2011 Gov 2.0 year in review

A look at the Gov 2.0 themes, moments and achievements that made an impact in 2011.

By most accounts, the biggest stories of 2011 were the Arab Spring, the historic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the death of Osama Bin Laden. In each case, an increasingly networked world experienced those events together through the growing number of screens. At the beginning of the year, a Pew Internet survey emphasized the Internet’s importance in civil society. By year’s end, more people were connected than ever before.

Time magazine named 2011 the year of the protester, as apt a choice as “You” was in 2006. “No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in a public square, it would incite protests that would topple dictators and start a global wave of dissent,” noted Time. “In 2011, protesters didn’t just voice their complaints; they changed the world.”

The Arab Spring extended well through summer, fall and winter, fueled by decades of unemployment, repression, and autocratic rule in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. This year’s timeline of protest, revolution and uprising was not created by connection technologies, but by year’s end, it had been accelerated by millions of brave young people connected to one another and the rest of the world through cell phones, social networks and the Internet.  

“We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world,” said an unnamed activist in Cairo in January.

In the months that followed, the Occupy Wall Street movement used the same tools in the parks and streets of the United States to protest economic inequality and call for accountability in the financial industry, albeit without the same revolutionary results.

This was the year where unemployment remained stubbornly high in the United States and around the world, putting job creation and economic growth atop the nation’s priority list.

The theme that defined governments in Europe, particularly England, was austerity, as a growing debt crisis and financial contagion spread and persisted throughout the year. In Washington, the theme might be gridlock, symbolized by a threatened government shutdown in April and then brinkmanship over the debt crisis during the summer. As the year came to a close, a dispute between the White House, Senate and House over the extension of payroll tax cuts rounded out a long year of divided government.

We also saw a growing conflict between closed and open. It was a year that included social media adoption by government and a year where governments took measures to censor and block it. It was a year when we learned to think different about hacking, even while the “hacktivism” embodied in groups like Anonymous worried officials and executives in boardrooms around the world.

This was the year where the death of Steve Jobs caused more than a few people to wonder what Jobs would do as president. His legacy will resonate for many years to come, including the App Store that informed the vision of government as a platform.

If you look back at a January interview with Clay Johnson on key trends for Gov 2.0 and open government in 2011, some of his predictions bore out. The House of Representatives did indeed compete with the White House on open government, though not in story lines that played out in the national media or Sunday morning talk shows. The Government Oversight and Reform Committee took a tough look at the executive’s progress in a hearing on open government. Other predictions? Not so much. Rural broadband stalled. Transparency as infrastructure is still in the future. We’re still waiting on that to be automated, though when the collective intelligence of people in Washington looks at new versions of bills tied to the social web, there’s at least a kludge.

Many of the issues and themes in 2011 were extensions of those in the 2010 Gov 2.0 Year in Review: the idea of government as a platform spread around the world; gated governments faced disruption; open government initiatives were stuck in beta; open data went global; and laws and regulations were chasing technology, online privacy, cloud computing, open source and citizen engagement.

“It’s tough to choose which issue dominated the year in transparency, but I’d say that the Open Government Partnership, the E-government funding fight, and the Super Committee all loomed large for Sunlight,” said John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation. “On the state level, I’d include Utah’s fight over FOI laws, Tennessee’s Governor exempting himself from financial disclosure requirements, and the Wisconsin fight as very notable issues.  And the rise of Super PACs and undisclosed money in politics is probably an issue we’re only just starting to see.”

Three dominant tech policy issues

Privacy, identity and cybersecurity dominated tech policy headlines coming out of D.C. all year. By year’s end, however, no major cybersecurity or consumer privacy bill had made it through the U.S. Congress to the president’s desk. In the meantime, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) made its own moves. As a result, Google, Facebook and Twitter are all now subject to “audits” by the FTC every two years.

On the third issue — cybersecurity — there was progress: The U.S. government’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace addressed key issues around creating an “identity ecosystem online.” Implementation, however, will require continued effort and innovation from the private sector. By year’s end, Verizon became the first identity provider to receive Level of Access 3 credentialing from the U.S. government. Look for more identity providers to follow in 2012, with citizens gaining increased access to government services online as a result.

