Gov 2.0 Hero: Bryan Sivak

Bryan SivakBryan Sivak (Twitter) is Chief Technology Officer for the District of Columbia, promoting open data and open government initiatives, from projects like TrackDC to the city’s adoption of Open311 as a citizen service platform.

How did you get to Gov 2.0?

A very broad question indeed. I guess the real answer is that I’ve been about Gov 2.0 since before the term (which I’m not a *huge* fan of) was coined and long before I entered the public sector. As long as I can remember I’ve been involved with technology, and many of the ideas I’ve had and some that I’ve messed around with have involved leveraging technology to make the world a better place. The greatest thing about this job is that it gives me the opportunity to actually effect change on a broad yet tangible scale, both with respect to internal process innovation and external service delivery. And I get to ride around on firetrucks!

What are the challenges of your role as DC CTO and how do you deal with them?

I’ve only been in the role for a little more than six months so I’m sure I haven’t come across the full set of challenges, but I can give you a couple of tidbits. I think the biggest challenge with any large, well-established organization is the cultural resistance to change. If an organization has grown up for many years with a certain mindset, it’s going to take a long time for that mindset to shift and the larger the organization, the harder that is to accomplish. This is probably true for pretty much any Government around the world but one thing that’s fantastic about the Fenty administration (albeit based on my limited experience) is the willingness and freedom to try new things and take some chances. I’ve had some radical ideas (for Government) since I’ve been here and I actually have the opportunity to put them in motion to see if I can help build a better mousetrap.

Having said that, ask me the question in another six months and I might have a totally different answer for you.

What’s most interesting to you about the open government movement?

Let’s start with what’s least interesting to me: smartphone applications that leverage data to help someone do something. Second least interesting (and probably most blasphemous): transparency and accountability. Before everyone at Sunlight declares an intifada on me, however, let me explain what I mean by that. Transparency and accountability are the watchwords of the open government movement. It’s a given that as the movement increases and picks up steam, with every new data set that is released and every federal agency and state and local jurisdiction that adopts an open government policy, these things will continue. And they are important. But they are not the motivating cry that is going to kick government employees into action. Culture change has to come first.

And that brings me to the point I find most interesting: that there’s a huge community of non-government workers out there who are all motivated to take time out of their busy schedules to leverage their skills for the greater good. Leveraging this community to build iPhone apps is dramatically underutilizing this resource. I’m interested in seeing the big brains turn to solving the internal problems of government which will have a very wide reaching effect. Stay tuned for some intriguing developments on this…

What resources, books, blogs, apps or Websites do you recommend to others?

This is neither new nor interesting but I have to admit that I’m getting a huge amount of value out of Twitter (and our internal Yammer implementation) lately. I don’t follow too many people but the ones I have decided to follow all act as a phenomenal filter for interesting news and new developments, and some really interesting thoughts have been sparked for me from a random tweet (and “yam”) here or there. For the first time in my life, I don’t have time to read the news or blogs, and lately my book consumption has been declining rapidly, so Twitter has been keeping me up-to-date when I have a moment to check the feed.

In terms of blogs, I’ll just give you one — I actually really like Andrea DeMaio’s writing. I respect the contrarian opinion, even if I don’t always agree. Okay, two — I’m a closet (okay, not so closeted) gadget geek so I do admit to sneaking a peek at Engadget and it’s cousins from time to time.

Just because I’ve recently read it, I highly recommend Dan Pink’s book Drive to everyone. It’s a tough concept for many people to swallow but I’m completely bought in. For something which is on the surface completely unrelated to open government, everyone on the planet should read Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories. His works are applicable in some way to nearly everything in life (yes, including open government), and are completely mind blowing.

What’s your 3-word open government motto?

How about a range of mottos, of different lengths:

Two words: Question everything!
Three words: Take some chances!
Four words: Start small, fail cheap.
Five words: Don’t be motivated by fear.

I feel like I should make that into a Haiku of some sort.

TrackDC opens up DC government operations to the public

TrackDC is an open government effort by the District of Columbia to make budget, data, contact and other government information accessible to citizens and the media.

The site offers:

A. Agency description, supervisor info.
B. Agency contact information, including social media accounts.
C. Performance plans and reports.
D. Budget & Operational Information
E. Customer Service (includes Agency Responsiveness Quality Assurance Results & Website traffic)
F. Performance indicators.
G. Data sets available in XML, CSV, KML and other formats.

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GovFresh Q&A with DC CTO Brian Sivak:

Why was TrackDC important for DC to create?

In 2007, Mayor Fenty made a promise to the residents of the District of Columbia that the “District Government must become accountable to the people of our city…”

TrackDC is part of the follow through on this promise and a great testament to the mayor’s ongoing effort to make the District a leader in government transparency. It is the world’s first real-time dashboard for Government operations.

How was it developed? How long did it take to implement?

The public version of TrackDC only took two months to develop as we re-used components from a similar application that is used internally to track agencies and their progress towards their goals.

Track DC is an ASP.NET web-application that interacts with the back-end tier retrieving and transferring data to the client through AJAX calls. The Report/Data Engine Service is a schedule based service that extracts information from various data sources (Oracle, QuickBase, Google Analytics, Google Data Feeds, etc.).

How can media or the average citizen use it?

Track DC is the one central location where all agency accountability information is presented. It’s easier for the media or the average citizen to visit one location rather than search the agency site, the CapStat site, the Data Catalog, and other sites just to find the same information. Additionally, Track DC provides a set of visualizations which presents agency operational information in a straightforward manner that anyone can use for analysis and oversight.

Both the media and residents can use Track DC to track the performance of specific DC government agencies, learn more about agencies ‘ Key Performance Indicators, budget, spending, agency news, access agency Data, and connect to the agency.

The media may be interested in a quick view of the agency’s budget, in downloading data specific to that agency, how that agency has performed in past years or is tracking in the current year with respect to its Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), or any other operational measure.

A resident may be more interested in a service or an issue and therefore may be seeking a way to connect with the agency or to validate how their dollars are being budgeted and spent. Or, a person may think, “wow, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has over 4,000 employees; why isn’t there a copy on my corner at all times?” TrackDC will however illustrate specifically how the personnel is allocated, which will give users a clearer picture of how their tax dollars are being used.

What feedback have you received? What features will be available in the future?

In the initial feedback users requested better help files that will explain what is shown. The financial section include some terms that are understood by some but not all so the District needs to add to this feature of the site. In addition, more customer service data has been requested. We are still gathering feedback and new features and launch dates have not yet been determined.