have a headache tomorrow.

It’s going to be a grimace-inducing issue for a few newspapers, too, if redirects aren’t rolled into place. The most-debated ruling of recent months, “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission,” in which the Justices rejected campaign spending limits?

That’s now a default link to the SupremeCourt.gov home page from the New York Times SCOTUS story on it. (Google also hosts a PDF of the decision, if a searcher is clever enough to find the cached version.) “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commissionis up at SupremeCourt.gov. It’s just a new URL. SCOTUSblog.com has the same issue with links to opinions. These broken links are going to be a huge headache for organizations of all stripes if the redirects don’t get implemented.

Better calendar, decisions listed, external resources absent

On the positive side, an interactive “argument calendar” is now up on the front page. Clicking on a day brings up the cases to be argued. Another click brings the visitor to a page with a list of the actions that have been taken, along with a link to “Questions presented.”

For those who visit SupremeCourt.gov in search of recent decisions, one click will bring the searcher to a list of Supreme Court decisions from the current term, rendered in chronological order. If you want to go back further, search away – but good luck going very far back in time. A search for another famous case, “Bush v. Gore,” for instance, turns up very little on the new site. The case is just a click away elsewhere, at Supreme.Justia.com, for instance, or at Oyez.org, where audio of Bush v. Gore may be heard. Given the rich resources that exist elsewhere on the Web, it is unfortunate for information-seekers that internal search doesn’t point elsewhere. Even though legal concerns about endorsements of third-party commercial media concerns may pertain, stated website policies would appear to insulate the court against some of those concerns.

Searching for an individual case is improved over the previous function. The search field is clearly viewable on the top right. For those interested in visiting the court, that information is clearly presented and organized. And a FAQ provides a wealth of information for those “frequently asked questions.”

PDFs aplenty, no XML “in site”

It’s also worth observing that most documents on SupremeCourt.gov remain in .PDF format. On the one hand, that may allow it to be spidered by Google. On the other, PDF is definitely not a machine-readable format. Clay Johnson has made a strong case for why that PDFs are problematic for government. I’m not inclined to disagree, although I’d much rather see cases, briefs and other documents posted as PDFs than not at all. Given the continued reliance on PDFs, however, don’t expect enterprising “lawhackers” to create mashups like the ones surrounding data.gov.

Given the improvements to other federal websites, in particular WhiteHouse.gov and the launch of the FCC’s Reboot.gov, I can’t help feel disappointment. The fact that there is no video or audio of cases remains a standing frustration, given the careful questioning and deliberation the justices display and the long hours of preparation counsel undergo to argue cases before the Supreme Court.

The release regarding the new launch further reports the following

Tthe Supreme Court has now assumed management of its own website, retrieving it from the Government Printing Office.” The Court received funding in its FY20 10 appropriation to make the transition from GPO to in-house management. That transition will enable the Court to integrate the Web site with the Court’s other operations, improve the quality of the site, and expand services for the public’s benefit. The Court received funding in its FY20 10 appropriation to make the transition from GPO to in-house management. That transitionwill enable the Court to integrate the Web site with the Court’s other operations, improve thequality of the site, and expand services for the public’s benefit.

SupremeCourt.gov does provide access to opinionsordersdocketCourt calendarstranscriptsschedulesrulesvisitors’ guidescase-handling guidespress releases and other general information.

If the public is to benefit further by leveraging the Internet to gain insight into the Supreme Court’s operations, the webmasters of SupremeCourt.gov might do well to focus their efforts in the rest of the 2010 towards implementing further improved functions as well as that fresh design. If they can fix those broken links and supplement existing case pages with external resources, like the Supreme Court Database, perhaps that livestream of oral arguments can wait for a few more months.

UPDATE: For more coverage on the new SupremeCourt.gov, see:

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Executive Summary of FCC National Broadband Plan released [#BBplan]

This morning, the Federal Communications Commission provided an executive summary (PDF) of its National Broadband Plan. I’ve embedded it below.

The FCC mobile broadband testing apps is likely to factor into gathering data for those speed assurances.

The New York Times published a story on the FCC’s National Broadband Plan this weekend that provides some context for why the release “is likely to generate debate in Washington and a lobbying battle among the telecommunication giants.”

