Month: July 2014

It’s time for open data on open data

Recent conversations I’ve had with municipal executives managing open data programs indicate that traction around open data platform usage isn’t meeting their personal expectations.

The looming fear for some is that, as more and more resources are allocated for open data initiatives, there is going be more of a need to justify the return on investment. If these efforts aren’t meeting that return, the best case scenario is that they’ll receive less funding or simply stagnate as a priority, especially when there are more immediate, pressing IT issues senior-level executives face.

In some cases, some are already asking how to frame the justification.

Two questions to ask if your platform isn’t getting the usage traction you expect:

  • Is it the data platform’s user interface/experience and general product design?
  • Are you effectively developing holistic open data communications strategies to communicate the availability?

The first question is the most important, because without an analytical understanding of usage, the answer to the second is moot.

The appropriate, “open” solution is for governments is to start publicly releasing analytics data on their open data platforms. Given that “open by default” is ingrained in the culture of the open data community, this should be a no-brainer and easy goal to accomplish.

If the numbers are dismal, we can look for the reasons why together and address this as a community.

Let’s start sharing open data platform analytics.

Let’s get this right together.

Reinventing government procurement

Reinventors is hosting a live, online government procurement roundtable with key nonprofit, business and media leaders on Thursday, July 31, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. PT.

The discussion is part of “Reinvent America: Our Technology Foundation Series” led by Reinventors founder Peter Leyden.

Topic:

”How can we make the way government buys technology compatible with the way good technology is now built – yet ensure the process is fair and people are accountable?”

Panelists:

Sign up and watch here.

More about the Reinvent America series:

DOJ seeks CIO

U.S. Department of Justice (Photo: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Sebmol">Sebmol</a>)

U.S. Department of Justice (Photo: Sebmol)

The U.S. Department of Justice is looking for a chief information officer.

From the posting:

The CIO provides executive leadership and has oversight responsibility for the management, acquisition, and integration of OJP’s information resources, including mission and data systems, data center management, telecommunications, office networks, computer security (including policy, standards, and operations), vulnerability management, configuration management, data management, information sharing, and end-user computing. He/she will provide overall IT portfolio management, recommend agency-wide IT program improvements, and oversee the formulation and execution of the agency’s IT budget.

The job pays from $120,749 to $181,500.

Application deadline is August 18. Apply here.

An open data blueprint for the U.S. Department of Commerce

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announcing the agency's new chief data officer position. (Photo: U.S. Secretary of Commerce)

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announcing the agency’s new chief data officer position. (Photo: U.S. Secretary of Commerce)

Re-published from API Evangelist

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker recently announced the Department of Commerce will hire its first-ever chief data officer. I wanted to make sure that when this new and extremely important individual assumes their role, they have my latest thoughts on how to make the Department of Commerce developer portal the best it possibly can be, because this will be the driving force behind the rapidly expanding API driven economy.

Secretary Pritzker does a pretty good job of summing up the scope of resources that are available at Commerce:

Secretary Pritzker described how the Department of Commerce’s data collection – which literally reaches from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun – not only informs trillions of dollars of private and public investments each year and plants the seeds of economic growth, but also saves lives.

I think she also does a fine job of describing the urgency behind making sure Commerce resources are available:

Because of Commerce Department data, Secretary Pritzker explained, communities vulnerable to tornadoes have seen warning times triple and tornado warning accuracy double over the past 25 years, giving residents greater time to search for shelter in the event of an emergency.

To understand the importance of content, data and other resources that are coming out the Department of Commerce, you just have to look at the list of agencies under its purview that already have API initiatives:

Then take a look at the other half, who have not launched APIs:

The data and other resources available through these agencies reflect the heart of not just the U.S. economy, but the global economy, which is rapidly being driven by APIs powering stock markets, finance, payment providers, cloud computing and many other cornerstones of our increasingly online economy.

Look through those 13 agencies. The resource they manage are vital to all aspects of the economy: telecommunications, patents, weather, oceans, census, to other areas that have a direct influence on how markets work (or don’t).

I’m all behind the Commerce hiring a CDO, but my first question is, “what will this person do?”

