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December 29 2010

2010 Gov 2.0 Year in Review

I recently talked with Federal News Radio anchor Chris Dorobek about Gov 2.0 in 2010 and beyond. While our conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics, it was clear afterwards that I'd missed many of the year's important stories in Gov 2.0 during the relatively short segment. I went back over hundreds of posts on Gov 2.0 at Radar and GovFresh, thousands of tweets and other year-end lists, including Govloop's year in review, Gartner's Top 10 for Government 2.0 in 2010, Bill Allison's end of year review, Andrew P. Wilson's memorables from 2010, Ellen Miller's year in Sunlight 2010, John Wonderlich's 2010 in policy and GovTwit's top Gov 2.0 stories. Following are the themes, moments and achievements that made an impact.

Gov 2.0 spreads worldwide

The year was marked by the international spread of Gov 2.0 initiatives. Wherever connections are available in the United States, citizens are turning to the Internet for government data, policy and services. Applying that trend internationally isn't unreasonable, as more of humanity comes online. It won't be easy. It's Gov 2.0 vs the beast of bureaucracy everywhere, as professor Andrew McAfee memorably put it.

In Australia, for instance, government 2.0 Down Under still has a ways to go if it isn't going to be a "one shot" contest or success story. What's next for Government 2.0 in Australia, as Stephen Collins reflected, will rely on more public figures driving change, as well as citizens demanding better results.

In the United Kingdom, the new-ish government will continue to be a test bed, given dire budget projections. A refreshed Number 10 Downing Street online presence and accounts won't address cost issues, either. A spending challenge focused on crowdsourcing cuts didn't get very far. Such initiatives are likely the tip of the iceberg, as tough budget decisions loom in 2011. While the influence of Tim Berners-Lee on is unmistakable, Gov 2.0 in the UK involves a host of small companies, agencies, elected officials and of course the citizens themselves.

Gated governments face disruption

Everywhere, governments remain concerned about the risks and rewards of Web 2.0, but with citizens increasingly going online, those same governments must respond to digital cries for help. In countries with autocratic governments, the disruption and challenge to power represented by free information flows mean that transparency and accountability are a long way off. In that context, an e-government conference in Russia has to be balanced with the government transparency issues revealed by the deployment of Ushahidi for crowdsourcing wildfires.

Citizens empowered with new tools for transparency became a more powerful force in 2010, as the growing lists of examples of open government platforms in India (a democratic country) suggest. As citizens gain more means for reporting issues with services, corruptions or elections, repressive governments will be faced with more challenges in filtering, censoring, blocking or shutting down services that host contradictory or false reports.

In that context, technology companies also have meaningful choices to make, from how they cooperate (or don't) with law enforcement and government agencies that want access to its data, to "firewalling" private information from multiple services within companies, to monitoring internal controls on employee access or to providing technologies that may be used to monitor, track or censor citizens.

Open government remains in beta

While the progress of the White House Open Government Directive at federal agencies is important, as is action in Congress, there's a long road yet ahead in the United States and abroad. As John Wonderlich pointed out in his own look at 2010,

Obama’s Open Government Directive is at a crossroads (like other similar policies), and the changing majority in the House brings new opportunities for change (a 72 Hour Rule!), just as the outgoing majority brought their own new opportunities for transparency.

We're still very much in open government's beta period. Some efforts, like the State Department's Text Haiti program for the Red Cross or the "do-it-ourselves" platforms from groups like CrisisCommons, made a difference. Other efforts, partially represented by many open government plans in the throes of implementation, won't mature for months to come.

What is clear is that open government is a mindset, not simply a fresh set of technological tools. Gov 2.0 is a means, not an end. It can and will mean different things to different constituencies. For instance, the State Department released a social media policy, engaged the world through social media, launched a "Civil Society 2.0" initiative and released a quadrennial review in December. Its efforts to apply social software to digital diplomacy were laudable. By the end of the year, however, Secretary Clinton's landmark speech and policy on Internet freedom came under sharp global criticism in the wake of "Cablegate." The questions of who, where and why the U.S. supports Internet freedom became even more complex.

