[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.”
Thank you and happy birthday.
Network technology has irrevocably changed campaigning and elections. It has the potential to transform governance and the workings of our democracy for the better. These improvements, however, have been slow in coming. Innovations in governance have been thwarted by politics as usual and resistance to devolution of power away from hierarchical bureaucracy to networks of diverse, public participants. In Tripoli, Tottenham or Wall Street people have been protesting failed policies and a lack of opportunity to participate in elections once every two or four years. Whether in failed states or old democracies, most simply want a state that works. But they have lost faith in government and other centralized institutions of power. For example, just eleven percent of Americans polled express optimism about the future of the United States government. Churchill was fond of saying that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others, but by democracy he surely meant something better than this.
Democratic elections alone do not remedy the crisis of confidence in government. Moreover, there is no viable justification for a democratic system in which public participation is limited to voting. We live in a world in which ordinary people write Wikipedia, the most comprehensive and highest quality global encyclopedia; spend their evenings moving a telescope via the Internet and making discoveries half a world away; get online to help organize a protest in cyberspace and in the physical world, such as the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia or the demonstrations of the ‘indignados’ throughout Spain; or pore over purloined State Department cables.
The same technologies enabling us to work together at a distance are creating the expectation to do better at governing ourselves. But to achieve the twin goals of more participatory and effective governance, we must innovate in how we govern. Thanks to technology, if we have the will to do so, we also now have the opportunity.
Continue Reading Evolving Democracy (Download Evolving Democracy). Approx 10 pages.
 New Poll Finds Deep Distrust of Government, New York Times, October 25, 2011 (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/us/politics/poll-finds-anxiety-on-the-economy-fuels-volatility-in-the-2012-race.html).
 Sir Winston Churchill, Speech Before the House of Commons, Hansard, November 11, 1947 (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1947/nov/11/parliament-bill#column_206).
Both Congress and the White House have taken initial steps toward creating greater transparency in reporting federal spending. While preliminary, these efforts could have a far-reaching impact on how governments collect and publish data from the entities they regulate.
Done right, new rules can create greater transparency and accountability while reducing the paperwork burden on regulated entities. At present, however, both sides' proposals fall short. They fail to recognize that spending is only one type of data collected from players from whom data is repeatedly and inefficiently gathered.
We offer some suggestions for improvement that could lead to reduced compliance and investment costs, improved corporate accountability, greater consumer protection, and will also create new research and reporting test beds to foster data-driven journalism and scholarship about the life of organizations.
The DATA Bill
In mid-June, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2011 (DATA), calling for quarterly reporting of all federal spending, including grants, contracts and subcontracts by both the recipients and the awarding agencies to an independent successor to the board previously established to oversee the implementation of the Recovery Act. DATA would effectively strip the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of much of its oversight over federal spending reviews. However, DATA also calls for OMB to set standards about which data elements are to be used in reporting and to follow international, open and non-proprietary models such as XBRL. All reported data is to be published online and, to the greatest extent possible, the process automated to maximize transparency.
Executive Order on Accountability
On the same day, the President issued an executive order on Delivering an Efficient, Effective, Accountable Government, calling for agencies to reduce fraud, waste, and abuse and centralizing control over these accountability efforts with the Chief Performance Officer in OMB. The EO, too, calls for the creation of a new Transparency and Accountability Board, in this case, however, comprising agency personnel from the executive branch.
Without opining here on the jurisdictional debate between branches of government over the control, composition and authority of the new board, there are provisions that could be improved both in the draft legislation and in any subsequent guidance to serve the bi-partisan goals of greater transparency regarding how data is collected and published.
First, the DATA bill provides that items reported include name and address of recipient but no requirement that corporate persons identify the beneficial owner nor any parent-subsidiary corporate relationships. This week the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed draft "know your counter party" rules for complex financial transactions known as swaps as part of its new package of rules implementing the Dodd-Frank legislation. In the same way, it is entirely doable to add simple provisions to the DATA bill that would mandate disclosure of the ownership and structure of recipients at whatever level of specificity will best enable the public to know who is really receiving the money and how they relate to other recipients.
