Source: plainlanguage.gov

4 ways the federal government can improve plainlanguage.gov

Managed by the Federal Aviation Administration, plainlanguage.gov, the federal government website tasked with helping agencies write better for those it serves needs renewed attention. While momentum on better government digital services is in full-swing, it’s time to re-invent how plain language is presented.

Photo: White House/Pete Souza

Thank you

Every day I get to engage with entrepreneurs, public sector innovators and journalists on re-imagining and re-energizing how government works, what it means to be “civic,” and this year has been an incredible one for many friends and colleagues.

USAspending.gov

How to not be the next USAspending.gov

Regardless of the vendor drama and complexity around delivering data specific to USAspending, here is a simple formula for any government working on the release of a new public-facing website.

Photo: Code for America

The collaborative state

“Civic Hacking” is the awareness of a condition that is suboptimal in a neighborhood, community or place and the perception of one’s own ability to effect change on that condition.

Photo: Josh*m

Breaking the wall in Chicago

Over the past few years, the civic innovation movement has grown tremendously. It’s exploded really. Ten years ago, who would have imagined that Chicago would be a national leader in open government data?

San Francisco: Driving the boundaries of open data

During last week’s 2013 Code for America summit at the Yerba Buena Center, officials from cities including Louisville, New York City, South Bend and New Orleans spoke about how open data had changed the complexion of their communities in public safety, citizen services and blight mapping.

Photo: White House/Pete Souza

America needs a .gov backup plan

Regardless of what’s happening between the opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, why is America in this situation, and what can we do to ensure it never happens again?

Alex Howard

Tipping my open government hat

I first met Alex Howard in Los Angeles at Gov20LA a few years ago. This was shortly before he joined O’Reilly Media as its Washington correspondent covering the open government/Gov 2.0 beat.

SF Mayor Ed Lee introduced open data legislation on on October 15 that would create a chief data officer and promote the use of open data in city government. (Photo: City of San Francisco)

San Francisco makes open data city policy

Today, open data and its power to transform a city and a nation by engaging tech savvy citizens will be on display at San Francisco City Hall. And just as importantly, companies that have been successful because of forward thinking open data policies will testify to our elected leaders about its importance.

‘Making’ government

MIT Technology Review Editor David Rotman’s commentary on the difference between makers and manufacturers applies to what’s happening with government these days around open data applications, open source software development and civic hackathons.

City of Manor, TX

What happened to Manor?

Ines Mergel asks a great question about a government 2.0 icon emblematic of the potential local open government had in its nascent heyday way back two years ago.

Help government communicate better

Measured Voice President Jed Sundwall writes “Why We’re a Civic Startup” on the company’s blog to highlight why it applied to the Code for America Accelerator program.

How do you measure the value of Gov 2.0?

Creating sustainable, meaningful civic contributions to government is something I’ve addressed before, and it’s something that continues to elude us in the form of civic applications and hackathons, despite the overwhelming attention given to each.

Voter ID and Civic Innovation

Since 2008, there has been a wave of voting law changes that impose barriers to the ballot box. Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of “Bloody Sunday,” called the new laws “the most concerted effort to restrict the right to vote since before the Voting Rights Act.”

The right to vote is being chiseled away by voter ID laws that require voters to show government-issued photo ID in order to vote.

Cost of Freedom Project Logo

In December, the Department of Justice blocked South Carolina’s voter ID law on the grounds it would make it harder for minorities to vote in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Mississippi and Texas voting ID laws also must be pre-cleared but Texas is not waiting. The Lone Star State filed a federal lawsuit in an effort to speed up a decision.

Strict photo ID requirements will be in place in at least five states – Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin — In November. With Election Day less than nine months away, voters without an official photo ID cannot wait for the challenges to play out at the Justice Department and in the courts.

In Wisconsin, for instance, voters must navigate “The 4 Proofs.”

I am a founding member of the Election Protection Coalition. Still, looking at the infographic makes my head hurt. More worrisome, it discourages voters from completing the application process. So I presented the problem of TMI (read: disenfranchisement by design) at Random Hacks of Kindness and the Hackathon for Social Good. Citizen programmers developed solutions to quickly provide voters with information on how to get a voter ID.

During Social Week Washington, DC, I gave a demo of the Cost of Freedom web-based app developed by Kin Lane, API Evangelist for CityGrid.

Users in Wisconsin can forget about “The 4 Proofs.” Instead, in four clicks or less, they will be able to access information about the state’s voter ID requirements, how to obtain a certified copy of their birth certificate (the document that’s typically produced to establish one’s identity), and the location, hours and directions to the Office of Vital Records using public transit.

I also gave a live demo of the Cost of Freedom text-based app developed by Jack Aboutboul, Twilio’s API Evangelist. Twilio is making an in-contribution of text message services to promote voter education.

To commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we plan to launch the Cost of Freedom App on April 4, 2012.

I will post regular updates about the Cost of Freedom Project and other initiatives that are using civic innovation to protect the right to vote. The conversation about voter ID also gives us an opportunity to raise awareness about disruptive technologies in the public sector beyond election administration.

