Month: November 2010

The scoop on GovFresh

Since May 1, 2009, I’ve dedicated a great deal of time and energy to GovFresh to the point it’s become a passion that has consumed me. I’ve managed to find meaning in work that matters to me.

After the euphoria of manor.govfresh, the citizen in me became even more excited about changing the way government works, but before jumping back into the thick of things, the entrepreneur in me needed to find a more sustainable way to build on GovFresh’s organic growth and momentum.

I’ve talked with many of you over the past 6 weeks about how best to pursue my civic passions and make GovFresh sustainable while maintaining its independent spirit. It’s been a challenge operating in a vacuum, especially when you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you’re focused on an industry based 3,000 miles away in Washington, DC.

Since GovFresh’s inception, Goldy Kamali of FedScoop and I have collaborated behind the scenes on ideas while exploring opportunities on how to work together. Since September 2009, we’ve talked about working together when she came to San Francisco, and we spent the day talking through options. Goldy and I have strengths that complement one another and have always gelled on the evolution of new media and government.

Beginning immediately, I’ll work with Goldy and the FedScoop team on leading editorial and creative areas for FedScoop. I’ll focus on federal government themes such as cloud computing, cybersecurity, open government and other tech-related areas. This is new territory for FedScoop and myself, so it’ll be an evolutionary process.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the FedScoop team and, to quote Goldy herself, I think her and the FedScoop team are ‘fabu.’

What all of this means for GovFresh is that I’ll have more time to focus on my civic passions: open government, open data, open source and innovation at the municipal level. GovFresh will continue to address issues it has in the past, but do so at a more moderate pace. Just as I did with sf.govfresh and manor.govfresh, Goldy and I have discussed exciting event ideas we’ll share with you in the future.

If you want to connect with me directly, have story ideas for FedScoop or GovFresh, want to guest-blog for either or both, please contact me at luke@govfresh.com. You can also follow FedScoop on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to all of you for working with me, sharing ideas, helping navigate best options, wanting to see GovFresh grow and genuinely caring about the future of GovFresh and what I personally pursue.

‘GitHub for gov’ GovHub to build open source repository for government

GovHubRecently launched GovHub is a new ‘GitHub for government’ that aims to be the comprehensive repository for government open source development projects (update: see related efforts such as CiviCommons and forge.mil – HT @digiphile). GovHub will beta test to a select group at the end of November and open up in late December. I asked one of its founders, Greg Lind, to talk more about GovHub’s focus and future plans.

What is GovHub?

The general idea is a collaboration space for local or regional governments to collaborate on software needs with other government agencies as well as the local open source software community. A lot of open source developers in Portland and really all over the world have small get togethers or hack-athon meet ups similar to a user group where they get together and work on civic projects, and almost exclusively use open source tools. These are highly organized and talented groups whose only real goal is to write great software that benefits the end user and the community. We feel like the opportunity right now is to help organize more of these groups as a force to promote open source software as well as community driven development by helping to fulfill specific needs at local government agencies. Anything from exposing useful government data thorough easy to consume data API’s to creating full fledge front end software for use on government or co-branded web sites. A lot of this could be done through refinements to the procurement process that most governments use to be more inclusive of open source solutions as well as organizing open source developers to be able to respond to these RFP’s and provide some intrinsic value for their projects. We see this as one of the biggest hurdles to open source adoption in the misunderstanding the “free” software can not last because they think the developers are working for free or that it is just a hobby.

What the code strategy?

I’m guessing you are referring to our GitHub or GovSource repositories we are planning on hosting. The idea here is to help provide a single place for these smaller mostly Web-based projects with civic or community driven ideals to be found by government and non-profit agencies. We want to help keep these projects sustainable over the long haul by providing free hosting and direct communication with the government agencies who would be interested in them. On the government side, we want to provide easy options for governments to open source their own internal projects as well as share with other government agencies through build in site intergovernmental agreements.

What’s your outreach plan?

The first thing we hope to do is work with a lot of the regional governments here in the Portland area. We have some direct contacts through previous working relationships that we hope to use to get a few started on some regional proejcts and data sharing ideas. The primary long-term goal is to use things like GOSCON and OpenGov West as opportunities to promote our ideas and build momentum. We also think the CivicApps contests that the City of Portland, San Francisco and New York have started could be expanded to other regions and we are working on ways to host contest like this on our own.

Watch GovHub founders’ IgniteGov presentation at GOSCON2010:

Politicians are more powerful when they control public data

Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, has a fantastic article in Wired about 311 in New York City (What a Hundred Million Calls to 311 Reveal About New York). Jason Kottke references the post and shares a point his friend makes that I’ve never really thought about:

Not discussed in the article is an assertion by my pal David that exclusive access to 311 data gives incumbent politicians — like, say, Michael Bloomberg — a distinct advantage when it comes to getting reelected. For instance, when campaigning on a neighborhood level, the incumbent can look at the 311 data for each neighborhood and tailor their message appropriately, e.g. promising to help combat noise in a neighborhood with lots of noise complaints or fix the streets in a neighborhood with lots of calls about potholes.

Whether it’s getting elected or discovering new businesses opportunities, open data levels the playing field.

When data is closed to only those who have access to it, incumbents have a leg up on their competition. They can cater to constituents who complain the most and disregard areas that aren’t familiar with the service or less likely to air their grievances (and most likely not vote).

Even worse, these politicians have insider information on business opportunities that can be realized with this type of data. That’s a pretty good perk for campaign contributors, right?

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to open government data. Thoughts on other insider opportunities when it comes to closed data?