Second, entities could be mandated to use consistent legal entity identifiers by, for example, picking their corporate entity from a selection list. This will be useful for building a more consistent, open and standard library of legal entity identifiers within the federal government. By moving toward a standard list of names in the federal spending domain, we will help agencies to amass a library of common corporate names across different regulatory regimes. Currently, one federal agency might refer to a company as ABC Inc. while another uses ABC Corp. We can help solve this problem by mandating open, universal identifiers here rather than exacerbate it by creating yet another IT system with yet another set of disparate naming conventions.
Third, while mandating a single way of naming a legal entity is important, it's not sufficient to address the fact that every agency also collects different information, ie. names of facilities or securities controlled by that entity. We shouldn't be designing and building a system for reporting spending in a vacuum and focusing only on those limited data elements. Instead, DATA and bills like it should mandate a process that leads toward a single, universal, entity identifier for naming firms with the requirement that additional data fields be open and interoperable. We want the spending data to be able to "talk" to other data collected about corporate compliance and innovation so we can “mash up” data across agency responsibilities - for example, linking patent activity with the data about federal contracting. The DATA bill describes only a limited universe of approved standards and the EO is silent on the topic. Instead, any new requirements should mandate the use of non-proprietary, interoperable data elements not subject to any license fees or restrictions on reuse.
Fourth, data release through the federal data.gov, or via the many data sharing sites being developed by states, cities and tribal governments throughout the US, drives innovation and the development of innovative new startups. This side benefit to our economy should be augmented in data transparency legislation by allowing thatnew data standards promulgated for use in reporting federal spending should be subject to public consultation, letting developers and others help make sure the systems are open. The data should also be available in a machine-readable format, to encourage this sharing, with transparency legislation mandating the development of APIs for information sharing. The DATA bill does recognize the need to allow data to be linked, but it is an ambiguous, throwaway reference to Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs) in 3612(d)(3)(H). Strengthening this requirement would significantly lower the effort to reporters, economic researchers, and systems developers to reuse this data in our increasingly information-driven economy.
Fifth, there is no authority in either the EO or the DATA bill to create pilot projects and iterate. We don’t understand the problem of inconsistent spending reporting well enough to design -- whether by the legislative or executive branch -- "the" system. Instead, we ought to be allowing small-scale pilots (potentially funded by prize-backed challenges) seeing what works, and trying again. Further, if the data is made available in machine-readable ways, new systems to make the data more transparent and useful can and will arise outside the government through crowsourced design and use. This will reduce the development costs while simultaneously allowing more designs to be explored. In the government, making large-scale “legacy” data systems interoperable is a hard problem that we are trying to retrofit without great expense. This requires more humility and the qualifications to try new policies, technologies, rules and standards. This isn't reflected in the legislation or in the composition and role of the Boards proposed. (We note that the UK’s Data Transparency Board includes a combination of government representatives and outside experts from corporations and academia, and would encourage the US government to consider a similar approach.)
Outside the government, we have been advocating the creation of an Open Organizational Data Project (http://dotank.nyls.edu/orgpedia), which is committed to assisting with the development of open, interoperable, non-proprietary standards for reporting data collected by government about firms and other corporate entities. With the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, we are at the beginning stages of thinking through the legal, policy and technology framework for a data exchange that can facilitate efficient comparison of organizational data across regulatory schemes as well as allowing public reuse and annotation of that data. Currently, we are convening workshops with relevant stakeholders and developing a functional prototype of such a system. As part of this project, we will also continue to curate feedback on legislative and regulatory approaches to achieving greater transparency, efficiency and accountability.
credit: John Klossner, Federal Computer Week. Originally printed here.
The following post is a new and improved version of What's in a Name: Good Gov and Open Gov recently posted on HuffPo:
Recently the White House launched a new website about Good Government at www.whitehouse.gov/goodgovernment.
The name change appears to be responding to the demands of major watchdog groups, who want "accountability data," including information about government spending and the workings of political officials, such as salaries, travel and meeting schedules of cabinet secretaries.
