Vivek Kundra

The other Vivek is wrong about open government

Whether it was written out of naivete or for the intent of sensationalism, the other Vivek, Vivek Wadhwa, misses the mark in his Washington Post piece The death of open government.

Wadhwa makes the general argument that, because U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra announced his resignation last week, open government will “suffer a slow, inevitable death.” While I agree the federal Open Government Initiative itself has lost momentum without set dates, timelines and leadership from the top, this by no means is an indicator of the overall health of open government.

Open government will never die and here’s just a few reasons why:

Spires says so

Homeland Security CIO and Vice Chair of the Federal CIO Council Richard Spires is emphatic that senior IT executives will carry on Kundra’s legacy. He writes this in a recent CIO.gov blog post:

During the past two years, I have worked closely with Vivek Kundra, the US CIO, in both my capacity as the DHS CIO and in various leadership roles on the Federal CIO Council. Vivek joined the Obama administration with a vision of IT being a catalyst for the Federal government to be much more open, participatory, and collaborative. Vivek has been a strong force for open government. He has changed the dialogue and viewpoint of agencies of the Federal government – and we will not go back. (emphasis mine)

A number of federal CIOs/CTOs I’ve talked with are passionate about leveraging technology to make government more open and efficient. These are bright, innovative public servants with vision. See Todd Park, Peter Levin, Roger Baker and countless others as prime examples.

Look local

Open government isn’t just a federal phenomenon. It’s happening in Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, and even in Wadhwa’s own backyard, San Francisco. Open data start-up Socrata has a growing customer list that includes states like Washington, Oregon, Oklahoma and Illinois.

Beyond data, groups like CityCamp and Code for America are creating an organic and sustainable movement that involves citizens and public servants.

It’s not just data

Wadhwa cites the lack of funding around initiatives like Data.gov as a prime example of open government’s demise, but open government is more than just open data.

Open source projects and ideation experiments are flourishing at all levels of government. FCC most recently began the process of re-vamping and re-launching its entire Website after 10 years using the open source platform Drupal. Be on the look-out for other major agencies to announce the same. Open source service companies are playing a key role in fostering the open government community within the Beltway through events such as OpenGovDC and regular Drupal meet-ups at Stetson’s.

Innovation doesn’t need funding

Wadhwa writes of his call to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the half dozen replies to help fix federal government IT issues at a fraction of proposed costs. Unfortunately, he writes, “no one has taken these entrepreneurs up on their offer.”

Innovative entrepreneurs don’t wait for the phone to ring and neither should Wadhwa or his incubator-in-waiting. Follow in the footsteps of Govpulse.us and Federal Register 2.0 and create the prototype. If it’s innovative enough and executable, someone in government will be the Gov 2.0 guinea pig.

Open advice to the other Vivek

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Step away from the keyboard and engage in the grassroots open government movement, especially the one in your own backyard. Other tech leaders are doing more than just writing and theorizing on TechCrunch and The Washington Post (see Craig Newmark, Tim O’Reilly, Pierre Omidyar, Esther Dyson, Mitch Kapor to name just a few).

This isn’t a time for pontification. Government, especially open government, needs your help and leadership. It’s time to leverage your influence (and Klout score) and be the change. Inspire Silicon Valley to focus on civic technology instead of building another photo sharing app.

Open government won’t die a slow death because one of its biggest champions leaves public service.

Open government won’t die a slow death because it’s underfunded.

Open government will die a slow death if we, as citizens inside and outside government, don’t engage, collaborate, participate and do something about it.

Will Wadhwa create his own personal Open Government Initiative as many others across the world are doing? I hope so.

Top 7 ‘Minds in the Cloud’ cloud computing videos

FedScoop recently wrapped up its Minds in the Cloud video series. MITC featured interviews with 23 government and industry leaders discussing the benefits, challenges and future of cloud computing. Here’s my seven favorite (#1 being US Navy SCSC CIO Susan Hess).

US Navy SCSC CIO Susan Hess:

U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra:

Linda Cureton, NASA CIO

U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra:

Interior Department CIO Sonny Bhagowalia:

FCC, Chief Data Officer, Greg Elin:

NASA Ames Research Center CIO Chris Kemp:

Kundra, SF officials promote Open311 API

Here’s video from yesterday’s Open311 press conference in San Francisco, including Vivek Kundra, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, SF CIO Chris Vein and O’Reilly Media’s Tim O’Reilly.

