Month: August 2009

Gov 2.0 Hero: Dustin Haisler

Dustin Haisler

  • Municipal Judge & CIO/City Secretary, Manor, Texas
  • Connect: Twitter · LinkedIn

What was your path to Gov 2.0?

Coming out of the banking industry, I began my career in local government almost four years ago as the Finance Director for a small growing city in Central Texas. After a few days on the job I realized there were significant technology shortfalls that needed to be addressed. At the time, the city did not own a server and each department’s software operations were run on stand alone machines, and there was no integration. The biggest challenge was how to overcome this monstrous obstacle with an IT budget less than $100,000. We could have issued debt to pay for building a technology infrastructure from scratch, but instead, we decide to innovate most of our own solutions. After three years of software and network integration, the City of Manor is now recognized as a leader in local government technology. The amazing thing is that through innovation and creativity our city was able to make this transformation with limited funds in such a short period of time. These technologies have allowed us to further increase efficiency and transparency in our community.

One of our most notable Gov 2.0 campaigns can be seen in our deployment of a Quick Response Code (QR-code) program. I discovered QR-codes when I initially began hunting a solution for our lack of a document management system. I was drawn to QR-codes because I could generate them for free and they could also be decoded using a camera phones equipped with a free reader installed. This meant that instead of investing in a $50,000 document management system with expensive barcode reading equipment, I could make my own system for free. In addition, I realized that QR-codes could be used not only for document management but for information dissemination, and ultimately, economic development. We placed 24-fixed mounted QR-codes signs throughout our community. When scanned, each code links to a website specific to its location of placement. For instance, if you scan the code in front of one of the water towers we are constructing, your mobile phone browser would be redirected to a website with information about that particular capital project. It contains information about the company building the water tank, how much it costs the taxpayer, when it’s scheduled to be completed, and much more. If the project information needed to be updated, the only thing that needs to be changed is the content on the website. Once this project is complete, I can simply move the metal QR-code sign to a different project and replace the content on the website that it links to. We also have the QR-codes placed on historic homes and other points of interest. If you scan a QR-code on a historic home your mobile phone browser will be redirected to additional historical information including pictures and audio narratives. This two-year old program has celebrated great success, and I enjoy traveling the US telling cities how they can use this program, or one of our many others, to change the status quo by increasing efficiency while cutting costs in the process.

What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?

Local government agencies have the biggest opportunity for improvement using Web 2.0 tools because, speaking from experience, they have the lowest number of resources available and the greatest needs. Local governments are on the frontlines of citizen interaction, and for many people, their primary government experience is with a local government agency. Through the use of Web 2.0 technologies, local government agencies can offer their citizens many features that would have otherwise been unobtainable through an expensive industry software package.

What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception?

I don’t necessarily believe that there’s a killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm. I think that this will be achieved by a change in thought process. As a government employee I know that minimizing risk is a top priority; however, I have seen some agencies that claim that using Gov 2.0 technologies is risky because it gives the public “too much” information. This flawed thought process needs to be purged from any government agency that still clings to it. Gov 2.0 is not a new model for information dissemination; instead, it is a new way of thinking.

What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

What excites me about Gov 2.0 is its ability to empower and engage citizens in their local, state and federal government agencies. Our citizens can help drive innovation and creativity in government, and Gov 2.0 allows their voice to resonate in agencies across the country. Some of the greatest ideas in the world came from the bottom of the totem pole, and what allowed them to ultimately be successful is the open atmosphere in which they were derived. In my community, we refer to this atmosphere as Gov 2.0.

Gov 2.0 Hero: Rob Rhyne

Rob Rhyne

On September 8 at the Gov 2.0 Expo, Rob Rhyne will present “Invisible City” as part of the Government as a Provider section.

What was your path to Gov 2.0?

I’ve worked in Knowledge Management as a designer and developer 8 years for a government contractor. I’ve redesigned numerous systems, increasing user buy-in simply by increasing the feedback loop for the design and construction of those applications. It became obvious that user trust was directly linked to their understanding and control of the application.

Specifically to Gov 2.0, I’ve developed a concept I call Invisible City (no relation to Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”) that is a vision for an Augmented Reality that utilizes data services provided by a local municipality in a mobile application. It’s a natural combination of current mobile technology with a government that opens the doors to its data storage and collection procedures. I see the government becoming a data platform that provides application developers a rich set of information and information collection resources to facilitate citizen interaction with government.

What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?

All the areas that rely on accurate and current reporting from its citizens. Specifically: Census, Internal Revenue, Transportation and Law Enforcement. All of these government entities provide better services when they have more up-to-date information. The challenge for citizens is knowing when, where and how to update this information. Finding a way to integrate this information into the day-to-day activities of average citizens is the biggest opportunity I see for improvement by traditional Web 2.0 tools.

What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception?

As I mentioned before, I think the basis for this killer app lies in a service platform that provides comprehensive access (as well as input) to data collected by the government. The killer apps will come from application developers that use this platform to make our lives easier.

If a concrete example is what you desire, I think no greater one exists than the mythical Electronic Health Record. The government should provide a platform for citizens and their doctors to input, extend and disseminate their health history to interested parties. The government would provide security, validation and trust to the electronic record. All while the citizen controls what information and how detailed a communication of information is made.

The use of applications built upon this platform, along with the contributed cost savings to the medical community would drive insane interest in the application of Gov 2.0 principles towards other parts of government.

What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

The potential to extend democracy and the interaction with government down to the individual citizen.

Gov 2.0 Hero: Rita J. King

Rita J. King

On September 8 at the O’Reilly Gov 2.0 Expo, Rita J. King will be discussing “Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds” as part of the Government as Peacekeeper section.