The problem with aligning the White House's goals to a traditional reform agenda is not only having to endure Jon Stewart's scathing yet humorous attacks on any failures to deliver (no government can ever be transparent enough), but that the White House Open Government Initiative that I directed and the Open Government Directive instructing agencies to adopt open government were never exclusively about making transparent information about the workings of government.
Open government is an innovative strategy for changing how government works. By using network technology to connect the public to government and to one another informed by open data, an open government asks for help with solving problems. The end result is more effective institutions and more robust democracy.
Putting a cabinet secretary's schedule, for example, up online does little to produce greater accountability or better government. At least there's no empirical evidence to suggest that it does. By contrast, when HHS makes hundreds of datasets about health and wellness available online and invites .orgs and .coms to transform that data into tools that help individuals, institutions and communities make smarter decisions that improve the quality and reduce the cost of healthcare, government is partnering with the public to solve problems more collaboratively. The public isn't simply accepting the solution that government comes up with but creating new services and solutions. I've written earlier about how this kind of co-creation makes government institutions work better, creates jobs and economic growth, and engages people in governance.
Agencies across the executive branch have been working to adopt the practices of open innovation -- namely creating more collaborative strategies for working with the public, informed by open data about everything from bridge safety to air quality, to achieve their core mission better.
The aim of open government is to take advantage of the know-how and entrepreneurial spirit of those outside government institutions to work together with those inside government to solve problems. For example, whereas we must know about radiation levels from Japan and oil contamination in the Gulf and cost overuns in the public sector, most important is that government invite "all hands on deck" to develop innovative solutions to crises such as these--solutions that government doesn't always readily devise on its own.
So if open gov is a confusing name why did we name it the White House Open Government Initiative?
Two years ago I published a book called Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful. In it, I advocate the principle of collaborative democracy that emphasizes the ability of ordinary people using network technology to do extraordinary things by working together for the public good. Collaborative democracy is an answer to those who think that the public is only capable of voting once every four years and who ignore citizen coders who redesign the Federal Register and create useful apps for better healthcare; citizen activists who build a powerful first responder network; citizen scientists who solve scientific challenges; and citizen archivists who improve government recordkeeping.
When I had the opportunity to work with colleagues on turning collaborative governance into a national agenda for the Obama Campaign, Obama-Biden Transition and then in the White House, I didn't want to name our White House project in a way that could be construed as promoting my book. Collaboration: out. Wiki Gov: out.
Gov 2.0 is a popular term but puts the emphasis on technology when our goal was to focus on changing how government institutions work for the better. Our work was not limited to doing the cool stuff of Silicon Valley in the staid world of Washington. Technology is only one means to the end of changing how we work—of finding practical ways to take advantage of the intelligence, skills and expertise of others. And, besides, it was a brand already in widespread commercial use. For purposes of use in the White House, anything 2.0: out.
Open gov was actually a shorthand for open innovation or the idea that working in a transparent, participatory, and collaborative fashion helps improve performance, inform decisionmaking, encourage entrepreneurship, and solve problems more effectively. By working together as team with government in productive fashion, the public can then also help to foster accountability.
In retrospect, "open government" was a bad choice. It has generated too much confusion. Many people, even in the White House, still assume that open government means transparency about government. But through it's repeated use to describe the transformational work underway in governments around the world, especially in the federal agencies in the US, we can rescue the term and clarify its original meaning.
The unveiling of the Good Government website brings into stark relief two (not the only two, by any means) different approaches to making government more effective: Good Government reformers who focus on a certain kind of transparency and the Open Government innovators who focus on collaboration informed by data.
The reformer wants more information about how government functions. For example, he demands to see the travel schedule of the Cabinet Secretary. When he doesn't get it, he sues. When he does, he works with the media to make sense of it and point out fraud, waste and abuse.
The innovator recognizes that the public schedule provides little insight into how power is wielded. Instead, he wants the Cabinet Secretary to use network technology to invite the public to identify creative solutions to the problems he's going to discuss on those trips. Therefore the innovator also needs a broader kind of data about health, education, or the economy so that she can engage in informed collaboration. She doesn't have to sue for the data because the agency knows that with the information in hand, the innovator is going to build productive tools, apps and visualizations to transform that data into useful knowledge.