Stacy Higginbotham’s article on the role of competition in the FCC broadband plan at GigaOm is also definitely worth a read, including an excellent analysis of the summary above. As she observes:

Taken together, better information about broadband speeds and pricing, special access reform, making it easier to build out municipal fiber, and open set-top boxes will likely have the greatest impact on consumers, while the ability to get better data on services could have the most far-reaching effect if the FCC decides to use that information to promote competition.

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National Broadband Plan takes shape with Digital Literacy Corps, USF update

“Despite widespread deployment, nearly a third of Americans have not embraced broadband,” said FCC Commissioner Baker this morning at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  Baker spoke at the Digital Inclusion Summit, an event co-hosted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Knight Foundation to offer perspective the state of the nation’s connectivity and a preview up the upcoming National Broadband Plan, due to be delivered to Congress on March 17.

FCC Chairman Genachowski said that there has been the unprecedented “open process” for the Plan, including livestreams of 40 public workshops, 70 posts at blog.broadband.gov that generated thousands of comments. That process has brought “vital points into focus,” said Genachowski. Rural, minorities, disabled, senior, tribal communities are all lagging in broadband adoption and access. “The cost of digital exclusion is high and growing every day,” he said. In fact, a recent study from the Digital Impact Group estimated the aggregate economic cost of digital exclusion at $55 billion per year.

Key news from the Digital Inclusion Summit:

  • The FCC and the KnightFoundation announced $100,000 in prizes for a “civic computer programming contest,” “Apps for  Inclusion.”
  • While eight days remain until the release of the National Broadband Plan (See Broadband.gov),  the FCC has indicated that it will include a “National Digital Literacy Corps,” an update to Lifeline and work on building out public, private and nonprofit partnerships.
  • The Plan may also include spectrum for free wireless broadband. As reported in Reuters, the FCC may also “dedicate spectrum to free wireless Internet service for some Americans to increase affordable broadband service nationwide. One way of making broadband more affordable is to ‘consider use of spectrum for a free or a very low cost wireless broadband service,” the FCC said in a statement.”

An “Apps for Inclusion” Challenge

Ibargüen speaks at the Newseum (Courtesy FCC)

Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen presented a summary of the Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, comparing information to basic commodities to good streets and clean water.

“If information is a core need, and if it is to be delivered digitally, then logically to be a fully participating citizen one must have access,” he said.

Ted Olson, Knight Co-Chair, would echo that sentiment later. “Information is as vital as air and water to democratic communities,” said Olson. “Citizens must have it to thrive.”

In voicing his support for broadband and new media literacy, Ibargüen noted a recent study from Pew Internet that the Internet has surpassed newspapers as a primary means of getting news for Americans, including many “non-traditional” means like personal feeds, social media and mobile applications.  Ibargüen compared broadband to the national infrastructure projects of past generation. “I can’t wait to build the equivalent of Eisenhower’s highways — or for that matter the railroads under Lincoln,” he said.

The Knight Foundation and FCC Apps for Inclusion Challenge will award cash prices to developers who can create easier online access to services and information. “This contest reflects on three beliefs that are key to our work at Knight Foundation,” said Ibargüen in a prepared release. “First, our ideal of informed, engaged communities; second, our conviction that universal broadband is key to achieving this ideal; and third, our deep interest in using new approaches to connect with innovators.”

The Inclusion Challenge follows the Knight News Challenge, which distributed $5 million dollars for digital innovation. “Citizens should be able to see voting records or campaign contributions,” said Ibargüen after his speech.

“This is an open-ended contest. Like the News Challenge, we don’t know what will come of it,” he said. “I do know that [the Challenge] has been phenomenally successful in generating ideas that we could not have imagined.”

A video montage of the Digital Inclusion Summit from the Knight Blog is embedded below:

Support from Congress, officials on broadband initiatives

Other federal officials and members of Congress were also on hand to share their perspectives on the importance of the broadband plan.

HUD Secretary Donovan spoke of creating “a geography of opportunity” through broadband, working through private, public and nonprofit partnerships. “Too often today we can predict the outcome of a kid’s life by their zip code,” he said.