A meme goes mainstream

This was the year when the story of local governments using technology with citizens earned more attention from mainstream media, including outlets like the Associated Press and National Public Radio.

In February, the AP published a story about how cities are using tech to cull ideas from citizens. In the private sector, leveraging collective intelligence is often called crowdsourcing. In open government, it’s “citizensourcing.” In cities around the country, the approach is gaining traction.

At Yahoo Canada, Carmi Levy wrote that the future of government is citizen focused. In his view, open government is about leveraging technology and citizens to do more with less. It’s about doing more than leaving or speaking up: it’s making government work better.

In November, NPR listeners learned more about the open government movement around the country when the Kojo Nnamdi Show hosted an hour-long discussion on local Gov 2.0 on WAMU in Washington, D.C. Around the same time, the Associated Press reported that a flood of government data is fueling the rise of city apps:

New York, San Francisco and other cities are now working together to develop data standards that will make it possible for apps to interact with data from any city. The idea, advocates of open data say, is to transform government from a centralized provider of services into a platform on which citizens can build their own tools to make government work better.

Gov 2.0 goes local

All around the country, pockets of innovation and creativity could be found, as “doing more with less” became a familiar mantra in many councils and state houses. New open data platforms or citizen-led initiatives sprouted everywhere.

Here’s just a sample of what happened at the local level in 2011:

If you want the full fire hose, including setbacks to open government on the state level, read the archives of the Sunlight Foundation’s blog, which aggregated news throughout the year.

Several cities in the United States hopped on the open government and open data bandwagon in 2011. Baltimore empowered its citizens to acts as sensors with new mobile apps and Open311. New York City is opening government data and working to create new relationships with citizens and civic developers in the service of smart government. Further afield, Britain earned well deserved attention for seeking alpha, with its web initiatives and an open architecture that could be relevant to local governments everywhere.

In 2011, a model open government initiative gained traction in Cook County. In 2012, we’ll see if other municipalities follow. The good news is that the Pew Internet and Life Project found that open government is tied to higher levels of community satisfaction. That carrot for politicians comes up against the reality that in a time of decreased resources, being more open has to make economic sense and lead to better services or more efficiency, not just be “the right thing to do.”

One of the best stories in open government came from Chicago, where sustainability and analytics are guiding Chicago’s open data and app contest efforts. The city’s approach offers important insights to governments at all levels. Can the Internet help disrupt the power of Chicago lobbyists through transparency? We’ll learn more in 2012.

Rise of the civic startups

This year, early entrants like SeeClickFix and Citysourced became relatively old hat with the rise of a new class of civic startups that aspire to interface with the existing architectures of democracy. (Update: SeeClickFix founder Ben Berkowitz sent in an email to let us know that “80 new cities signed onto SeeClickFix with Open311 in 2011, 4x last year. ‘Old hat’ but growing.”) Some hope to augment what exists, others to replicate democratic institutions in digital form.  [Disclosure: O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is an investor in SeeClickFix.]

This year, new players like ElectNext, OpenGovernment.org, Civic Commons, Votizen and POPVOX entered the mix alongside many other examples of social media and government innovation. [Disclosure: Tim O’Reilly was an early angel investor in POPVOX.]

In Canada, BuzzData aspires to be the GitHub of datasets. Simpl launched as a platform to bridge the connection between social innovators and government. Nation Builder went live with its new online activism platform.

Existing civic startups made progress as well. BrightScope unlocked government data on financial advisers and made the information publicly available so it could be indexed by search engines. The Sunlight Foundation put open government programming on TV and a health app in your pocket. Code for America’s 2011 annual report offered insight into the startup nonprofit’s accomplishments.

Emerging civic media

The 2011 Knight News Challenge winners illustrated data’s ascendance in media and government. It’s clear that data journalism and data tools will play key roles in the future of media and open government.

It was in that context that the evolution of Safecast offered us a glimpse into the future of networked accountability, as citizen science and open data help to inform our understanding of the world. After a tsunami caused a nuclear disaster in Japan, a radiation detection network starting aggregating and publishing data. Open sensor networks look like an important part of journalism’s future.

Other parts of the future of news are more nebulous, though there was no shortage of discussion about it. The question of where citizens will get their local news wasn’t answered in 2011. A Pew survey of local news sources revealed the influence of social and mobile trends, along with a generation gap. As newsprint fades, what will replace it for communities? We don’t know yet.

