Government, developers need to build a more structured, scalable approach to leveraging technology

The time has come to build a reliable, open platform that allows local governments to post development requirements and give private developers the ability to respond and build these applications for free.

Going a step further, we need to build a free, open source platform specifically for government, making it easier for government to install and implement and leverage plugins or modules for anything from standard contact forms to 311 citizen requests applications.

Fundamentally, we need a central repository for code and a governing organization, private or non-profit, that coordinates specifications and provides a reliable management process for deployment. Additionally, there needs to be sample usage and, ideally, implementation case studies that highlight how government is leveraging this tool and how others can follow suit.

We need a GitHub meets Taproot meets WordPress or Drupal for government.

Matthew Burton’s A Peace Corps for Programmers, comments like Kevin Curry’s recent “We need craigslist for government” tweet and inside open government baseball chatter echo these sentiments.

To date, contests to create killer Web and mobile applications from open data combined with developers with gumption have spearheaded much of the tech efforts. This approach has showed positive results, however, they don’t effectively address a customer-driven approach to product development (see Steve Blank), where the customer (government) defines the specification, instead of developers building applications of no direct benefit to government.

Government must begin to define the specification. Instead of putting it out to bid, government needs to put it out to BUILD.

Government needs to break the mold and take advantage of what Clay Shirky calls the cognitive surplus, leverage the enthusiasm of the civic developer and significantly lower the cost of its technology projects. Government must also move away from a ‘build our own’ approach to technology. This mindset is a waste of time and resources and financially irresponsible.

Sure, there are procurement hurdles around non-licensed software, but many of these can be re-defined, as done in places such as San Francisco, Portland, Vancouver.

Philanthropists or foundations with deep pockets need to step up and support a new organization or a current one truly dedicated to making this happen. Government could also ‘pay back’ with funding of its own, at a significant discount to what it would otherwise pay. Something like this needs sustainable investment and support.

If the private or non-profit sector and government could each eliminate any hurdles and actively engage an idea like this, we’d change the way government uses technology and how it serves its citizens.

Who can make this happen and how do we get started?

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

4 Responses

  1. Thanx for this post Luke. I agree very much with your points. In so many cases the rfp/procurement process kills the ability of developers to even be aware that something is needed much less what it is.

  2. Luke, excellent article, I couldn’t agree more! I am a part of a new startup called Bop Scop that has been funded by the Penntex Group. We are building out an open source citizen relationship management platform focused on enabling local governments to deploy powerful 311 solutions for a low cost. We are designing our platform to enable agencies to publish their powerful and creative solutions to our “Collaboration Network” for other agencies to consume and share alike. We hope to be another great step in the right direction for agency to agency collaboration.


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