Unless we think that government has all the answers (and not many Americans think it does), we need to create more participatory institutions.
There's a happy ending to this story. At the same time as the White House launched the Good Government brand, it also hired a phenomenal United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Public Sector Innovation, Chris Vein (former CIO of San Francisco).
By dividing the world into Good Government and Public Sector Innovation, the White House may be well-poised to work with both the reformers and the innovators to pursue accountable and participatory government.
Just as what we used to call e-commerce is now just commerce, if eventually government works with citizens to address challenges, it won't matter if we talk about government open gov, good gov, e-gov, or wegov. We will simply enjoy functioning, legitimate -- Government.
Updated April 19
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:
This ORGPedia project is convening a wide range of experts to inform the design and scope of:
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.
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:
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:
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.
I'm trying something new. As a condition for granting any interviews, I'm now quid pro quo asking to interview the interviewer. I find that reporters and writers often have more breadth of knowledge about a field than anyone else. And I want to learn something!
Recently, I talked with Laurence Millar, who was New Zealand government CIO until May 2009 and is the editor-at-large for FutureGov magazine. Here's the first of my comments to him. What follows is what he said to me about open gov in New Zealand:
The current government in New Zealand took some time to cotton on to open government. I think that, in general, the left wing's political values are more naturally attuned the values of open government. As you point out, the UK has continued the work started under the previous government, so maybe it is more to do with the timing of the Open Government movement.
We have established a group of ICT Ministers, led by Bill English, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. I think he likes Open Government because he sees it as a way he can enlist the public as agents of change to improve government performance. In NZ, we have a politically neutral public service, so incoming governments always look for levers that they can use to move forward with their policies -- to move the bureaucracy. In New Zealand open gov been driven by enthusiastic individuals in the public service (who come from the open government values of them individually). It is bottom up rather than being top down by the manifesto.
Ministers have endorsed the Directions and Priorities for government ICT, which include a statement of support for Open and Transparent Government, with three workstreams
It is not quite as snappy as your mantra – transparency, collaboration and participation.
There is a group of agency Chief Executives, led by Land Information New Zealand, who provide leadership in the area of Open and Transparent Government, and there are champions in each department to push open government. The initial momentum has definitely come from the bureaucrats, bottom up, rather than being part of the manifesto of the politically elected leaders..
Tell me about the most interesting and innovative projects like the Mix-and-Mash Competition?
We discovered that if you find something for people to rally around that creates moments - for instance, the mix-and-mash, similar to your Apps for America. The winner was a mashup of walking tracks, using data provided by the Department of Conservation. There was quite a lot of anxiety about putting data that was not accurate, but what they found was that people were willing to update the map based on their experience on the ground. So we saw the virtuous cycle of crowdsourcing data quality improvement.
We've also had a powerful reminder of the power of crowdsourcing after the Christchurch earthquake. Eq.org.nz was a community-based website fed from e-mails and SMS twitter and Facebook notifications like "this ATM is working," "this supermarket has food," "you can get fresh water here," "pharmacies are available." The information is then pushed back out by Twitter, RSS, smartphone apps, and printed maps are distributed at community briefings. They even send out information via teletext. The site used the CrisisCommons foundation work, and enlisted about 120 volunteers from around the world to do quality assurance on the information, operating 24 x 7.
We don't have as many people here. We don't have the depth and cross-section of .gov, .org, .edu who can work with government data to improve the quality of life but we are building and growing this community.
Official sources can only process so much information, and they rightly focus on life and death, rescue and infrastructure issues. There is lot more involved in returning to normal daily life, and so the site extends the information published by official sources. I have been saying that the site provides information that is not important enough to be official information, but is still important to people recovering from civic emergency. It is first time I've seen cognitive surplus in action (or as you call it, civic surplus).
Beth: So what happened with the police wiki?
Not much happened to build on the experience; we did have some other successes in e-participation at the time, but nothing like using a wiki to revise legislation. I guess it was our Bob Beamon moment – it was so far ahead of the thinking at the time, no-one has yet caught up.