“With broadband, we can use access to drive other outcomes,” said Secretary Donovan. “The ability to learn is not limited by school or resources available. Seniors and the disabled can get control of their healthcare or get better housing. It is not just about the hardware, the wiring, the computers themselves, it’s about the barriers to actualizing using the technology.”

Secretary Donovan suggested three ways to apply technological innovation where it’s needed:

  1. local outreach on the specific ways technology can improve lives
  2. digital literacy training
  3. workforce development and financial literacy training.

Secretary Donovan said they’ll need to work with nonprofit and private sectors to “bring down the cost of computers and monthly service.” He observed that “our most creative housing developers and civic institutions are nonprofit CDCs. If we’re going to be successful, we need to engage private sector and fundamentally engage that third sector.”

Representative Lee Terry (R-NE), following Commissioner Baker, said that “90% of Nebraskans have access to broadband but “puts an asterisk next to that. It’s 200 kbps. That doesn’t work in 21st Century.” Rep. Lee stated his support for reform of the Universal Service Fund to provide rural broadband.

Using a phrase that might raise some libertarian hackles, FCC Commissioner Copps called Internet access a civil right. “Access denied is opportunity denied,” he said. Full text of Copps’ remarks is available as .doc or PDF at FCC.gov.

Rep. Ed Markey, courtesy of the FCC.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) spoke at length about the importance of broadband to civic life and equal access. As the Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang observed, Markey put national broadband charge for FCC in stimulus plan. And, as Kim Hart reported in the Hill, broadband funding from the stimulus has been a contentious topic.

Rep. Markey cited the precedent of E-Rate in improving digital literacy. According to Rep. Markey, 95% of US schools and libraries are now connected to the Internet, up from 14%.

In an alliterative moment, Rep. Markey observed that the “plan is not merely for megabits and megahertz but consumers and community.”

Joey Durel, City-Parish President, spoke about “muni fiber” at Lafayette, Louisiana, where a “citizen-owned utility” company delivers up to 50 Mbps at costs lower to comparable commercial services.

As Durel has said elsewhere, commenting at DSL Reports, Lafayette muni fiber also supports 100Mbps symmetrical P2P.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said 75% of U.S. employers require prospective employees to apply online. “Affordability is a necessity, not a luxury,” she said. Rep. Matsui referred to the Broadband Affordability Act, which would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to establish a Lifeline Assistance Program for universal broadband adoption to include low-income citizens. Before she spoke, FCC Chairman Genachowski gave Matsui and other members of credit due credit for the inclusion of the USF in the Broadband Plan.  “I want you to hear it from me before the tabloids,” he joked.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D0CA) described the importance of connecting to a wider world, removing language barriers. He observed that people are ten times more likely to use the Internet if they’ve gone to college. “What we’re doing in connecting all Americans to broadband is helping those families who are too distant from the rest of us,” he said.

Examples of success for technology education, pleas for connectivity

A diverse set of citizens also spoke at the Summit to share how access to broadband or technology changed their lives. Rhonda Locklear, a housing specialist for the Lumbee Tribe in Pembroke, NC, shared her pain in not being able to provide her child with broadband connectivity he needs for homework. “If our children don’t get what they need, they’re going to be left behind,” she said.

Korean War vet and writer Garrison Phillips talked about how the OATS program engaged and trained seniors in the use of technology. Phillips said he began blogging in his 70s, thanks to digital programs aimed at seniors, and that’s he’s grateful for Net access to information, given the challenges posed by living in a 6th floor walkup.

For AmeriCorps volunteer Alex Kurt, the success of a tech skills program in Minnesota “only highlighted how big the problem really is. For each person I help, two to three more come saying ‘I lost my job. I can’t use a computer,'” he said. More information regarding the program Kurt is involved in is available at wip.technologypower.org.

Florence Pearson and her daughter speak at the Newseum. Picture courtesy of FCC.

“I was handicapped. I had to have someone else type my work for me,” said Florence Pearson, Education Director at Head Start in NYC, as quoted on the KnightBlog and pictured on the left with her daughter. “[After training,] all I can see are possibilities for myself and my family. I went in with fear and came out with the motivation to tackle the computer and make my children proud.”

