Data and simplicity can build the government platform

Aneesh Chopra and Tim O'Reilly on government as a platform, open data and more.

Tim O’Reilly and Aneesh Chopra, Federal Chief Technology Officer, had a wide-ranging discussion at this week’s Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington D.C. As a relative novice in government matters, I was fortunate to be a fly on the wall during their chat. My understanding of the issues and opportunities at play increased exponentially during their 15-minute conversation. It was the highlight of the Expo for me.

The real head-turner was this: turning government into a platform is not as complicated or far off as I previously believed.

Other insights from the Chopra-O’Reilly discussion included:

  • For government to successfully work as a platform — an important aspect of Gov 2.0 — there needs to be an open exchange of information between government agencies and the public. Data is the catalyst. Make it available and watch as developers transform it into novel solutions that meet the public’s most pressing needs.
  • “Government” is not always synonymous with “complexity.” While discussing energy policy, Chopra noted that the most common energy feedback mechanism is the monthly utility bill. “That’s the snapshot in the rearview mirror about what we needed to do in our household,” he said. But what if consumers could tap an active data stream and adapt on the fly? That’s easier than you’d expect because many meters already “chirp” data to utility companies. Simple new programs will capture those data chirps and put them into open platforms.
  • The privacy debate is actually an “informed consent debate,” O’Reilly said. This dovetails with his recent post, “My contrarian stance on Facebook and privacy.”
  • Eighteen months in, Chopra is most proud of the energy and transparency generated by the Open Government Directive (pdf).
  • What keeps Chopra up at night? “The cybsersecurity threat is real,” he said.

The Gov 2.0 Expo site has an extensive collection of news and updates, and you can find many more Gov 2.0 videos here.