This leader, Secretary Pritzker explained, will oversee improvements to data collection and dissemination in order to ensure that Commerce’s data programs are coordinated, comprehensive, and strategic.

Yes! I can get behind this. In my opinion, in order for the new CDO to do this, they will have to quickly bring all of the agencies /developer programs up to a modern level of operation. There is a lot of work to be done, so let’s get to work exploring what needs to happen.

A central Commerce developer portal to rule them all

Right now, the Commerce developer portal, commerce.gov/developer, is just a landing page. An after thought, to help you find some APIs–not a portal.

The new CDO needs to establish this real estate as the one true portal, which provides the resources other agencies will need for success, while also providing a modern, leading location for developers of web, mobile, Internet of things applications and data journalists or analysts to find the data they need.

If you need a reference point, look at Amazon Web Services,SalesForceeBay or Googe’s developers areas—you should see this type of activity at commerce.gov/developer.

Each agency must have its own kick-ass developer portal

Following patterns set forth by Commerce, each sub-agency needs to possess their own best-of-breed developer portal, providing the data, APIs, code and other resources that public and private sector consumers will need. I just finished looking through all the available developer portals for commerce agencies, and there is no consistency between them in user experience, API design or resources available. The new CDO will have to immediately get to work on taking existing patterns from the private sector, as well as what has been developed by 18F, and set a establish common patterns that other agencies can follow when designing, developing and managing their own agencies developer portal.

High-quality, machine-readable open data by default

The new CDO needs to quickly build on existing data inventory efforts that has been going on at Commerce, making sure any existing projects, are producing machine-readable data by default, making sure all data inventory is available within their agency’s portal, as well as at data.gov. This will not be a one-time effort. The new CDO needs to make sure all program and project managers, also get the data steward training they will need, to ensure that all future work at Commerce, associated agencies and private sector partners produces high-quality, machine-readable data by default.

Open source tooling to support the public and private sector

Within each of the Commerce and associate agency developer portals, there needs to be a wealth of open source code samples, libraries and SDKs for working with data and APIs. This open source philosophy, also needs to be applied to any web or mobile applications, analysis or visualization that are part of Commerce funded projects and programs, whether they are from the public or private sector. All software developed around Commerce data, and receive public funding should be open source by default, allowing the rest of the developer ecosystem, and ultimately the wider economy to benefit and build on top of existing work.

Machine-readable API definitions for all resources

This is an area that is a little bit leading edge, even for the private sector, but is rapidly emerging to play a central role in how APIs are designed, deployed, managed, discovered, tested, monitored and ultimately integrated into other systems and applications. Machine-readable API definitions are being used as a sort of central truth, defining how and what an API does, in a machine-readable, but common format, that any developer, and potentially other system can understand. Commerce needs to ensure that all existing, as well as future APIs developed around Commerce data, possess a machine-readable API definition, which will allow for all data resources to be plug and play in the API economy.

Establish an assortment of blueprints for other agencies to follow

The new Commerce CDO will have to be extremely efficient at establishing successful patterns that other agencies, projects and programs can follow. This starts with developer portal blueprints they can follow when designing, deploying and managing their own developer programs, but should not stop there, and Commerce will need a wealth of blueprints for open source software, APIs, system connectors and much, much more. Establishing common blueprints, and sharing these widely across government will be critical for consistency and interoperability–reducing the chances that agencies, or private sector partners will be re-inventing the wheel, while also reducing development costs.

Establish trusted partner access for public and private sector

Open data and APIs do not always mean publicly available by default. Private sector API leaders have developed trusted partner layers to their open data and API developer ecosystems, allowing for select, trusted partners greater access to resources. An existing model for this in the federal government is within the IRS modernized e-file ecosystem, and the trusted relationships they have with private sector tax preparation partners like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt. Trusted partners will be critical in Commerce operations, acting as private sector connectors to the API economy, enabling higher levels of access from the private sector, but in a secure and controlled way that protects the public interest.

