Dustin Haisler

Beta government

West Carrollton BETA

West Carrollton BETA

For those unfamiliar with the concept of beta, it’s a term used in software development to push a public prototype to get design and functionality feedback, as well as test and report technical bugs before launching the project as an official service.

Standard operating procedure for government digital services is to create an extensive specifications document and develop a waterfall project management strategy for executing. Once the project is finalized internally, it’s released to the public as-is without any intention of collaboration or feedback from those who will actually use the service.

Beta has eliminated the fear associated with a big launch. Knowing that beta is the beginning of a collaborative process eases that fear and creates a feedback culture that is much-needed in digital government innovation.

More and more, particularly at the federal level, such as Vets.gov, government is releasing web-based projects this way, even openly and proactively discussing the beta as part of an on-going, iterative process. Locally, larger cities such as Boston are also going beta.

Beta as described in 18F’s “Project Stage Definitions“:

Stage and test working software on the public web for use by a subset of the target audience. Implement changes based on user behavior and feedback. Resolve policy compliance or technical integration issues. Define and then validate statistically significant metrics for improvement.


The objective of this phase is to build a fully working prototype which you test with users. You’ll continuously improve on the prototype until it’s ready to go live, replacing or integrating with any existing services.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

This beta release of Vets.gov is just a beginning. We’ve launched it with deep content in the two benefit categories you’ve told us mean the most to you: disability and education. There are many more to come. We’ll be adding new information and tools ongoing. But we wanted to get vets.gov in front of you now, as we build it, so you can tell us what’s working for you and what isn’t.

At ProudCity, we’ve launched our first city beta and, as a government service provider, we’ve learned a great deal about traditional blockers to innovation, and how we can help overcome them. It’s exciting to work with governments who embrace the beta mindset, especially knowing the end product, particularly for true software-as-a-service offerings, will only get better over time.

If you work inside government, demand beta from your digital services providers and bake it into your acquisition process. If you have the luxury of an internal development team, begin building the culture and communications strategy for deploying this.

There are internal, cultural, procurement and process issues governments must address, but ultimately it’s worth redefining the way services are delivered, and these obstacles are easier to overcome than you might imagine, and will be as more governments adopt the concept of beta.

Beta government is the new standard.

Government technology market snapshot

Dustin Haisler, eRepublic chief innovation officer, has published a “GovTech Market Snapshot” highlighting the government technology market, including key companies (startups and established vendors), venture capital firms and analytical data on market size.

There are helpful numbers for entrepreneurs looking to understand the sector and business opportunity. While this is a high-level overview of the market, and there are a number of newer companies working to fundamentally change how government services are delivered, seeing Dustin’s deck is a reminder that the pace of disruption is slower than we’d like to imagine.

Key numbers:

  • Government technology market: $175 billion
  • Number of U.S. cities: 19,422
  • Number of U.S. counties: 3,031
  • Number of U.S. townships: 16,364
  • State and local IT spending: $96 billion
  • Federal IT spending: $79 billion


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.

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.

manor.govfresh: Big ideas for small-town America

Update: Save the Date: Sept. 20-21, 2010

When GovFresh first started, I got an email from Dustin Haisler, CIO of Manor, TX, who shared with me all the work they were doing there. At that point in time, I was new to ‘Gov 2.0’ and what could be considered ‘government innovation.’ I was skeptical. I never really thought government could innovate itself out of a paper bag. To think a small-town in Texas could do it was completely laughable.

Was this guy for real?

We talked a few days later and now communicate regularly, sometimes daily, about what they’re working on, new ideas and what’s happening in open government as a whole. Dustin has even chronicled some of Manor’s work here on GovFresh. As someone who’s worked in and with several start-up companies, I’m intrigued by Manor’s efficiency and all they’ve done with such a small IT budget.

Today, Manor is a ‘Field of Dreams’ Gov 2.0 story. When it comes to innovation, Manor has built it from the ground up, and governments from near and far have come to learn more. Manor has been featured on the White House Blog, Wall Street Journal and Austin Statesmen, to name just a few.

For a while now, people have asked me when GovFresh would do a Gov 2.0 event. When I mentioned the idea to Dustin, he half-jokingly said, “Do it in Manor.”

I half-heartedly laughed and replied, “Let’s do it.”

So, we’re doing it. We’re just getting started, but wanted to reach out to the community and any of you interested in participating (see form below).