And what does the FCC and broadband mean to Irvin Aviles, a computer technician from Baltimore? “Broad opportunities for a common community,” he said, explaining how training and certification led to employment for the father of four at Time Warner Cable in Baltimore.

Launching a National Digital Literacy Corps

“If today’s disparities are not addressed, our digital divide will soon become a digital canyon,” said FCC Commissioner Clyburn, who said a “National Digital Literacy Corps” will be part of the National Broadband Plan.

“Broadband is one of our generation’s most important challenges, primarily because it presents one of our most monumental opportunities,” said Clyburn. Universal broadband and the skills to use it can lower barriers of means and distance to help achieve a more equal opportunity for all Americans.”

According to Clyburn, next week’s Plan will recommend a three-part National Digital Literacy Program that will consist of

  • a National Digital Literacy Corps
  • a one-time investment to bolster the capacity of libraries and community centers
  • an Online Skills portal for free, basic digital skills training.

Why? “As political dialogue moves to online forums; as the Internet becomes the comprehensive source of real-time news and information; and as the easiest access to our government becomes email or a Web site, then those who are offline become increasingly disenfranchised,” said Clyburn. “Until recently, not having broadband was simply an inconvenience. Now it’s becoming essential to opportunity and even citizenship. As I have said before, if the adoption gap is not addressed soon, today’s digital divide will soon transform into a digital canyon.”

“Altogether, 93 million Americans do not have broadband at home. And adoption rates are much lower among certain populations, including rural Americans [50%], the elderly [65%], persons with disabilities [42%], low-income Americans [40%], African Americans [59%], and Hispanics [49%]. Among the 13 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 who do not have broadband at home, 6 million are either Hispanic or African American. These disparities won’t just disappear over time if we sit back and do nothing.”

Full text of Commissioner Clyburn’s announcement of the Digital Literacy Corps is available as a PDF.

Principles of the National Broadband Plan

“Targeted solutions should aim to direct resources at populations less likely to be online with broadband,” said Clyburn. Collaborative solutions acknowledge the need for government leadership and coordination in this area; but also rely on the private, non-profit and philanthropic sectors. And local solutions understand that, while the decision to adopt is an individual one, the path to adoption is social.”

“The staff has come up with a number of recommendations with these goals in mind,” said Clyburn.  “To help with cost, the Plan recommends expanding low income Universal Service support to broadband, and exploring using spectrum for a free or very low cost wireless service.  Partnerships between the public, private, non-profit and philanthropic sectors, can help address the relevance barrier by encouraging comprehensive solutions that combine hardware, service, training and content, and by conducting outreach and awareness campaigns that target underserved communities.”

Applying “Gov2.0″ in practice

The use of social media and other collaboration technology online has been notable in many branches of government. The FCC launched Reboot.gov earlier this year, following OpenInternet.gov and Broadband.gov.

Even if FCC.gov remains dated, the FCC itself has moved quickly to use crowdsourcing tools for questions,  @FCC took questions about the digital inclusion at summit using the event’s #BBplan hashtag or using email sent to newmedia@fcc.gov. (Authors of “questions from Twitter,” however, were not unattributed.) Several of the tweeted questions were answered and webcast at FCC.gov/live. That virtuous feedback loop using a combination of online collaborative tools and a livestream is one of the better examples of so-called “government 2.0″ technology I’ve seen in action.

The FCC and Knight Foundation also distributed USB flash drives with PDFs of remarks, reports and relevant links, along with paper versions of the same. That move was both digitally savvy and helpful to members of the media or general audience.

Following the broadband debate ahead

As Amy Gahran pointed out in her post on the National Broadband Plan at the Knight Digital Media Center, this moment presents opportunities for community news and civic engagement.

Given the stakeholders involved in this project, the months ahead will likely be contentious as well. Gahran is spot on in this observation:

“Large, established businesses such as cable companies, broadcasters, and telcos have much at stake and are throwing substantial lobbying muscle toward protecting their interests. Expect that the there will be changes to the plan between the time it goes to committee and the version that eventually makes it to the floor of Congress.

