[Video intro ends at 52 seconds; Intro by Dr. Gref ends at 2'18; Speech ends at 11'15; then Q&A]
These remarks have been edited from a 9-minute speech made in Moscow on November 12, 2011 at the 170th anniversary of Sperbank, Russia's largest and oldest financial institution. Speakers at this panel were introduced by Dr. Hermann Gref (CEO and Chairman of the Board, Sperbank, and former Russian Minister of Economic Development and Trade) and included Vladimir Putin, Prof. Jeff Howe (Northeastern), Prof. Tom Malone (MIT) and Dr. Paul Saffo (Managing Director of Foresight, Discern Analytics), Patrick Howard (Vice-President and Global Cloud Leader, IBM Global Business Services) and Klaus Kleinfeld (CEO and Chairman of the Board, Alcoa).
For Prime Minister Putin's presentation, click here.
We’ve heard today that as individuals we are smarter collaborating together than working alone. That is as true for institutions as it is for individuals. We are also smarter working across the boundaries of institutions with groups and individuals outside the walls of a single organization.
Collaboration makes businesses more successful. After all, Sberbank made $30 billion rubles ($1 billion U.S. dollars) as a result of its recent crowdsourcing experiments. But how do we, practically speaking, use technology and these collaborative processes to marry the chaotic success of Wikipedia to the hierarchical institutions of governance and government at the national and local level?
To do so, we have three challenges we must first overcome:
1. Serious Problems: The problems governments face are serious and complex. We live in a world with 7 billion people and soon we’ll live in a world with 10 billion people, 40% of whom will not have access to healthcare, clean water, or basic education. The breakup of the Eurozone is not the same as the Eurovision song contest. Are these kind of contests too frivolous to address the problems we face?
2. Declining Legitimacy: Globally, trust in government institutions is declining. We only need to witness the Arab Spring or the Occupy Wall Street movement. In the United States, by some measures trust in government is at an all time low of 9%. Government has to act with legitimacy. It has to engender trust. It has to have stability in its decision making. Is trying to connect the pulsing, vibrant network to the institution too experimental, too radical for government?
3. Too Costly: Finally, are these techniques too novel for government? It might be nice to have, but is crowdsourcing a must-have that is worth the investment of time and money?
I would argue that collaboration is more important for government than for business in these very tough economic times, because it enables government to deliver better services for less money and more democratically.
First, crowdsourcing is a serious solution to serious problems.
1. Saving Money: Twenty nations, and countless states and local governments, have created and launched national data portals to put out spending data. With information about how government spends money, citizens can crowdsource the development of solutions to spot fraud and waste, such as sophisticated models, visualizations, and predictions. But what they can also do, as in happened in the state of Rajasthan, India, is crowdsource the reading of that data in the town square and the writing of that data on one hundred thousand walls of villages, so people can then identify paychecks that have been written to someone who has died or bridges that were never built when the government claimed that they were.
2. Spotting problems: There are local platforms like See Click Fix, in use now in seventy governments across six continents, that allow for distributed problem spotting. Identifying red lights that are out at intersections or potholes in the street allows government to target the delivery of services more effectively and more cheaply.
3. Innovating Solutions: But crowdsourcing also allows for innovating solutions and not just the spotting of problems. The Department of Defense has used crowdsourcing to design a new combat vehicle. And they got it done not in years, not in months, but with 159 competitive, serious submissions obtained in a matter of weeks. How did this work? The Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative created a single platform called Challenge.gov that makes it simple and easy for every ministry to post a challenge and ask people not simply to suggest ideas but to develop solutions. Our Office initially helped ministries to frame the question, to pick the judges, and to identify their goals. Initially we provided some support centrally to educate the lawyers and the ministries to say “you too can do this,” or “it’s okay to do this.” But very quickly we put ourselves out of business because the ministries began to talk to each other. Now there is an effective community of practice with at least sixty agencies who communicate about the challenges they’ve created, the successes they’ve had, and they have learned from their experience putting these challenges on the web through this single, free platform.
Second, designed right, these are not experimental projects.
Previously, I had some experience creating a platform called Peer to Patent, in which we connected volunteer scientists and technologists to the national patent offices. The program, began in the US, then expanded to the UK, Japan, and Australia. This is is a structured, targeted process that uses rating and ranking - thumbs up and thumbs down - to deliver to the government official not ten thousand suggestions, not one hundred suggestions, but ten pieces of information that will help to inform his or her ultimate decision about the application that deserves a patent. I describe this at length in my book, Wiki Government.
