Government of Canada Open Data Roundtable in Vancouver

Today, I attended the Government of Canada Open Data roundtable consultation in Vancouver. What struck me was the brain power, innovative thinking and open data expertise from a wide variety of viewpoints and backgrounds.

The session was led by David Eaves who, by the way, is an excellent facilitator. Even though he has forgotten more about open data than many of us will ever know, he did not dominate the conversation with his views, but facilitated great participation from the group.

The main themes from the roundtable were: data standardization, user-centric design, search-ability (really difficulty to search) data, registries of data (open or not), and quality of data.

On the theme of data standardization, there was a discussion about whether the Government of Canada would be suitable to provide the governance, guidance, and/or facilitation for the collaborative standardization of open data standards for other levels of government in Canada. Many agreed that this would be a vital role for the Government of Canada to play because data standardization is so important to increase the scalability and value of open data.

Someone commented that standardization should not become a barrier for the release of data, an important point.

Another view is that disruptive innovation that begins with one or two municipalities is, historically at least, the most effective catalyst for open data standardization, citing examples of standardized transit data (GTFS) and Open311.

I tend to agree with the micro-to-macro approach to driving out standardization. You don’t have to get it right the first time. Two municipalities can come up with a standard for reporting on high-level financial statements in a machine-readable format, for example. This standard will evolve over time with adoption of other interested municipalities and more financial detail becoming standardized and openly available.

This brings me to a Capstone Project that I’m working on to complete my MBA. I’m looking for one or two municipalities who would be interested in participating in an open data standardization pilot by  releasing their financial statements in an machine-readable format.  This information is already available in a PDF format, but PDF makes it difficult to do any comparative analysis between municipalities, which would provide value for public administrators and interested citizens. If you, or anyone you know, would be interested in participating in this open data standardization pilot, please let me know.

 

The Rise of Municipalities

I’ve recently been thinking about the success and proliferation of government 2.0 and open data within municipalities. It seems to me that local government is best positioned to provide government 2.0 services and open data to citizens. The state and federal level also have many opportunities, but a lion’s share belongs to municipalities.

At the local level services are more immediate, if only for their geographic proximity. We want to know when our garbage and recycling will be picked up, when the road, sidewalks and fire hydrants will be cleared of snow, what are the best days to water our lawns, when the pothole outside of our house or on the way to school will be fixed, where are the best restaurants, where is the closest park, what is the best bus route or less congested traffic route to get us to work in the morning, and where are the parking spots.

New York City is leading the world with municipal open data and government apps. One example is Work +, which helps people working from home get out into the community by finding places nearby that are good for working. Or how about the Funday Genie, an app for planning a free day with a unique algorithm for a smart, personalized itinerary of fun things to do with your day? Embark NYC provides an elegant and simple app for citizens who want to get around on the New York subway, and it even works with underground with no cell signal. 596 Acres helps the citizens of Brooklyn become aware of vacant public land in their neighborhoods and provides tools to support communities organizing to get access for growing food and providing educational programs. These examples, and many more can be found at the BigApps3.0 site.

But you don’t have to go to the Big City to find great examples of #localgov20. The City of Edmonton has the mobile trash app, iPhone events calendar, Volunteering “Not for Profit” organizations iPhone app, and iFish Alberta, just to name a few. Vancouver has apps that let citizens know when there garbage will be picked up and where to find parking spots.

It will be interesting to see the evolution of municipalities in the next decade. I believe municipalities are well positioned to leverage the changes in government 2.0 and open data. As municipalities provide more locally relevant data and services, we may see a shift of focus and funding from the provincial/state/federal levels of government to the local level. We also may see a consolidation of municipalities into larger super cities such as we see in New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. In Canada, we’ve seen the consolidation of Toronto with its 5 neighboring municipalities in 1998, and a similar consolidation of Ottawa, Hamilton, and Greater Sudbury in 2001.