Gahran shared events and resources that will be of use to readers in the D.C. area and beyond in following both the debate around broadband policy and implementation.

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Voices from the #Gov20LA Unconference: On Innovation and #Gov20

Earlier this month, I stopped in Los Angeles to see what was happening at Goverment 2.0 LA, a hybrid of the unconference/camp and conference model organized by Alan W. Silberberg and Lovisa Williams. I’ve already shared some thoughts on what I learned about language of government 2.0, the history of disruptive innovation and the ways government adapts to technological change.

While I’m proud of those posts, one of the themes that emerged from the weekend was the importance of video for communication. I’m not at all on “video as the new text,” especially for countries with low Internet penetration or bandwidth, but there’s no denying that online video has extraordinary power in conveying messages. Just look at video of Iranian protesters on the streets of Tehran, reports from the earthquake in Haiti or the President of the United States on YouTube. Tune in to CitizenTube any minute of the day to witness that power in action.

Following are short videos from Gov2.0 LA organizers and attendees that share their takeways from the event.

Lovisa Williams

@lovisatalk talks about the goals of the Gov2.0 LA Camp.

Ben Berkowitz

@BenBerkowitz is the CEO of SeeClickFix.

Lewis Shepherd

@LewisShepherd discusses collaborative technology and government.

Wayne Burke

@wmburke talks about Govluv.org, on online platform for connecting to government representatives using Twitter.

Antonio Oftelie

@AntonioOftelie conducted a Government 2.0 Survey for Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Alan Webber

@AlanWebber talks about the international flavor of the Gov2.0 LA Camp.

Laurel Ruma

@LaurelRuma on her impressions from Day 1.

Lisa Borodkin

@LisaBorodkin on the language of Government 2.0.

Christina Gagnier

Christina @Gagnier on communicating about Government 2.0.

Justin Herman

@JustinHerman goes West Coast.

Adriel Hampton

@AdrielHampton on his impressions from Day 1.

Finally, here’s GovFresh.tv‘s video that features interviews with some of the people above and more:

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On Language: Government 2.0, jargon and technology [#gov20LA]

Does the public need to know what Government 2.0 is?

One might ask Tim O’Reilly, who has written eloquently about the topic and emceed the Gov2.0 Summit last year. One might also ask Mark Drapeau, who asked the question above earlier tonight on his blog, or Laurel Ruma, his co-chair at the Gov2.0 Expo last year, which showcased software and online platforms that used government data in innovative ways.

Or one might ask the nation’s technology executives, like US CIO Vivek Kundra or CTO Aneesh Chopra, both of whom participated in the Summit in Washington last summer. The attendees of the summit were asked by the organizers to define the term themselves in an online contest, offering up a multitude of interpretations of the nebulous term. Unfortunately, tonight I didn’t seek comment, turning instead to Wikipedia for the crowd’s opinion. As of tonight’s version, Wikipedia’s entry for “Government 2.0” defines it as:

“a neologism for attempts to apply the social networking and integration advantages of Web 2.0 to the practice of governmentWilliam (Bill) Eggers claims to have coined the term in his 2005 book, Government 2.0: Using Technology to Improve Education, Cut Red Tape, Reduce Gridlock, and Enhance Democracy.[1] Government 2.0 is an attempt to provide more effective processes for government service delivery to individuals and businesses. Integration of tools such as wikis, development of government-specific social networking sites and the use of blogs, RSS feeds and Google Maps are all helping governments provide information to people in a manner that is more immediately useful to the people concerned.[2]

Well and good. The line I find most compelling in the above explanation for the term is the “attempt to provide more effective processes for government service delivery to individuals and businesses.” If I had to explain the idea to my technophobic friends, that’s the tack I’d take. O’Reilly defined government 2.0 as a platform, which I also find to be a useful metaphor, if one that demands the explanation that O’Reilly himself provided at TechCrunch.

Getting technical with government

For those more technically inclined, it might be useful to talk about open data, mashups, Data.gov, the Open Government directive, XML, XBRL, virtualization, cloud computing, social media and a host of other terms that have meaning in context but without prior knowledge do little to inform the public about what, precisely, the “2.0” means. Most people have some sense of what “government” is, though there’s no shortage of opinion about how it should be constituted, run, regulated, managed or funded. Those discussions go back to the earliest days of humanity, well before organizing principles or rules emerged from Hammurabi or were enshrined on the Magna Carta or constitutions.

