I recently talked with Federal News Radio anchor Chris Dorobek about Gov 2.0 in 2010 and beyond. While our conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics, it was clear afterwards that I’d missed many of the year’s important stories in Gov 2.0 during the relatively short segment. I went back over hundreds of posts on Gov 2.0 at Radar and GovFresh, thousands of tweets and other year-end lists, including Govloop’s year in review, Gartner’s Top 10 for Government 2.0 in 2010, Bill Allison’s end of year review, Andrew P. Wilson’s memorables from 2010, Ellen Miller’s year in Sunlight 2010, John Wonderlich’s 2010 in policy and GovTwit’s top Gov 2.0 stories. Following are the themes, moments and achievements that made an impact.
Gov 2.0 spreads worldwide
The year was marked by the international spread of Gov 2.0 initiatives. Wherever connections are available in the United States, citizens are turning to the Internet for government data, policy and services. Applying that trend internationally isn’t unreasonable, as more of humanity comes online. It won’t be easy. It’s Gov 2.0 vs the beast of bureaucracy everywhere, as professor Andrew McAfee memorably put it.
In Australia, for instance, government 2.0 Down Under still has a ways to go if it isn’t going to be a “one shot” contest or success story. What’s next for Government 2.0 in Australia, as Stephen Collins reflected, will rely on more public figures driving change, as well as citizens demanding better results.
In the United Kingdom, the new-ish government will continue to be a test bed, given dire budget projections. A refreshed Number 10 Downing Street online presence and accounts won’t address cost issues, either. A spending challenge focused on crowdsourcing cuts didn’t get very far. Such initiatives are likely the tip of the iceberg, as tough budget decisions loom in 2011. While the influence of Tim Berners-Lee on Data.gov.uk is unmistakable, Gov 2.0 in the UK involves a host of small companies, agencies, elected officials and of course the citizens themselves.
Gated governments face disruption
Everywhere, governments remain concerned about the risks and rewards of Web 2.0, but with citizens increasingly going online, those same governments must respond to digital cries for help. In countries with autocratic governments, the disruption and challenge to power represented by free information flows mean that transparency and accountability are a long way off. In that context, an e-government conference in Russia has to be balanced with the government transparency issues revealed by the deployment of Ushahidi for crowdsourcing wildfires.
Citizens empowered with new tools for transparency became a more powerful force in 2010, as the growing lists of examples of open government platforms in India (a democratic country) suggest. As citizens gain more means for reporting issues with services, corruptions or elections, repressive governments will be faced with more challenges in filtering, censoring, blocking or shutting down services that host contradictory or false reports.
In that context, technology companies also have meaningful choices to make, from how they cooperate (or don’t) with law enforcement and government agencies that want access to its data, to “firewalling” private information from multiple services within companies, to monitoring internal controls on employee access or to providing technologies that may be used to monitor, track or censor citizens.
Open government remains in beta
While the progress of the White House Open Government Directive at federal agencies is important, as is action in Congress, there’s a long road yet ahead in the United States and abroad. As John Wonderlich pointed out in his own look at 2010:
Obama’s Open Government Directive is at a crossroads (like other similar policies), and the changing majority in the House brings new opportunities for change (a 72 Hour Rule!), just as the outgoing majority brought their own new opportunities for transparency.
We’re still very much in open government’s beta period. Some efforts, like the State Department’s Text Haiti program for the Red Cross or the “do-it-ourselves” platforms from groups like CrisisCommons, made a difference. Other efforts, partially represented by many open government plans in the throes of implementation, won’t mature for months to come.
What is clear is that open government is a mindset, not simply a fresh set of technological tools. Gov 2.0 is a means, not an end. It can and will mean different things to different constituencies. For instance, the State Department released a social media policy, engaged the world through social media, launched a “Civil Society 2.0” initiative and released a quadrennial review in December. Its efforts to apply social software to digital diplomacy were laudable. By the end of the year, however, Secretary Clinton’s landmark speech and policy on Internet freedom came under sharp global criticism in the wake of “Cablegate.” The questions of who, where and why the U.S. supports Internet freedom became even more complex.
WikiLeaks is a reminder that the disruption new technology platforms pose will often emerge in unexpected ways.
Open data went global
The first International Open Government Data Conference highlighted how far this trend has gone in a short time. “Since the United Kingdom and United States movement started, lots of other countries have followed,” said Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, Greece, and Finland are all working on open data initiatives. Within the United States, 16 states and 9 cities have created open data platforms. More data platforms at all levels will come online in 2011.