The other thing that cities tend to do well is collaborate with each other. With tight budgets and important services to provide, local governments are motivated to innovate, share and synergize with other municipalities with the goal of doing more with less. A recent example of this is the U.S. Conference of Mayors task force chaired by San Francisco Mayor, Edwin M. Lee, that wants “to help build an ecosystem that will help cities advance and prioritize innovation to improve government.”

Cities are smaller than state/provincial/federal government, and therefore usually more agile, responsive and closer to citizens and their needs. As we move from a vending machine model of government (where citizens put tax dollars in and receive services) to a more collaborative, citizen-centric approach, I believe we may also see a corresponding shift of some services from the provincial/federal level of government to the local one.

PS. I’m experimenting with a new format for these blog posts. Rather than spending too much time with an idea and ending up with a draft I don’t publish. I’m committing to throwing half-formed, more spontaneous, less self-censored ideas into the blogosphere. In other words, I’m taking some risks and invite collaboration and feedback. Please excuse typos.

Back to you …

Government 2.0: Breaking Down the Walls

On the weekend, I had the good fortune of watching Roger Water’s The Wall at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. The show was absolutely amazing with the largest projection surface (500 feet wide) ever toured in live entertainment. The images of oppression, war, and the building (and destruction) of the wall accompanied by Pink Floyd’s hauntingly powerful music and lyrics was a feast for the eyes and ears.

After the show, I began to think about the power of Web 2.0, Government 2.0 and Open Government in breaking down the walls that society has built over the millennia. We struggle in our organizations and other societal institutions (such as education and health care) with the rigid structures and hierarchies that constrain creativity, responsiveness, communication, autonomy, purpose, individuality and community. These institutions have evolved to mold us human beings into human automatons and cogs in a machine so that we fit in the industrialized processes, hierarchies and confines of order.They are products of the human mind. Scientific management was an approach to management that analyzed and synthesized workflows to improve economic efficiency. In our attempts to become more efficient and effective, we risk losing touch with our humanity and what Daniel Pink  characterizes as the key ingredients of human motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

The social, inter-active web provides a platform to break down the barriers of traditional organizational silos and open up new possibilities for human organization, interaction and commerce. In government, it enables us to communicate and collaborate across traditional boundaries. It breaks down the walls of silos, hierarchy and compartmentalization. The diagram below is an oversimplification. Of course, there are walls within the ministries themselves, between divisions, between branches and between organizational hierarchical layers within the organizations. These walls are not only found in government; they are also prevalent in private organizations.

Government 2.0 can break down these walls. But they will not break without a fight. We all have a vested interest in protecting our traditional silos. We hoard information, because information is power. We fight tooth and nail to keep our data, protect our organizational boundaries and maintain the status quo. We must learn to be more open, sharing, and accepting of new ideas, of ourselves and of each other. It is a struggle, but the benefits will be enormous. “All and all its just another brick in the wall.”

Roger Waters says the following on his website: “I believe we have at least a chance to aspire to something better than the dog eat dog ritual slaughter that is our current response to our institutionalized fear of each other.” What do you think?

Strategic Approach to Government 2.0

One of the challenges that continually surfaces in Government 2.0 initiatives is what I call the tool syndrome. People get stuck on the tools. Should we use Facebook or Twitter? Do we need a blog or a wiki? Come on, admit it. We’ve all been there. I know I have.

The tools question is one that needs to be addressed at some point in the process, but it is not the first thing that should be considered. The first thing that should be considered is the business need. What do you want to do? Why?

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been working on a strategic framework that helps organizations articulate and communicate what they want to accomplish and how to go about it. The framework is based on Benefits Realization, articulated by John Thorpe in his book The Information Paradox. Benefits Realization provides the fundamental governance, necessary conditions, and tools and techniques to enable organizations to effectively and efficiently manage business value from IT investments.

The frameworks helps organizations:

  1. To understand and align their programs and investments with their strategy;
  2. To help them quantify and manage the achievement of their business outcomes;
  3. To translate those strategies into meaningful action; and
  4. To achieve results.

