Month: April 2010

Sooner the better: Gov 2.0a brings open government to Oklahoma

Oklahoma City will play host to the Gov 2.0a Conference, May 6-7. Participating Oklahoma public officials include Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins, CIO Alex Pettit, State Representatives Ryan Kiesel and Jason Murphey, OK.Gov manager Mark Mitchell and Oklahoma City Creative Director Zach Nash. City of Manor, TX, CIO Dustin Haisler will also present, as will other industry-related executives.

Themes include:

  • Technology in Government and Education
  • Advancing Public Access in Oklahoma
  • OK.Gov
  • Engaging Citizens in Government Initiatives
  • Media’s Role in Gov 2.0

State Representative Jason Murphey is working on open government legislation in Oklahoma and had this to say about the event:

“This is huge for us. I don’t think there are very many state and local policy makers who realize all of the exciting possibilities of gov20 reforms. It is events like this that elevate the issue and help pave the way for policy success. I really believe this will lead to any number of Oklahoma government entities starting to think about implementing these policies inside of their own governance structures.”

Local news coverage:

Gov 2.0 guide to 311 and Open311

311 History and Purpose

311 is an abbreviated dialing designation set up for use by municipal governments in both the U.S. and Canada. Dialing 311 in communities where it is implemented will typically direct a caller to a call center where an operator will provide information in response to a question, or open a service ticket in response to report of an issue. The difference between 311 and other abbreviated dialing designations (like 911) can be summed up by a promotional slogan for the service used in the City of Los Angeles:

“Burning building? Call 911. Burning question? Call 311.”

311 is operated in most large cities in the U.S. and several smaller jurisdictions as well. 311 is also a designated dialing code in Canada, and has been implemented in a number of cities in that country as well. A primary justification for 311 operations it to reduce the volume of non-emergency calls to 911, helping ensure that 911 operators are not burdened with calls that are not of an emergency nature. The first municipality to implement 311 was the City of Baltimore, Maryland (October, 1996). The largest 311 operation is that of New York City, which handles an average of 43,000 calls per day, and provides translation services in 170 different languages. On June 20, 2007, the NYC 311 service received its 50 millionth call.

311 on the Web

A key function of 311 services is to provide easy access to general information from municipal government. A March 2010 report on the City of Philadelphia’s 311 operation by the Pew Charitable Trust’s Philadelphia Research Initiative found that the overwhelming majority of callers to the service were looking for basic information:

“On average in 2009, seven in ten callers to Phillly311 were looking for basic or general information. On average, 19 percent needed to be transferred to another department or line, a rate that Philly311 likes to keep low. Another 9 percent were asking for a service, requiring an agent to submit a formal request to another city department.”

Because the web is an ideal medium for providing standard information in response to general information requests, most 311 operations include a web component with lists of frequently asked questions and information frequently requested by callers. This web presence for 311 helps offload callers from call center operators and provide options for more web savvy and connected citizens. Several 311 operations (including NYC and San Francisco) have worked to incorporate Twitter and other social media tools into their services.

The Rise of the 311 API

The first 311 API was deployed by the District of Columbia, which deployed the first version of its API in May of 2009 to coincide with its “Apps for Democracy: Community Edition” development contest to encourage the development of applications that use the API. The winner of the Apps for Democracy contest was a combination iPhone / Facebook application called SocialDC. DC is currently working with leaders of the Open311 initiative and officials in other cities like San Francisco to standardize the next version of its 311 API on the Open311 specification. In early 2010, the City/County of San Francisco became the second city to deploy a public API for interacting with its 311 system.

The Open311 Initiative

The Open311 initiative is an effort to create a uniform specification for 311 APIs. The goal is create a standard specification for a 311 API that would be deployed in multiple cities, allowing application developers to build applications that would work with any municipal API that conforms to the standard. The API deployed by San Francisco conforms to the Open311 standard, although the standard itself is likely to change as more municipalities and developers become involved in the Open311 initiative. The District of Columbia is working with the Open311 initiative and others to standardize its existing API to the Open311 specification. Other cities like Edmonton and Boston are set to deploy Open311 APIs in the near future.