What was your path to Gov 2.0?

I’ve been studying the cultural effects of digital anonymity since 1996, but when I discovered a Muslim woman in a virtual Jewish synagogue in Second Life in 2006 I realized that global culture had entered a powerful new realm. The idea of “avatars” is polarizing. Some people instantly see the benefit of this new form of identity and community construction while others, believing that avatars dehumanize people, are appalled. I was not a gamer, nor did I ever expect to be mesmerized by the virtual world of Second Life after a friend of mine who works at IBM suggested that I check it out. I was reading Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth,” and I searched on temples, synagogues, churches and mosques during my first few hours and days in Second Life, which was how I found myself at prayer services in a virtual Jewish synagogue speaking to a Muslim woman.

My company, Dancing Ink Productions (DIP), was founded in 2006 (at the request of IBM) to document the evolution of the company’s Virtual Universe Community. Since that time DIP has worked with numerous global companies, universities, think-tanks, not-for-profits, individuals and government clients toward a new global culture and economy in the Imagination Age.

My collaborator Joshua S. Fouts has spent the last fifteen years conducting research and strategy and directing projects that explore how the Internet is changing the landscape for cultural communication, identity, foreign policy and public diplomacy. When Joshua (who is now the Chief Global Strategist at DIP) and I began collaborating in 2007, DIP began to focus on catalyzing the shift in government toward dialogue and collaboration through immersion and exploration of the digital culture for real-world benefit. We have worked extensively within the United States and Canada as well as in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe to contextualize the collective shift toward greater understanding. Joshua’s perspective and experience have been instrumental in my path to Gov 2.0.

What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?

The military has always been a leader in exploring available technology and continues to do so now, bolstered by a massive budget. Only a fraction of the funding exists for the same level of implementation in the foreign policy world, which could greatly benefit from improvement via Web 2.0 tools. This was documented by Kristin Lord at the Brookings Institution in her report, “Voices of America: US Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century.” Anyone on the front lines of cultural engagement, from a public affairs officer in the Army to a public diplomacy officer in the State Department, can benefit directly from deeper, real-time communication with the people of the world.

Cultural engagement, which includes identifying new leaders, making connections and building relationships with them, is now as likely to occur on the streets of Kabul as on an island in Second Life. Many people scoff at the cartoonish appearance of avatars just as many once did at the appearance of horseless carriages. Sure, cars could take you sixty miles away in an hour, but nobody had any business sixty miles away from home back then, so it didn’t matter. It’s the same now with avatars teleporting between virtual environments, only there’s no jet-lag and the travel is instant and requires far less resources.

Technology enables individuals and groups to embody a local physical place and at the same time to participate in a world-wide conversation that is not yet globally inclusive but can and should be. Collaborative imagineering enables greater risk-taking at lower cost for maximum benefit.

What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception?

Apps wax and wane. Each of the apps that have gained major mainstream visibility and a few more obscure ones have contributed to the emerging Gov 2.0’s toes in the water, but a single killer app in isolation won’t topple bureaucracy as usual. Gov 2.0 needs to be exceptionally adept at managing the advent of apps as part of an overall strategy of best practices.

Of the current environment, there are many powerful apps, with Twitter at the top of the list, that offer myriad opportunities to transform government. Virtual worlds, which can incorporate almost any and all other platforms and further offer the ability to create one’s own identity and community, are a vastly rich tool for use in this effort.

By way of example, in our project Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds we chronicled the story of a 21-year-old Syrian woman living in the UAE who entered Second Life to explore her identity as a Muslim and became the head of a thriving mosque community that she designed and constructed. People participate in this community to collaborate on thoughts of what it means to be a Muslim, and particularly a Muslim woman. We attended some very provocative discussions that took place within this community, which meets routinely and has particularly compelling discussions at critical times, such as during the rise of conflict in the Gaza strip.

One of the benefits of virtual environments, particularly Second Life, for conducting sensitive conversations among earnest participants is the ability to communicate with people from multiple countries across a variety of channels, including group chat, private instant messages and voice communication. All of these can be modified through muting or banning incendiary speakers, which permits a conversation to continue despite various levels of disruption. Groups collaborate on the tone of a conversation intuitively, with each participant contributing in his or her own way.

What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

Increasingly sophisticated layered physical realities will continue to manifest as technology continues to permeate the physical environment. I find it extremely exciting to be a part of the transformation of government at such a pivotal time in the evolution of human consciousness. The chance to overcome bureaucratic stovepipes and antiquated paradigms and infuse and/or replace this structure with a culture of creativity, accountability, transparency and entrepreneurialism is challenging but at the same time, great fun.

It is my belief that peace is not the absence of conflict, but conflict needs to be productively channeled in order to prevent violence from taking the place of progress. This seems to be the most important kind of work that government can be doing.

Because physical violence is impossible in a virtual environment, revelatory conversations based solely on intellectual contributions result from the absence of gender, ethnicity, age and other obvious markers of cultural or economic hierarchy. Well-designed environments spark thoughtful participation and can go deeper in a collapsed time frame in the absence of any physical intimidation whatsoever.

Meta-threats such as climate change, pandemics, disaster prevention and recovery and the continuous development of weaponry loom even as wars, poverty and disease rage. In order to combat all of these challenges, as well as to create the most effective plans for domestic issues such as health care, transforming education from an Industrial Age model and infrastructure development, “Gov 2.0” must embrace sophisticated use of available technology and human creativity to escape many of the current quagmires and find solutions that are based on actual human need, not perceptions created along party lines and values.