Capstone Project for MBA – Machine-Readable Financial Statements

In my final Capstone project for my MBA, I’ve been trying to get a few municipal governments in Western Canada to open up their yearly financial statements in a machine readable format.

This was surprisingly hard. I spoke with people from the City of Vancouver, the City of Edmonton and the City of Victoria. I also presented the idea at the February Open Data Summit in Vancouver. At the same event, we discussed the idea at a round table, getting good suggestions and ideas from participants from the open data community. I’ve also blogged about the idea here and there.

In the end, I did get some traction at the City of Victoria. Right from the beginning Marianne Alto was supportive of the idea. In fact, it was something that she had already been thinking about. The data is not available yet, but it should be coming soon.

Looking forward to it!

Advertisements

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: 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?

The Why of Social Media (part 2)

When thinking about citizen and employee engagement and how we can all work together to address complex issues such as climate change, homelessness and healthcare, to name a few, consider what motivates people and how we can enable them to do what they do best: contribute.

Understanding human motivation is the foundation of improving citizen and employee engagement. Why do people like to use social media? (Recapping from last post.) People want …

  1. To contribute
  2. To be part of something larger than themselves
  3. To make the world a better place

This is not so say I’m a pollyanna. I understand that some people (maybe 5%?) do not have other people’s interest at heart. I understand that social media is used to develop and spread maleware, viruses and spam, for example. Social media can be used to waste corporate time and to organize organized crime. But the majority of people (say 95%) want to help make the world a better place. In fact, when given the opportunity, most people are passionate about making a difference.

Hundreds of examples are out there, from Wikipedia to Linux, InnoCentive to Threadless, blogs to flash mobs, Ushahidi to a multitude of open source/open data applications that benefit citizens. People contribute to these projects because they are passionate about what they are contributing and understand the value of sharing their effort and expertise to a worthwhile cause they believe in.

When you wake up in the morning and you know that you are contributing to something worthwhile that makes a difference, you wake up with enthusiasm and a smile.

I worked for years in the private sector before coming to the public sector. What impressed me about working for in the BC Public Service was that I could make a difference. I took to heart the Oath of Service, especially the part: “Act with integrity, putting the interests of the public and the public service above my own personal interest.”

I was struck by the fact that we are all working for a common cause: to provide value to the citizens of BC. The vision of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) has evolved over time, but when I started we were all pulling in the same direction to:

  1. Enable better business outcomes for the citizens of BC
  2. Reduce carbon emissions
  3. Support an anticipated smaller workforce due to demographics (retirements)

In October, 2010, the BC Government released Citizens @ the Centre: Government 2.0 which provided an updated strategy for transformation and technology for the BC Public Service and is centred on three shifts:

  1. Citizen Participation
  2. Service Innovation (citizen-centric)
  3. Business Innovation

Citizens @ the Centre is exciting because this is strategy not just for the OCIO, but for all of the BC Public Service put out by the Deputy Minister’s Council for Transformation and Technology.