Why is the Grateful Dead like USSOUTHCOM when it comes to open government?

Despite contemporary wisdom that traditional journalism is in decline, the 150+ year-old publication known as The Atlantic hasn’t lost its edge for writing substantive and thoughtful news commentary. I love this month’s article, Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead, where Joshua Green argues that the Grateful Dead pioneered Internet business models before there was an Internet.

If you are interested in understanding how open and collaborative communities form across distances, look to the legions of Deadheads who connected, followed and enabled one of the most culturally and financially successful bands in history. The Grateful Dead gave their music away for free and it elevated demand, innovation and participation.

This same phenomenon is what the Obama Administration is striving for with open government – give the data away freely and allow innovation and participation to follow.

Introducing Sunlight Live

As the Open Government Directive was announced in a live webcast back in December, Sunlight tried something a little different by covering the event live in a variety of formats at once.

As is a norm around here, we basically just got a lot of people in a room, tried a bunch of stuff and paid attention to what seemed to work. At the end of the announcement we simultaneously had a tweet stream from across the open government community going, a live blog, and a Google Wave. We threw the obligatory word cloud at it, sent email blasts, and followed up with blog posts about the Directive’s many components.

It was fun and seemed to be pretty effective. And it also got us thinking …

A Peace Corps for Programmers

The federal government should fire me. Like the thousands of other contractors who develop software for government agencies, I am slow, overpaid, and out of touch with the needs of my customers. And I’m keeping the government from innovating.

In recent years, the government has become almost completely dependent upon contractors for information technology (IT). So deep is this dependency that the government has found itself in a position that may shock those in the tech industry: it has no programmers of its own; code is almost entirely outsourced. Government leaders clearly consider IT an ancillary function that can be offloaded for someone else to worry about.

Should government outsource long-term or crisis-related social media?

Just noticed this contract solicitation submitted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a ‘professional media services company with experience and reliability in the deployment and delivery of professional broadcast transmission equipment and crews to various locations … used during pre- and post-declared federal disasters to support the OEA in its mission to prepare and disseminate information to the public.’

Having an outside contractor be heavily responsible for this role detaches the agency from its mission-critical work. I can understand services related to training and establishing processes that can then be left for agency employees to execute, but on-call assistance? Long-term or crisis-related social media and outreach should be the agency’s core focus.

What do you think?