WikiLeaks is a reminder that the disruption new technology platforms pose will often emerge in unexpected ways.

Open data went global

The first International Open Government Data Conference highlighted how far this trend has gone in a short time. "Since the United Kingdom and United States movement started, lots of other countries have followed," said Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, Greece, and Finland are all working on open data initiatives. Within the United States, 16 states and 9 cities have created open data platforms. More data platforms at all levels will come online in 2011.

"The more transparency there is, the more likely there is to be external investment," said Berners-Lee, highlighting the potential for open government data to make countries more attractive to the global electronic herd. Berners-Lee anticipates a world where open government data standards will come to cities, states and countries like HTML did in the 1990s. "The web spread quickly because it was distributed," said Berners-Lee. "The fact that people could put up web servers themselves without asking meant it spread more quickly without a centralized mandate." Over in England, the new uses the linked open data standards Berners-Lee recommends.

After nearly a year in the open data trenches, Nat Torkington offered advice here at Radar for those starting or involved in open data projects:

First, figure out what you want the world to look like and why. Second, build your project around users.

The Sunlight Foundation, one of the foremost users of data journalism for open government, created a new ‘data commons’ in 2010 and launched and, both of which combine to make campaign finance, lobbying, earmark and government contract data more accessible. Sunlight Labs also made progress in opening up state legislatures.

In December, a report on the attitudes, quality and use of open government data showed strong support for the release of open data among citizens and government employees. While the open data study showed progress, there's still a long road ahead for open government data. The promise of data journalism is notable, as journalists now have huge volumes of accessible government data, but cultural roadblocks and "dirty" data still need to be addressed.

There are (more) apps for that

Around the world, apps contests are unlocking innovation. One of the biggest contests, Apps for Development, is using new World Bank open data.

As governments create their own applications, however, they'll need to avoid "shiny app syndrome" to avoid empowering the empowered.

Gov 2.0 grew locally

Gov 2.0 is going local, as techies take on City Hall. CityCamp, Code for America, Civic Commons and protocols like Open311 all grew this year. Real-time transit data is opening up exciting prospects for entrepreneurs. Local government as a data supplier looks like it may have legs as well.

Even mainstream media woke up to the local trend. Time Magazine reported on mobile civic applications that let citizens give feedback to cities. At year's end, the use of Twitter by Newark mayor Cory Booker to hack Snowmageddon after a major snowstorm buried the East Coast brought new attention to the opportunities inherent in a new digital nexus between citizens and public servants online.

Look for more citizens as sensors in neighborhoods soon.

Laws, rules and regulations

This was also the year that mainstream media couldn't stop reporting on social media in politics. Sarah Palin's tweets were read on cable news and gaffes from a Congressman or updates from the campaign trail went straight to the headlines. There have been thousands of posts and cable news reports on the topic at this point. A study on Twitter use in Congress asserted that Democrats use Twitter for transparency, while Republicans use it for outreach. For a useful perspective outside of the United States, First Monday published a terrific Gov 2.0 case study in government and e-participation at Brazil's House and presidential websites.

What such reports generally missed is that Gov 2.0 progress within agencies is bolstered by orders, laws or regulations that support these activities. This spring, the Sunlight Foundation and other transparency advocates worked with Rep. Steve Israel and Sen. Jon Tester to introduce the Public Online Information Act in both chambers. As John Wonderlich explained, the act redefines “public information” by requiring that any government information currently required to be available to the public be posted online, and sets forth better technology coordination between the branches of government to achieve that overarching goal."