Over the last two years, the public sector has begun to experiment with open innovation by releasing data, trying new forms of citizen engagement, pursuing multi-sector partnerships, using prizes as incentives to solve problems and using other techniques to enable government and the public to solve problems together.
Because of the rapid pace of "open gov" and "gov 2.0" innovation, there is an urgent need to figure out what's working and what's not and to develop metrics that we can put in place at the start of new projects to understand the impact. If governments are to accelerate the pace of innovation, we want to make sure the research community is helping to ensure that these innovations are improving the functioning of government institutions, empowering citizens and strengthening democracy.
I am really excited to be speaking at this upcoming event. It's a "Noah's Ark of scholars" in that there are no more than 2 people from each discipline. Should be tremendously interesting and, hopefully, launch a community of researchers interested in and willing to study the future of institutions in the 21st century.
According to the organizers, due to space limitations, conference will be limited to .edu and .gov. But sessions will be videotaped and made available online.
Open Government Research & Development Summit
March 21-22, 2011
Monday 1:00 - 6:30 plus reception
Tuesday 8:30 – 4:45
Please R.S.V.P. by March 16, 2011 to firstname.lastname@example.org
National Archives and Records Administration
McGowan Theater, National Archives Building
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20408-0001
The summit will set the foundation for a robust R&D agenda that ensures the benefits of open government are widely realized, with emphasis on how open government can spur economic growth and improve the lives of everyday Americans. The President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology noted the importance of establishing an R&D agenda for open government in their recent report. This will be the first opportunity for researchers, scholars, and open government professionals to begin a discussion that will continue at academic centers throughout the country over the next few years.
Government innovators will talk about openness in the context of education, health, and economic policy, and international open government. Speakers include Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States.
Panelists made up of scholars, activists, and present and former policymakers will then discuss the important research questions that researchers must grapple with in order to ensure lasting success in the open government space. Panels will discuss issues such as how to safely release data without creating mosaic effects. Panelists include Jim Hendler (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Noshir Contractor (Northwestern University), Archon Fung (Harvard University), Chris Vein (U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer), Beth Noveck (New York Law School), and Susan Crawford (Yeshiva University).
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) are hosting this summit, with support from the MacArthur Foundation. The conference is free to attend. We are preparing an agenda for distribution.
TESTIMONY OF DR. BETH S. NOVECK
HEARING OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON ACCESS TO INFORMATION, PRIVACY, AND ETHICS HOUSE OF COMMONS CANADA
MARCH 2, 2011
[This is the version as delivered.]
Chairman Murphy and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for the honor of appearing before you today.
By way of background, I served for two years as the United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government and led the White House Open Government Initiative. I am also a law professor at New York Law School where my research focuses on the impact of new technology on legal and political institutions.
You have asked me to join you today to reflect about the meaning and value of open government and to share some insights about creating an open government culture in practice. The views represented in this testimony are entirely my own and are not intended to represent official United States government positions.
I would like to tell you briefly about the White House Open Government Initiative and what we did to begin the process of changing the culture of government. I will then share ten principles for designing open government institutions and conclude with a few thoughts about open data. But first let me begin by laying out why I believe open government matters.
Open government goes far beyond transparency. Opening up how institutions work to enable greater collaboration – open innovation - affords the opportunity to use network technology to discover creative solutions to challenges that a handful of people in Ottawa or Washington might not necessarily devise. By itself, government doesn’t have all the answers.
In the network age, twenty-first-century institutions are not bigger or smaller ones: they are smarter hybrids that leverage somewhat anarchic technologies within tightly controlled bureaucracies to connect the organization to a network of people in order to devise new approaches that would never come from within the bureaucracy itself. By using technology to build connections between institutions and networks, we can open up new, manageable and useful ways for government and citizens to solve problems together. Everyone is an expert in something and so many would be willing to participate if given the opportunity to bring our talents, skills, expertise and enthusiasm to bring to bear for the public good.