Kundra’s Open311 comments from the White House blog:

This is a great approach that ties together efforts in San Francisco, Boston, the District of Columbia, Portland, and Los Angeles to open more services to citizens, and to use data to drive progress in people’s lives. Too often, people grumble that their complaints about government – be it city, county, state, or federal – get swallowed by the bureaucracy. Open 311 is an answer to that problem, placing the role of service evaluator and service dispatcher in the power of citizens’ hands. Through this approach, new web applications can mash publicly available, real-time data from the cities to allow people to track the status of repairs or improvements, while also allowing them to make new requests for services. For instance, I can use the same application to report a broken parking meter when I’m home in the District of Columbia or traveling to cities like Portland, Los Angeles, Boston, or San Francisco. This is the perfect example of how government is simplifying access to citizen services. Open 311 is an innovation that will improve people’s lives and make better use of taxpayer dollars.

Video:

5 government sites using Drupal effectively for open government initiatives

By now, most people in the Gov 2.0 community have heard of Drupal, the popular open source social publishing system powering close to 500,000 websites ranging from big government to Britney Spears. Drupal has seen steady growth from its inception as a Belgian grad student’s experiment in 2001 to one of the most heavily used open source content management systems in the world, downloaded by a quarter million people per month. A growing trend the Drupal community is following closely this year is government interest in the platform to further open government initiatives and broaden adoption across government.

Why is Drupal important to the the Federal government? That is the main topic I will cover in a 3-part series here on GovFresh. I’ll start with some high-profile examples of who is using Drupal effectively in government and why Drupal is a great fit for what these sites are trying to achieve. My second post will focus on the unique aspects of providing web content management for government that are relevant for Drupal (i.e. what can Drupal learn from Government?). My final post will provide ideas and predictions for the future of Drupal within the Federal government.

Who is using Drupal effectively now at the federal level? Not as many agencies as we’d like. While open source provides a great return on investment for Federal CIOs under budgetary pressure, open source adoption on U.S. government websites has not yet hit critical mass. I believe this will change in 2010 due in no small part to the success of early adopters in demonstrating cost savings, time to market and features critical to government to citizen outreach. So while growing in popularity with CIOs, it is New Media Directors that have found the tool most useful because of its ease of implementation and flexibility to extend sites to include the best of social media, user participation and collaboration and data integration.

Here are five sites using Drupal effectively to achieve the objectives of the open government directive and promoting the use of open concepts to improve the business of government.

Recovery at Commerce

The Department of Commerce loves Drupal, and for good reason: a site like this can be developed and launched quickly and inexpensively. Being on the front lines of the economic recovery efforts, Commerce has a lot to share with the public and good reason to do that quickly and efficiently. Unlike its better known federal-wide parent site, Recovery.gov, this agency transparency initiative is still running on Drupal. Regrettably, Recovery.gov which was running on Drupal was replaced by SharePoint when a re-compete to the contract famously switched platforms and vendors. It will probably be known to Drupalers as “the one that got away” for a while to come. The Commerce department’s recovery site makes use of Drupal’s ease of integration with mashups. Data and reports are easy to find and download in original .xls formats and I can get an RSS feed of major communications and activities. While still a fairly simple site, it’s simplicity makes it accessible and easy for the common citizen to find what they are looking for. It is easy to see how this site could blossom into a model destination for Commerce communications, collaboration and participation on all things recovery.

Federal IT Spending Dashboard

Launched in July of last year by Vivek Kundra, the Federal Chief Information Officer, the dashboard was created to allow CIOs of various government agencies to show the effectiveness with which they have managed government IT spending. As such, this site has been featured very prominently as an open gov example for its transparency, its use of open data and a very strong sense of government accountability. Kundra explains the site as a place that “… allows you to see what IT projects are working and on-schedule (and which are not), offer alternative approaches, and provide direct feedback to the chief information officers at federal agencies – in effect, keeping tabs on the people who are responsible for taxpayer dollars for technology.” Ultimately, that hits on all three tenets of the directive and does it in a visually appealing and useful way that does not get the user bogged down in text. The graphing techniques are unique and unconventional like the budget year tree map (well okay that one still confuses me a bit, but it still proves that transparency can be fun to browse and explore).

Federal Labor Relations Authority

This is a simple, effective example of a government site that can be easily stood up with Drupal. It is a great example of how government agency sites don’t have to be overly complex to achieve their mission. The FLRA is an independent administrative federal agency. As such, the FLRA mission is fairly straight forward: carry out five (5) primary statutory responsibilities as efficiently as possible. This site provides good direction on what the agency does and how the agency can help a citizen worker. What caught my attention is that it promotes the /open aspect of the open government directive (OGD) prominently on its homepage (though technically I believe the FLRA would be exempt from this requirement) and links to 3 (albeit incredibly light) data sets in XML format. This is what the OGD is asking all cabinet level agencies do and someone here read the memo.