“The more transparency there is, the more likely there is to be external investment,” said Berners-Lee, highlighting the potential for open government data to make countries more attractive to the global electronic herd. Berners-Lee anticipates a world where open government data standards will come to cities, states and countries like HTML did in the 1990s. “The web spread quickly because it was distributed,” said Berners-Lee. “The fact that people could put up web servers themselves without asking meant it spread more quickly without a centralized mandate.” Over in England, the new legislation.gov.uk uses the linked open data standards Berners-Lee recommends.
After nearly a year in the open data trenches, Nat Torkington offered advice here at Radar for those starting or involved in open data projects:
First, figure out what you want the world to look like and why. Second, build your project around users.
The Sunlight Foundation, one of the foremost users of data journalism for open government, created a new ‘data commons’ in 2010 and launched poligraft.com and InfluenceExplorer.com, both of which combine to make campaign finance, lobbying, earmark and government contract data more accessible. Sunlight Labs also made progress in opening up state legislatures.
In December, a report on the attitudes, quality and use of open government data showed strong support for the release of open data among citizens and government employees. While the open data study showed progress, there’s still a long road ahead for open government data. The promise of data journalism is notable, as journalists now have huge volumes of accessible government data, but cultural roadblocks and “dirty” data still need to be addressed.
There are (more) apps for that
As governments create their own applications, however, they’ll need to avoid “shiny app syndrome” to avoid empowering the empowered.
Gov 2.0 grew locally
Gov 2.0 is going local, as techies take on City Hall. CityCamp, Code for America, Civic Commons and protocols like Open311 all grew this year. Real-time transit data is opening up exciting prospects for entrepreneurs. Local government as a data supplier looks like it may have legs as well.
Even mainstream media woke up to the local trend. Time Magazine reported on mobile civic applications that let citizens give feedback to cities. At year’s end, the use of Twitter by Newark mayor Cory Booker to hack Snowmageddon after a major snowstorm buried the East Coast brought new attention to the opportunities inherent in a new digital nexus between citizens and public servants online.
Look for more citizens as sensors in neighborhoods soon.
Laws, rules and regulations
This was also the year that mainstream media couldn’t stop reporting on social media in politics. Sarah Palin’s tweets were read on cable news and gaffes from a Congressman or updates from the campaign trail went straight to the headlines. There have been thousands of posts and cable news reports on the topic at this point. A study on Twitter use in Congress asserted that Democrats use Twitter for transparency, while Republicans use it for outreach. For a useful perspective outside of the United States, First Monday published a terrific Gov 2.0 case study in government and e-participation at Brazil’s House and presidential websites.
What such reports generally missed is that Gov 2.0 progress within agencies is bolstered by orders, laws or regulations that support these activities. This spring, the Sunlight Foundation and other transparency advocates worked with Rep. Steve Israel and Sen. Jon Tester to introduce the Public Online Information Act in both chambers. As John Wonderlich explained, the act redefines “public information” by requiring that any government information currently required to be available to the public be posted online, and sets forth better technology coordination between the branches of government to achieve that overarching goal.”
In June, OMB updated its rules for cookies and privacy on U.S. government websites, enabling government agencies to use social media, video sharing and discussion platforms. In July, the House of Representatives had its first hearing on Government 2.0, examining the risks and rewards of Web 2.0 in government. The White House also released a draft of “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace,” including a means for people to comment upon it online. Yes, the government has an online identity plan for you.
In October, President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. The Act amended the Communications Act of 1934 to ensure that companies would make new technologies and the Internet accessible for persons with disabilities. Earlier in the year, WhiteHouse.gov released open source code that includes a Drupal module for 508 compliance, a key standard for online accessibility.
The passage and subsequent signing of the Telework Enhancement Act by President Obama was a win for government workers, providing new flexibility in getting the job done. The need for that ability was driven home by the historic snowfall in Washington, D.C. last winter, when “Snowmageddon” made working from home more than a “nice to have” for many parts of the federal government.
Election 2010 was a refresh for Gov 2.0, offering up numerous lessons for social media and politics from the campaign. What emerged were new prospects for the GOP to embrace innovation and transparency. That subsequently manifested with a victory for transparency in House rules.
The enactment of a plain writing law is also a boon for open government, although getting bureaucracies to move away from acronyms won’t happen overnight.