In all of that time, the body politic and its regulatory and enforcement arms have been equipped with increasingly sophisticated tools. In 2010, agencies and public servants have unprecedented abilities because of the rapid growth of online tools to both engage and inform both their constituencies, relevant markets and others within government. The question that confronts both citizens and public servants around the globe is how to turn all of that innovation to useful change. Savvy political campaigns have already found ways to leverage the Internet as a platform for both organizing and fundraising. Few observers failed to see the way that the Obama campaign leveraged email, text messaging, online donations and social networking in 2008.

One area that will be of intense interest to political observers in 2010 will be whether that same online savvy can be harnessed in the Congressional mid-terms. Micah Sifry wrote about an “Obama Disconnect” at length; I leave it to him to explore that question. What I find compelling is whether any of these technologies can be turned to making better policy or delivering improved services. In theory, good data can be aggregated to create information, which can then in turn be used to form knowledge. Whether the Open Government Directive dashboard at White House.gov reveals information or simply adherence to defined policy is on open question.

Where Web 2.0 matters to Government 2.0

Does the public need to know what Government 2.0 is, exactly? One might wonder if the public needed to know about what “Web 2.0″ was? Judging by search traffic and years of Web 2.0 Conferences, my perception has been that there’s interest, if only to know what the next version of the World Wide Web might be, exactly. After all, the Web that Tim Berners-Lee’s fecund mind brought into being has been one of the most extraordinary innovations in humanity’s short history: what could be better? The short answer has often reflected the definition of Government 2.0 above: a combination of technologies that allows people to more easily publish information online, often with a social software or computing component that enables community between their online identities.

In 2010, the dominant platforms that represent Web 2.0 are well known: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, Delicious, Digg, Ning, StumbleUpon and a host of new mobile communities or platforms. In each case, the company is often defined by what it allows users to do: upload pictures or video, stay connected to friends, track and discover news, save bookmarks or create communities that do all of those things.

When it comes to government 2.0, I believe that’s precisely how any service be defined: by its utility to helping citizens or agencies solve problems, either for individuals or the commons. The 2.0 term provides an umbrellas term for the movement and the technologies.

Why explaining Government 2.0 matters

As a thought experiment, I asked five people in the lobby where I write if they knew what “government 2.0″ was. I asked the same question of “Web 2.0.” In every circumstance, no one could explain the term.

And, in every circumstance, people knew what Facebook, Twitter or YouTube was, including the use of those technologies by government officials.

That’s one reason why Bill Grundfest’s talk at a “Government 2.0 Camp in Los Angeles was a useful balance this past weekend, not least because as the creator of  “Mad About You” he’s part of the cultural and business fabric of Hollywood.

Grundfest sat through the morning’s sessions and took copious notes in a way that was novel, at least to this author, capturing the themes, memes and jargon shared in the talks on coffee cups.

Christina Gagnier, an IP attorney located in LA, wrote about Grundfest’s approach at the Huffington Post in “Gov 2.0: A message from Hollywood to the Beltway.”

As she captured there, the focus of Grundfest’s frequently entertaining talk was grounded in the entertainment business: communicate clearly, humanize what’s being offered and move away from jargon.

That message was delivered, by and large, to a room that knew and used the jargon. For that audience, getting advice from a true outsider held utility in both its clarity and lack of pretension. Grundfest may not have developed or managed government programs to deliver services but he has certainly learned how to tell stories.

Storytelling, as journalists and teachers know well, is one of the most powerful ways to share information. It’s an art form and human experience that goes back to our earliest days, as hunters and gatherers huddled around fires to share knowledge about the world, passing on the wisdom of generations.

The activity is scarcely limited to our species, as anyone who’s watched a honey bee shimmy and shake to pass on the details of a pollen gathering trip knows, but humanity’s language skills do tend to advance our ability to convey knowledge, along with the technologies we have at our disposal.

