Friday, September 25, 2009

Don't accept a NO from somebody who can't give you a YES in the first place

The Gov.0 Summit was held in Washington DC earlier in September. The speakers were a who's who of IT and government. The title of this post is my favourite quote from the event (a variation on the “seek forgiveness rather than permission”) from Michele Quaid.

Attendees were mainly from the US - catchphrases like "East meets West" and "Geeks go to Washington" illustrate the IT folk from Silicon Valley working with the federal folk from Washington. There were a small number of overseas attendees – I met people from UK, Canada, Australia, and Singapore – plus myself and Nat Torkington from NZ. Nat spoke about his views on the radio yesterday.

I tweeted from the conference continuously, so you can read the full stream, if you have the stamina, or can visualise the content from my comments on twitter.(produced by

All the material from the conference is available online.
In this post I highlight the items that were of particular resonance for me, with links to more information. From the links you can generally find a Powerpoint and a video to see more. Use this like a menu – choose the dishes that attract you.

Law is the Operating System of Democracy
  • Used more than once by speakers discussing the importance of free and open access to legal proceedings.
  • Government information is national infrastructure and an engine of innovation. Carl Malamud, the only speaker to get a standing ovation.
Government needs to shift from being a retailer of data to providing wholesale data
  • Successful information businesses have operated as a platform - iPhone is the classic example. Govt can get uptake by learning from this. Tim O’Reilly opening keynote
  • Every platform has a killer app. 2.0 closes the loop to consumer about energy consumption.
  • Open and decentralised delivers results ecosystem - open source, ethernet, TCP/IP, Wifi. All based on idea of shared resources Mitch Kapor on government as a platform.
  • What is the role of government in information infrastructure? Government as platform provider of last resort, as well as building on existing platforms.
  • Government is in the wholesale data business. Focus should be on quality of data, let the community do presentation.
  • If you have never seen Gapminder, check it out – the community is much better placed to use these tools to create insight from official data.
Government data is public data
  • Public means on-line. Public means real-time. Government role is wholesale and retail.
  • Priority for government is to produce machine readable data (wholesale). Secondary is interpretation (retail) which many can do - any interpretation of data is only one view.
  • Appsforamerica2 shows that true value lies at the intersection of data feeds.
  • A government agency can’t mash up data from multiple agencies.
  • Government provides the platform for the public as watchdog and innovator.
  • Discussion between Ellen Miller (Sunlight Foundation) and Vivek Kundra (Government CIO).
Three values of open government: transparency, participation, and collaboration
  • Each agency must have a roadmap for Open Government.
  • Roadmap is not just technology, also includes people and operations. Schedule for publishing data online in raw structured machine readable formats.
  • Policy work on how legal framework needs to be reinterpreted in a 2.0 world.
  • How can anyone argue against open and transparency? It's a triple whammy - tap into wisdom and expertise, strengthen trust in government, reduce costs.
  • Beth Noveck Director of the White House Open Government Initiative.
Use wikis and other collaborative tools to create policy on how to open up govt data (aka Eat your own dogfood)
If you can’t describe what you are delivering in a few words, you’re probably doing it wrong.
  • Words of wisdom based on real world experience from Tom Steinberg in eight and a half minutes.
Open source delivers Moore’s Law for software
  • Cost nothing to acquire - costs nothing to retire.
  • .. and many other sound bites on open source from Michael Tiemann.
Vint Cerf See why he still rocks - on the video
  • TCP/IP being open was critical to breaking dominance of proprietary.
  • Platforms of liberation and platforms of control. Is there an inevitability that they move to the control model as they go dominant.
  • Twitter as the channel for the intenet of things?
  • If I designed the internet knowing what I know now, I would have done more on authentication, and mobility.
Thomas Watson was out by 4
  • Thomas Watson, head of IBM, famouly predicted that the market was big enough for five computers. He was wrong – the internet is a single connected computer.
"I decided not to move to XX after I checked it out on the EPA site"
  • An email to the site manager about the personal impact of access to information on the levels of environmental pollution by location.
"Is it disrespectful to wear virtual shoes in a virtual mosque?"
  • Presentation on Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds - using second life as a way of enabling better understanding of different cultures.
Make a real difference to people’s lives
  • UNICEF use SMS and mobile phones to collect data from the field in Malawi and respond with thank you and diagnosis. Python code on
San Francisco open data
  • is open source community for public access to raw government data in machine readable formats – includes utilities for conversion of data files from XL to more useable forms for mashup. Offshoot from
The winner of the department of defence cyberchallenge hacked the server holding the scores.
Just because you can mashup data doesn’t mean you should.
"Only pack it if you can hack it."
  • Army speaking to the culture of improvisation and RedHat. Surface innovation by soldiers on, for widespread deployment.
Health sector innovations
  • Some neat ones here. I especially liked Healthloop (automated email between doctor and patient on effect of medication on patient daily) – in Healthspottr presentation. As well as feedback to GP, can provide aggregate data on effectiveness of medication for public health policy purposes.
Geospatial is foundation information infrastructure.
  • Extraordinary demonstration by ESRI on what can be done with geo-mashup (demo is about half way through the video – worth waiting through the talking head).
  • If Geo is the bones of the new global computer, then identity must be the arteries.
Beyond geo -
Augmented Reality as new public infrastructure
  • Eat your heart out William Gibson.
National Broadband is the major infrastructure challenge for this generation.
  • Like the railways and the electricity grid for previous generations - Chairman of FCC Julius Genachowski.
  • Policy and program development is designed to be open and participatory - 20 consultation meetings streamed online last month.
  • Level of involvement very high for a dull regulatory subject - sign of the (2.0) times and the importance of broadband.
Is Gov2.0 a political struggle over power & accountability? Or an upgrade?
45% of government systems are low risk – can be in public cloud.
  • Avoid wasting public money on the management of commodities. Government agencies and cloud computing Casey Coleman, CIO, GSA.
Use your gmail logon for govt low risk sites
What makes government sites work?
  • Organize content for the public
  • Rely on (and don’t fear) Web 2.0
  • Listen (and respond) to user needs
  • Know visitors come to conduct specific tasks
  • Engage customers with candid, well written blogs
Start small, fail quick

This mantra for Gov2.0 development was mentioned by multiple speakers; it is hard for government to action, but essential as we operate in a richly connected 21st century world.

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