This week, the British Prime Minister announced a new initiative to crowdsource the identification of regulations that are impeding and hindering entrepreneurship of new businesses. But he’s not just asking for those thousand ideas, he’s offering a process to ask the crowd to then help implement those suggestions and gather the data that’s necessary, so that crowdsourcing doesn’t create more work for government officials. It helps them in making their decisions.
Third, innovative solutions such as crowdsourcing are a must have, not just a nice to have. The tools to crowdsource are free or nearly free and the solutions are generated quickly. It makes government cheaper, smarter, and more effective.
In the Department of Veteran Affairs in the United States, the agency asked the nineteen thousand employees for a solution to the problem of how to bring down the wait time for veterans coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq to receive services that are owed to them. The time was reduced from more than a year to now only to a few weeks. It took only one person in the ministry, part time, to run a project that generated involvement from seven thousand employees in the first month alone.
There’s a town in California that just launched an iPhone app that manages a network of trained volunteers who respond when someone has a heart attack but before the ambulance can arrive. This saves lives at no extra cost.
The Latvian Parliament is working with Latvia’s banks to authenticate citizens identities in order to crowdsource the development of new legislation. The legislation is shaped by citizens, who are advised by a network of voluntary experts before the legislation is implemented.
And we’ve heard from the Prime Minister that here members of the public in Russia are helping to rewrite new laws, like a law on fisheries, and working together to supplement official government efforts by providing aid and assistance during the devastating fires that rampaged Moscow last year.
So let me close by saying that we have the means to engage more people in the life of their democracy.
This is not about the technology. That’s free.
It’s about asking questions. It’s about a willingness to ask and to create engaging and accessible opportunities for people to participate. But it’s not the same ad voting. It’s not about creating a single mass process that’s one size fits all. What’s required is crowdsourcing wisely, not crowdsourcing widely: developing many different, small ways for people to lend their expertise, their experience, and their enthusiasm for the public good whether it’s about patents or fish, veterans or potholes.
Churchill said, “democracy is the worst form of government except all others.” But we can do better. And thanks to the techniques that we’ve heard about today, we have the experience to make institutions of our democracy more effective and more participatory. Not just in principle, but in practice. Thomas Jefferson said we can “mak[e] every citizen an acting member of the government in the offices nearest and most interesting to him.” This in turn, Jefferson went on to say, “attaches him by the strongest feelings to the independence of the country and it’s Republican Constitution.”
Clarification: The following are notes of the March 30th workshop at the Sloan Foundation and reflect the views expressed by participants in the workshop not my opinions.
For more on ORGPedia, see the new ORGPedia project page at http://dotank.nyls.edu/orgpedia/.
On March 30th twenty economists, technologists, and government officials (Download Participant List) convened in person and by telephone at the Sloan Foundation in New York to discuss creating an open numbering scheme and platform to facilitate the comparison of data about organizations across levels of government and agencies in order to:
Promote greater accountability and compliance;
Enhance economic growth and innovation; and
Enable research on the evolution of companies and organizations.
This ORGPedia project is convening a wide range of experts to inform the design and scope of:
An open legal identifier system to enable datasets about companies to be compared. Currently, different agencies use different numbering schemes. An open ID will enable taxonomies to “talk” to one another.
An online platform to mash up and visualize authenticated government datasets already collected about firms and organizations pursuant to statute or regulation.
An Application Programming Interface (API) and supporting software libraries to make it easy for third parties to incorporate ORGPedia into their own systems.
A community to encourage public participation in reviewing, annotating and contributing to collected government data whether by companies and organizations or by third parties.
ORGPedia is an experiment in designing an information system that effectively combines authenticated government data with user-contributed information – a hybrid wiki – to enhance public understanding about organizations and firms.
During the March 30th discussion, participants provided their thoughts on the opportunities, challenges, and strategies for implementation, including ideas for how to prototype and pilot a first phase of the system, from the perspective of government and research communities.
This is the first in a series of five planned workshops. The Sunlight Foundation will host a second meeting on April 8th to focus on issues of corporate accountability and compliance. There will be subsequent meetings focused on the needs of those businesses who consume business intelligence; the technology design; and the international opportunities and implications.
For a longer description of ORGPedia see this backgrounder (HTML, Download PDF).
The following are notes summarizing the discussion among participants at the March 30th Meeting:
There are 18 million registered legal entities in the United States. Having the ability to compare and track data about them would make it possible to:
Compare datasets about legal entities across regulatory regimes and states
Track changes in control and ownership
In order to make information more transparent to the public; facilitate information sharing across agencies and states; and streamline regulatory compliance by pre-populating information requests with information about entities.