Grundfest recommended the use of video, testimonials and other narrative forms to provide an entrance point into the what, how, where and, especially, why of new government technologies or platforms for engagement.

Couched in humor, his audience responded with interest to the simplicity of the message. Embedded below is a video on the Gov2.o LA unconference from Govfresh that reflects that recommendation. (For others, visit YouTube.com/digiphile) By and large, I believe Grundfest’s message was delivered to a crowd of “goverati” for whom the message was valuable.

Instead of dwelling any further on what Government 2.0 might be or couching discussion or branding in jargon, explain what the technology or platform will do — and what problem it will solve. And at the end of the day, remember that on language, usage drives meaning.

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A history lesson in disruptive innovation applied to modern government [#gov20LA]

When people talk about “government 2.o,” it’s often couched in terms of a new, shiny idea. Using a version number imbues the category with heady techno-futurism and taints discussions with the hype that surrounds social media and “Web 2.0″ technologies.

The morning of the first day of the Government 2.0 unconference in LA featured sessions and speakers devoted to something else entirely: history. Practical applications and an open forum on how to make the language used more approachable to citizens followed Cory Andrejka’s talk on  how government can adapt to exponential technological change. As he pointed out, however, analyzing open data sets to in ways that help citizens and commerce isn’t novel.

Driving Adoption of Disruptive Innovation

According to Andrejka, one area to improve lies in identifying technological innovation within the private sector and adopting it where it makes sense. In the present day, that may be digital tools and online platforms where citizens gather.

To put the challenge in content, for good or ill, adoption has often driven by crises or societal disruption. In the 1800s, the Civil War in the United States drove the development of new military technologies, often with far-reaching effect.

As Harvard’s Antonio Oftelie explained later in the morning, the Spencer repeating rifle was one such innovation.

That weapon could take seven shots for every one from traditional rifles. Unfortunately, the generals of the day within a conservative Department of War resisted its adoption for any number of logistical and tactical rationales. Spencer took the gun West, and, famously, to  a shooting match with the President himself. Lincoln, a fine shot, put 7 bullets into a board, which Spencer saved. Subsequently, Lincoln put the gun into production.

Gaining access to critical “influencers” or IT buyers is no less important today. The use of Facebook, Twitter or Drupal by the White House has given each additional legitimacy as a means to engage citizens, amplify a message or collect information.

According to a Gov 2.0 survey conducted by Oftelie, however, the most valuable use of technology in government is for “enterprise-wide, net-enabled guidance and collaboration.”

Oftelie outlined four broad areas where collaborative technology platforms can be useful and are being employed now:
  • Policy
  • Productivity
  • Equity
  • Legitimacy
“We want to know how things are being decided,” he said. “There’s unprecedented interest in transparency into policy, fairness.”
Oftelie observed that while the potential for collaboration technologies to create transformational change is substantial, the transition for most government agencies or other organization can be rocky.
Hierarchies of authority are disrupted, even while new models for remote, asynchronous service with fewer interruptions emerge. Citizens are increasingly expecting (and finding)  self-service options on government websites.
“All of the challenges that government faces cut across organizational boundaries,” said Oftelie. “Most technologies aren’t easy to learn, and they’re even tough to implement.”
Note: Security concerns about social media are also relevant. (See the Federal CIO Council’s Guidelines for Social Media [PDF], embedded below, for some best practices for agencies).

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If technological change is exponential, how can government adapt?

Can the agile development cycle be applied to government? Cory Ondrejka, c0-founder of Second Life, offered up a provocative paean for more flexible adaption to new online platforms for citizen engagement and empowerment. “Who will know first if the rules have changed: customers, partners, clients?”

Ondrejka drew a fascinating parallel between today’s open government movement and an open data case study from another age: the Era of Sail.

In the The Physical Geography of the Sea,” published in the mid-1800s, a disabled sailor who could no longer serve as crew found something to do from ashore: aggregate the logs of weather, winds and current.

As Matthew Fontaine Maury started aggregating that data, he found patterns. Maury saw great value in publishing this data “in such a manner that each may have before him, at a glance, the experience of all.”

Ondrejka suggested that government agencies and those creating applications that use open data “write less code, get more data.”