Government agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration use their role as honest brokers to coordinate unprecedented data sharing among government, universities and companies. As a result, researchers are finding with astonishing rapidity the biological markers that show the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the human brain. By collaborating to share all of their data and making it available to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world, the project enables researchers to build upon one another’s work and make faster progress. The collaborators are achieving in record time together what no one company or researcher could or would have done alone.
As President Obama recently said, “we cannot win the future with a government of the past.” The real motivator for changing how government works is to make government more democratic. Providing opportunities for citizens to collaborate is vital to fostering an engaged and democratic citizenry. Especially in this era when journalism is in economic transition, we have to look to new strategies that leverage technology to create democratic accountability by making many more people partners in the co-creation of governance.
The White House Open Government Initiative
On his first full day in office, President Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, calling for “unprecedented level of openness in Government” and creating public institutions governed by the values of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. The White House Open Government Initiative, a collaboration between the White House and all the major Departments and agencies, was coordinated by White House Counsel, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Two years later and every cabinet department and major agency in the U.S. has a brainstorming website for public consultation and can visit the General Services Administration’s apps.gov online catalog to select from many more. The White House alone has eight Twitter accounts, including an open government account (@opengov) with over 150,000 followers, and many Cabinet Secretaries as well as their Departments tweet. Each of these organizations also has a fully articulated Open Government Plan, laying out concrete and specific steps they will take to make themselves more transparent, participatory and collaborative.
Agencies are putting up thousands of collections of government information online on their own agency websites and making those data sets searchable through the national data portal – Data.gov. In addition, agencies and the White House are reaching out to get “all hands on deck” to solve problems through Challenge.gov, the new national website that offers prize-backed rewards for the development of creative solutions to problems.
In its first two years, the Obama Administration started to experiment with collaboration in day-to-day governance. These “open government” initiatives have demonstrated that, when thoughtfully designed, participation can yield productive and creative solutions to serious issues.
As you will hear today, when the National Archives wanted to improve the Federal Register, the notoriously impenetrable daily gazette of government, it launched a prize-backed challenge and ended up turning to three young programmers, who had developed a highly readable prototype while sitting in a cafe in San Francisco. For the first time in the Federal Register’s seventy-five year history, a member of the public can easily read and search it.
When the Department of Health and Human Services wanted to help policymakers and citizens make more informed decisions about their healthcare, it made hundreds of public health indicators available online and invited companies and individuals to transform this raw Community Health Data into useful tools and visualizations. Within three months, people outside of government developed two-dozen innovations to improve community health. Since that time, they have developed many more.
When the United States Patent and Trademark Office, beleaguered by over a million backlogged pending applications, wanted to devise a way to get at better information faster to inform the determination of the patent examiner, it launched a pilot program with my law school called Peer-to-Patent to connect the institution to a network of volunteer scientists and technologists who contributed their own know-how and rated and ranked each other’s submissions for relevance and accuracy.
“Transparency, participation, collaboration” is, by no means, an exclusively American mantra. Ten countries have launched national data portals to make public information transparent and accessible in raw formats. The British Parliament is debating amending its Freedom of Information Act to provide that, when so requested, the government must “provide the information to the applicant in an electronic form which is capable of re-use.” Poland and Brazil are also working on open access legislation. Ten Downing Street like the White House has invited the citizenry and civil servants to brainstorm ideas for how to cut spending. They both publish government contracting data. Australia launched a national Government 2.0 taskforce to explore opportunities for citizen engagement. The United Nations and the World Bank are jumping on the open-data and collaboration bandwagon. India and the United States have an open government partnership. Local governments from Amsterdam to Vladivostok are implementing tools bring citizens into governance processes to help with everything from policing to public works in manageable and relevant ways.
Last September, President Obama gave a boost to the international open government movement when he called upon every nation to “make government more open and accountable.” The President exhorted other countries to return to the United Nations this September and “bring specific commitments to promote transparency; to fight corruption; to energize civic engagement; and to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundation of freedom in our own countries, while living up to ideals that can light the world.”