Imagine if, as with the Encyclopedia of Life, which creates a page for every organism on earth, we had a system with a page for every legal entity on earth. Imagine if we had an “ISBN number” for every entity. It would enable all kinds of new services and research. This has become possible in the last few years as a result of advances in web technology and policies for opening up access to public data. The challenge is that firms evolve faster than fish and firms can morph into new firms with different names and owners through changes in control.
At root, we must address the fundamental microeconomic problem of identifying the boundaries of the firm. What if Adam Smith’s pin factory had a financing arm? Or an exclusive steel supplier? We now have the technology to represent these relationships and make the transparent.
Benefits to Government:
Having stable, unique identifier system by means of a single number or a data dictionary to translate across numbering schemes (or both – a single entity identifier plus a way to translate other common fields across schemes) would enable comparison of corporate activity across levels of government, states and across agencies. Right now we don’t know if a company doing business in one state is the same or related to a company doing business in another state. So when malfeasance is committed in one place, we are missing an opportunity to be on the look out before it happens in another state. It would be incredibly valuable to have a way to generate early warning signals.
Having a unique identifier or the ability to pull data from a common and authenticated collection of data about an entity would reduce the transaction costs to entities wishing to comply with requirements across multiple states.
The federal government alone spends $3.5 trillion. Public should be able to slice and dice. In order to make the information about how government spends accessible to people, we need to be able to trace this money even when companies change ownership and name. For example, when Boeing acquires McDonnell Douglas, a search today does not connect these two entities to provide an accurate picture.
Even though we track to the subcontractor level, we have none of the history to connect affiliates and see relationships.
This makes having a unique identifier a priority. If we had the ability to trace changes such as mergers, we could better understand the connection, if any, between government grants/contracts and campaign contributions; we could spot fraud and remove offending companies from the rolls across agencies.
Some discussion about needing a level of private information, especially about the individuals involved, even as we maintain public information at the entity level.
Benefits For Researchers:
Think about scholars working with firm as unit of analysis – engaging in same redundant transaction costs – cries out for public data set.
There are huge transaction costs associated with doing work about firms. Data sets tends to be proprietary, limited in scope and the info is at best outdated and, at worst, just terrible.
Accounting, business strategy, information technology management, finance, political science scholars are all engaging in the same socially wasteful redundant activity of trying to clean and match this data. If we could free up some of the time spent on cleaning data, we would free up researcher capacity.
For example, NYTimes did Pulitzer Prize piece on worker death at a manufacturing firm. It was tremendously labor intensive and next to impossible, to investigate the environmental compliance record of the same entity, though preliminary analysis showed they were turning in the same topic release statements to regulators each year rather than developing new figures.
If we wanted to “mash up” OSHA compliance data with EPA compliance data, we can’t do it today. Researchers have the interest but the incompleteness makes it so hard.
Over 50% of the business outputs in the United States are coming from intangibles. But there is no way to match up firms with IP output because we can’t connect patent registrations to the registrations to the entities that hold IP. At a time when innovation is becoming more important as a driver of the economy, this work is more important not less.
The field of business history is dying off because of difficulty of doing empirical research.
Technologically, this problem is not unlike the naming issues we face today in trying to create websites (or banking codes) to identify entities, ie. sloan.org and we’re now trying to make sense of the secondary pages like the About page, address page etc. which search engines know how to do.
We have the ability to map when a firm is taken over, complex interdependencies, who owns what.
Visualizations will help make this data more usable. We can show where data came from, whether it is authenticated government data, or contributed by the public.
The technology platforms for building this kind of site exists. There are no show stoppers. Some work will be needed at the applied research level to transition technology from research to practice but there are existing models.
The Encyclopedia of Life (eol.org), funded by Sloan, provides some important organizational lessons learned about running a system of this type and complexity with a mix of authoritative and open information.
Adding a signal field to existing identifier systems (ie. a universal identifier) might not be hard. Adding several fields to track changes in control, however, could be costly. However, there are Web technologies that can mitigate most of this cost if properly deployed.
What is the right role of the government? Should the government own such a system or should it be a stand-alone non-profit? What is the right governance structure to ensure legitimacy?
Pilot and Partners
Three areas of focus for potential pilot/prototype came up:
Mashing up Environment and Labor enforcement databases
Mashing up SEC’s XBRL data about public companies with state registrations to track and display changes in ownership
Mashing up patent office applications with state corporate registrations to see who is patenting what
The National Organization of Secretaries of State would be a natural partner for implementing the necessary changes.
Also check out B-Lab at http://www.bcorporation.net/, a younger, more entrepreneurial set of companies committed to social benefit who might be willing to test contributing more of their data to be used in a pilot.