Army of domain expert evangelists providing a human face

As the name says, Commerce spans all business sectors, and to properly “oversee improvements to data collection and dissemination in order to ensure that Commerce’s data programs are coordinated, comprehensive, and strategic,” the CDO will need another human layer to help increase awareness of Commerce data and APIs, while also supporting existing partners and integrators. An army of evangelists will be needed, possessing some extremely important domain expertise, across all business sectors, that Commerce data and resources will touch. Evangelism is the essential human variable, that makes the whole open data and API algorithm work, the new CDO needs to get to work writing a job description, and hiring for this army—you will need an 18F, but one that is dedicated to Commerce.

Department of Commerce as the portal at the center of the API economy

The establishment of an official CDO at the Department of Commerce is very serious business, and is a role that will be central to how the global economy evolves in the coming years. The content, data, and digital resources that should, and will be made available at commerce.gov/developer and associated agencies, will be central to the health of the API driven economy.

Think of what major seaports have done for the the economy over the last 1,000 years, and what role Wall Street has played in the economy over the last century. This is the scope of the commerce.gov/developer portal, which is ultimately the responsibility of this new role.

When the new CDO gets started, I hope they reach out to 18F, who will have much of what you need to get going. Then sit down, read this post, as well my other one on, An API strategy for the U.S. government, and once you get going, if you need any help, just let me know—as my readers know, I’m full of a lot of ideas on APIs.

e.Republic expands model to venture capitalism, funds first startup

Government media and events company e.Republic is expanding its business operations to include funding civic-focused startups, in hopes of leveraging its Rolodex of government officials to help serve as a channel for sales and marketing to those ventures it supports.

e.Republic’s first beneficiary of the new strategy is ArchiveSocial, a social media archiving service that targets government agencies to help meet records retention policies. The company also makes the archives searchable to the public, as it has done for cities like North Carolina and Austin.

“Too often, new companies with great solutions to public-sector problems don’t have the resources, know-how and reach to truly scale,” e.Republic CEO Dennis McKenna said in a press release announcing the $1 million round of funding that includes capital and marketing services. “We’re launching e.Republic Ventures to help companies with exciting public-sector solutions overcome these hurdles and win in the government market.”

According McKenna, on the e.Republic Labs website, e.Republic Ventures is “an accelerator to assist select early-stage companies go to market with their game-changing solutions.”

e.Republic was founded 30 years ago by McKenna and operates a number of media properties, including Government Technology and Governing, as well as the research and consulting services operations Center for Digital Government. It also hosts numerous local events annually that connect government officials with sponsoring vendors.

The announcement of the direction corresponded with the appointment of Dustin Haisler as e.Republic chief innovation officer and head of e.Republic Labs. Haisler joined eRepublic in April.

Given that the challenge for most early-stage government and civic-focused startups is gaining credibility within government and then breaking through procurement red tape, e.Republic’s new direction should prove useful and lucrative for those companies it supports.

Dan Morgan starts first day as first U.S. DOT chief data officer

What has been known for weeks and already publicly celebrated by open data insiders was today formally acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Transportation in a Twitter retweet: Dan Morgan is the agency’s new chief data officer.

On an personal level, this is really special, not just because Dan (affectionately, and now officially, known as “Data Dan”) is one of the smartest and most passionate people I know when it comes to using the power of data to solve transportation and safety issues, he is also pretty hilarious.

Congratulations to Dan, DOT and the United States of America.

The position was posted in early June.

Two SF civic innovation programs now accepting fellowship applications

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation and Fuse Corps are now accepting fellowship applications for a total of five fellowship opportunities.

SFMOCI

SFMOCI is looking for two Mayor’s Innovation Fellows to serve a one-year stint helping “tackle challenging civic issues.”

Deadline is July 31. Apply here.

Fuse Corps

Fuse Corps is looking for Executive Fellows to serve this fall on the following projects:

The Mayor’s Office – Vision Zero: Support and coordinate interagency efforts to implement Vision Zero, the City’s policy to eliminate traffic fatalities in San Francisco in the next 10 years.

San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (SFMTA): Workforce Development and Succession Planning

San Francisco Public Library: Create a program for young adults to increase high school graduation rates

Deadline is July 31. Apply here.

San Diego seeks chief data officer

San DiegoIf you like open data and great weather, the city of San Diego is looking for a performance and analytics chief data officer.

