Tag Archives: CPSR

More on Google Transit and how it is Reshaping a Public Service

Some of you know I’ve written a fair bit on Google transit and how it is reshaping public transit – this blog post in particular comes to mind. For more reading I encourage you to check out the Xconomy article Google Transit: How (and Why) the Search Giant is Remapping Public Transportation as it provides a lot of good details as to what is going on in this space.

Two things about this article:

First, it really is a story about how the secret sauce for success is combining open data with a common standard across jurisdictions. The fact that the General Transit Feed Specification (a structured way of sharing transit schedules) is used by over 400 transit authorities around the world has helped spur a ton of other innovations.

Couple of money quotes include this one about the initial reluctance of some authorities to share their data for free (I’m looking at you Translink board):

“I have watched transit agencies try to monetize schedules for years and nobody has been successful,” he says. “Markets like the MTA and the D.C. Metro fought sharing this data for a very long time, and it seems to me that there was a lot of fallout from that with their riders. This is not our data to hoard—that’s my bottom line.”

and this one about iBart, an app that uses the GTFS to power an app for planning transit trips:

in its home city, San Francisco, the startup’s app continues to win more users: about 3 percent of all trips taken on BART begin with a query on iBART

3%? That is amazing. Last year my home town of Vancouver’s transit authority, Translink, had 211.3 million trips. If the iBart app were ported to here and enjoyed similar success that would man 6.4 million trips planned on iBart (or iTranslink?). That’s a lot of trips made easier to plan.

The second thing I encourage you to think about…

Where else could this model be recreated? What’s the data set, where is the demand from the public, and what is the company or organization that can fulfill the role of google to give it scale. I’d love to hear thoughts.

Transparency isn't a cost – it's a cost saver (a note for Governments and Drummond)

Yesterday Don Drummond – a leading economist hired by the Ontario government to review how the province delivers services in the face of declining economic growth and rising deficits – published his report.

There is much to commend, it lays out stark truths that frankly, many citizens already know, but that government was too afraid to say aloud. It is a report that, frankly, I think many provincial and state governments may look at with great interest since the challenges faced by Ontario are faced by governments across North America (and Europe).

From an IT perspective – particular one where I believe open innovation could play a powerfully transformative role – I found the report lacking. I say this with enormous trepidation, as I believe Drummond to be a man of supreme intellect, but my sense is he (and/or his team) have profoundly misunderstand government transparency and why it should be relevant. In Chapter 16 (no I have not yet read all 700 pages) a few pieces come together to create, what I believe, are problematic conditions. The first relates to the framing around “accountability”:

Accountability is an essential aspect of government operations, but we often treat that goal as an absolute good. Taxpayers expect excellent public-sector management as well as open and transparent procurement practices. However, an exclusive focus on rigorous financial reporting and compliance as the measure of successful management requires significant investments of time, energy and resources. At some point, this investment is subject to diminishing returns.

Remember the context. This section largely deals with how government services – and in particular the IT aspects of these services – could be consolidated (a process that rarely yields the breadth of savings people believe it will). Through this lens the interesting things about the word “accountability” in this section above is that I could replace it with searchability – the capacity to locate pieces of information. I agree with Drummond that there is a granularity around recording items – say tracking every receipt versus offering per diems – that creates unnecessary costs. Nor to I believe we should pay unlimited costs for transparency – just for the sake of transparency. But I do believe that government needs a much, much stronger capacity to search and locate pieces of information. Indeed, I think that capacity, the ability for government to mine its own data intelligently, will be critical. Transparency thus becomes one of the few metrics citizens have into not only how effective a government’s inputs are, but how effective its systems are.

Case in point. If you required every Canadian under the age of 30 to conduct an ATIP request tomorrow, I predict that you’d have a massive collapse in Canadians confidence in government. The length of ATIP requests (and the fact that in many places, they aren’t even online) probably says less about government secrecy to these Canadians than it does about the government’s capacity to locate, identify and process its own data and information. When you can’t get information to me in a timely manner, it strongly suggests that managers may not be able to get timely information either.