From Principles to Practice: How to Build an Open Government
Beginning the process of creating an open and collaborative culture in the public sector requires a combination of 1) policy; 2) platforms; and 3) projects. In the United States, we used policy, including a very specific mandate that all public data is to be made open in raw formats, to provide the necessary assurances and incentives to the civil service. Furthermore, setting out the lofty ideals of openness and collaboration in the strongest terms inspired people to do the hard work required to transform institutions mid-stream.
Second, we used new platforms such as data.gov to enable officials to translate principles into practice. It’s one thing to pay lip service to transparency and another to have a place to put data to make it findable and searchable. Challenge.gov makes it possible for agencies to post and Americans to find ways to get involved. The availability of technological platforms for institutional innovation encourages would-be innovators to use the tools at their disposal.
Third, we encouraged the launch of a multiplicity of projects across the Executive branch in order to infuse open government values throughout the bureaucracy and empower civil servants to act as innovators. Then we celebrated those projects online and in meetings in an effort to identify and reward innovative people committed to the practices of openness. Also we launched our Open Government Initiative, we did so by using free social media tools to consult with both government employees and the public and thereby modeled the change. This has spawned dozens if not hundreds of such engagements.
It is also worth noting that going from principle to practice requires attention to changing the culture in government, civil society, and among the media. We can’t “do democracy” differently if we only address one. The Department of Health and Human Services is helping to co-convene an event on healthcare journalism in the era of open data, educating those who cover and write about health to become partners in the transformation under way.
A Note on the Importance of High Value Data
The Open Government Directive, the government-wide policy directing federal agencies to create open government plans, orders agencies to inventory their “high value” data, where high value is defined as: “[I]information that can be used to increase agency accountability and responsiveness; improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations; further the core mission of the agency; create economic opportunity; or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation.”
First, going beyond spending data or the schedules of Cabinet Secretaries – traditional forms of accountability data – focuses on the data that people want (and are requesting via the Freedom of Information Act or via open gov websites) and ensure that open government serves the needs of the public.
Second, by starting with high value data and steering clear initially of national security data or personally identifiable information, government officials can publish data about bridge safety or patent filing and create a widespread culture change quickly.
Third, high value data emphasizes putting out information that improves people’s daily lives. For example, healthcare.gov, uses public data about health insurance options to give citizens more informed choices. There is a wealth of government data that can translate into useful knowledge to empower people and policymakers.
Fourth, publishing high value data allows government and the public to start developing a collaborative instead of an adversarial relationship. The Agriculture Department published nutritional data in raw form, enabling the First Lady’s Office to sponsor a prize to create the best games to teach kids health eating habits. Productive collaboration encourages public officials to publish more data and enlist people’s help with using thereby producing more opportunities for productive engagement. High value data is the means to turn citizens into the co-creators of government.
Instead of focusing on transparency for its own sake, it is important that government, together with the public, identify problems that need to be solved; publish data that enables the public to devise informed and creative solutions; and institute the platforms and the policies that enables collaboration by the people in their own governance.
Getting from Here to There: Principles for Open Government
Based on my experience designing and implementing open government practices across the Executive branch in the United States, I offer ten short recommendations for the Committee’s consideration.
1. Go Open – Government should work in the open. Its contracts, grants, legislation, regulation and policies should be transparent. Openness gives people the information they need to know how their democracy works and to participate.
2. Open Gov Includes Open Access - Work created by and at the behest of the taxpayer whether through grants or contracts should be freely available. After the public has paid once, it shouldn’t have to pay again.
3. Make Open Gov Productive Not Adversarial – Given the time-consuming nature of responding to information requests today, Government should invest its human and financial capital in providing the data that people really want and will use. Officials should articulate what they hope people will do with the data provided (ie. design a new Federal Register) and also be open to the unexpected contributions that improve the workings of the organization and help the public.
4. Be Collaborative – It isn’t enough just to be transparent; officials need to take the next step of actively soliciting engagement from those with the incentives and expertise to help. Legislation and regulatory rulemaking should be open to public as early as possible in the process to afford people an opportunity – not simply to comment -- but to submit constructive alternative proposals. Legislation should also mandate that agencies undertake public engagement during implementation.