In June, OMB updated its rules for cookies and privacy on U.S. government websites, enabling government agencies to use social media, video sharing and discussion platforms. In July, the House of Representatives had its first hearing on Government 2.0, examining the risks and rewards of Web 2.0 in government. The White House also released a draft of "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace," including a means for people to comment upon it online. Yes, the government has an online identity plan for you.

The passage and subsequent signing of the Telework Enhancement Act by President Obama was a win for government workers, providing new flexibility in getting the job done. The need for that ability was driven home by the historic snowfall in Washington, D.C. last winter, when "Snowmageddon" made working from home more than a "nice to have" for many parts of the federal government.

Election 2010 was a refresh for Gov 2.0, offering up numerous lessons for social media and politics from the campaign. What emerged were new prospects for the GOP to embrace innovation and transparency. That subsequently manifested with a victory for transparency in House rules.

The enactment of a plain writing law is also a boon for open government, although getting bureaucracies to move away from acronyms won't happen overnight.

In December, the passage of the COMPETES Act in Congress means that every federal agency can create prizes and competitions. Watch to see if citizens and other private entities take them up on those opportunities.

Online privacy went mainstream

While some media outlets declared that privacy is dead, government officials and institutions weren't convinced. That's why online privacy debates heated up in Washington, with Facebook privacy and Google privacy frequently in the news.

The shift to cloud computing puts Electronic Communications Privacy Act reform in the spotlight. Simply put, digital due process matters. As the year came to an end, the FTC released its online privacy report, which included a recommendation for a Do Not Track mechanism, along with increased transparency and baked-in controls.

Government moves into the cloud

When NASA Nebula's open source technology was integrated into Rackspace and others to form OpenStack, the administration's open government initiative had a bonafide success on its hands. Outside of NASA, the White House IT reforms include a "cloud first" strategy for new investments. That move is a part of a broad strategy to close the technology gap which has been a top priority of the administration's IT executives. FedRAMP, a federal government-wide approach to securing cloud computing, may help to provide some of the security and privacy questions that CIOs must ask.

While some elements of government business will never be in the public cloud, look for the cloud transition to be an even bigger story in 2011 as Microsoft, Google,, IBM, Amazon and others look for government dollars in their clouds. The White House moved to Amazon's cloud in May. This fall, moved into their cloud, too. has many agencies in its cloud. Google and Microsoft have been signing up new city and state customers all year, along with chasing federal dollars. Look for more of the same in 2011, along with more tough questions about auditability, security, uptime and privacy questions.

Open source moves deeper into government is moving to Drupal next spring, joining hundreds of other government websites on the open source content management platform. Next year, when gets an overdue overhaul, it will also be open source.

Healthcare communication got an upgrade as the Direct Project creates the basis for a "Health Internet." The NHIN Direct project's approach to creating open health records was an important example of government as a platform. For more context, Apache co-founder Brian Behlendorf talked with Radar about the CONNECT project in a podcast, "from Apache to Health and Human Services.

A "milestone in making government more open" went live this summer when the new Federal Register beta launched at As deputy White House CTO Beth Noveck observed, "Federal Register 2.0" is "collaborative government at its best." It's also all open source, so the site's code is shared in Civic Commons, a project launched at the Gov 2.0 Summit that will help city governments reduce costs and inefficiencies.

Archiving went social

When the Library of Congress teamed up with Twitter to archive tweets, it made headlines everywhere. Less noticed were the social upgrades by the Law Library of the United States to, or the work that the National Archives is doing to guide other governmental agencies. When NARA issued guidance on social media, it was a watershed for many people looking for advice. moved forward

As Carl Malamud has explained:

Law.Gov is an idea, an idea that the primary legal materials of the United States should be readily available to all, and that governmental institutions should make these materials available in bulk as distributed, authenticated, well-formatted data.

This year, moved much closer to reality, as the signing and release of Law.Gov core principles was followed by Google granting major funding.

