What Will Open Gov Look Like in Five Years and in One Year?

Someone asked me the other day what I thought open governance was going to look like in five years.

The more interesting question, I think, is what is it going to look like in a year?

Five years from now, the open gov ecosystem looks a lot like the web itself. It’s huge. There are parts that are open source and used freely by all, there are parts that are proprietary and profit-generating. There’s a healthy flow of information every which way – from government to citizens, from citizens back to government, from gov to gov, and from citizen to citizen. There are standards and best practices that are commonly observed. There is lots of movement from the bottom, up as well as from the top, down. There is high experimentation, rapid innovation, and rapid failure at low cost. There’s an open marketplace for ideas, and good ones get rewarded with adoption.

Most importantly perhaps, the center of power in this ecosystem has shifted, from the offices of city halls or the White House outwards, resulting in a more balanced equation between governments and the people they represent. Government becomes less representative and more democratic. It also, by adopting web-like practices outlined above, becomes more efficient, leaner, less expensive to maintain.

That’s the mature version of open gov. But what does the transitional version look like? How do we get from here to there? That’s the really interesting question for someone working in this space. That’s the burning question.

I’m sorry to report I don’t have any hard answers for that question today, only questions of my own:

– Will businesses and entrepreneurs get into open gov and find it to be profitable and/or sustainable? Will there be a viable marketplace for open gov ideas and products?

– Will open source tools emerge that get adopted, used, and added to by different communities?

– Will there be a tsunami of cities opening up their data, one after the other, in a rush not to be the last open city out there, or will there be only a handful of open cities in a year’s time?

– Will there be an attempt to standardize data structures across cities, states and federal offices, and will it gain any traction? Or will we be dealing with a tower of babel of local and open data?

All of these things remain to be seen, and they will affect what open governance looks like in a year’s time. So without knowing these, one can only take best guesses as to what things will look like. And of course I have my own best guess, but I’ll save that for another post.

I do know this however: a year from now, we’ll see an open gov landscape that is very different from the current one of apps contests, dev camps, meetups, and open gov wikis. These things are the early-stage primordial ooze out of which the mature open gov ecosystem will grow. They are the organisms necessary for evolution to occur, but they are not the mature ecosystem itself.

It’s time to begin to explore what the viable road from that early ecosystem to that mature ecosystem will be exactly.