Socrata

Doubling down on government technology

Photo: Luke Fretwell

Photo: Luke Fretwell

We’ve recently seen an uptick in venture capital interest around government and civic technology startups, but before we enthusiastically celebrate these investments, we must ask ourselves whether this potential bubble will truly reshape government IT or simply leave us five years from now in the same place we are today.

During the Code for America Summit in September, Govtech Fund’s Ron Bouganim and Code for America Director of Products & Startups Lane Becker had a great “Emerging Startup Ecosystem” discussion about the the difference between civic and government technology, and the latter’s focus on solving inherent bureaucratic problems.

Bouganim’s closing comments have stuck with me since watching the interview, and they’re important for us all to think about as we commit to building technology solutions, whether it’s for internal government operations or public-facing citizen engagement applications:

“It is tough because it’s early. Clearly everybody in this room is transformers. These are the folks … that are at the front of this, so it’s tough, because you often at times feel alone, but I think there’s a growing community, and it’s only going to get better. So, I guess my fundamental advice is that if you’re really passionate about this space, and you really identify a big problem, you have to kind of double down on being an entrepreneur. It’s hard enough being an entrepreneur and, in an emerging space like gov tech, you have to double down on that, and I would just encourage you to stick with it.”

Announced in September, Govtech Fund will invest $23 million into government-focused technology ventures. Recently, Y Combinator also expressed an interest in the industry when it issued a request for startups that included those focused on the public sector. Andreessen Horowitz has already invested $15 million in OpenGov, focused on bringing visualizations to government budgets. Other startups such as Socrata and MindMixer have also received multi-million dollar infusions to build the future of public sector IT.

Given the consistent inability for government projects to deliver on time or on budget, especially in the light of recent, major IT failures, we’ve collectively identified the problem. While much of this is due to culture, bureaucratic procurement processes and waterfall project management practices, the fundamental issue with failed government IT is that it is built on proprietary solutions.

Because of this, not only do we not have access to code, more importantly, we lose an opportunity to create an ecosystem of community and collaboration that sustains itself. To put it in context of the latest civic meme, today’s government technology is built for, not with.

The early trend we’re seeing in government technology venture investments is that the focus is still on the proprietary. While this will have incremental benefits and provide short-term excitement with each new launch, they don’t address the bigger issue every government faces in harnessing control over their IT systems.

They’re locked down and locked in.

The argument you often hear when discussing open source with proprietary government technology startup entrepreneurs is that businesses need some form of competitive advantage to build a product and develop a customer base with enough runway to sustain itself longer term. While this makes sense in a commercial market, it addresses the needs not of government, but that of the entrepreneur. The technology may provide a cutting-edge, cloud-based, big data, mobile or social solution worthy of a press release or mention in the trades, but what is it doing to really change the IT conundrum we can’t seem to procure our way out of?

This isn’t to say these new technologies don’t have merit or their builders don’t have good intention. Indeed, some do, however, there’s a classic innovation wall proprietary government IT software hits when it has reached a certain level of customer acquisition and no longer needs to compete. Oakland’s recent insistence that Granicus open up its application programming interface is exhibit A on what happens when a vendor corners a government market: technology stagnation trumps innovation. Without open systems or modularity, government is safely locked in.

We frequently hear the vending machine analogy applied to government. Today, the vending machine is the proprietary vendor machine, and government is the one doing the shaking.

If we’re going to double down and truly build a civic operating system anyone can plug into, and be proud of, we must invest in a strategy that sustains beyond one software solution.

We need to double down on a philosophical approach to government technology.

There’s not an overnight solution and the problem won’t be solved tomorrow, but if you’re really in this business to transform government, whether you’re an entrepreneur or investor, it’s time to double down on open.

Government can, literally, no longer afford to operate business as usual when it comes to technology. If ‘Vendor 2.0’ is simply a new class of fresh faces operating no differently than its predecessor, let’s prepare our kids for disappointment.

You’re either investing in or building tomorrow’s problem today, or you’re co-creating the future of government.

The latter might be a longer, lonelier road, but we have to stick with it because, as Bouganim says, it’s only going to get better.

Let’s double down.

Watch the full video of Becker and Bouganim’s discussion:

San Francisco set to appoint chief data officer in revised open data legislation

San Francisco will announce proposed revisions to open data legislation Monday that includes the creation of a chief data officer who will serve as the primary evangelist for making city data freely-available to the public.

As part of the new legislation (full text below), the CDO will “be responsible for sharing City data with the public, facilitating the sharing of information between City departments, and analyzing how data sets can be used to improve city decision making.”