If Ontario’s public service is going to be transformed – especially if it is going to fulfill other Drummond report recommendations, such as:

Further steps should be taken to advance partnering with municipal and federal services —efficiencies can be found by working collaboratively with other levels of government. For example, ServiceOntario in Ottawa co-locates with the City of Ottawa and Service Canada to provide services from one location, therefore improving the client experience. Additionally, the new BizPal account (which allows Ontario businesses to manage multiple government requirements from a single account) allows 127 Ontario municipalities (such as Kingston, Timmins, Brampton and Sudbury) to partner with ServiceOntario and become more efficient in issuing business permits and licensing. The creation of more such hubs, with their critical mass, would make it easier to provide services in both official languages. Such synergies in service delivery will improve customer experience and capitalize on economies of scale.

Then it is going to require systems that can be easily queried as well as interface with other systems quickly. Architecting systems in open standards, that can be easily searched and recoded, will be essential. This is particularly true if the recommendation that private sector partners (who love proprietary data models, standards and systems which regularly trap governments in expensive traps) are to be used more frequently. All this is to say, we shouldn’t to transparency for transparencies sake. We should do transparency because it will make Ontario more interoperable, will lower costs, and will enable more accountability.

Accountability doesn’t have to be a cost drive. Quite the opposite, transparency should and can be the bi-product of good procurement strategies, interoperable architecture choices and effective processes.

Let’s not pit transparency against cost savings. Very often, it’s a false dichotomy.

Public Servants Self-Organizing for Efficiency (and sanity) – Collaborative Management Day

Most of the time, when I engage with or speak to federal public servants, they are among the most eager to find ways to work around the bureaucracy in which they find themselves. They want to make stuff happen, and ideally, to make it happen right and more quickly. This is particularly true of younger public servants and those below middle management in general (I also find it is often the case of those at the senior levels, who often can’t pierce the fog of middle management to see what is actually happening).

I’m sure this dynamic is not new. In large bureaucracies around the world the self-organizing capacity of public servants have forever been in a low level guerrilla conflict against the hierarchies that both protect but also restrain them. What makes all this more interesting today however, is never before have public servants had more independent capacity to self-organize and never before have the tools at their disposal been more powerful.

So, for those who live in work in Ottawa who’d like to learn some of the tools public servants are using to better network and get work done across groups and ministries, let me point you to “Collaborative Management Day 2012.” (For those of us who aren’t public servants, that link, which directs into GCPEDIA won’t work – but I’m confident it will work for insiders). To be clear, it’s the ideas that are batted around at events like this that I believe will shape how the government will work in the coming decades. Much like the boomers created the public service of today in the 1960’s, millennials are starting to figure out how to remake it in a world of networks, and diminished resources.

Good luck guys. We are counting on you.

Details:

When: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Canada Aviation and Space Museum, 11 Aviation Parkway, Ottawa, ON or via Webcast

Cost: Free! Seats are limited; registration is required for attendance.

The GCPedia community defines collaboration as being “a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals—for example, an intellectual endeavour that is creative in nature—by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.” And this is exactly what the Collaborative Culture Camp (GOC3) will teach you to achieve at the next Collaborative Management Day on January 25, 2012.

This free event will offer you a day of workshops and learning sessions that will help you:

  • Expand your knowledge and use of collaborative tools and culture
  • Develop an awareness of alternative processes that deliver results
  • Understand how to foster an environment of openness and transparency
  • Develop networks to support the application of new tools

At the end of the day you will be able to bring a collaborative toolkit back to your organization to share with your employees and colleagues!

Keep up to date on the event by keeping an eye on our GCPedia pages and by following us on Twitter (@GOC_3) and watching the #goc3 conversation (no account needed to check out the conversation!).

Questions? Concerns? Feedback? Feel free to email the event organizers or leave a message on our Discussion page on GCPedia.

StatsCan's free data costs $2M – a rant

So the other day a reader sent me an email pointing me to a story in iPolitics titled “StatsCan anticipates $2M loss from move to open data” and asked me what I thought.

Frustrated, was my response.

$2M is not a lot of money. Not in a federal budget of almost $200B.  And, the number may have been less. The StatsCan person quoted in the article called this expected loss of revenue a “maximum net loss.” This may mean that the loss from making the data free does not take into account the fact the StatsCan’s expenditures may also go down. For instance, if StatsCan no longer has to handle as many financial transactions or chase down invoices and so forth, the reduction if staff over other overhead (unrelated to its core mission by the way) and so result in lower operating costs not reflected in the $2M cited above.