From Dustin:

“Manor wants to help re-define what it means to have a conference. Conferences are traditionally centered around knowledge transfer, and we want to transfer immediate, tangible value to other communities like ours. We want to show other local governments that Manor is not a unique, one-time experiment. Everything we’ve done in the last three years can be replicated cost-effectively and applied within the context of their agency or community.”

Stay tuned.

Yes, send me manor.govfresh updates!

How to pick a citizen idea platform

By Dustin Haisler, Manor, and Margarita Quihuis, Researcher at Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab

Today, more than ever, there has been lots of talk about open innovation, idea collection, ideation and many other terms used to describe the collection of citizen feedback. Most idea collection platforms have been lumped together and only compared on the basis of price alone. Based upon our research at Manor Labs, in collaboration with the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, we have come to the conclusion that there are two distinctly different platforms for idea collection.

Specific-Task Motivated Idea Platforms

These platforms (like Ideascale, Uservoice, etc.) are great a gathering ideas for a specific purpose. For instance, many online voting challenges have adopted these platforms to gather votes for a set period of time. After a user expends their vote or votes they are no longer motivated to return to the platform aside from seeing what ideas are on top.

  • Pros: Less Expensive Upfront Cost/ Great For Small Scale Challenges & Polls
  • Cons: Poor Idea Management / Poor Analytics

How Manor Uses: We currently employee a specific-task motivated platform for our website error pages. The voting mechanism is built into our standard error page (e404) so that if someone receives an error trying to access content on our website, they have the ability to make a suggestion at the point of failure, thus embracing specific-task motivated idea collection.

How Ideas4Haiti.org Uses: Manor and Stanford’s Persuasive Technology team have teamed up to create Ideas4Haiti.org, a public-facing idea generation platform. We chose IdeaScale to run the back-end because of its Web 2.0 characteristics such as single sign-ons via Facebook Connect and Open ID logins and extreme ease of use. In this particular implementation, the ideas are broken out into different categories but the focus is on Haiti disaster relief and recovery. In this kind of idea crowdsourcing where people are primed and motivated to help for altruistic reasons, elaborate game mechanics and reward systems such as found on platforms like Spigit aren’t necessary. One area where IdeaScale could improve is to allow idea contributors to auto-post to their Facebook Wall and Twitter accounts to provide social proof of their activities and thus persuade friends in their social networks to participate as well.

Structured-Idea Collection Platforms

This type of platform (like Spigit) collects and manages ideas on a board scale within multiple departments of an agency. Unlike the Specific-Task Motivated Platforms, users are free to submit ideas at any time within multiple departments. Since users are not motivated by specific-tasks, they must be motivated by a game-mechanics (ranking & rewarding of actions). In this type of platform, ideas are driven by the participants through an idea funnel.

  • Pros: Broad Idea Collection / Great Idea Management & Analytics / Less Expensive Over
  • Cons: More Expensive Upfront Costs

How Manor Uses: We currently use this platform to manage internal and external idea collection for our agency. Participants are ranked and rewarded for their participation in the platform, which provides the needed motivation to make the platform sustainable (leaderboard below). Users receive “Innobucks” for different elements of participation, such as idea submission, voting, commenting, etc. These “Innobucks” can be traded in for products or honors that offer participant a tangible benefit to participating. This mechanism of reward is vital to the sustainability of idea collection over extended periods of time.


Both platforms are great; however, focused toward corporate and internal audiences. The user interface and engagement mechanisms are sorely lacking for public-facing innovation. In the future we hope that these platforms will incorporate elements that are as engaging and persuasive as Facebook or many of the social games produced by Zynga. In the future, ideation platforms will need to have a much more social and game feel to them in order to get wide public participation. Indeed, future platforms may be built on top of Facebook because that’s where the public is. Likewise we can imagine Zynga created a new game called Cityville (ala Farmville, etc) where part of the play is ideation.

We’re at the very beginning of open innovation – comparable to where social networks were 10 years ago. There were many attempts – 6 Degrees of Separation, Ryze, Multiply, Tribe.net and Friendster before we began to see breakthrough applications like MySpace and then the dominant player Facebook.

Although there is significant progress to be made with open innovation in government, there are great tools currently out there for agencies to experiment and incorporation within their internal and external innovation processes. The benefits and insights gained from using these tools can only accelerate everyone’s learning curve on what works.

‘Open Gov the Movie’

Open Gov the Movie is a 14-minute compilation of interviews with prominent open gov advocates, including U.S. Deputy CTO Beth Noveck, Sunlight Foundation’s Jake Brewer, City of Manor’s Dustin Haisler, Tim O’Reilly, EPA’s Jeffrey Levy, Deloitte’s Steve Lunceford and National Academy of Public Administration’s Lena Trudeau. The film was created by Delib.