Also included is the requirement that each city agency appoint an open data coordinator and establish open data plans, implementation timelines and itemizations of what data is being collected.

“Open Data is an important resource for growing innovation,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee in a prepared statement. “City-maintained datasets hold a wealth of value for citizens when they are liberated from the halls of government. When data is freely accessible, it increases government transparency and efficiency, while also driving civic innovation and job creation.”

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom first launched the city’s open data efforts in 2009 through a centralized website, DataSF. The site was enhanced in March 2012 and is now powered by the data platform startup Socrata.

Watch live

Live announcement with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee at 11:00 a.m. PST.

Live stream by Ustream

Legislation

The following text outlines the proposed revisions to San Francisco’s existing Open Data legislation:

[Administrative Code–Citywide Coordination of Open Data Policy and Procedures]

Ordinance amending San Francisco’s open data policies and procedures and establishing the position and duties of Chief Data Officer and Departmental Data Coordinators, and amending San Francisco Administrative Code Sections 22D.2 and 22D.3 to implement these changes.

NOTE: Additions are single-underline italics Times New Roman;

deletions are strike-through italics Times New Roman.

Board amendment additions are double-underlined;

Board amendment deletions are strikethrough normal.
Do NOT delete this NOTE: area.

Be it ordained by the people of the City and County of San Francisco:

Section 1. Findings.

(a) San Francisco has been a leader in open data policy in the United States. In 2009, Mayor Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Directive promoting Open Data. In 2010, the Board of Supervisors expanded on the Directive with the passage of the City’s Open Data Policy (Ordinance 293-10), codified in San Francisco’s Administrative Code Section 22D.

(b) An open data policy has been shown to drive increased government efficiency and civic engagement, leading to social and economic benefits as a result of innovative citizen interaction with government. Social and economic benefits include, but are not limited to:

(1) Empowering citizens through democratization of information and fostering citizen participation in City projects;

(2) Supporting early stage entrepreneurship;

(3) Encouraging positive environments that contribute to workforce development and job creation; and

(4) Increasing a positive business environment and promoting public-private partnerships.

(c) City departments should take further steps to make their data sets available to the public in a more timely and efficient manner. San Francisco will improve and expand its Open Data Policy by creating the position of Chief Data Officer and Department Data Coordinators to implement the standards and policies articulated in the City’s Open Data Policy.

Section 2. The San Francisco Administrative Code is hereby amended by amending Sections 22D.2, and 22D.3, to read as follows:

SEC. 22D.2. CHIEF DATA OFFICER AND CITY DEPARTMENTS CITY DEPARTMENTS REQUIRED TO MAKE DATA AVAILABLE.

(a) Chief Data Officer.

In order to coordinate implementation, compliance, and expansion of the City’s Open Data Policy, the Mayor shall appoint a Chief Data Officer (CDO) for the City and County of San Francisco. The CDO shall be responsible for sharing City data with the public, facilitating the sharing of information between City departments, and analyzing how data sets can be used to improve city decision making. To accomplish these objectives, the CDO shall:

(1) Coordinate utilization, maintenance, and updates of the City’s Open Data website, currently known as “DataSF;”

(2) Oversee the design, adoption by the Committee on Information Technology (COIT) and implementation of technical standards for DataSF to ensure that the portal and its datasets are implemented, updated, and utilized in accordance with San Francisco’s open data policies;

(3) Provide education and analytic tools for City departments to improve and assist with their open data efforts;

(4) Assist departments with compliance with Open Data policies by working with Department Data Coordinators, collecting and reviewing each department’s open data implementation plans and creating a template for the departmental quarterly progress reports;

(5) Present an annual updated citywide implementation plan to COIT, the Mayor, and Board of Supervisors and respond, as necessary, regarding the status of DataSF in the City;

(6) Actively work to further the goals of open data in the City;

(7) Coordinate creation and sharing of internal City data sets outside of those designated for publication on DataSF;

(8) Help establish data standards within and outside the City through collaboration with external organizations;

(9) Assist City departments with analysis of City data sets to improve decision making; and,

(10) Analyze and report on the usage of DataSF.