At year's end, Malamud announced that Public.Resource.Org would begin providing legal decisions freely online in 2011 in a weekly release of the Report of Current Opinions (RECOP). According to Malamud, this report "will initially consist of HTML of all slip and final opinions of the appellate and supreme courts of the 50 states and the federal government."

Citizen engagement platforms grew

With a wave of new citizen engagement platforms and apps, citizens could contribute much more than a vote or a donation in 2010: they could donate their time and skills.

The growth of citizen engagement platforms, however, extends far beyond Washington. Civic developers are helping government by standardizing application programming interfaces and empowering others by coding the middleware for open government. Working with developers can be a crucial complement to publishing open data online. Those citizens matter a lot there, but only if engaged.

As the new year beckons, there are more ways for the citizens of the United States to provide feedback to their federal government than perhaps there ever have been in its history. In 2011, the open question is whether "We the people" will use these new participatory platforms to help government work better. The evolution of these kinds of platforms aren't U.S.-centric, either. Ushahidi, for example, started in Africa and has been deployed worldwide. The crowd matters more now in every sense: crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, crowdmapping, collective intelligence, group translation, and human sensor networks.

What's next?

Have bets for 2011? Let us know in the comments.

May 26 2010

Crisis Commons releases open source oil spill reporting

oil-reporter.11-174x300.pngCrisis Commons has released a new open data initiative to enable response organizations to report from the oil spill. Oil Reporter allows response workers to capture and share data with the public as they respond to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

"The cool thing about the app is that the photos and information will be open to anyone to use," said Heather Blanchard, co-founder of Crisis Commons. "We want response organizations to use it. They can localize the app with their own logo and add data elements, thus expanding the API. They can be assigned a code so they can compare their data with the public. We believe the data with codes would be more of a verified set, as they would be response organizations and their volunteers using those codes."

These smartphone apps allow response workers to take geotagged photographs, record video, and enter text and basic data elements, like instances of oil and affected wildlife. The Oil Reporter app provides official phone numbers to report oiled beaches, wildlife and volunteer information links.

Oil Reporter uses an open API for greater information sharing. Response organizations wishing to expand data elements of the API can do so by requesting customization through the match program. All data provided by the response organizations and those using Oil Reporter is public data.

Data collected utilizing the Oil Reporter mobile applications will be managed by San Diego State University’s Visualization Center. Dr. Eric Frost will lead a team to provide visualization tools and products based on the Oil Reporter data. Response organizations requiring assistance will be able to submit a request via for volunteer visualization and analytics support.

Organizations can adopt and customize the code for Oil Reporter as needed, including adding data collection elements. Oil Reporter mobile application source code is publicly available on GitHub for reuse and customization. Response organizations that want to create an Oil Reporter app can make a request for help from volunteer mobile developers.

More details about the development of the app and the many people who worked on it over the past weeks can be found at the Crisis Commons blog post on Oil Reporter.

You can follow @OilReporter on Twitter or Facebook. As pictures and videos are added, watch the Oil Reporter Flickr group and Oil Reporter YouTube channel.

January 23 2010

CrisisCamps and the Pattern of Disaster Technology Innovation

Over the past three years I have been working to bridge gaps between the tech community & traditional emergency management organizations.  I've focused on helping technologists adapt technologies to support humanitarian missions, often in response to a disaster.  
After Hurricane Katrina, Mikel Maron and I discovered a pattern for successful innovation during and after disasters.  Understanding this pattern is crucial to "Serving Those that Serve Others".
Pattern for DisasterTech Innovation 1. Disaster2. Ad-Hoc Adaptation 3. Championship 4. Iterative Improvement
crisiscamp-logo.pngThere is an unprecedented amount of interest and attention in finding ways to help in Haiti & around the world.  The CrisisCamp & CrisisCommon projects are coordinating events and helping match organizations with needs to volunteers with skills.  I encourage you to participate, and volunteer your time, knowledge, and resources.  
Serve those that serve others.  You can make a difference now.

Upcoming Crisis Camps

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