When it comes to resources, he asked, “who’s cheaper: a silicon or carbon employee?”

His observation that social computing platforms will “require different level of trust, support and information” is apt; citizens now have different expectations from a government that’s gone online than existed in an analog world.

As Ondrejka put it, online users represent the “largest focus group in the world.” And in that content, he says, there is a role for government innovation, and it should be occupied by both leaders and citizens.

Ondrejka provided one more “analog” example of how government data was used in the 1800s. By studying harpoon designs, Maury found that many whales in the Pacific has previously been harpooned in the Atlantic and vice versa. He used that as evidence of a Northwest Passage. While that didn’t go well for subsequent explorers who went north and ran up against a frozen ocean, the ’49ers were able to use the data to reduce the length of time it took to get around Cape Horn. In those days, it took more than 200 days to travel from New York City to San Francisco.

The Clipper Ship "Flying Cloud" off the Needles, Isle of Wight, by James E. Buttersworth, 1859-60

The Clipper Ship "Flying Cloud" off the Needles, Isle of Wight, by James E. Buttersworth, 1859-60

As the Gold Rush was on, time was at a premium, and for “extreme clipper ships” like Flying Cloud, any advantage that could be derived from patterns in the data had economic value.

A similar parallel to innovation using government data can be seen today in the use of the global positioning system (GPS) that the U.S. funded.

With any of these technologies, however, there’s a long-standing pattern in technology adoption, the data around which follows a “fairly predictable” curve, said Ondrejka. That “linear to exponential” is something that’s been true in multiple technologies, from email to the VCR to the DVD to social media platforms like Facebook.

In government, however, applying such technology has multiple considers, including regulations, transparency and cybersecurity.

“When you’re driving institutional change, you’re requiring people to be fearless,” said Ondrejka. “Experimental culture doesn’t mean just go try stuff.”

Measurement is key. “Stay out of the Church of Assumption,” he said. “The plural of anecdote is not evidence.”

Concerns about data ownership are also central, as are questions about vendor lock-in or the use proprietary formats. “We need to be careful about not releasing the data that taxpayers pay for,” said Ondrejka.

UPDATE: Ondrejka has posted his presentation online (embedded below), ” Cory Ondrejka Government 2.0 LA Opening Keynote” and blogged about government 2.0 at Ondrejka.net.

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Kicking off Government 2.0 Camp LA: 3 words [#gov20LA]

Another weekend, another unconference. I’ll be at the Government 2.0 Camp in LA this Saturday and Sunday.
As is the tradition at most unconferences, attendees went around the room and introduced themselves with a name, affiliation and “three words” to describe themselves.  Here’s the Wordle I created from them:

Here’s the list I used to generate the Wordle above:
Live with excellence
Creativity community action
Digital media law
Public services cost efficiently
Transforming canadien government
Fight organized corruption
Citizen engagement congress
I’m here to listen
Enabling government innovation
Crisis commons +1
Strategic communication technology
Relationships through technology
Missing the snowpocalypse
Awarenesss involvement persusian
Participation community engagement
Mahala for government
Tech empowerment
Government collaborate communication
Mobile government
Learn explore create
Global digital community
Excited about unconferences
Connect the dots
Self sufficient communities
Implementing efficiencuy engagement
Changing orange county
Disrupt for good
Pittsburgh pa
Advanced technology government
Respect empower include
Multicultural digital branding
Community engagement volunteerism
Culture jamming spy
Open source government
Make it happen
Making government responsive
Keep technology simple
Lead plan design
In between elections
Make congress fun
Communicating via neighbors
Forgiveness is faster than permission
Steep learning curve
Unaffiliated Local bus rider
You’e the change
Collision Impact transformation
International engagement through gameplay
Transparency society law
Long live Barack
Stories change the world
Collaborate engage grow
Engaging new paradigms
Open NASA open gov
Technology behind gov2.0
Cloud enables transparency
Geeks beer technology
People watch content not pipes
Information isn’t owned
Lover of life
Where’s your restroom
Diplomacy community engagement
Follow the conversation on Twitter by following #gov20LA at Twazzup or the livestream at Gov20LA.org.

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