(b) City Departments

(a) Each City department, board, commission, and agency (“Department”) shall:

(1)Make reasonable efforts to make available all data sets under the Department’s control, provided however, that such disclosure shall be consistent with the rules and standards promulgated by the CDO and adopted by COIT and with applicable law, including laws related to privacy;

(2) Conduct quarterly reviews of their progress on providing access to data sets requested by the public through the designated web portal beginning six months after the appointment of the CDO; and

(3) Designate a Data Coordinator (DC) who will oversee implementation and compliance with the Open Data Policy within his/her respective department. Each DC shall work with the CDO to implement the City’s open data policies and standards. The DC shall:

(i) Prepare an Open Data plan for the Department which shall:

(1) Include a timeline for the publication of the Department’s open data and a summary of open data efforts planned and/or underway in the Department;

(2) Include a summary description of all data sets under the control of each Department (including data contained in already-operating information technology systems);

(3) Prioritize all public data sets for inclusion on DataSF;

(4) Be updated quarterly after the initial submission to the CDO. In the event of unsatisfactory implementation of the plan by the Department and/or disagreement over publication of data sets, the CDO may request the Department’s DC appear before COIT; and,

(5) Be published on the department’s web site in addition to the DataSF site.

(6) Ensure data sets comply with the following requirements:

(ii) Review department data sets for potential inclusion on DataSF and ensure they comply with the following guidelines:

(1) Data prioritized for publication should be of likely interest to the public and should not disclose information that is proprietary, confidential, or protected by law or contract;

(2) Data sets that contain personally identifiable information or represent potential breaches to security or privacy should be flagged for potential exclusion from DataSF; and,

(3) Data sets should be free of charge to the public through the web portal.

(iii) Make data sets available, provided that such disclosure is consistent with the City’s Open Data Policy, technical standards, and with applicable law, including laws related to privacy;

(iv) Catalogue and prioritize the Department’s open data for publication on a quarterly basis;

(v) Appear before COIT and respond to questions regarding the Department’s compliance with the City’s Open Data policies and standards;

(vi) Conspicuously display his/her contact information (including name, phone number or email address) on DataSF with his/her department’s data sets;

(vii) Monitor comments and public feedback on the Department’s data sets on a timely basis;

(viii) Upon receipt of comments or information requests from the public related to data set content and supporting documentation, assess the nature and complexity of the request and provide DT with an expected timeframe to resolve the support inquiry as soon as possible;

(ix) Notify DT upon publication of any updates or corrective action; and,

(x) Notify DT prior to any structural changes to data sets when releasing updated data;

(c) Department of Technology

The Department of Technology (DT) shall provide and manage a single Internet site (web portal) for the City’s public data sets (http://data.sfgov.org or successor site), called “DataSF.” In managing the site, DT shall:

(1) Publish data sets with reasonable, user-friendly registration requirements, license requirements, or restrictions on the use and distribution of data sets;

(2) Indicate data sets that have been recently updated;

(3) Ensure that updated data sets retain the original data structure, i.e., the number of data elements per record, name, formats and order of the data elements must be structurally consistent with the originally approved submission;

(4) Use open, non-proprietary standards when practicable;

(5) Include an on-line forum to solicit feedback from the public and to encourage public discussion on Open Data policies and public data set availability;

(6) Forward open data requests to the assigned DC; and,

(7) Take measures to ensure access to public data sets while protecting DataSF from unlawful abuse or attempts to damage or impair use of the website.

SEC. 22D.3. STANDARDS AND COMPLIANCE.

(a) The CDOCOIT shall establish for adoption by COIT rules and standards to implement the open data policy, including developing standards to determine which data sets are appropriate for public disclosure. In making this determination, COIT shall balance the benefits of open data set forth in Section 22D.1, above, with the need to protect from disclosure information that is proprietary, confidential, or protected by law or contract (b) Within 60 days of the effective date of this ordinance, COIT The CDOshall promulgate and COIT shall adopt rules and standards to implement the open data policy which shall apply to all Departments, consistent with COIT’s role and responsibilities in San Francisco Administrative Code Section 22A.3. The CDO and COIT intend to work with CAO and purchaser to develop contract provisions to promote open data policies. The rules and standards shall include the following:

(1) Technical technical requirements for the publishing of public data sets by Departments for the purpose of making public data available to the greatest number of users and for the greatest number of applications. These rules shall, whenever practicable, use non-proprietary technical standards tor web publishing and e-government;

(2) Guidelines guidelines for Departments to follow in developing their plans for implementing the open data policy consistent with the standards established by COIT. Each plan shall include an accounting of public data sets under the control of the Department; and

(3) Rules for including open data requirements in applicable City contracts and standard contract provisions that promote the City’s open data policies, including, where appropriate, provisions to ensure that the City retains ownership of City data and the ability to post the data on data.sfgov.org or make it available through other means; and,

(4) Requirements that a third party providing City data (or applications based on City data) to the public explicitly identify the source and version of the public data set, and include a description of any modifications made to the public data set.