311 and Open311 Video

More 311 and Open311 links

GSA not ‘awesome’ when it comes to implied endorsement

I’m all for public-private collaboration.

GSA’s Office of Citizen Services is one of my favorite ideas for a government agency and inter-agency service. The work it does is fantastic, and its leadership is exceptional.

I’m also a big fan of GovLoop and have a great relationship with founder Steve Ressler. Steve has been gracious enough to feature me as a ‘GovLoop Member of the Week,’ and I regularly try to post updates on what’s happening over there.

Having said that, I’m wary of GSA’s implied endorsement of GovLoop, notably on it’s Resources page (Figure A) and in its recent ‘Government by Collaboration’ newsletter (Figure B) that includes an article by GovLoop with the headline ‘GovLoop’s “Extraordinary Collection of Talent.”‘

I’ve written about this before (NASCAR.gov: Should corporate logos be on government sites?), which generated some great comments around the role of private sector logo and link placement on government Websites.

In the spirit of open government, I hope GSA and GovLoop can figure out a better way to promote each of their services and non-government resources in a more appropriate manner.

Figure A

Figure B

Why government wants the iPad to succeed

I’m defending the iPad. Not because I’m an Apple fanboy. Not because I’m going to buy one. But because I think there’s potential to positively change the personal computing experience in a way that helps government sleep better at night. I’m not talking about the iPad itself, but what the App store can become via the iPad.

Currently, the way most us connect to the web is through the browser, which was meant to only take you from point A to B. Unfortunately, the world wide web is a dangerous place if you don’t know how to navigate. Every day, innocent consumers fall prey to malicious scams and phishing schemes, and there isn’t much the government can do to protect them.

With the App Store, not only do you access the internet without going through a browser, but the barriers to entry for service providers should theoretically weed out illegitimate third parties. With a structured vetting process (at least security-wise, theoretically) and a crowdsourced reviewing process, there really isn’t an incentive for virtual predators to get on the App store. For the time being, you could be pretty confident that your apps aren’t trying to steal your personal information or plant bugs into your device.

But the App store is only limited to the iPad and iPhone. Is that enough to really call this a win for internet security?

Yes, the App store is only available to the relatively small number of internet users with pockets deep enough to afford the Apple products. But perhaps, the overwhelming success of the App store would lead Apple to consider expanding to the personal computing platform as an alternative to the browser.

No, the browser is not going to be replaced anytime soon. And internet security on your browser or mobile device will never be completely bulletproof. But for certain types of online activity, such as financial transactions, account creations, or anything that requires personal identifiable information, wouldn’t we feel more comfortable knowing that the servers and personnel on the other side of these transmissions are really who they say they are, and will really do what they say they’ll do?

Website Reduction Act of 2010

In 1980, the Paperwork Reduction Act was established in part to “improve the quality and use of Federal information to strengthen decisionmaking, accountability, and openness in Government and society.”

What if we implemented the Website Reduction Act (WRA) of 2010 to accomplish the same objectives? Not only would this significantly improve the quality and use of online Federal information, but it would save millions (billions maybe) of dollars in taxpayer money. The human and capital resources used to manage under-performing, unnecessary Websites would be re-allocated to other .gov Web properties and made more robust.

Back in January, UK.gov closed half its websites following a 2006 report recommendation, so we know this can be done.

Who’s in charge of making this happen? How do we begin? Can I be in charge?

Tweet to support the Website Reduction Act

Red Hat lead architect on open source software in government

During Transparency Camp a few weeks ago, I sat down with Red Hat Lead Architect Gunnar Hellekson and asked him the following questions around open source in government:

  • What’s the value of open source software to government?
  • What are the hurdles in implementing open source software in government?
  • What can be done to make implementing open source projects in government easier?
  • What’s the state of open source in government and its future?

Will you read the Open Government Memo on an iPad?

I love the Open Government Memo, I think it represents some of the most thoughtful and seminal policy strategy I’ve seen in 20 years in government. I don’t know who actually wrote it for the President, but I think that person should get a medal. And whoever reads it and doesn’t find inspiration for technology’s potential role towards advancing the ideals of our democracy is simply missing out.

