Filling up the Civic Tech Toolbox

It’s sort of a cliche to say it these days, but digital transformation in government is largely not about technology

It seems like this is an idea that has broad consensus, but much of the work that gets done in and around government technology modernization still views problems solely through the lens of technology. What if we approached this work differently? What if we viewed the problems of government technology through the lens of other disciplines? 

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2012 Blogging Year In Review

It’s been a busy year for blogging – my 2012 annual report for this site is now available. If you’re interested, take a gander.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 9,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 16 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

If you enjoy reading my blather about technology and open government, you can also read my posts on the Code for America blog and the Voxeo Labs blog sites

Happy New Year!

Bizzaro Budgeting and Public Sector Innovation

Why is it so hard for governments to adopt innovative new technologies?

Why does the public sector lag so far behind the private sector in leveraging new technology to create efficiencies?

As an organization that works at the intersection of government and technology, these are questions we hear a lot at Code for America. Through our various program offerings, we are working to address the popular sentiments – and the underlying issues – that cause these questions to be asked so frequently.

Many observers point to the government procurement process as the chief impediment to adopting new technologies in government. I’ve made this same observation myself, and public sector procurement is an area ripe for reform and new thinking.

But looking more globally at the incentives that drive how governments apply resources to acquire technology we can see another area where reform is badly needed to encourage innovation – the public budgeting process.

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Longevity for Open Data and Gov 2.0

People that work for Gartner are starting to use “hype cycle” and “Gov 2.0” in the same sentence (or rather, sentences that are really really close together). There is also a thoughtful piece on GovLoop examining which aspects of Gov 2.0 are on the right track and the wrong track.

I’ve raised similar questions about Gov 2.0 efforts in the past, and the need to tie them to quantifiable performance measures.

With all of the excitement around the country and around the world focused on opening public data and Gov 2.0, proponents need to take steps to tie these efforts back to the core mission of the governments and agencies that they serve. If open data and Gov 2.0 are a fad, then their 15 minutes are probably almost up — the longevity of these efforts and initiatives will be a function solely of their ability to enhance the performance of governments.

Efforts that support open government data and greater use of alternative communication channels (like social media) for communicating with constituents are fast approaching an important tipping point. The initial attraction of these efforts is that they are seen as forward thinking and cutting edge — they are inherently attractive because of their “newness.” But when social media penetration has reached the point that even the local dogcatcher is on Twitter, its natural for people in government (particularly those that don’t live and breath this stuff) to start asking: “What’s the point?”

Skepticism is probably most imminent for open government data projects because they typically require some investment of staff time and other resources. These efforts need to be carefully crafted to ensure a tangible relationship to the underlying mission of the governments or agencies undertaking them. How does opening government data help realize the goals of an agency? How does opening government data make the job of government cheaper or more effective?

These kinds of questions can be difficult (even offensive) to address when there is a strong belief in open government data as a principle. Nevertheless, if open government data projects and Gov 2.0 are to be around longer than 15 minutes, these are the types of questions that need to be answered.