Moreover it is still unclear to me where the $2M figure comes from. As I noted in a blog post earlier this year, in StatsCan’s own reports it outlined that its online database (the one just made free) generated $559,000 in revenue (not profit) in 2007-08 and was estimated to generate $525,000 in revenue in 2010-11. Where does the extra $1.5M come from? I’m open to the fact that I’m reading these reports incorrectly… but it is hard to see how.

But all this is really an aside.

What really, really, really, frustrates me is that the hard number of $2M. It is a pittance.

This is the unbearable cost that’s been holding up open StatsCan data for years? This may be the tiniest golden goose ever killed. Maybe more like a lame duck. Can anyone believe the loss of $2M (or 500K) was going to break the organization?

Give me a break.

What a colossal lack of imagination and sense of economic and social prosperity on the part of every government since Mulroney (who made StatsCan engage in cost recovery). In the United States open statistical data has helped businesses, the social sector, local and state governments, as well as researchers and academics. Heck, even Canadian teachers tell me that they’ve been forced to train students on US data because they couldn’t afford to train their students on Canadian data. All this lost innovation, efficiency, jobs and social benefits for a measly $2M dollars (if that). Oh lack of vision, at all levels! Both at the top of the political order, and within StatsCan, which has been reluctant to go down this route for years.

Now that we see the “cost” this battle seems more pathetic than ever.

Sigh. Rant over.

Canada’s Foreign Aid Agency signs on to IATI: Aid Data get more transparent

Last night, while speaking at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan Korea, Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda announced that Canada would be signing on to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

So what is IATI and why does this matter?

IATI has developed a common, open and international standard for sharing foreign aid data. By signing on to IATI Canada is agreeing to publish all the data about its projects and who it funds in a form and structure that makes it easy to compare with others who use the IATI standard. This should make it easier to understand where Canadian aid money ends up, in turn allowing analysts to spot efficiencies as well as compare funding and efforts across donor and recipient countries as well as other stakeholders. In short, aid data should become easier to understand, to compare, and to use.

In the medium term it should also make the data available on CIDA’s open data portal (already helpful to non-profits, development groups and students) even more useful.

This is an enormous win for the good people at Engineers Without Borders, as well as the team at Publish What You Fund. Both groups have been working hard for over a year talking Canadian politicians and public servants through the ins and outs – as well as the benefits – of signing onto IATI. I’ve been working with both groups as well, pushing IATI when meeting with Federal Ministers (I recommended we make it part of our Open Government Partnership goals) as well as writing supportive op-eds in newspapers, so needless to say I’m excited about this development.

This really is good news. As governments become increasingly aware of the power data can have in facilitating cooperation and coordination as well as in improving effectiveness and efficiency, it will be critical to push standards around structuring and sharing data so that such coordination can happen easily across and between jurisdictions. IATI is a great example of such an effort and I hope there are more of these, with Canada taking an early lead, in the months and years ahead.

 

 

Statistics Canada Data to become OpenData – Background, Winners and Next Steps

As some of you learned last night, Embassy Magazine broke the story that all of Statistics Canada’s online data will not only be made free, but released under the Government of Canada’s Open Data License Agreement (updated and reviewed earlier this week) that allows for commercial re-use.

This decision has been in the works for months, and while it does not appear to have been formally announced, Embassy Magazine does appear to have managed to get a Statistics Canada spokesperson to confirm it is true. I have a few thoughts about this story: Some background, who wins from this decision, and most importantly, some hope for what it will, and won’t lead to next.

Background

In the embassy article, the spokesperson claimed this decision had been in the works for years, something that is probably technically true. Such a decision – or something akin to it – has likely been contemplated a number of times. And there have been a number of trials and projects that have allowed for some data to be made accessible albeit under fairly restrictive licenses.

But it is less clear that the culture of open data has arrived at StatsCan, and less clear to me that this decision was internally driven. I’ve met many a Statscan employee who encountered enormous resistance while advocating for data open. I remember pressing the issue during a talk at one of the department’s middle managers conference in November of 2008 and seeing half the room nod vigorously in agreement, while the other half crossed it arms in strong disapproval.