At Adobe, we have been lauded and criticized for our role in enabling open government. When we have been criticized we listen and learn so we can improve our business strategy to support the goals of open government. (If you don’t believe me, look to our current collaboration on Design for America with the Sunlight Foundation and PDF best practices forum on GovLoop as evidence of this commitment.) But regardless of your view of Adobe technologies, you will be hard pressed to find an Adobe decision maker who hasn’t internalized the Open Government Memo, felt inspired by it and willing to support its goals.

Conversely, I don’t think the decision makers at Apple have internalized it, because Apple’s recent actions reflect no understanding of Open Government’s true possibilities or principals. I still find it hard to believe that a company that founded one of the most generative platforms in the PC era (the Apple II – which shaped an innovative spirit that enabled the Internet era to follow) could possibly work so hard to close down the openness of the Internet. Yet that is exactly what the iPad and iPhone strategy does – a strategy that contradicts the President’s Open Government goals and undermines Internet era innovation. If you are not sure what I’m talking about, I’d suggest you read the introduction to Jonathan Zitrane’s Book, the Future of the Internet, and How to Stop It, which was written before the Open Government Memo was published.

Of course, if you’ve followed the recent news, you know Apple is at odds with the broader developer community. So you can color my point of view as you wish, but I’d still ask you to consider whether you think that Apple’s strategy contradicts the principals of open government along the three main pillars of transparency, participation and collaboration. Here is my argument:

  • Development for the App Store is not transparent. The Open Government Memo “promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.” But if government wants to use the App store to do this, they’ll have to acquiesce to publishing restrictions, development guidelines and performance metrics that are defined by a closed process dictated solely by Apple. Open government developers will not find transparency at the App store. In fact, the development process is so closed that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) actually obtained the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement by using a FOIA request to a Federal agency! (I’ll save EFF an additional FOIA request, they can find Adobe’s license agreements here).
  • The iPhone and iPad are not participatory: The Open Government Memo encourages participation through “public engagement (that) enhances the Government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions.” Mobile devices are a great new platform to enable this type of participation. You can get this kind of information on your iPhone from the White House iPhone application for example. But if you are one of the 298 million Americans who choose to use a different mobile platform, you don’t get the same access. Download is limited to Apple controlled devices. If you want non-Apple users to participate with a similar application (not mobile browsing), start from scratch, and remember those ongoing extra development costs come from the taxpayer.
  • Apple is not collaborating for mobile platform openness. The Open Government Memo charges government with collaborating across agencies, private sector and non-profits to innovate. What a great way to evolve formative ideas! If you want to see what collaborative mobile application development looks like check out the Open Screen Project (OSP) where dozens of mobile technology companies like Google, RIM, Intel, Motorola, and Verizon Wireless are working to provide a consistent environment for open web browsing and standalone applications. OSP includes 19 of the top 20 major mobile manufacturers – Apple chose not to collaborate. They are first to the mobile app market, and it appears that their vision for the future of mobile doesn’t include anyone else.

Six months ago, when government executives held up iPhone apps as examples of open government I cheered because the elegant and intuitive design of these devices helped people understand the possibilities of open government. But now I cringe because they are self limiting examples of a closed world where only the most fortunate have access. Open government strives to engage more people, but the government is not going to buy everyone a standard issue piece of proprietary hardware to do so. And it is unrealistic to expect that when the government builds one good application that they then have to expend the resources to rebuild it for every other mobile platform. In the Internet age, cross-platform application development is good for innovation, good for job creation, good for government and the future of our country. Innovating openness requires all of us to think along the lines of President Obama’s memorandum.

So I return to the question of my post – will you read the Open Government Memo on an iPad? Of course you can, but if you do I hope you will recognize the irony in doing so.

If you’d like an extra dose of irony for your re-read of the Open Government Memo on your iPad, please read it via a cross platform technology that is managed by the International Standards Organization, was invented by an American technology company, and spurred years of innovation – you can do so here in PDF . (And before you offer your comments juxtaposing the differences between PDF and Flash on this point, please consider Adobe’s record and philosophy on evolving open technology, which you can learn more about by clicking here)