(c) COIT shall also evaluate the merits and feasibility of making City data sets available pursuant to a generic license, such as those offered by “Creative Commons.” Such a license could grant any user the right to copy, distribute, display and create derivative works at no cost and with a minimum level of conditions placed on the use. If appropriate, COIT shall specify the terms and conditions of such a generic license in the standards it develops it develops to implement the open data policy.

(d) Prior to issuing rules and standards, COIT shall solicit comments from the public, including from individuals and firms who have successfully developed applications using open data sets.

Oakland gets its code on

Code for OaklandCode for Oakland will be held July 21 at the Kaiser Center in Oakland, Ca.

Steve Spiker, OpenOakland Brigade Captain and Director of Research & Technology for Urban Strategies Council, discusses Oakland’s open data progress and what attendees can expect from the event.

What’s the state of open data in Oakland?

We’ve done a lot of education with city staff and council members on the need and benefit for open data, and just this week a committee approved a staff report to go to council with two viable options for building an open data platform for Oakland – an internally developed system or an external solution, something like Socrata or Junar. We’re hoping this moves forward smoothly, and we see a new system live before the end of the year – a first for an East Bay city!

In the past the only open data content was provided on our platform at www.infoalamedacounty.org as part of our efforts to democratize data and also provide a system for planners and nonprofits and policymakers to access good public data for decision making and analysis. We’ve made all our data simply downloadable from within the mapping tool.

See also my recent post about this here.

We are also working with Alameda County to plan for and launch their new open data platform also.

How did the idea for Code for Oakland come about? Who’s behind it, and what can attendees expect?

Oakland is a city with all the components to make it an incredibly prominent, productive technology mecca, except for formal city support of this work. A group of local media folks, local technologists, tech/data loving nonprofits and interested city staff got together to provide an event each year where civically engaged residents, developers, media and curious city staff can get together and build or work towards solutions to local issues faced by our community and our city. As with last year we will have a hackathon for the folks who want to create new tools with $5,000 in prizes and some great support packages to help the winners bring their apps to market.

The main organizations supporting this are Urban Strategies Council, Oakland Local, Code for America, the City of Oakland and TechLiminal.

What makes Code For Oakland somewhat unique is the non-hack events. This year we will have sessions for information activism, learning about open data, a chance to build out a permanent record of our great city on a LocalWiki site and a great urban exploration event using ForageCity (an app built by a local gem Youth Radio) where people can use technology, maps to find surplus food in their community.

What long-term plans do you have for Code for Oakland, growing the Oakland open data movement and leveraging this to help the city?

The Code for Oakland organizing committee is eager to move beyond a single event per year, and we hope to build the team’s capacity and the city’s support to allow more frequent events in Oakland.

During the event we will be highlighting work from last year’s event with a discussion on the ways we can support and sustain efforts like this where an app has perhaps little commercial value but a potentially huge community value.

As with most U.S. cities there are dozens of ways that smart technologists and engineers can make a huge impact on how well our cities function, we think this is a worthy challenge and needs our support long term. This was part of the reason we created OpenOakland – a Code for America Brigade focused on supporting local hackers to connect with civic issues and city staff to work together to build tools that transform our city.

There’s also a post on the start of OpenOakland with more info, and to get involved join us here.

Edmonton launches open data site

Edmonton Open Data

According to Edmonton Chief Information Officer Chris Moore, the city has launched its official open data site at edmonton.socrata.com. The site is powered by Socrata.

Moore says “More Datasets and Official Launch SOON,” but here are some sample visualizations based on the current available data:

Police Stations – Map View

Powered by Socrata

Edmonton Public Schools (2010-2011) – Map View

Powered by Socrata

2010 Election Mayor Voting Summary – Pie Chart

Powered by Socrata

B’more Open: Is Baltimore the new San Francisco?

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake signs executive order creating the city's first open data initiative.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake signs executive order creating the city's first open data initiative.

From open data to open source procurement policy to open311, San Francisco has led the open government way, but with the recent departures of former mayor Gavin Newsom (now California lieutenant governor) and former chief information officer Chris Vein, it looks as if Baltimore is on its way to becoming the new San Francisco.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and new Chief Information Officer Rico Singleton recently announced the city’s first open data initiative, OpenBaltimore (powered by Socrata), to “increase transparency and improve the level of trust between the people and their government.”