Check out: Bottega and Powell, Creating a Linchpin for Financial Data: Toward a Universal Legal Entity Identifier (http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/feds/2011/201107/index.html)
Check out: UK Companies House, which does impose an LEI but would benefit from the win/win of gains to companies and transparency of getting companies to share their data through such a platform. There will be a June/July paper on corporate reporting.
Check out the book: The Demography of Corporations
The House of Representatives is proposing cutbacks to the E-Gov fund to reduce it down to $2 million.
Without the funding, the USA will not be able to maintain the national spending data portal (USASpending.gov) and the national data transparency portal (Data.gov).
These are the tools that make openness real in practice. Without them, transparency becomes merely a toothless slogan.
There is a reason why fourteen other countries whose governments are left- and right-wing are copying data.gov. Beyond the democratic benefits of facilitating public scrutiny and improving lives, open data of the kind enabled by USASpending and Data.gov save money, create jobs and promote effective and efficient government. As the Economist writes: “Public access to government figures is certain to release economic value and encourage entrepreneurship. That has already happened with weather data and with America’s GPS satellite-navigation system that was opened for full commercial use a decade ago. And many firms make a good living out of searching for or repackaging patent filings.”
For those interested in the topic, there's a longer discussion here in the Open Data, Open Society report. But here are a few, short reasons.
By making available the raw information about how government spends money, it is affording the opportunity to Congress, among others, to analyze the data and spot patterns of fraud, waste and abuse. Here's one example published today. Because of the availability of data on these sites, the US attracts free evaluation by academics and others. This kind of (free) feedback loop aids with analyzing what works and saving the taxpayer money. But we can't streamline government without access to the data.
Moreover, hidden within the troves of public data being made available through data.gov (and in the pipeline on their way to data.gov) is information that could translate into private sector job growth and the next GPS or genomics industry.
Here are a number of examples:
BrightScope has made a profitable business of using government data about 401(k) plans. They’ve raised $2 million in venture capital and hired 30 people and is likely to double headcount to at least 60 by the end of the year. They did $2M in sales in 2010 and are currently on a $10M+ run rate for 2011.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency in the United States has a ~$5 billion dollar annual budget. Through the open release of data, NOAA is catalyzing at least 100 times that value in the private sector market of weather and climate services when including market and non-market valuations. As just one example of a market that uses NOAA data, the total value of weather derivative trading has been estimated at $15.0 billion in 2007-2008.
The ~$1 billion it spends on the National Weather Service enabled weather.com, which has since been sold for $3.5 billion.
The Health datasets (health.data.gov) on Data.Gov are unleashing the wider software development community to build robust tools that stimulate entrepreneurship and help Americans lead healthier lives.
The availability of ten year's of Federal Register data sets on Data.gov enabled three young programmers to design the new FederalRegister.gov, the daily gazette of government, and, at the same time, do business with the Federal government for the first time.
Promoting Innovation and Efficiency
By making government data available through these E-Gov programs, public officials can then reach outside of government for creative answers to tough problems, which, in turns help with identifying strategies that are more effective and save money.
HHS CTO, Todd Park, gives several examples here of how the 1170 health data sets now available on data.gov are creating the "rocket fuel" for public sector innovation. In this era when government is trying to curtail spending, E-Gov technology creates opportunities to identify creative solutions for delivering services in new ways. The value from “doing more with less” is the potentially biggest payoff of the kinds of tools supported by the E-Gov fund. Also if Congress ever wants to cut the number of regulations then it has to support the availability of data to inform the identification of more efficient strategies.
If we care about saving money, creating jobs and doing more with less, we should ensure that this budget remains intact.
The Bush administration’s latest move is to simply hide the data. Forbes has awarded EconomicIndicators.gov one of its “Best of the Web” awards. As Forbes explains, the government site provides an invaluable service to the public for accessing U.S. economic data:
This site is maintained by the Economics and Statistics Administration and combines
data collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, like GDP and net
imports and exports, and the Census Bureau, like retail sales and
durable goods shipments. The site simply links to the relevant
department’s Web site. This might not seem like a big deal, but doing
it yourself–say, trying to find retail sales data on the Census
Bureau’s site–is such an exercise in futility that it will convince you why this portal is necessary.
Economic Indicators is particularly useful because people can sign
up to receive e-mails as soon as new economic data across government
agencies becomes available. While the data will still be available
online at various federal websites, it will be less readily accessible
to members of the public.
In its e-mail announcement on the closing of Economic Indicators,
the Department of Commerce acknowledged the “inconvenience” and offered
“a free quarterly subscription to STAT-USA®/Internet™” instead. Once
this temporary subscription runs out, however, the public will be
forced to pay a fee. So not only will economic data be more hidden, it
will also cost money.