Consequently, with the federal government increasingly interested in open data, coupled with a desire to have a good news story coming out of statscan after last summer census debacle, and with many decisions in Ottawa happening centrally, I suspect this decision occurred outside the department. This does not diminish its positive impact, but it does mean that a number of the next steps, many of which will require StatsCan to adapt its role, may not happen as quickly as some will hope, as the organization may take some time to come to terms with the new reality and the culture shift it will entail.

This may be compounded by the fact that there may be tougher news on the horizon for StatsCan. With every department required to have submitted proposal to cut their budgets by either 5% and 10%, and with StatsCan having already seen a number of its programs cut, there may be fewer resources in the organization to take advantage of the opportunity making its data open creates, or even just adjust to what has happened.

Winners (briefly)

The winners from this decision are of course, consumers of statscan’s data. Indirectly, this includes all of us, since provincial and local governments are big consumers of statscan data and so now – assuming it is structured in such a manner – they will have easier (and cheaper) access to it. This is also true of large companies and non-profits which have used statscan data to locate stores, target services and generally allocate resources more efficiently. The opportunity now opens for smaller players to also benefit.

Indeed, this is the real hope. That a whole new category of winners emerges. That the barrier to use for software developers, entrepreneurs, students, academics, smaller companies and non-profits will be lowered in a manner that will enable a larger community to make use of the data and therefor create economic or social goods.

Such a community, however, will take time to evolve, and will benefit from support.

And finally, I think StatsCan is a winner. This decision brings it more profoundly into the digital age. It opens up new possibilities and, frankly, pushes a culture change that I believe is long over due. I suspect times are tough at StatsCan – although not as a result of this decision – this decision creates room to rethink how the department works and thinks.

Next Steps

The first thing everybody will be waiting for is to see exactly what data gets shared, in what structure and to what detail. Indeed this question arose a number of times on twitter with people posting tweets such as “Cool. This is all sorts of awesome. Are geo boundary files included too, like Census Tracts and postcodes?” We shall see. My hope is yes and I think the odds are good. But I could be wrong, at which point all this could turn into the most over hyped data story of the year. (Which actually matters now that data analysts are one of the fastest growing categories of jobs in North America).

Second, open data creates an opportunity for a new and more relevant role for StatsCan to a broader set of Canadians. Someone from StatsCan should talk to the data group at the World Bank around their transformation after they launched their open data portal (I’d be happy to make the introduction). That data portal now accounts for a significant portion of all the Bank’s web traffic, and the group is going through a dramatic transformation, realizing they are no longer curators of data for bank staff and a small elite group of clients around the world but curators of economic data for the world. I’m told a new, while the change has not been easy, a broader set of users have brought a new sense of purpose and identity. The same could be true of StatsCan. Rather than just an organization that serves the government of Canada and a select groups of clients, StatsCan could become the curators of data for all Canadians. This is a much more ambitious, but I’d argue more democratized and important goal.

And it is here that I hope other next steps will unfold. In the United States, (which has had free census data for as long as anyone I talked to can remember) whenever new data is released the census bureau runs workshops around the country, educating people on how to use and work with its data. StatsCan and a number of other partners already do some of this, but my hope is that there will be much, much more of it. We need a society that is significantly more data literate, and StatsCan along with the universities, colleges and schools could have a powerful role in cultivating this. Tracey Lauriault over at the DataLibre blog has been a fantastic advocate of such an approach.

I also hope that StatsCan will take its role as data curator for the country very seriously and think of new ways that its products can foster economic and social development. Offering APIs into its data sets would be a logical next step, something that would allow developers to embed census data right into their applications and ensure the data was always up to date. No one is expecting this to happen right away, but it was another question that arose on twitter after the story broke, so one can see that new types of users will be interested in new, and more efficient ways, of accessing the data.

But I think most importantly, the next step will need to come from us citizens. This announcement marks a major change in how StatsCan works. We need to be supportive, particularly at a time of budget cuts. While we are grateful for open data, it would be a shame if the institution that makes it all possible was reduced to a shell of its former self. Good quality data – and analysis to inform public policy – is essential to a modern economy, society, and government. Now that we will have free access to what our tax dollars have already paid for, let’s make sure that it stays that way, by both ensure it continues to be available, and that there continues to be a quality institution capable of collecting and analyzing it.

