My Open Data Christmas Wishlist

Dear Santa,

The Education and Healthcare data sets that I’d like to see exposed in a standard, machine readable format include the following:

  1. K-12 student satisfaction surveys
  2. Emergency room wait times

Student Satisfaction Surveys

As a parent of two boys, I’m interested in know what the student satisfaction survey results are for the schools in my area. Student satisfaction is a good indication of engagement, and engagement is a good indicator of learning. Having worked for the Ministry of Education in the past and seeing the rolled up results of student satisfaction for the Province of British Columbia, I know that data is interesting. I saw, for example, how students on the whole are very engaged from kindergarten to grade 5 or 6 (about 4.5 out of 5). In grade 7 the engagement declines and it bottoms out around grade 10. (Its been a while since I’ve seen this data, but this is my best recollection and it coincides with my own educational experience).

What I envision is the student satisfaction survey mashed up with mapping data so that I have an app that shows the schools in my neighborhood with the student satisfaction for each grade. An even better indication of the school performance would be provided if data from the Fraser Institute’s report card on elementary schools (based on Grade 4 and Grade 7 Foundation Skills Assessment results) is included.

Santa school

Santas at School

Emergency Room Wait Times

The other idea also stems from being a parent. Imagine the unwanted scenario where your your child has somehow hurt themselves playing in the yard. You look at them and realize that you need to take them to emergency. You pull out your smart phone and go to the ER Wait Time app. This app shows all of the hospitals in your area with driving times (maybe even considering traffic data). The app will also show you the wait times. Hospital A has a wait time of 6 hours. Hospital B, although it is 20 minutes further to drive there, has 3 emergency physicians and a wait time of only 20 minutes. I know which one I want to go to. The app can also provide you with a report card on hospital procedures, medical conditions, and medical conditions related to childbirth. The app would be customizable to allow people to evaluate hospitals on quality measures important to them. It may also include patient ratings of hospital performance.

Thanks Santa! Keep up the good work. Every year, we are getting more and more data sets. We sure appreciate all the great work you and your elves do exposing data, stimulating the digital economy and helping government be more transparent and to provide better services outcomes.

Merry Christmas!

Standardized Global Data Structure Common Sense Next Step for Open Data

Throughout the world we have thousands of open data sets being published. A subset of this data is cataloged here. This is a good thing. Data is the next emerging frontier of the democratization of information, possibly as revolutionary as the Internet in bringing information into the hands of people so they can make informed decisions, hold companies, governments, and leaders into account, and drive the new economy into the future with innovative data-driven start ups. Data is the building block of information, and information makes the world go round.

data(Data chaos 3 image by sachynroyalty free)

Wouldn’t it be great to have a common standard that governments and other organizations adhere to when publishing their data? That way data from one company or jurisdiction could be compared with the data from another. Global comparative analysis of local government financial, traffic, or crime data, for example, would reveal the best-run local governments and shed light on best practices that could be shared between jurisdictions.

Common standards vastly increases the number of people who can use a data set and exponentially increases the reach and impact of code that is written against that data for use in other jurisdictions. It also means that linked data can be used for exponentially more uses as more and more data is connected. Like the Internet, connected data becomes more and more useful as a building block for information as its reach and inter-connectivity expand.

Standardization is one of the main reasons that transit data is one of the most leveraged data sets across the globe. In 2005, Google and the City of Portland Tri-Met created the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), a standardized format for transit data. Any transit agency that stores transit data in this specified format can use the open source TimeTable Publisher developed by Tri-Met and Google and many other free applications built on the GTFS data including mobile transit planning apps and trip planners that use text messaging.

The benefits of standardized data structure for open data is clear. The question is how do we bring governments together to standardize the open data structure so we can better leverage open source development based on open data and more effectively link open data for better analysis, transparency and accountability. Perhaps, this is question that is best addressed by the Open Government Partnership or the Open Data Institute. The mandate of the Open Government Partnership is to make governments better by making them more transparent, effective and accountable. A standardized open data structure would go along way towards that goal. The Open Data Institute, which will officially launch on December 4th “will catalyse the evolution of an open data culture to create economic, environmental, and social value.” Either organization is well positioned to champion the cross-government open data standard.

Principles that Enable Open Economies to Thrive

In the video below, Prime Minister Cameron talks about the principles that enable open economies and open societies to thrive, including the rule of law, the absence of conflict and corruption, the presence of property rights and strong institutions. He says that the innovative use of web and mobile technologies by government are absolutely vital in developing the transparency and accountability, putting power in the hands of people and enabling them to hold their governments to account.  PM Cameron states: “By opening up government, millions have the opportunity to change their lives for the better.”

I like the way that Prime Minister Cameron characterizes this, and his principles to enable open economies and societies to thrive. The current global economic condition was precipitated by corruption which created a failure in the free enterprise, capitalist system. The corruption evident in WorldCom, Enron, Tyco, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac are chains of events that lead to the economic crisis we are still trying to pull out of. How can an open economy thrive when the leaders of our major companies are being convicted of crimes from insider trading to concealing debt to fraud and grand larceny? Many people who understand that the odds are weighted in favor of investors with inside knowledge do not want to invest in our markets. Millions of people have been swindled out of their life savings and jobs.

There are plenty of ethical leaders, companies and governments out there. I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture. But to me transparency, accountability, and governance are the subjects that must be addressed to steward a sustainable global economy in balance with respect for our environment and ensuring segments of our population are not left behind.

Government 2.0 or Social Government?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet – Shakespeare

 Okay. I’ll admit it. I have a problem with Government 2.0.

Not the movement. The term. It connotes technology. The second version or release of software. We had the web, then we had web 2.0. We had government, we now have Government 2.0.

But Government 2.0 is not technology, it’s people.

The term Open Government works. Open Government is a government that is more transparent, accountable and responsive to citizens. As a movement, it is well defined in the description of the Open Government Partnership:

The Open Government Partnership is a global effort to make governments better. We all want more transparent, effective and accountable governments — with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations.

Open Government is something I understand and can describe to others in a couple of sentences.

Government 2.0 doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t work for many people. Part of Government 2.0 is technology: using social media (Facebook, Twitter and the like) and open data to connect with citizens and put them at the center of government. But it is so much more than the technology. The technology facilitates and enables, but it is citizens that are at the center – not the technology.

I believe the term Social Government is more precise than Government 2.0. Social Government recognizes that it is the people, communities and culture, and not the technology, that are at the center of this movement.

People will disagree saying that Social Government has other connotations. It can easily be mistaken or affiliated with socialist government. Sure, I had this concern too, but you will never get a perfect term. There will always be objections, but I object less to Social Government than I do to Government 2.0. Besides, Social Government by its very nature is politically neutral and is a movement towards smaller, more efficient and responsive government. Furthermore, we use the term Social Business. We do not associate this with socialist business.

The term Social Government puts communities and the people that make up these communities at the center of the discussion. And that’s where they should be. The term Government 2.0 has always put the technology at the center of the discussion, and that is a mistake.

So how’s this for a definition of Social Government? Social Government is government of, for and by the people. It is communities of people coming together to do some of the business that was traditionally done by government. Citizens are providing services, developing policy, balancing budgets, and writing constitutions. This public engagement is facilitated and/or led by government and leverages technology, data and the read-write web.

Of course, the term Government 2.0 does not go away.  It’s still used in when we are focused on the technology, especially when we are talking about government as a platform or hackers writing an application programming interface (API) using open government data. But when we are talking about people coming together, in the streets and over the web, to make a difference in the world in which they live. That phenomenon is better described as Social Government.

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.