Responsibilities include:

· Provide written guidelines describing how to prepare an inventory of data sets owned or managed by the City which is subject to the Open Data Policy;
· Publish the initial City Department data inventories on the City’s web site;
· Prepare and publish a technical guidelines manual for the publishing of public data sets through a Web Portal;
· Work with the public to identify high value data sets and make them available to the greatest number of users and for the greatest number of applications;
· Whenever practicable, use voluntary compliance standards for web publishing and
e-government, as described in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119 Revised, unless no Voluntary Compliance Standards are suitable;
· No later than 18 months from the effective date of the Open Data Policy, and annually thereafter, provide a Compliance Plan to the Mayor and the Council;
· Submit written reports to the Mayor and the Council on the status of implementation of the Open Data Policy;
· Include specific measures for the annual updates to the Compliance Plan to make additional public data sets available on the Web Portal; and
· Assist with other key initiatives, including, but not limited to, strategic planning, and performance measures and management.

Application close date is July 17. Apply here.

With Screendoor, DOBT makes simple web forms key to better government

Screendoor

Image: DOBT

After Adam Becker and Clay Johnson completed their stints as White House Presidential Innovation Fellows working together on Project RFP-EZ, they were inspired to scale IT simplicity so that governments everywhere would no longer have to deal with traditional mediocre software solutions most legacy vendors provide.

That inspiration culminated into Department of Better Technology, a startup focused simply on building “great software for government.”

DOBT recently deployed its first product, Screendoor, aimed at making it easier for governments to create online forms to better manage incoming data and engage with citizens.

Becker shares some insights into the mission behind DOBT, Screendoor and why it’s so important for government.

What’s the background and inspiration for starting DOBT?

DOBT was born from Clay’s and my experience as Presidential Innovation Fellows. We had both worked on “civic technology” before, but neither of us had worked inside of government, and when we saw first-hand the terrible software that our governments run on, we basically said to each other, “we’ve gotta figure out a way to work on this.”

There’s obviously a few different routes you can take, but we felt that we’d be the most effective if we started a company like DOBT, where our software can be used by all government agencies, big and small.

Why focus on Screendoor as your first product?

We cover this in a bit in these two blog posts.

Basically, the civic technology community has been mostly focused on engagement, and thinking about things from the perspective of the citizen. It turns out that the root of this problem, that people don’t want to engage with their government, is that the current experience of engaging with government sucks.

Most people interact with their government through the interface of a form, and a really ugly one. It often involves printing, signing, faxing and waiting. And once that form is submitted to a government agency, it’s no easier on their end to manage those incoming responses.

Our reason for focusing on Screendoor is really two-fold:

  1. We can help government agencies create a better experience for the citizens they serve
  2. We can save time and money for those agencies by making their review process more efficient, and helping organize their data

What are Screendoor’s key features?

Frontend

We start with all of the basic “form builder” features, similar to what you’d find inside of Wufoo or Google Forms. You can add text fields, checkboxes, file inputs, etc. For users responding to forms, we automatically save their drafts, which is nice when you’ve got a long government form that you’d like to work on over multiple sittings.

Backend

The backend “review interface” is where Screendoor really shines. We offer a bunch of ways to manage your incoming responses:

  • You can assign custom rating fields (like a star-rating, or 1-10 number range) and collaboratively rank responses. We’ll total up the averages automatically.
  • You can add statuses and labels to create a custom workflow. For example, we run our hiring process through Screendoor, and applicants flow through “Incoming,” “Interviewing,” “Offer made,” and “Hired” statuses.
  • You can send batch messages to subsets of your responders, automatically merging in variables from their response. Imagine you’re running an apps contest, and have just moved the winning entries to a “Won” status. Screendoor lets you easily send a personalized message to each entrant, letting them know that they’ve won your contest.

What plans do you have for the future?

We’re focused on making Screendoor more robust, easier to use, and useful for even more use cases, and we hope that by doing these things, it’ll also help us get it into the hands of more and more government agencies.

Oh, and it’s not the most exciting thing by far, but we’re looking forward to meeting more and more security & compliance regulations. It sounds boring, but it’s something that can prevent certain folks inside government from taking advantage of an app like Screendoor.