Regular Radar readers know that “Gov 2.0 has gone local,” as local governments look for innovative ways to use technology cooperatively with citizens to deliver smarter government. This week, 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.
I was happy to join Bryan Sivak, chief innovation officer of the state of Maryland; Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Labs; and Abhi Nemani, director of strategy and communications at Code For America, as a guest on the show.
Heather Mizeur, a delegate to the Maryland State Assembly, called in to the show to share what her state has been working on with respect to open government, including streaming video, budget transparency and online access. Mizeur had the one-liner of the day: Commenting on the need to improve Maryland.gov, she observed that “our state website is an eight-track tape player in an iPhone universe.”
An open government linkology
During the program, the @KojoShow producer shared links to sites and services that were mentioned by the guests. These included:
- Maryland’s solicitation for feedback on helpful or hurtful business regulations at <a href="http://http://easy.maryland.gov/"easy.maryland.gov.
- An NPR News feature on the American Legislative Exchange Council and channels of influence in state legislatures.
- Churnalism, an app to discover PR masquerading as original journalism. Could a churnalism model be used to detect similar subtle influences in state legislatures? Sunlight Labs has an ongoing project at OpenStates. Stay tuned.
- Civic engagement platform Change By Us launched in Philadelphia and was open sourced into the Civic Commons.
- Sivak cited Arkansas.gov as a model for well designed government websites. The key is that it’s adapted for mobile visitors.
- Nemani cited Open Data Philly as a local open government platform that uses open standards. It’s open sourced, so that other cities, like Chattanooga, Tenn., can use it to stand up their own open-data efforts.
- The Sportaneous location-aware mobile app uses open-government data to help people find pick-up sports games.
- The StreetBump app uses a smartphone’s accelerometer to automatically report potholes in Boston.
Civic applications enter the mainstream
Recently, civic applications and open data pushed further into the national consciousness with a widely syndicated Associated Press story by Marcus Wohlsen. Here’s how Wohlsen described what’s happening:
Across the country, geeks are using mountains of data that city officials are dumping on the web to create everything from smartphone tree identifiers and street sweeper alarms to neighborhood crime notifiers and apps that sound the alarm when customers enter a restaurant that got low marks on a recent inspection. The emergence of city apps comes as a result of the rise of the open-data movement in U.S. cities, or what advocates like to call “Government 2.0.”
The AP covered Gov 2.0 and the open-government data movement in February, when it looked at how cities were crowdsourcing ideas from citizens, or “citizensourcing.”
It’s great to see what’s happening around the country receive more mainstream attention. Over on Google+, Tim O’Reilly commented on the AP story:
Of all the things that made up the “gov 2.0″ meme, open data may be one of the most important. It’s a key part of government thinking like a platform player rather than an application provider. At Code for America, the work ended up being about liberating data as much as about writing apps. We’re just at the beginning of a really interesting new approach to government services.
Wohlsen captured the paradigm behind Gov 2.0 at the end of his article:
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.
Open311 is a data standard of this sort. So is GTFS. “So much can flow from so little,” noted O’Reilly. “Consider how Google Transit began with outreach from the city of Portland to create GTFS, a standard format for transit data, which was subsequently adopted by other cities. Now, you can get transit arrival times from Google as well as from hundreds of smartphone apps, none of which needed to be written by city government.”
What lies ahead for Gov 2.0 in 2012 has the potential to improve civic life in any number of interesting ways. If the Gov 2.0 movement is to have a lasting, transformative effect, however, what’s described above needs to be the beginning of the story, not the end. That arc will include the results of HHS CTO Todd Park’s efforts to revolutionize the healthcare industry or the work of the Alfred brothers at BrightScope to bring more transparency to financial advisors.
Making Gov 2.0 matter will also mean applying different ways of thinking and new technology to other areas, as FutureGov founder Dominic Campbell commented on Google+:
There aren’t enough of us working to transform, challenge and change the inside of government. Not enough taking on the really sticky issues beyond relatively quick and easy wins, such as transit data or street-scene related apps. This needs to change before anything can be said to have gone mainstream. Disclaimer: this is exactly what we’re looking to do with apps like PatchWorkHQ and CasseroleHQ, starting to hone in on priority, challenging, socially important and costly areas of government, such as child protection and supporting older people to live better independent lives. The journey is far longer and harder, but (we’re hoping) even more rewarding.
More awareness of what’s possible and available will lead to more use of civic applications and thereby interest and demand for open-government data. For instance, on the AP’s Twitter feed, an editor asked more than 634,000 followers this question: “Hundreds of new apps use public data from cities to improve services. Have you tried any?” I’ll ask the same of Radar readers: have you used a civic app? If so, what and where? Did it work? Did you keep it? Please let us know in the comments.