Data.gov.uk

This new UK government site is a shining example of the merger of open source, open data and the semantic web. This is my second favorite government site running on Drupal. It illustrates that Europe has a lot to teach us about open government. The site is the product of Sir Tim Berners-Lee (most notably the guy who created the World Wide Web) and Professor Nigel Shadbolt as a project for the UK’s efforts to make data more open and accessible on the web. This site is the UK’s answer to our data.gov project. Reportedly they selected Drupal for both its flexibility as a CMS and its native integration with semantic web concepts and technology. With an Apps download section, idea galleries, forums, a blog, a wiki, and the ability to search, browse and query against the data sets, this was done in the spirit of try it all and see what sticks. I admire the pragmatic goals of the site.

The White House

Currently a shining star of Drupal in government, the conversion of this site in October of last year sparked a lively and interesting debate on the use of open source in government (Disclaimer: my firm was the developer on this effort) While it served to squelch much of the criticism over the scalability and performance of Drupal as a platform for very high traffic sites, it also forced people to question whether the security of open source was ready for prime time. Many critics cited the openness and availability of open source code to be a weakness, while others claimed it as a benefit. Tim O’Reilly’s post did a good job of refocusing the discussion to the benefits of choosing Drupal for the White House site:

“More than just security, though, the White House saw the opportunity to increase their flexibility. Drupal has a huge library of user-contributed modules that will provide functionality the White House can use to expand its social media capabilities, with everything from super-scalable live chats to multi-lingual support. In many ways, this is the complement to the Government as Platform mantra I’ve been chanting in Washington.”

In addition to these attributes, the site features a robust blog, multimedia delivery and is the home to many micro-sites that can be quickly stood up to address various initiatives, councils and committees that fall under the purview of the Administration, including the king of all /open sites, whitehouse.gov/open, home to the open government directive itself.

There are many great examples of Drupal use for the betterment and opening of government. For more about the use of Drupal in government, stay tuned for my next post. Also, for those interested in a more comprehensive list of known government sites using Drupal both in the U.S. and at large throughout the world, check out the Drupal in Government group on Drupal.org.

White House announces ‘Open Government Directive’

The White House today announced its Open Government Directive, instructing agencies to open their operations to the public and providing a framework for doing so. The directive was accompanied by an Open Government Progress Report to the American People.

From the White House:

The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration are at the heart of this directive. Transparency promotes accountability. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise to government initiatives. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the federal government, across levels of government, and between the government and private institutions.

Video announcement and Q&A:

More:

What’s Gov 2.0’s return on investment?

I work in online marketing and social media for my “day job,” and we are endlessly consumed with how to measure returns on investment (ROI) in the Web 2.0 space.

There are similar issues with measuring Gov 2.0 ROI. You can involve yourself in all sorts of efforts — publicizing data, engaging in social media, utilizing email campaigns, encouraging questions, fostering transparancy. And all these things are great, but (just like with our marketing clients) someone’s got to answer for the bottom line. With governments tightening their belts and funding being cut, showing that investment in government transparency pays off is crucial.

The things is, there are no easy answers. A post from openSF (Measuring ROI of Gov 2.0 Efforts) highlights a few ways in which various social media efforts actually SAVE money, including:

  • Vivek Kundra quantifies value in dollars
  • Gavin Newsom notes the cost-savings of using Twitter (free) for 311 vs a SMS provider ($100K)
  • Edwin Bender, executive director of followthemoney.org, in a conversation sites legislative change through the use of their data in two Supreme Court cases
  • MAPLight.org (money/vote connection) highlights the use of their data in media to help promote accountability

The truth is, this space is so new, relatively speaking, there aren’t a set of cut-and-dried rules that apply across the board when determining what counts as making a worthwhile investment. There may never be. The flip side of this conundrum is that we can be a part of helping to determine ROI. We, the people, have the burden to prove its relevance and importance. And as the several examples above prove, once you get creative and put your mind to it, it may not be that hard after all.

Questions:

  1. If you’re involved with an agency that places importance on transparency, why do you think they place an importance on such?
  2. What are some ways your agency “proves” the worth of its Gov 2.0 efforts?
  3. Have you discovered any unique, cost-effective ways to spread information?