Some working models are likely to be found in civic media, where new change agents aren’t just talking about the future of news; they’re building it. Whether it’s mobile innovation or the “Freedom Box,” there’s change afoot.

This was also a deadly year for journalists. The annual report from the Committee to Protect Journalists found 44 journalists were killed in the line of duty, with the deaths of dozens more potentially associated with the process of gathering and sharing information. Only one in six people lives in a country with a free press, according to the 2011 report on world press freedom from Freedom House.

Open source in government

At the federal level, open source continued its quiet revolution in government IT. In April, the new version of FCC.gov incorporated the principles of Web 2.0 into the FCC’s online operations. From open data to platform thinking, the reboot elevated FCC.gov from one of the worst federal websites to one of the best. In August, the Energy Department estimated that the new Energy.gov would save $10 million annually through a combination of open source technology and cloud computing.

The White House launched IT Dashboard and released parts of it as open source code. (It remains to be seen whether the code from those platforms is re-used in the market.)

NASA’s commitment to open source and its game plan for open government were up for discussion at the recent NASA Open Source Summit. One of NASA’s open source projects, Nebula, saw its technology used in an eponymous startup. Nebula, the company, combines open source software and hardware in an appliance. If Nebula succeeds, its “cloud controller” could enable every company to implement cloud computing.

In cities, the adoption of “Change By Us” in Philadelphia and OpenDataPhilly in Chattanooga showed the potential of reusable civic software.

At the end of 2011, Civic Commons opened up its marketplace. The Marketplace is designed to be a resource for open source government apps. As Nick Judd observed at techPresident, both Civic Commons and its Marketplace “propose to make fundamental changes to the way local governments procure IT goods and services.”

Open government goes global

As White House tech talent comes and goes, open government continued to grow globally.

In September, a global Open Government Partnership (OGP) launched in New York City. Video of the launch, beginning with examples of open government innovation from around the world, is embedded below:

Making the Open Government Partnership work won’t be easy, but it’s an important initiative to watch in 2011. As The Economist’s review of the Open Government Partnership highlights, one of the most important elements is the United States’ commitment to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. If this initiative bears fruit, citizens will have a chance to see how much of the payments oil and gas companies send to governments actually end up in the public’s coffers.

Even before the official launch of the OGP, there was reason to think that something important was afoot globally in the intersection of governments, technology and society. In Africa, the government of Kenya launched Open Kenya and looked to the country’s dynamic development community to make useful applications for its citizens. In Canada, British Columbia joined the ranks of governments embracing open government platforms. Canadian citizens in the province of British Columbia now have three new websites that focus on open government data, making information related to accountability available and providing easier access to services and officials. In India, the seeds of Gov 2.0 started bearing fruit through a growing raft of civil society initiatives. In Russia, Rospil.info aimed to expose state corruption.

For open government advocates, the biggest advance of the year was “the recognition of the need for transparency of government information world wide as a means for holding government and its officials accountable,” said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, via email. “The transparency genie is out of the bottle — world wide — and it’s not going back into the darkness of that lantern ever again.  Progress will be slow, but it will be progress.”

Federal open government initiatives

In 2011, the United States bid farewell to its first CIO, Vivek Kundra, and welcomed his replacement, Steven VanRoekel, who advanced a “future first” vision for government that focuses on cloud, open standards, modularity and shared services. VanRoekel brought a .com mentality to the FCC, including a perspective that “everything should be an API,” which caught the attention of some tech observers. While Kundra may have left government, his legacy remains: cloud computing and open data aren’t going away in federal government, according to his replacement and General Services Administration (GSA) officials.

“Cuts in e-gov funds, Data.gov evolution, Challenge.gov and the launch of many contests were the big stories of the year,” commented Steve Ressler, the founder of Govloop. Ressler saw Gov 2.0 go from “a shiny thing” to people critically asking how it delivers results.

At the beginning of the year, OMB Watch released a report that found progress on open government but a long road ahead. At the end of 2011, the Sunlight Foundation assessed the Open Government Directive two years on and found “mixed results.” John Wonderlich put it this way:

Openness without information is emptiness.  If some agencies won’t even share the plans they’ve made for publishing new information, how far can their commitment to openness possibly go? The Open Government Directive has caused a lot of good.  And it has also often failed to live up to its promise, the administration’s rhetoric, and agencies’ own self-imposed compliance plans. We should remember that Presidential rhetoric and bureaucratic commitments are not the same thing as results, especially as even more administration work happens through broad, plan-making executive actions and plans.