My example of the Gov 2.0 Strategic Framework is a draft based on the Province of BC’s Citizens @ the Centre:BC Government 2.0: A Transformation and Technology Strategy for the BC Public Service. It illustrates how the Province’s initiatives/programs lead to the business outcomes articulated in their strategy.

The business outcomes are the circles on the right-hand side of the diagram. The initiatives are the boxes on the left of the outcomes. Usually, a Results Chain will include contributions, assumptions (risks) and accountabilities. I have omitted these components in the interest of simplicity to clarify the pictorial narrative. A document supporting the Results Chain is the Benefits Register which tracks the measure of each business outcome, including baseline and target value. The circles on the bottom are business outcomes that I have not mapped yet. Like I say, this is a work in progress.

The framework (Results Chain) tells a story in a single image and is an excellent communication tool for government executive, public service employees and the general public in understanding government’s strategic approach to Government 2.0.

The Results Chain is used by executive to articulate organization goals and understand the traceability between initiatives and business outcomes. Drafting a Results Chain on a whiteboard will precipitate a discussion that includes investment management decisions, a prioritization of programs, and a high level understanding of each program’s contribution to organization objectives.

This Week in Gov 2.0

This week in Gov 2.0 activists in Syria continue to upload video documenting the incoming artillery on Homs, circumventing the restricted access to international media imposed by the Syrian authorities. The government offensive has killed at least 300 people in the last week. http://ow.ly/90Mg0 Danny Abdul Dayem pleads for international intervention. http://ow.ly/90Mve

This week in Gov 2.0 the Obama campaign released a video celebrating the President’s win in the last election and some of the successes in office, through the lens of social media.

Also this week, the U.S. Government plans to leverage citizen participation with social media and online games to help catch criminals. The winner will be awarded $5,000. The game will test how social media can be used for law enforcement. ow.ly/90JW7

Open Government Risk Aversion one of Government’s Greatest Risks

As we look across the open government landscape, we see shining beacons of leadership and success. Certainly since the election of Obama and the subsequent appointment of the first U.S. Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, the U.S. Government has lead the world in the technology-enabled transparency.  The U.S. drives performance and opens data to engage citizens, businesses, and policymakers to create citizen-centered apps for a fraction of the cost of traditional development. The U.S. open government strategy has saved U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars in I.T. spending over the last two and a half years by engaging citizens to develop hundreds of innovative, lightweight and cost-effective apps based on open data.

The U.K. also embraces open data and open government to allow government to be more transparent, efficient and responsive to the needs of its citizens. Data.gov.uk allows citizens to easily search and consume data, share applications, find developers and request new data.

Closer to home, British Columbia was the first provincial government in Canada to launch an open data website (data.gov.bc.ca) with a progressive data license, over 2,500 data sets, and tools for non-developers to create applications. On the same day, BC launched a redesigned, citizen-centric website (www.gov.bc.ca) and a new, open information portal to proactively release information that is requested through the FOI process.

However, a quick environmental scan reveals that the majority of governments in Canada (federal, provincial, territorial and municipal), and indeed the world, are resisting the movement to open government. Although, according to Mr. Kundra, there are “21 nations, 29 states, 11 cities and several international organizations” that have initiated open data platforms, most have not yet implemented an open government policy.

Interesting, when you consider the following benefits of open government.

  1. Open government stimulates economic growth and saves government money, in a time of extreme economic and budgetary pressures. Open government:
    1. Enables government to do more with less by leveraging technology and engaging its greatest resource – citizens.
    2. Assists in the development of new products, services and businesses.
    3. Encourages research and development and educational and scientific communities
    4. Replaces many large, costly IT projects (which take years to develop and often underperform because business requirements and technology change in the time lag for implementation) with smaller, citizen-centric applications that deliver incremental, focused business value early in the project lifecycle.
    5. Reduces the requirement of what can be expensive FOI requests with a proactive FOI strategy.
    6. Stimulates the economy by providing jobs to small, start-up technology firms which leverage open data to create value for citizens and by providing more agile, responsive services to businesses to help them be more competitive in the global marketplace.
    7. Increases accountability and reduces expenditures that do not provide appropriate return on investment for citizens with public scrutiny of government spending.
  2. Open government makes government more transparent and accountable and drives. Open government:
    1. Engages citizens, NGO’s and businesses in the consultation, deliberation, decision-making and implementation of public policy, to drive more effective and responsive results based on supporting data.
    2. Reduces the risk of ‘hacktivism’ (politically-motivated hacking into computer systems) and political unrest because citizens and interest groups are engaged in the political decision-making process.
  3. Open government greatly improves services to citizens by becoming more citizen centric and collaborative.