For more information, please visit us at Facebook.com/CostofFreedom. You can sign up to receive notice when the Cost of Freedom App is launched. Continue reading

San Francisco

How San Francisco can get its gov 2.0 groove back

There’s been a great deal of discussion lately around the topic of government innovation, especially here in San Francisco, with the appointment of a new chief innovation officer, a new “civic accelerator,” a new venture with a consortium of Bay Area technology companies and a new technology and innovation task force led by SF Mayor Ed Lee.

Bloomberg: How cities can ‘Moneyball’ government

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has a blog post on how cities are collaborating to better leverage data analytics and maximize taxpayer return on investment. The post cites examples from major American cities and how they’ve leveraged data, especially 311 logs, to realize efficiencies.

Government IT leaders should blog more

When I talk to city and local government technology leaders about their challenges and lessons learned, I’m often surprised they don’t openly and regularly share their experiences with the civic technology community or, in general, the citizens they serve.

Does government innovation need its own department?

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, SF city attorney and mayoral candidate Dennis Herrera said, if elected, he would create an innovation department and appoint a Chief Digital Officer to lead the city’s web and social media strategy that embraces open engagement with citizens.

Open government hackathons matter

Open government hackathons matter

The civic hackathon – a gathering (either virtual or physical) of technologists for a few days or weeks to build civic-themed software – remains one of the more durable manifestations of the open government movement.

West (Coast) Wing: Washington needs a Silicon Valley office

Two articles today from O’Reilly Media’s Alex Howard (US CTO pitches open government, innovation and health IT to Silicon Valley) and Politico’s Tony Romm (D.C. crowd’s path to Silicon Valley) touch on how the Beltway is reaching out to Silicon Valley’s tech community. Howard’s pieces revolves around U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Department of Health and Human Services CTO Todd Parks ‘DC to VC‘ visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, and Romm’s is more of a ‘Silicon Valley as political ATM’ angle.

Gov 2.0, vendors, vibe and industry as patriot

sf.govfresh was an incredible event that brought together San Francisco’s finest government technology leaders, local area public servants and citizens sincerely passionate about building effective government. Adobe supported us in making that event happen and received an incredible amount of appreciation from the community.

We’re seeing this happen more. There are a number of new, niche, tech-focused, Gov 2.0 community events and gatherings happening at the local, state and federal level, all offering innovative approaches to bringing leaders and in-the-trenches foot soldiers together to better understand how we can solve our government problems.

The future of the government forges

The GSA is currently planning forge.gov, which is widely assumed to be based on forge.mil, the much-discussed collaboration platform from the Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA. forge.mil is a pretty incredible idea: a single destination for testing, certification, and software development in the Defense Department.

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.

Why Twitter’s government outreach is a big win for the Gov 2.0 movement

For at least that past two years, a tiny yet fast-growing group of folks who call themselves “Gov 2.0 advocates” has worked tirelessly to spread a message that emerging technologies, low-cost communications and digital culture can reshape government to be more collaborative, transparent, efficient and connected to its citizens.

A ‘glass half full’ view of government app contests

An increasing number of people are starting to suggest that the concept of the “app contest” (where governments challenge developers to build civic applications) is getting a bit long in the tooth.

There have been lots of musings lately about the payoff for governments that hold such contests and the long term viability of individual entries developed for these contests. Even Washington DC – the birthplace of the current government app contest craze – seems the be moving beyond the framework it has employed not once, but twice to engage local developers.

The politics of open government free speech

I occasionally post critical comments when government is operating outside my definition of ‘open’ and only do so when I believe it’s important for the community at large to consider it in context of their own actions. By and large, GovFresh posts are positive, educational and, at times, congratulatory pieces that highly offset the critiques.

FedSpace answers, more questions, recommendations

The General Services Administration recently announced it will create FedSpace, a ‘new social intranet for federal employees and contractors.’ The project will be managed by the agency’s Office of Citizen Services and the initial version is expected to launch late summer.

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.”‘

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.

Flagship Initiatives Shine in Open Government Plans

Ever since Open Government Day – the 120 day deadline in the OGD when agencies had to release Open Government Plans – I’ve been pouring over them hoping to get a better understanding of how openness is going to be implemented. If we are to judge government openness by the barrage of documents we received last Wednesday, then we open government advocates ought to be very happy! But what are these documents made of, anyway? A word cloud illustrates it quite well – all the buzzwords that you would expect: Information, government, data, open, public.

Changing government standards and ‘Common Look and Feel’

Most western governments have in the last decade developed an accessibility strategy for their websites, often based on WCAG 1.0. At the end of 2008, the WC3 announced the final version of WCAG 2.0 and the public sector is now struggling to keep up. In Canada there was a recent announcement about a revised Common Look and Feel (CLF). In the USA the Section 508 is in its first of six revisions, part of which will be to adapt to the new approach to standards. I’m not sure that most citizens will notice the changes to government websites, however for both people with disabilities and the tax payers, it will be a very big deal.