Gov 2.0 Hero: Bryan Sivak

Bryan SivakBryan Sivak (Twitter) is Chief Technology Officer for the District of Columbia, promoting open data and open government initiatives, from projects like TrackDC to the city’s adoption of Open311 as a citizen service platform.

How did you get to Gov 2.0?

A very broad question indeed. I guess the real answer is that I’ve been about Gov 2.0 since before the term (which I’m not a *huge* fan of) was coined and long before I entered the public sector. As long as I can remember I’ve been involved with technology, and many of the ideas I’ve had and some that I’ve messed around with have involved leveraging technology to make the world a better place. The greatest thing about this job is that it gives me the opportunity to actually effect change on a broad yet tangible scale, both with respect to internal process innovation and external service delivery. And I get to ride around on firetrucks!

What are the challenges of your role as DC CTO and how do you deal with them?

I’ve only been in the role for a little more than six months so I’m sure I haven’t come across the full set of challenges, but I can give you a couple of tidbits. I think the biggest challenge with any large, well-established organization is the cultural resistance to change. If an organization has grown up for many years with a certain mindset, it’s going to take a long time for that mindset to shift and the larger the organization, the harder that is to accomplish. This is probably true for pretty much any Government around the world but one thing that’s fantastic about the Fenty administration (albeit based on my limited experience) is the willingness and freedom to try new things and take some chances. I’ve had some radical ideas (for Government) since I’ve been here and I actually have the opportunity to put them in motion to see if I can help build a better mousetrap.

Having said that, ask me the question in another six months and I might have a totally different answer for you.

What’s most interesting to you about the open government movement?

Let’s start with what’s least interesting to me: smartphone applications that leverage data to help someone do something. Second least interesting (and probably most blasphemous): transparency and accountability. Before everyone at Sunlight declares an intifada on me, however, let me explain what I mean by that. Transparency and accountability are the watchwords of the open government movement. It’s a given that as the movement increases and picks up steam, with every new data set that is released and every federal agency and state and local jurisdiction that adopts an open government policy, these things will continue. And they are important. But they are not the motivating cry that is going to kick government employees into action. Culture change has to come first.

And that brings me to the point I find most interesting: that there’s a huge community of non-government workers out there who are all motivated to take time out of their busy schedules to leverage their skills for the greater good. Leveraging this community to build iPhone apps is dramatically underutilizing this resource. I’m interested in seeing the big brains turn to solving the internal problems of government which will have a very wide reaching effect. Stay tuned for some intriguing developments on this…

What resources, books, blogs, apps or Websites do you recommend to others?

This is neither new nor interesting but I have to admit that I’m getting a huge amount of value out of Twitter (and our internal Yammer implementation) lately. I don’t follow too many people but the ones I have decided to follow all act as a phenomenal filter for interesting news and new developments, and some really interesting thoughts have been sparked for me from a random tweet (and “yam”) here or there. For the first time in my life, I don’t have time to read the news or blogs, and lately my book consumption has been declining rapidly, so Twitter has been keeping me up-to-date when I have a moment to check the feed.

In terms of blogs, I’ll just give you one — I actually really like Andrea DeMaio’s writing. I respect the contrarian opinion, even if I don’t always agree. Okay, two — I’m a closet (okay, not so closeted) gadget geek so I do admit to sneaking a peek at Engadget and it’s cousins from time to time.

Just because I’ve recently read it, I highly recommend Dan Pink’s book Drive to everyone. It’s a tough concept for many people to swallow but I’m completely bought in. For something which is on the surface completely unrelated to open government, everyone on the planet should read Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories. His works are applicable in some way to nearly everything in life (yes, including open government), and are completely mind blowing.

What’s your 3-word open government motto?

How about a range of mottos, of different lengths:

Two words: Question everything!
Three words: Take some chances!
Four words: Start small, fail cheap.
Five words: Don’t be motivated by fear.

I feel like I should make that into a Haiku of some sort.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh, co-founder/CEO of ProudCity and co-host of the podcast, The Government We Need. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at

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