(sorry for typos – it’s 4am, will revise in the morning)

The Canadian Government's New Web 2.0 Guidelines: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Yesterday, the government of Canada released its new Guidelines for external use of Web 2.0. For the 99.99% of you unfamiliar  with what this is, it’s the guidelines (rules) that govern how, and when, public servants may use web 2.0 tools such as twitter and facebook.

You, of course, likely work in organization that survives without such documents. Congratulations. You work in a place where the general rule is “don’t be an idiot” and your bosses trust your sense of judgement. That said, you probably also don’t work somewhere where disgruntled former employees and the CBC are trolling the essentially personal online statements of your summer interns so they can turn it into a scandal. (Yes, summer student border guards have political opinions, don’t like guns and enjoy partying. Shocker). All this to say, there are good and rational reasons why the public service creates guidelines: to protect not just the government, but public servants.

So for those uninterested in reading the 31 page, 12,055 word guidelines document here’s a review:

The Good

Sending the right message

First off, the document, for all its faults, does get one overarching piece right. Almost right off the bat (top of section 3.2) is shares that Ministries should be using Web 2.0 tools:

Government of Canada departments are encouraged to use Web 2.0 tools and services as an efficient and effective additional channel to interact with the public. A large number of Canadians are now regularly using Web 2.0 tools and services to find information about, and interact with, individuals and organizations.

Given the paucity of Web 2.0 use in the Federal government internally or externally this clear message from Treasury Board, and from a government minister, is the type of encouragement needed to bring government communications into 2008 (the British Government, with its amazing Power of Information Taskforce, has been there for years).

Note: there is a very, very, ugly counterpart to this point. See below.

Good stuff for the little guy

Second, the rules for Professional Networking & Personal Use are fairly reasonable. There are some challenges (notes below), but if any public servant ever finds them or has the energy to read the document, they are completely workable.

The medium is the message

Finally, the document acknowledges that the web 2.0 world is constantly evolving and references a web 2.0 tool by which public servants can find ways to adapt. THIS IS EXACTLY THE RIGHT APPROACH. You don’t deal with fast evolving social media environment by handing out decrees in stone tablets, you manage it by offering people communities of practice where they can get the latest and best information. Hence this line:

Additional guidance on the use of Web 2.0 tools and services is in various stages of development by communities of expertise and Web 2.0 practitioners within the Government of Canada. Many of these resources are available to public servants on the Government of Canada’s internal wiki, GCpedia. While these resources are not official Government of Canada policies or guidelines, they are valuable sources of information in this rapidly evolving environment.

Represents a somewhat truly exciting development in the glacially paced evolution of government procedures. The use of social media (GCPEDIA) to manage social media.

Indeed, still more exciting for me is that this was the first time I’ve seen an official government document reference GCPEDIA as a canonical source of information. And it did it twice, once, above, pointing to a community of practice, the second was pointing to the GCPEDIA “Social media procurement process” page. Getting government to use social media internally is I think the biggest challenge at the moment, and this document does it.

The Bad

Too big to succeed

The biggest problem with the document is its structure. It is so long, and so filled with various forms of compliance, that only the most dedicated public servant (read, communications officer tasked with a social media task) will ever read this. Indeed for a document that is supposed to encourage public servants to use social media, I suspect it will do just the opposite. Its density and list of controls will cause many who were on the fence to stay there – if not retreat further. While the directions for departments are more clear, for the little guy… (See next piece)

Sledgehammers for nails

The documents main problem is that it tries to address all uses of social media. Helpfully, it acknowledges there are broadly two types of uses “Departmental Web 2.0 initiatives” (e.g. a facebook group for a employment insurance program) and “personnel/professional use” (e.g. a individual public servant’s use of twitter or linked in to do their job). Unhelpfully, it addresses both of them.

In my mind 95% of the document relates to departmental uses… this is about ensuring that someone claiming to represent the government in an official capacity does not screw up. The problem is, all those policies aren’t as relevant to Joe/Jane public servant in their cubicle trying to find an old colleague on LinkedIn (assuming they can access linkedin). It’s overkill. These should be separate documents, that way the personal use document could be smaller, more accessible and far less intimidating. Indeed, as the guidelines suggest, all it should really have to do is reference the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service (essentially the “idiots guide to how not to be an idiot on the job” for public servants) and that would have been sufficient. Happily most public servants are already familiar with this document, so simply understanding that those guidelines apply online as much as offline, gets us 90% of the way there.