In 2011, reports of the death of open government were greatly exaggerated. That doesn’t mean its health in the United States federal government is robust. In popular culture, of course, its image is even worse. In April, Jon Stewart and the Daily Show mocked the Obama administration and the president for a perceived lack of transparency.

Stewart and many other commentators have understandably wondered why the president’s meeting with open government advocates to receive a transparency award wasn’t on the official schedule or covered by the media. A first-hand account of the meeting from open government advocate Danielle Brian offered a useful perspective on the issues that arose that go beyond a sound bite or one-liner.

Some projects are always going to be judged as more or less effective in delivering on the mission of government than others. An open government approach to creating a “Health Internet” may be the most disruptive of them. For those who expected to see rapid, dynamic changes in Washington fueled by technology, however, the bloom has long since come off of the proverbial rose. Open government is looking a lot more like an ultra-marathon than a 400-yard dash. As a conference at the National Archives reminded the open government community, media access to government information also has a long way to go.

Reports on citizen participation and rulemaking from America Speaks offered open government guidance beyond technology. Overall, the administration received mixed marks. While America Speaks found that government agencies “display an admirable willingness to experiment with new tools and techniques to involve citizens with their decision-making processes,” it also found the “Open Government Initiative and most Federal Agency plans have failed to offer standards for what constitutes high-quality public participation.”

On the one hand, agencies are increasing the number of people devoted to public engagement and using a range of online and offline forums. On the other, “deliberative processes, in which citizens learn, express points of view, and have a chance to find common ground, are rarely incorporated.” Getting to a more social open government is going to take a lot more work.

There were other notable landmarks. After months of preparation, the local .gov startup went live. While ConsumerFinance.gov went online back in February, the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB) officially launched on the anniversary of H.R.4173 (the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act),  with Richard Cordray nominated to lead it.  By year’s end, however, he still had not been confirmed. Questions about the future of the agency remain, but to place credit where credit is due: the new consumer bureau has been open to ideas about how it can do its work better. This approach is what led New York Times personal finance columnist Ron Lieber to muse recently that “its openness thus far suggests the tantalizing possibility that it could be the nation’s first open-source regulator.”

When a regulator asks for help redesigning a mortgage disclosure form, something interesting is afoot.

It’s extremely rare that an agency gets built from scratch, particularly in this economic and political context. It’s notable, in that context, that the 21st century regulator embraced many of the principles of open government in leveraging technology to stand up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

This fall, I talked with Danny Weitzner, White House deputy chief technology officer for Internet policy, about the administration’s open government progress in 2011. Our interview is embedded below:

In our interview, we talked about what the Internet means to government and society, intellectual property, the risks of a balkanized Internet, digital privacy, the Direct Project, a “right to connect,” ICE takedowns and open data initiatives. On the last issue, the Blue Button movement, which enables veterans to download a personal health record, now has a website: BlueButtonData.org. In September, Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra challenged the energy industry to collaborate in the design of a “green button” modeled after that Blue Button. All three of California’s public utilities have agreed to standardize energy data for that idea.

Tim O’Reilly talked with Chopra and White House deputy CTO for public sector innovation Chris Vein about the White House’s action plan for open government innovation at the Strata Summit in September. According to Chopra, the administration is expanding Data.gov communities to agencies, focusing on “smart disclosure” and building out “government as a platform,” with an eye to embracing more open innovators.

As part of its commitments to the Open Government Partnership, the White House also launched an e-petitions platform this fall called “We The People.”

The White House has now asked for feedback on the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, focusing on best practices and metrics for public participation. Early responses include focusing on outcomes first and drawing attention to success, not compliance. If you’re interested in giving your input, Chopra is asking the country questions on Quora.

Opening the People’s House

Despite the abysmal public perception of Congress, genuine institutional changes in the House of Representatives, driven by the GOP embracing innovation and transparency, are incrementally happening. As Tim O’Reilly observed earlier in the year, the current leadership of the House is doing a better job on transparency than their predecessors.