On the heels of this announcement, the Baltimore Sun reports Baltimore city council members have proposed drafting a panel of residents to choose candidates for empty seats, giving citizens a direct role in the city’s democratic process.

Rawlings-Blake is even starting to sound like an open government mayor:

“With OpenBaltimore, the city government will begin sharing data with the public in an unprecedented way,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake. “Innovative and creative people will now be able to collaborate with government, and hopefully find ways to improve service delivery and save money for taxpayers.”

Video of Rawlings-Blake announcing and signing the executive order creating Baltimore’s open data initiative:

While these aren’t ground-breaking initiatives, it shows potential for a city that doesn’t normally get recognized for innovation and technology. This is a great first step.

Let’s hope B’more’s new open government motto is ‘B’more Open.’

Side note: Mayor Rawlings-Blake, if you’re reading, get Baltimore to Code for America.

Free open data webinar: ‘Build Your Own Data.Gov Site in 30 Days’

SocrataOpen data start-up Socrata will host a free webinar, Build Your Own Data.Gov Site in 30 Days, tomorrow, January 19, 11:00 a.m. PST. Founder and CEO Kevin Merritt will demo how goverment can leverage Socrata platform to to build their own open government data initiatives.

According to Socrata, attendees will learn how to:

  • Create a configured and branded Open Data catalog
  • Give your constituents a rich, interactive experience for exploring and visualizing data
  • Streamline data publishing and make it virtually effortless
  • Gain real-time visibility into data access and usage patterns
  • Eliminate the need for costly infrastructure and custom development

Details and registration here.

10 entrepreneurs changing the way government works

I recently began reading The Power of Social Innovation: How Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Networks for Good and felt compelled to highlight more people building business models around better government. The role of business and the entrepreneurial spirit as it relates to government is at times under-played or discredited (sometimes, rightfully so), but it’s the backbone of a democratic society.

Consider this the first in a series. For starters, here are 10 entrepreneurs changing the way government works:

Goldy Kamali


What we do:

FedScoop is a New Media and Events company serving key decision makers in the government IT community. We bring C-level executives from the federal government and IT community together via VIP events, video interviews and articles and blogs to collaborate, exchange best practices and identify ways to work together to solve common goals.

Richard White


What we do:

UserVoice helps all types of organizations involved in government reach out to their constituents. Here are a few examples:

Political Campaigns – Inform your platform; uncover grassroots interest.

Civic Engagement – Leveraging the wisdom of the crowd to improve government.

Internal Brainstorming – Tap the collective knowledge inside your organization to improve government.

Michael Riedijk

  • CEO, DotGov
  • Founded: November 2009
  • @dotgovcom
  • Open gov motto: Put your government in your pocket

What we do:

DotGov, Inc., is developing a mobile platform that will dramatically change how citizens interact with their local government. DotGov combines the power of Mobile Devices with Social Media and Open Data. It provides citizens with tools to directly interact with their city and benefit from all information and services local governments offer in an unprecedented way.

Conor White-Sullivan & Aaron Soules

  • CEO/Co-founder (left)/CTO/Co-founder (right), Localocracy
  • Founded: September 2008
  • @Localocracy
  • Open gov motto: All politics is Local

What we do:

Localocracy partners with local government and media to help citizens learn about local issues and influence their community. We confirm that participants are registered voters in the community and provide a space where they can ask questions, vote on issues, and rank the best reasons for supporting their side.

Kevin Merritt


What we do:

Socrata is a socially enriched data-sharing platform optimized for data comprehension by non-technically trained audiences, without excluding technical audiences. Socrata empowers organizations to transform their data assets into hubs for social and civic engagement and interaction, on their own websites and also in mainstream media websites and social media sites.

Ben Berkowitz


What we do:

SeeClickFix is an international tool enabled in 83 languages that allows citizens to report non-emergency issues such as potholes, graffiti or a littered parks to those accountable for the public space including local governments and community groups. SeeClickFix is available via the web where you can post issues and have your neighbors comment or vote on their resolution. Anybody can receive alerts via easy to create free-formed geographical alerting areas that we call watch areas. Also, If you have a blackberry, android or iPhone you can download our app and report a problem in your community with your gps location and a photo. 40% of the issues on SeeClickFix have already been fixed. From Argentina to Philadelphia citizens are using SeeClickFix to improve their communities.

Kurt Daradics


What we do:

FreedomSpeaks is a technology company focused on delivering interactive civic engagement platforms. Our mission is to transform civic engagement.