In December, the passage of the COMPETES Act in Congress means that every federal agency can create prizes and competitions. Watch Challenge.gov to see if citizens and other private entities take them up on those opportunities.
Online privacy went mainstream
While some media outlets declared that privacy is dead, government officials and institutions weren’t convinced. That’s why online privacy debates heated up in Washington, with Facebook privacy and Google privacy frequently in the news.
The shift to cloud computing puts Electronic Communications Privacy Act reform in the spotlight. Simply put, digital due process matters. As the year came to an end, the FTC released its online privacy report, which included a recommendation for a Do Not Track mechanism, along with increased transparency and baked-in controls.
Government moves into the cloud
When NASA Nebula’s open source technology was integrated into Rackspace and others to form OpenStack, the administration’s open government initiative had a bonafide success on its hands. Outside of NASA, the White House IT reforms include a “cloud first” strategy for new investments. That move is a part of a broad strategy to close the technology gap which has been a top priority of the administration’s IT executives. FedRAMP, a federal government-wide approach to securing cloud computing, may help to provide some of the security and privacy questions that CIOs must ask.
While some elements of government business will never be in the public cloud, look for the cloud transition to be an even bigger story in 2011 as Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com, IBM, Amazon and others look for government dollars in their clouds. The White House moved Recovery.gov to Amazon’s cloud in May. This fall, Treasury.gov moved into their cloud, too. Salesforce.com has many agencies in its cloud. Google and Microsoft have been signing up new city and state customers all year, along with chasing federal dollars. Look for more of the same in 2011, along with more tough questions about auditability, security, uptime and privacy questions.
Open source moves deeper into government
Energy.gov is moving to Drupal next spring, joining hundreds of other government websites on the open source content management platform. Next year, when FCC.gov gets an overdue overhaul, it will also be open source.
Healthcare communication got an upgrade as the Direct Project creates the basis for a “Health Internet.” The NHIN Direct project’s approach to creating open health records was an important example of government as a platform. For more context, Apache co-founder Brian Behlendorf talked with Radar about the CONNECT project in a podcast, “from Apache to Health and Human Services.
A “milestone in making government more open” went live this summer when the new Federal Register beta launched at FederalRegister.gov. As deputy White House CTO Beth Noveck observed, “Federal Register 2.0” is “collaborative government at its best.” It’s also all open source, so the site’s code is shared in Civic Commons, a project launched at the Gov 2.0 Summit that will help city governments reduce costs and inefficiencies.
Archiving went social
When the Library of Congress teamed up with Twitter to archive tweets, it made headlines everywhere. Less noticed were the social upgrades by the Law Library of the United States to Thomas.gov, or the work that the National Archives is doing to guide other governmental agencies. When NARA issued guidance on social media, it was a watershed for many people looking for advice.
Sharing important milestones took on a new look in 2010, too. In October, Uncle Sam asked for help tracking the use of social media in government. The General Services Administration took all of those submissions and made them into a Dipity infographic, embedded below:
Law.gov moved forward
As Carl Malamud has explained:
Law.Gov is an idea, an idea that the primary legal materials of the United States should be readily available to all, and that governmental institutions should make these materials available in bulk as distributed, authenticated, well-formatted data.
At year’s end, Malamud announced that Public.Resource.Org would begin providing legal decisions freely online in 2011 in a weekly release of the Report of Current Opinions (RECOP). According to Malamud, this report “will initially consist of HTML of all slip and final opinions of the appellate and supreme courts of the 50 states and the federal government.”
Citizen engagement platforms grew
With a wave of new citizen engagement platforms and apps, citizens could contribute much more than a vote or a donation in 2010: they could donate their time and skills.
The growth of citizen engagement platforms, however, extends far beyond Washington. Civic developers are helping government by standardizing application programming interfaces and empowering others by coding the middleware for open government. Working with developers can be a crucial complement to publishing open data online. Those citizens matter a lot there, but only if engaged.
As the new year beckons, there are more ways for citizens to provide feedback to their governments than perhaps there ever have been in its history. In 2011, the open question is whether “We the people” will use these new participatory platforms to help government work better. The evolution of these kinds of platforms won’t be U.S.-centric, either. Ushahidi, for example, started in Africa and has been deployed worldwide. The crowd matters more now in every sense: crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, crowdmapping, collective intelligence, group translation, and human sensor networks.
Have bets for 2011? Let us know in the comments.