5. Love Data – Design policies informed by real-time data. With data, we can measure performance, figure out what’s working, and change what’s not. Publishing the data generated in connection with new policies as well as “crowdsourcing” data gathered by those outside government enables innovation in policymaking. As an added bonus, open data also has the potential to create economic opportunity.
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.  The ~$1 billion it spends on the National Weather Service helps enable weather.com, which has since been sold for $3.5 billion. Hidden within the troves of public data is information that can translate into the next GPS or genomics industry.
6. Be Nimble – Where possible, invite innovations that can be implemented in 90 days or less. Forcing organizations to act more quickly discourages bureaucracy and encourages creative brainstorming and innovation. The need for speed encourages a willingness to reach out to others, including across the public sector.
7. Do More, Spend Less – Design solutions that do more with less. Instead of cutting a service to save money, ask if there is another way such as a prize or challenge to address people’s problems that both serves their needs and cuts costs. In this era of scientific and technological advances, we have amazing new ways of addressing problems if we can only recognize and implement them. Innovation may ultimately bring the win-win of more cost-effectiveness and greater engagement.
8. Invest in Platforms – So long as Freedom of Information, declassification and records management processes are entirely manual and data is created in analog instead of digital formats, open government will be very hard. Further, without tools to engage the public in brainstorming, drafting, policy reviews, and the other activities of government, collaboration will elude us. Focus on going forward practices of creating raw data and real engagement.
9. Invest in People – Changing the culture of government will not happen through statements of policy alone. It is important to ensure that policy empowers people to seek democratic alternatives and pursue open innovation. Consider appointing Chief Innovation Officers, Chief Democracy Officers, Chief Technology Officers.
10. Design for Democracy – Always ask if the legislation enables active and constructive engagement that uses people’s abilities and enthusiasm for the collective good. It is not enough to simply “throw” Facebook or Twitter at a problem. A process must be designed to complement the tool that ensures meaningful and manageable participation for both officials and the public.
 Beth Simone Noveck Noveck is a professor of law at New York Law School. Dr. Noveck served in the White House as the nation's first Deputy Chief Technology Officer (2009-2011) and leader of the White House Open Government Initiative (www.whitehouse.gov/open). The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently awarded Professor Noveck a grant to develop a multi-year interdisciplinary research agenda to gauge the impact of digital networks on institutions. In 2010, Professor Noveck was named “One of the Hundred Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company magazine and “One of the Top 5 Game Changers” by Politico. She is the author of Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful (Brookings Institution Press, 2009), which will appear this year in Arabic and Chinese.
 For an extended discussion of the theory and practice of “collaborative democracy,” see Beth Simone Noveck, Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful (Brookings Institution Press, 2009), chp. 2.
 See, e.g., Department of Labor Enforcement Database (http://ogesdw.dol.gov/); Health Indicators Warehouse health.data.gov (http://www.data.gov/health); Department of Transportation Data Inventory (http://www.dot.gov/open/data/index.html); Federal Communications Commission Data Inventory (http://reboot.fcc.gov/data/review); Environment Protection Agency Data Finder (http://www.epa.gov/data/).
 http://www.usaspending.gov and http://www.contractsfinder.businesslink.gov.uk/
 Ibid, p. 7.
 As just one example of a market that uses NOAA data, the total value of weather derivative trading has been estimated at: $2.0 billion/year in 1998-2000, $4.0 billion in 2001-2002, $4.0 billion in 2002-2003, $4.5 billion in 2003-2004, $9.7 billion in 2004-2005, $45.0 billion in 2005-2006, $32.0 billion in 2006-2007, and $15.0 billion in 2007-2008 (Weather Risk Management Association, 2009). Also for every $1 that energy companies spend in acquiring NOAA climate station data, they receive a potential benefit of saving $495 in infrastructure costs that would be required to maintain their own climate data base storage, archiving, and reporting system. Extrapolating the savings to the entire U.S. energy market yields a potential benefit of $65 million. Source: Investigating the Economic Value of Selected National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) Products, Centrec Consulting Group, Report, LLC, January, 2003. For more information, see http://economics.noaa.gov.