Risk aversion and fear of the unknown thwarts public institutions from realizing the benefits of open government. I find this interesting because it is risk aversion in the area of open government that could be one of government’s greatest risks. Government’s risk aversion to open government leads to greater risk of:

  1. Real or perceived government corruption
  2. Poor investment management decisions
  3. Alienation of citizens, businesses and interest groups
  4. An underperforming economy
  5. Not getting re-elected

Gov 2.0 is not (just) Government as a Platform

Gov 2.0 is more about people than it is about technology, more about culture than about the internet.

Before a presentation this week on how I use twitter to advocate for Gov 2.0 someone asked me: What is Gov 2.0?

I explained that Gov 2.0 is the next generation of government. It is a public service renewal where government becomes more efficient, responsive, and open to citizens. It is a recognition that we (public servants and citizens) are all in it together.

I told him about the launch of British Columbia’s new open data portal Data BC and a citizen-focused internet site this week. Along with increasingly more governments around the world, the Province of BC is committed to becoming more open, transparent and citizen-centric.

Gov 2.0 is about working with citizens to solve the really big issues that government can’t handle alone like health care, climate change, jobs, the economy, drug addiction, crime and poverty. It is a paradigm shift and, with enough citizen engagement, it is a societal transformation that includes citizens in governmental deliberation and decision making.

I didn’t tell him about Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Government 2.0 as “government as a platform.” O’Reilly, a forward thinker and the founder of O’Reilly Media, explains: “Government 2.0, then, is the use of technology—especially the collaborative technologies at the heart of Web 2.0—to better solve collective problems at a city, state, national, and international level.”

I’m a big fan of Tim O’Reilly. He is talking about how Government 2.0 makes use of the Web 2.0 platform technologies (cloud computing, collective intelligence apps, social media, mobile devices) to provide services to citizens. At the same time, he says, government needs to move away from being a ‘vending machine government‘ (where taxpayers put in money and government delivers complete, finished services) to being a collaborative government that works with citizens to create value. What I like is Tim’s call to action: “As technologists … we can do our part to be bold, to be brave, and think fresh because that is what will make a platform for greatness.”

Vending Maching Government

But I think we risk losing people when we talk about government as a platform. Gov 2.0 is not just about technology. The revolution was sparked by technology, and technology enables it, but Gov 2.0 is more about people than it is about technology, more about culture than about the internet. Gov 2.0 is about people being passionate and making changes for the collective good. Its success is more dependent on trust and people being willing to authentically share and participate, than it is on the latest social media tool. Even the name ‘Gov 2.0’ connotes technology, the second major revision of software. Sometimes I use the term ‘open government’ because it is more accessible for non-techies.

Let’s face it, we collectively have some large issues to address, and the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough technology or communication media. The challenge is that people need to come together and contribute through the technology to address the big issues. The challenge for government is that we need to build trust. We need to be transparent, engage with the public, understand their concerns, listen to their needs, harness their diverse expertise, be inclusive, provide value, and follow through on promises (walk the talk). As citizens, we need to become more involved, stand for something, understand the issues, lead change, share authentically, and know what we are passionate about and make a difference.

In British Columbia, as in many parts of the world, we are in exciting times and moving in the right direction. Sure, we have big challenges and a long way to become more transparent and build trust, but we are taking big strides in the right direction.