In April, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor sent a letter to the House Clerk about releasing legislative data. Then, in September, a live XML feed for the House floor went online. Yes, there’s a long way to go on open legislative data quality in Congress — but at year’s end,  following the first “Congressional hackathon,” the House approved sweeping open data standards.

The House also made progress in opening up its recorded videos to the nation. In January, Carl Malamud helped make the hearings of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform available on the Internet in high-quality video at house.resource.org. Later in the year, HouseLive.gov brought live video to mobile devices.

Despite the adoption of Twitter and Facebook by the majority of senators and representatives, Congress as a whole still faces challenges in identifying constituents on social media.

It’s also worth noting that, no matter what efforts have been made to open the People’s House through technology, at year’s end, this was the least popular Congress in history.

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Open data

The open data movement received three significant endorsements on the world stage in 2011.

1. Open government data was featured in the launch of the Open Government Partnership.

That launch, however, offered an opportunity to reflect upon the fundamental conditions for open government to exist. Simply opening up data is not a replacement for a Constitution that enforces a rule of law, free and fair elections, an effective judiciary, decent schools, basic regulatory bodies or civil society, particularly if the data does not relate to meaningful aspects of society. That said, open data is a key pillar of how policy makers are now thinking about open government around the world.

2. The World Bank continued to expand what it calls “open development” with its own open data efforts

The World Bank is building upon the 2010 launch of data.worldbank.org. It’s now helping countries prepare and launch open government data platforms, including support for Kenya. In December, the World Bank hosted a webinar about how countries can start and run open government data ecosystems, launched an online open data community, and published a series of research papers on the topic.

Realizing the Vision of Open Government Data (Long Version): Opportunities, Challenges and Pitfalls

3. The European Union’s support for open data

The BBC reported that Europe’s governments are “sitting on assets that could be worth 40bn euros ($52bn, £33.6bn) a year” in public sector data. In addition, the European Commission has launched an open data strategy for the EU. Here’s Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, on public data for all:

Big data means big opportunities. These opportunities can flow from public and private data — or indeed from mixing the two. But a public sector lead can set an example, allowing the same taxpayers who have paid for the data to be gathered to benefit from its wider use. In my opinion, data should be open and available by default and exceptions should be justified — not the other way around, as is too often the case still today.

Access to public data also has an important and growing economic significance. Open data can be fuel for innovation, growth and job creation. The overall economic impact across the whole EU could be tens of billions of Euros per year. That’s amazing, of course! But, big data is not just about big money. It promises a host of socially and environmentally beneficial uses too — for example, in healthcare or through the analysis of pollution patterns. It can help make citizens’ lives easier, more informed, more connected.

As Glynn Moody wrote at Computer World UK, Europe is starting to get it.

Open data is not a partisan issue, in the view of professor Nigel Shadbolt. In 2012, Shadbolt will lead an “Open Data Institute” in England with Tim Berners-Lee.

Shadbolt is not out on a limb on this issue. In Canada and Britain, conservative governments supported new open data initiatives. In 2011, open government data also gathered bipartisan support in Washington when Rep. Darrell Issa introduced the DATA Act to track government financial spending. We talked about that and other open government issues this fall during an interview at the Strata Conference:

There was no shortage of other open data milestones, from Google adding the Public Data Explorer to its suite of free data tools to an International Open Government Data Camp in Poland.

In New York City, social, mapping and mobile data told the story of Hurricane Irene. In the information ecosystem of 2011, media, government and citizens alike played a critical role in sharing information about what’s happening in natural disasters, putting open data to work and providing help to one another.

Here at Radar, MySociety founder Tom Steinberg sounded a cautionary note about creating sustainable open data projects with purpose. The next wave of government app contests need to incorporate sustainability, community, and civic value. Whether developers are asked to participate in app contests, federal challenges, or civic hackathons, in 2012, the architects behind these efforts need to focus on the needs of citizens and sustainability.

Open mapping

One of the biggest challenges government agencies and municipalities have is converting open data to information from which people easily can draw knowledge. One of the most powerful ways humanity has developed to communicate information over time is through maps. If you can take data in an open form and map it out, then you have an opportunity to tell stories in a way that’s relevant to a region or personalized to an individual.