Open gov, Gov 2.0 leaders react to White House Open Government Directive

Here’s what open government and Gov 2.0 leaders are saying about the new White House Open Government Directive.

What’s your take?

Carl Malamud, Public.Resource.Org (@CarlMalamud)

Carl Malamud

“This is great. No equivocating, vacillating, hemming, or hawing. This is all good, big thumbs up to the folks that made this happen.”

Ellen Miller, Sunlight Foundation (@EllnMllr)

Ellen Miller

“The Open Government Directive demonstrates how the Obama administration is matching its aspirational goals with concrete policies and accountability measures. I expect it will create a sea change in how the government and public interact, what information we as citizens have at our fingertips, and that it will redefine that public information means that its online. It’s going to be up to all of us to participate and monitor how well government meets these goals.”

Craig Newmark, Craigslist (@craignewmark)

Craig Newmark

“The Open Government Initiative is a huge commitment to:

  • listening to all Americans, hearing what they have to say
  • telling people what’s going on in government, like where the money goes

The results will create effective large-scale grassroots democracy and far greater fiscal responsibility.

I feel that these efforts are complementary to the adoption of the US Consititution.”

Chris Vein, City and County of San Francisco (@Veinesque)

Chris Vein

The President’s Directive is a tremendous step forward. It not only further explains the President’s vision, but it provides an aggressive roadmap and timeline for getting Federal, State and local governments to improve transparency, increase participation and collaboration. San Francisco is proud to have responded early to the President’s call for open government with our Open Data Directive and DataSF initiatives. The President’s Directive will help San Francisco improve and extend our goal of a more transparent and open City.

Dustin Haisler, City of Manor, TX (@dustinhaisler)

Dustin Haisler

“The Open Government Directive is a great starting point for the open-gov movement in the federal government; however, one thing to consider is whether open data is truly “usable” data for our constituents. Instead of just putting datasets online for mashup artists, we should also focus on the interface our citizens will use to get the information. In addition, multi-agency collaboration starting on the local level will be a very important key to the overall initiative’s success. Overall, I think the directive is good move in the right direction for the federal government.”

Peter Corbett, iStrategyLabs (@corbett3000)

Peter Corbett

“We’ve all been eagerly awaiting the OGD and it’s not a let down by any stretch. It will lend support and clarification to what is a complex issue for our government: how to become more open, transparent and participatory. What we’re seeing here is the innovative use of technology and smart policy to unleash the talent of the American people. I’m most excited about how the work we’ve done on Apps for Democracy will soon be institutionalized throughout federal agencies when OMB releases guidance for how to use challenges, prizes and other incentives for stimulating citizen driven innovation.”

Andrew Wilson, Health & Human Services (@AndrewPWilson)

Andrew Wilson

“This directive represents a significant step toward the president’s goals of transparency, public participation and collaboration. One element that I would like to see emphasized as part of the implementation is a concerted, systemic effort to improve the tools government employees have available to collaborate internally. For me, improved internal collaboration is an essential element to developing the framework for a more fully engaged and responsive government. Imagine a world where cross-departmental information flow was so robust that citizens could interact with ANY agency on ANY issue and could get a timely, complete and helpful response.”

Steve Ressler, GovLoop (@govloop)

Steve Ressler

“Open Government Directive is a great first step in the open gov/Gov 2.0 movement. While the data and transparency piece is important, I’m most interested in how agencies create their own open gov plans and what actions they take from their planning exercise. I believe most of the movement for open gov starts when it is done at the agency level and solving true mission needs.”

Clay Johnson, Sunlight Labs (@cjoh)

Clay Johnson

“This is a great and ambitious plan that’s particularly challenging in terms of both logistics and technology. It is the equivalent of the “putting a man on the moon” of the Transparency movement in the federal government. Challenging, awe-inspiring and risky.”

Adriel Hampton, Gov 2.0 Radio (@adrielhampton)

Adriel Hampton

“I am concerned that some may use the document and its compliance deadlines as a simple checklist. However, as did the president’s January open government memo, this document empowers the growing ranks of Gov 2.0 innovators. Its guidance on data release and standards is also valuable and needed.”