In summary, despite a worthy effort, it seem unlikely this document will encourage public servants to use Web 2.0 tools in their jobs. Indeed, for a (Canadian) comparison consider the BC Government’s guidelines document, the dryly named “Policy No. 33: Use of Social Media in the B.C. Public Service.”  Indeed, despite engaging both use cases it manages covers all the bases, is straightforward, and encouraging, and treats the employee with an enormous amount of respect. All this in a nifty 2 pages and 1,394 words. Pretty much exactly what a public servant is looking for.

The Ugly

Sadly, there is some ugliness.

Suggestions, not change

In the good section I mentioned that the government is encouraging ministries to use social media… this is true. But it is not mandating it. Nor does these guidelines say anything to Ministerial IT staff, most of whom are blocking public servant’s access to sites like facebook, twitter, in many cases, my blog, etc… The sad fact is, there may now be guidelines that allow public servants to use these tools, but in most cases, they’d have to go home, or to a local coffee shop (many do) in order to actually make use of these guidelines. For most public servants, much of the internet remains beyond their reach, causing them to fall further and further behind in understanding how technology will effect their jobs and their department/program’s function in society.

It’s not about communication, it’s about control

In his speech at PSEngage yesterday the Treasury Board Minister talked about the need for collaboration on how technology can help the public service reinvent how it collaborates:

The Government encourages the use of new Web 2.0 tools and technologies such as blogs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These tools help create a more modern, open and collaborative workplace and lead to more “just-in-time” communications with the public.

This is great news. And I believe the Minister believes it too. He’s definitely a fan of technology in all the right ways. However, the guidelines are mostly about control. Consider this paragraph:

Departments should designate a senior official accountable and responsible for the coordination of all Web 2.0 activities as well as an appropriate governance structure. It is recommended that the Head of Communications be the designated official. This designate should collaborate with departmental personnel who have expertise in using and executing Web 2.0 initiatives, as well as with representatives from the following fields in their governance structure: information management, information technology, communications, official languages, the Federal Identity Program, legal services, access to information and privacy, security, values and ethics, programs and services, human resources, the user community, as well as the Senior Departmental Official as established by the Standard on Web Accessibility. A multidisciplinary team is particularly important so that policy interpretations are appropriately made and followed when managing information resources through Web 2.0 tools and services.

You get all that? That’s at least 11 variables that need to be managed. Or, put another way, 11 different manuals you need to have at your desk when using social media for departmental purposes. That makes for a pretty constricted hole for information to get out through, and I suspect it pretty much kills most of the spontaneity, rapid response time and personal voice that makes social media effective. Moreover, with one person accountable, and this area of communications still relatively new, I suspect that the person in charge, given all these requirements, is going to have a fairly low level of risk. Even I might conclude it is safer to just post an ad in the newspaper and let the phone operators at Service Canada deal with the public.

Conclusion

So it ain’t all bad. Indeed, there is much that is commendable and could be worked with. I think, in the end, 80% of the problems with the document could be resolved if the government simply created two versions, one for official departmental uses, the other for individual public servants. If it could then restrain the lawyers from repeating everything in the Values and Ethics code all over again, you’d have something that social media activists in the public service could seize upon.

My sense is that the Minister is genuinely interested in enabling public servants to use technology to do their jobs better – he knows from personal experience how helpful social media can be. This is great news for those who care about these issues, and it means that pressing for a better revised version might yield a positive outcome. Better to try now, with a true ally in the president’s office than with someone who probably won’t care.

 

Open Data and New Public Management

This morning I got an email thread pointing to an article by Justin Longo on #Opendata: Digital-Era Governance Thoroughbred or New Public Management Trojan Horse? I’m still digesting it all but wanted to share some initial thoughts.

The article begins with discussion about the benefits of open data but its real goal is to argue how open data is a pawn in a game to revive the New Public Management Reform Agenda:

My hypothesis, based on a small but growing number of examples highlighting political support for open data, is that some advocates—particularly politicians, but not exclusively—are motivated by beliefs (both explicit and unconscious) forged in the New Public Management (NPM) reform agenda.

From this perspective, support for more open data aims at building coalitions of citizen consumers who are encouraged to use open data to expose public service decisions, highlight perceived performance issues, increase competition within the public sector, and strengthen the hand of the citizen as customer.