There were enough new mapping projects in 2011 that they deserved their own category. In general, the barrier to entry for mapping got lower thanks to new open source platforms like MapBox, which powered the Global Adaptation Index and a map of the humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa. And Data.nai.org.afs charted attacks on the media onto an interactive map of Afghanistan.

IssueMap.org, a new project launched by the FCC and FortiusOne, aimed to convert open data into knowledge and insight. The National Broadband Map, one of the largest implementations of open source and open data in government to date, displayed more than 25 million records and incorporated crowdsourced reporting. A new interactive feature posted at WhiteHouse.gov used open data to visualize excess federal property.

“Maps can be a very valuable part of transparency in government,” wrote Jack Dangermond, founder of ESRI. “Maps give people a greater understanding of the world around them. They can help tell stories and, many times, be more valuable than the data itself. They provide a context for taxpayers to better understand how spending or decisions are being made in a circumstance of where they work and live. Maps help us describe conditions and situations, and help tell stories, often related to one’s own understanding of content.”

Social media use grows in government

When there’s a holiday, disaster, sporting event, political debate or any other public happening, we now experience it collectively. In 2011, we were reminded that there were a lot of experiences that used to be exclusively private that are now public because of the impact of social media, from breakups to flirting to police brutality. From remembering MLK online to civil disobedience at the #Occupy protests, we now can share what we’re seeing with an increasingly networked global citizenry.

Those same updates, however, can be used by autocratic regimes to track down protestors, dissidents and journalists. If the question is whether the Internet and social media are tools of freedom or tools of oppression, the answer may have to be “yes.” If online influence is essential to 21st century governance, however, how should government leaders proceed?

Some answers could be found in the lessons learned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross and Crisis Commons that were entered into the Congressional Record when the U.S. Senate heard testimony on the role of social media in crisis response.

If you’re a soldier, you should approach social media carefully. The U.S. Army issued a handy social media manual to help soldiers, and the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a progressive social media policy.

A forum on social media at the National Archives featured a preview of a “citizen archivist dashboard” and a lively discussion of the past, present and future of social media — a future which will certainly include the growth of networks in many countries. For instance, in 2011, Chinese social media found its legs.

For a comprehensive discussion of how governments dealt with social media in 2011, check out this piece I wrote for National Journal.

Intellectual property and Internet freedom

In 2011, the United Nations said that disconnecting Internet users is a breach of human rights. That didn’t stop governments around the world from considering it under certain conditions. The UN report came at an important time. As Mathew Ingram wrote at GigaOm, reporting on a UNESCO report on freedom of expression online, governments are still trying to kill, replace or undo the Internet.

In 2011, Russia earned special notice when it blocked proposals for freedoms in cyberspace. The Russian blogosphere came under attack in April. This fall, DDoS attacks were used in Russia after the elections in an attempt to squelch free speech. As Russian activists get connected, they’ll be risking much to express their discontent.

In May, the eG8 showed that online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders. While the first eG8 Forum in Paris featured hundreds of business and digital luminaries, the policies discussed were of serious concern to entrepreneurs, activists, media and citizens around the world. If the Internet has become the public arena for our time, as the official G8 statement that followed the Forum emphasized, then defending the openness and freedoms that have supported its development is more important than ever.

That need became clearer at year’s end when the United States Congress considered anti-piracy bills that could cripple Internet industries. In 2012, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act will be before Congress again. Many citizens are hoping that their representatives decide not to break the Internet.

After all, if an open Internet is the basis for democracy flourishing around the world, billions of people will be counting upon our leaders to keep it open and accessible.

What story defined the year for you?

On Govloop, the government social network, the community held its own debate on the issue of the year. There, the threat of a government shutdown led the list. A related issue — “austerity” — was the story that defined government in 2011 in Chris Dorobek’s poll. I asked people on Govloop, Quora, Twitter, Facebook and Google+ what the most important Gov 2.0 or open government story of 2011 was and why. Their answers were all about what happened in the U.S., versus the globe, but here’s what I heard:

1. The departure of Kundra and White House deputy CTO for open government Beth Noveck mattered

“The biggest story of the year was Vivek Kundra and Beth Noveck leaving the White House,” commented Andy Krzmarzick, director of community engagement at Govloop. “Those personnel changes really stalled momentum, generally speaking, on the federal level. I respect their successors immensely, but I think they have an uphill climb as we head into an election year and resisters dig in their heels to wait it out and see if there is a change in administration before they spend a lot of time and energy at this stage of the game. Fortunately, the movement has enough of a ground swell that we’ll carry the torch forward regardless of leadership … but it sure helps to have strong champions.”