Steve Lunceford, GovTwit (@dslunceford)

Steve Lunceford

“I think this is a great step to formalize a process and “movement” that has already been spreading throughout government. I would have like to have seen more guidance around transparency, participation and collaboration from an interagency standpoint versus just citizen interaction, but believe that could be a natural output as agencies strive to meet the various deadlines. It will also be interesting to see how quickly and enthusiastically agencies respond to a directive which lays out new unfunded mandates given the many priorities they are already juggling.”

Bob Gourley, CTOvision (@bobgourley)

Bob Gourley

The most important part of the directive, in my opinion, is the attachment with guidance on plan formulation. The thought put into that means agencies do not have to recreate the wheel when formulating their own plan. The part of the directive that we all need to watch out for abuse on: it seems to apply to all other than OMB and above. Yet history has shown those are the ones we need the most openness from.

Brian Ahier (@ahier)

Brian Ahier

“I am thrilled to see the emphasis on open government this directive represents. I hope to see government agencies able to meet the deadlines for action established by the Open Government Directive. I also want to see citizen participation in determining the high value data sets to be published. Since this directive also requires the data be published in an open format, it will be nice to have documents available where the data is not shielded within the pdf format.”

Gov 2.0 Hero: Dustin Haisler

Dustin Haisler

  • Municipal Judge & CIO/City Secretary, Manor, Texas
  • Connect: Twitter · LinkedIn

What was your path to Gov 2.0?

Coming out of the banking industry, I began my career in local government almost four years ago as the Finance Director for a small growing city in Central Texas. After a few days on the job I realized there were significant technology shortfalls that needed to be addressed. At the time, the city did not own a server and each department’s software operations were run on stand alone machines, and there was no integration. The biggest challenge was how to overcome this monstrous obstacle with an IT budget less than $100,000. We could have issued debt to pay for building a technology infrastructure from scratch, but instead, we decide to innovate most of our own solutions. After three years of software and network integration, the City of Manor is now recognized as a leader in local government technology. The amazing thing is that through innovation and creativity our city was able to make this transformation with limited funds in such a short period of time. These technologies have allowed us to further increase efficiency and transparency in our community.

One of our most notable Gov 2.0 campaigns can be seen in our deployment of a Quick Response Code (QR-code) program. I discovered QR-codes when I initially began hunting a solution for our lack of a document management system. I was drawn to QR-codes because I could generate them for free and they could also be decoded using a camera phones equipped with a free reader installed. This meant that instead of investing in a $50,000 document management system with expensive barcode reading equipment, I could make my own system for free. In addition, I realized that QR-codes could be used not only for document management but for information dissemination, and ultimately, economic development. We placed 24-fixed mounted QR-codes signs throughout our community. When scanned, each code links to a website specific to its location of placement. For instance, if you scan the code in front of one of the water towers we are constructing, your mobile phone browser would be redirected to a website with information about that particular capital project. It contains information about the company building the water tank, how much it costs the taxpayer, when it’s scheduled to be completed, and much more. If the project information needed to be updated, the only thing that needs to be changed is the content on the website. Once this project is complete, I can simply move the metal QR-code sign to a different project and replace the content on the website that it links to. We also have the QR-codes placed on historic homes and other points of interest. If you scan a QR-code on a historic home your mobile phone browser will be redirected to additional historical information including pictures and audio narratives. This two-year old program has celebrated great success, and I enjoy traveling the US telling cities how they can use this program, or one of our many others, to change the status quo by increasing efficiency while cutting costs in the process.

What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?

Local government agencies have the biggest opportunity for improvement using Web 2.0 tools because, speaking from experience, they have the lowest number of resources available and the greatest needs. Local governments are on the frontlines of citizen interaction, and for many people, their primary government experience is with a local government agency. Through the use of Web 2.0 technologies, local government agencies can offer their citizens many features that would have otherwise been unobtainable through an expensive industry software package.

What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception?

I don’t necessarily believe that there’s a killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm. I think that this will be achieved by a change in thought process. As a government employee I know that minimizing risk is a top priority; however, I have seen some agencies that claim that using Gov 2.0 technologies is risky because it gives the public “too much” information. This flawed thought process needs to be purged from any government agency that still clings to it. Gov 2.0 is not a new model for information dissemination; instead, it is a new way of thinking.

What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

What excites me about Gov 2.0 is its ability to empower and engage citizens in their local, state and federal government agencies. Our citizens can help drive innovation and creativity in government, and Gov 2.0 allows their voice to resonate in agencies across the country. Some of the greatest ideas in the world came from the bottom of the totem pole, and what allowed them to ultimately be successful is the open atmosphere in which they were derived. In my community, we refer to this atmosphere as Gov 2.0.