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.

  • Great post.

    When exploring the new technologies and especially the new ‘trends’ among different groups of users today; open-ness is an great evolution.
    There are many initiatives and most important they come from anywhere.

    It seems that government and business are already in a different collaboration phase; which can be presumed as a good step towards better projects in government to consumer relationships.

    In Belgium we started 14th of May with our open project Open eGo; which tends to build a community driven platform for governance and their users (in any way).
    Thursday 23rd of July we kickoff with a meeting where government, business and research from educational perspective come together for our trac for the future.

    Interested in our project, follow us on Twitter (@OpeneGo) or take a look at http://www.open-ego.org)

    I’ll take your questions with me, because they are a nice starting point.

    Kind regards.

  • John,

    Thanks for this post and I like your vision of the future. But I wonder if it is realistic. I say that as a government employee who is activity working to get Web 2.0 tools/cultural adopted in my agency. My colleagues and I have met with some initial success, but the openness that you are talking about is not going to come over night (which in government terms can be years). The concerns that block these efforts, or at least the ones I most often hear, are security, time, money, and legal issues. One of the most pressing issues these days is money. My state, Colorado, is looking at a budget short fall of approximately $400 million this fiscal year and another $500 million next year. Thus, the state is looking at $900 million in cuts over two years. New projects, useless the price tag is zero, will not get funded. My colleague and I are always looking for the free resource, which is often open source. Open source is feared, rightly or wrongly, as less secure. The legal barriers are a significant, but illusory, hurdle. I say illusory because I think many of these hurdles are not as significant as one would think. I often find my self saying if the law is blocking implementation of these efforts then the law needs to be changed. But legislative changes do not happen overnight, especially at the federal level. Slow action is a government way of life and mind set. It will take time to change.

    As an attorney I am trained to look for the worst, so although I questioned your vision I do remain hopeful that it will become a reality and as someone working on the frontline I will continue to do the hard and frustrating work of pushing the ball forward.

    Thanks, Brian

  • I’ve noticed in your writing, you seem to enjoy using ecology as a metaphor. might there be some value in going deeper and looking more methodically at how ecosystems evolve – or perhaps better yet, how agroecosystems/agroforestry systems evolve (since these are explicitly designed)? i.e. might there be value in applying Biomimicry to understanding/designing change in political systems?

    clearly I think the answer is yes ;)

    and I highly recommend checking out the chapter on politics in “Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems.”

  • steve har

    NOT a great post you are busy examining the leaves on the trees.

    Step back, watch this

    Consider revising your column to include
    data in geography for example congressional districts
    data plots in timelines instead of snapshots
    vital few factors vs trivial many; google Pareto, wiki

    And people like hans who seem to care about people not aimless abstractions.

  • Thanks for the comments all. Brian, I agree, five years may be a totally unrealistic timetable for this sort of change. Then again, when I co-founded Outside.in three years ago, we thought the newspaper industry would hold up for five to ten years before things started to really change fundamentally, and look where we are today.

    Once these things get going, they tend to pick up steam.

    And money, or the lack of it, is going to be a primary driving force for governments to get into open gov.

    I need to understand the equation from the government’s side better, to help them get more on board with these changes. I’m starting to do this now with CIOs from various cities. Your comments are helpful, thanks.

  • I’ve been watching the evolution of Open Gov (Gov 2.0) and I think it will follow the evolution of most eco-systems or movements (like gov 1.0 when all agencies moved online).

    Some of the classic case studies of Gov 2.0 like Intellipedia and TSA Idea Factory are now 2 years old. But I still feel like it is very early. A lot will change in a year but I believe it is another 4-5 years until maturity.

    I see it on the community I run (GovLoop.com) where there are lots of discussions and hope for Open Gov/Gov 2.0 but still a ton of barriers and policy changes needed.