Terell Jones, director of green IT solutions at EcomNets, agreed. “The departure of Vivek Kundra as CIO of the United States. Under his watch they developed the Cloud Computing Strategy, the 25 Point Plan, and the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI). He saved the federal government millions, but they cut his budget so he would be ineffective; so, he escaped to Harvard University,” commented Jones. “He may have been frustrated with the speed at which government moves, but he made great strides in the right direction. I hope his replacement will stay the course.”

2. Budget cuts to the Office of Management and Budget’s E-Government Fund

“I think the biggest story is the Open Government budget cuts,” commented Steve Radick, a lead associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, which consults with federal agencies. “After all, these seemed to be the writing on the wall for Vivek’s departure, and forced everyone to re-think why open government was so important. It wasn’t just for the sake of becoming a more open government — open government needed to be about more than that. It needed to show real mission impact. I think these budget cuts and the subsequent realization of the Gov 2.0 community that Gov 2.0 efforts needed to be deeper than just retweets, friends, and fans was the biggest story of 2011.”

3. Insider trading in Congress

“I think the most important story of the year was the 60 Minutes expose on insider trading in Congress,” commented Joe Flood, a D.C.-area writer and former web editor at DC.gov and NOAA. “It demonstrated the power of data to illuminate connections that were hidden, showing how members of Congress made stock trades based upon their inside information on pending legislation. It showed what could be done with open data as well as why government transparency is so vital.”

4. Hackathons

“I feel like 2011 was kind of the year of the hackathon,” commented Karen Suhaka, founder of Legination. “Might just be my perception, but the idea seems to be gaining significant steam.”

5. iPads in government

“I think the winner should be iPads on the House Floor and in committee hearings,” commented Josh Spayher, a Chicago attorney and creator of GovSM.com. “[It] totally transforms the way members of Congress can access information when they need it.”

6. Social media in emergencies, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and open government in the European Union

“I think there was significant progress in the use of social media for emergency alerts/warnings and disaster response this year,” commented Mollie Walker, editor of FierceGovernmentIT.  “It also shows agencies are letting this evolve beyond a broadcast medium and seeing the value of a feedback loop for mission-critical action. Although it hasn’t really come to fruition yet (it’s technically in the “operational” phase, though development and migration appear to still be in progress), I think the NARA’s electronic record archive has some positive implications for open government going forward. It’s something to watch for in 2012, but the fact that NARA tied up a lot of loose ends in 2011 was a big win. The open government efforts in the E.U. are also worth noting. While there have been isolated initiatives in the U.S. and U.K., seeing a governing body such as the E.U. set new standards for openness could have a broader impact on how the rest of the world manages and shares public information.”

If you think there’s another story that deserves to be listed, please let us know in the comments.

The year ahead

What should we expect in the year ahead? Some predictions are easier than others. The Pew Internet and Life Project found that more than 50% of U.S. adults used the Internet for political purposes during the 2010 midterm elections. Pew’s research also showed that a majority of U.S. citizens now turn to the web for news and information about politics. Expect that to grow in 2012.

This year, there was evidence of the maker movement’s potential for education, jobs and innovation. That same DIY spirit will matter even more in the year ahead. We also saw the impact of apps that matter, like a mobile geolocation app that connected first responders to heart attack victims. If developers want to make an impact, we need more applications that help us help each another.

In 2011, there were more ways for citizens to provide feedback to their governments than perhaps ever before. In 2012, the open question will be whether “We the People” will use these new participatory platforms to help government work better.

The evolution of these kinds of platforms is neither U.S.-centric nor limited to tech-savvy college students. Citizen engagement matters more now in every sense: crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, crowdmapping, collective intelligence, group translation, and human sensor networks. There’s a growth in “do it ourselves (DIO) government,” or as the folks at techPresident like to say, “We government.” As institutions shift from eGov to WeGov, leaders will be looking more to all of us to help them in the transition.


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