Our Core Values are shaping our culture and defining the character of our company, guiding how we behave and make decisions:

Stewardship: Building a heritage for future generations, acting with an owner mentality, and meeting our commitments to all internal and external stakeholders.
Best People: Attracting and developing the best talent for our business, stretching our people and developing a “can do” attitude.
Integrity: Inspiring trust by taking responsibility, acting ethically, and encouraging honest and open debate.

We deliver an interlocking product suite that includes:

  • FreedomSpeaks.com (The first non-partisan political social network & largest database of politicians)
  • FreedomSpeaks Pro (Lobby in a box SaaS product)
  • CitySourced (Mobile civic engagement platform)

Alan W. Silberberg

  • Co-Founder, You2Gov
  • Founded: April 2008
  • @You2Gov
  • Open gov motto: Don’t Be Afraid

What we do:

Path-breaking Gov 2.0 company that innovates and creates Government 2.0 + 3.0 Technology using custom Joomla based Social Networking/ SCRM and Advocacy. Consulting to Federal, State, Local Governments; International Corporations on: best media use; technology weaving to create maximum impact websites, tools, videos and conversations at highest strategic level.

Zubin Wadia


What we do:

CiviGuard is the world’s most advanced civilian emergency communications platform. It promotes contextual messaging over information saturation. CiviGuard is location-aware, smartphone optimized and cloud-based – making near real-time civilian outreach during a crisis, a reality.

OpenGov APIs: Interfacing with Open Government

There has been lots of good talk (and a good deal of action) lately around open government APIs (Application Programming Interface) at events like Transparency Camp, Where 2.0 and on the Twitters.

So, as a prelude to a talk I’ll be giving at eComm next month, I wanted to write a post surveying the landscape of recent government API developments, and also to describe evolving efforts to construct standards for government APIs.

A Rundown of Recent State and Local API Developments

At Transparency Camp in DC last weekend, Socrata – a firm that hosts open data sets for governments – open sourced their API for accessing and querying public data. The Socrata Open Data API (or SODA) is a specification for running queries against public data sets. Currently, Socrata hosts data sets for the City of Seattle and others – code samples for working with the SODA spec can be found on Github.

The Open311 API recently implemented by the City of San Francisco (and being implemented by others) got some well deserved attention at the recent Where 2.0 conference. Other cities are starting to take note, and some (like Edmonton and Boston) look set to be next in line.

One of the early adopters of government APIs – the NY Senate – recently announced a new release for their OpenLeg API, which includes some important new changes. Today the NY Senate remains one of the few (if not the only) state legislative body to adopt an API to open up access to legislative information and proceedings, but other will hopeful soon follow. (Certainly the work done in Albany by NY Senate CIO Andrew Hoppin and his team has opened the door for work on other government APIs.)

That’s a lot of good stuff in just the last few weeks – I’ve probably missed some stuff, but I’m sure there is more to come in the weeks and months ahead.

Towards API Standards

The work being done on the Open311 API, the OpenMuni Project, and certainly the move by Socrata to open source the SODA spec will have significant implications for the open government data movement.

Standards for open data and APIs will make it easier for developers to build things – an app that works for one municipality can work for others if both adhere to a common standard that the app can run against. But they’ll also make it easier for governments to open up their data – standards will offer governments assurance that the time and effort they expend to maintain and publish data or stand up APIs will provide the most return on investment.

The move towards open data and government API standards is an important one that may influence the long-term success of the open government movement.

What’s Next?

As these standards develop, and as more and more municipalitiesstart to embrace open data, we’ll move closer to the idea of government as a platform.

More and more open data will be published by governments in this country and others. These newly opened data sets may be hosted on infrastructure maintained by governments, or by third parties like Socrata. Enterprising governments in different regions or states may decide to team up and jointly host data that is of interest or value to constituents served by multiple governments or jurisdictions.

The applications that allow citizens to communicate with governments and consume public services will increasingly be built outside of government. (By outside, I mean outside the control of government and the government procurement framework.) Governments will increasingly become the collectors and maintainers of data and information and will focus less on building applications that use such data (or contracting for such applications to be built).

The applications built to consume public data and communicate with government will increasingly be designed as multitenant applications, able to service constituents in multiple jurisdictions that adhere to common data or API standards. They will also be built using more open source components and Web 2.0 technologies.

And (hopefully) the ranks of civic coders will continue to swell, as technologists looking to “scratch their own itch” are empowered to make a difference far beyond their own wants or needs.

All hail the transformative power of standards!