It’s ironic that the Economic and Statistics Administration is
facing “budgetary contraints,” considering Bush recently submitted a record $3.1 trillion budget to Congress for FY ‘09.
The Washington Post published an article about the new reginfo online version of the federal regulatory agenda. "For U.S. rule-watchers who live in the digital world, the new searchable online version of the Bush administration's semi-annual regulatory agenda is an early holiday gift. For those who like to scoff at 1,500-page lists of documents, it's cause for Scrooge-like complaints. In print, the agenda is slimmed down to a mere 483 pages in the Dec. 10 Federal Register. That compares with the 1,700-page online edition, which contains the administration's full list of proposed and expected health, safety and other rules....Now you can search for a 2005 proposal by the Department of Health and
Human Services to set standards for a sort of retirement home for
chimpanzees used in federal research. Or you can discover a recent
rulemaking to determine whether passengers on small planes should get
compensation when they are bumped off of a flight on which they have
If I take 10 minutes, I can come up with ten better ways this information could have been made publicly available online, some of which are suggested by the article. Other ideas?
1) List rules in terms of priorities, not agencies. Let's see what matters! 2) Make rules taggable and therefore searchable by subject more readily. Now they can only be searched by name of agency. 3) Post a list of questions with each rule on which citizen participation is sought or let people come up with their own questions. 4) Show, using a timeline or some other visual metric, how a rule has progressed and whether stated targets have been met. 5) Offer an API to allow others to mash-up and make good use of this data. 6) Connect the rules to opportunities for action - allow people to comment on pending rules or at least link back to www.regulations.gov. 7) Show the connections between the stated regulatory priorities enunciated in each agency's statement and the agency rule list. 8) Link back to the rules themselves. Now I can see a summary and then I have to go to another website type in the legal citation and then pull up the rule. 9) Tell me something about what a rule is likely to cost. Show me the environmental and other impact statements that might have been filed in connection with the rule. 10) Taking a cue from the Washington Watch wiki, create a mirror version of each regulatory agenda and each rule and let people annotate them.
From Congress Daily, 12/13/07, Senators Launch New Effort To Put CRS Reports Online
A bipartisan group of Senate heavyweights has introduced a resolution to require the Congressional Research Service provide online public access to all its reports, in what could be the strongest in a series of attempts to force CRS to make its work widely available.Introduced Tuesday by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine; Judiciary Chairman Leahy; Agriculture Chairman Harkin; Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the resolution mandates that the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms work with the director of CRS to put the service's reports online.CRS has long resisted making its reports available to the public despite criticism from advocates of government transparency who say the reports are paid for by taxpayers and would illuminate issues facing Congress. They are released only to members and their aides. Similar legislative efforts have failed. This one could succeed because the Senate can mandate the change without consulting the House and because of the seniority of
the sponsors, said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy."This is a tough nut to crack . . . but if these senators cannot make this happen, then it's not going to happen," he said.
I remember a talk by Cary Coglianese, then of Harvard, now of Penn, where he demonstrated how it took him -- one of the country's leading experts on administrative law -- over an hour to find a government regulation online. And not some obscure regulation, mind you, but one that was the subject of a front-page New York Times article. His students had long before given up in despair and frustration.
This chase down the rabbit hole in search of information was despite the fact that the E-Government Act of 2002 was supposed to make agency information electronically available. But available means more than putting it on a server. It has to be findable to be useful to citizens in a democracy.
Hence the Web 2.0 and "search" gurus were on Capitol Hill yesterday talking to Congress about how to make government information easier to find. This comes just as the Center for Democracy and Technology releases its report, "Hiding in Plain Sight: Why Important Governmental Information Cannot be Found through Commercial Search Engines."
The House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform releases report on White House effort to manipulate climate change science.
"For the past 16 months, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been investigating allegations of political interference with government climate change science under the Bush Administration. During the course of this investigation, the Committee obtained over 27,000 pages of documents from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Commerce Department, held two investigative hearings, and deposed or interviewed key officials. Much of the information made available to the Committee has never been publicly disclosed. This report presents the findings of the Committee’s investigation. The evidence before the Committee leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming."
and Fastcase, Inc. announced today that they will
release a large and free archive of federal case law, including all Courts of Appeals
decisions from 1950 to the present and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754.
The archive will be public domain and usable by anyone for any purpose. James Grimmelmann and his students are working on doing this for District Court through their Open Access Law project . Carl Malamud's tireless efforts to liberate government data should not be necessary. See Obama Tech Plan, which would hopefully allow Carl to fight the good fight on another front.