A vote for open data in San Francisco

Last week’s election brought a new party to power in our nation’s capitol and shook up the political landscape in San Francisco. With Mayor Gavin Newsom’s ascension to Lt. Governor of California there is a job opening in City Hall. His election has officially kicked off a process to name an interim mayor and who it’s going to be has been the buzz of the City for well over a year.

With all the changes happening in the City, it is important to make the open government efforts Mayor Newsom has worked so hard to implement a permanent part of City government.

Last year he issued an Open Data Executive Directive asking City departments to provide data to DataSF.org, the City’s one stop location for government data.  To facilitate continued public access to City government, Mayor Newsom introduced Gov 2.0 legislation earlier this year.

Gov 2.0, Please!

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee took a big Gov 2.0 step forward last month when they voted in favor of Mayor Newsom’s open data legislation and sent it to the full Board with recommendation.  Supervisor Eric Mar and many others have lauded the new policy, highlighting how it will lead to innovation that will improve San Franciscans’ quality of life at no additional cost to taxpayers.

There is already proof of the value of open data in San Francisco.  More than 50 apps, websites and other mash-ups have been created since the launch of DataSF.org in August 2009.  My personal favorite is the EveryBlock service requests feature that rolled out shortly after DataSF.org went live.  EveryBlock built a website that allows visitors to see what people are calling San Francisco’s 311 Customer Service Center about.  Issues are broken down by request type (graffiti, street sweeping, tree maintenance), day, and neighborhood. The site helps visualize what City services San Franciscans are asking for and increases transparency by showing what has been fixed.

Vote for Open Data

Tomorrow, Mayor Newsom’s open data legislation will be in front of the full Board of Supervisors. They have the opportunity to make open data the law in San Francisco.

On the verge of this historic movement, let’s take a look back at how the Gov 2.0 movement started in San Francisco with a tweet to Mayor Newsom about a pothole and where it is going.  Here’s a presentation I gave at U.C. Berkeley last month about open government efforts in San Francisco:

If you support open data sign the twitter petition and if you live in San Francisco contact your supervisor. Then join Gov 2.0 leaders at SF Beta on Tuesday night to hopefully celebrate and talk about the future of DataSF.org.

Build an ‘open source value creation model’ for your agency

Great FedTalks presentation from David Dejewski of the Department of Defense Business Transformation Agency where he discusses Web 2.0, MilSuite including MilBook, MilWiki, MilBlog and MilTube. Dejewski talks about building a ‘Web 2.0 deployment toolbox,’ get the technical and security foundation down and build an ‘open source value creation model.’

Best points relates his approach to development:

  • It takes about 4 hours to build an app
  • Open source apps are free
  • Deployment is instantaneous / Scalable
  • Prototypes are a thing of the past
  • Development cycles are now simply deployments
  • XML published data is platform agnostic

Best quote:

‘These technologies, these obstacles are going away. We can now for the first time in history celebrate the fact that technology is finally mature enough to start providing you a return on investment. The limitations that we once faced in terms of hardware and speed and all that, they’re all melting away with the advent of Web 2.0, because you’re not hosting it anymore. The stuff is being hosted somewhere else in the cloud. Your whole mission with Web 2.0 … once you get the platform out there, is to focus on value. Take the whole discussion of hardware out of your mind. Focus on value creation.’

Full video here:

SF CIO Vein discusses open government, open data, municipal innovation

I had the opportunity to sit down with San Francisco Chief Information Officer Chris Vein during sf.govfresh and ask him about his work around open government, open data and government innovation. What resonates most with me is how he touches on the importance of a partnership between mayor and CIO and SF Mayor Gavin Newsom’s willingness to let him ‘fail forward.’

We’d see more government innovation if leaders were like Newsom and let their staff experiment with technology, especially open source and free Web-based tools where the cost to taxpayers is minimal at best.

Here’s the full interview:

Manor CIO Haisler joins Spigit as Director of Government Innovation

Manor, TX, Chief Information Officer Dustin Haisler has joined idea crowd-sourcing start-up Spigit as Director of Government Innovation. Here’s a few questions we had for him when he broke the news to us.

You’ve had a fantastic year with many accolades for your work in the public sector. Why throw it all away and go work for the private sector?

I don’t consider going to private-sector as throwing away what has been accomplished; rather, this is a way for me to build on top of that. While in Manor, I discovered that there were more agencies that needed help then we could support. In joining Spigit, I can now focus on helping these agencies innovate on a full-time basis.

What will you focus on at Spigit?

My focus is going to be helping other agencies work through their organizational challenges using open innovation as a model. There is a science to what was done in the City of Manor, and it is my mission to help enable other local, state and federal agencies to do the same.

From your experience in Manor, what advice do you have for local government?

I would like others to know that there is nothing ‘magical’ about what was done in Manor, and it’s actually more scientific than you might think. Manor’s model for government innovation can and should be replicated by other agencies. In addition, I know that there are significant cultural and organizational roadblocks that we must overcome, but the fact is- they CAN be overcome. There are two main components that enabled us to innovate on the scale that we did in Manor.

1. Open Leadership: Our City Manager, Phil Tate, was an open leadership visionary that realized the value achieved by allowing employees and citizens to weigh-in on the direction of the city. This form of management is still very much in its infancy, but by having a progressive and visionary executive sponsor, we were able to tap our ‘civic surplus.’

2. Proving Business Value: If we couldn’t explain how the project would make the system more efficient or cost-effective it was scrapped. I think a great way to do this is draw out the existing system on a whiteboard, then draw how the new system makes the process better. Sometimes simple things like this make the big picture easier to understand for those on the fence.

Dustin Haisler can be reached at dhaisler@spigit.com or (512) 961-6630.