What I found disappointing is the article’s one dimensional approach to the problem: open data may support a theory/approach to public management disliked by the author, consequently (inferring from the article’s title and tone) it must be bad. This is akin to saying any technology that could be used to advance an approach I don’t support, must be opposed.

In addition, I’d say that the idea of exposing public service decisions, highlighting perceived performance issues, increasing competition within the public sector, and strengthening the hand of the citizen as customer are goals I don’t necessarily oppose, certainly not categorically. Moreover, I would hope such goals are not exclusively the domain of NPM. Do we want a society where government’s performance issues are not highlighted? Or where public service decisions are kept secret?

These are not binary choices. You can support the outcomes highlighted above and simultaneously believe in other approaches to public sector management and/or be agnostic about the size of government. Could open data be used to advance NPM? Possibly (although I’m doubtful). But it definitely can also be used to accomplish a lot of other good and potentially advance other approaches as well. Let’s not conflate a small subset of ways open data can be used or a small subset of its supporters with the entire project and then to lump them all into a single school of thought around public service management.

Moreover, I’ve always argued that the biggest users and benefactors of open data would be government – and in particular the public service. While open data could be used to build “coalitions of citizen consumers who are encouraged to use open data to expose public service decisions” it will also be used by public servants to better understand citizens needs, be more responsive and allocate resources more effectively. Moreover, those “citizen consumers” will probably be effective in helping them achieve this task. The alternative is to have better shared data internally (which will eventually happen), an outcome that might allow the government to achieve these efficiencies but will also radically increase the asymmetry in the relationship between the government and its citizens and worse, between the elites that do have privileged access to this data, and the citizenry (See Taggart below).

So ignoring tangible benefits because of a potential fear feels very problematic. It all takes me back to Kevin Kelly and What Technology Wants… this is an attempt to prevent an incredibly powerful technology because of a threat it poses to how the public sector works. Of course, it presumes that a) you can prevent the technology and b) that not acting will allow the status quo or some other preferred approach to prevail. Again, there are outcomes much, much worse the NPM that are possible (again, I don’t believe that open data leads directly to NPM) and I would argue, indeed likely, given evolving public expectations, demographics, and fiscal constraints.

In this regard, the article sets of up a false choice. Open data is going to reshape all theories of public management. To claim it supports or biases in favour of one outcome is, I think beyond premature. But more importantly, it is to miss the trees for the forest and the much bigger fish we need to fry. The always thoughtful Chris Taggart summed much of this up beautifully in an email thread:

I think the title — making it out to be a choice between a thoroughbred or Trojan Horse — says it all. It’s a false dichotomy, as neither of those are what the open data advocates are suggesting it is, nor do most of us believe that open data is solution to all our problems (far from it — see some of my presentations[1]).

It also seems to offer a choice between New Public Management (which I think Emer Coleman does a fairly good job of illuminating in her paper[2]) and the brave new world of Digital Era Governance, which is also to misunderstand the changes being brought about in society, with or without open government data.
The point is not that open data is the answer to our problem but society’s chance to stay in the game (and even then, the odds are arguably against it). We already have ever increasing numbers of huge closed databases, many made up of largely government data, available to small number of people and companies.
This leads to an asymmetry of power and friction that completely undermines democracy; open data is not a sufficiency to counteract that, but I think it is a requirement.

It’s possible I’ve misunderstood Longo’s article and he is just across the straights at the University of Victoria, so hopefully we can grab a beer and talk it through. But my sense is this article is much more about a political battle between New Public Management and Digital Era Governance in which open data is being used as a pawn. As an advocate, I’m not wholly comfortable with that, as I think it risks misrepresenting it.

Edmonton Heads for the Cloud

I’m confident that somewhere in Canada, some resource strapped innovative small town has abandoned desktop software and uses a cloud based service but so far no city of any real size has even publicly said they were considering the possibility.

That is, until today.

Looks like Edmonton’s IT group – which is not just one of the most forward looking in the country continues to make the rubber hit the road – is moving its email and office suite to the cloud. (I’ve posted the entire doc below since it isn’t easy to link to)

They aren’t the first city in the world to do this: Washington D.C., Orlando and Los Angeles have all moved to Google apps (in each case displacing Microsoft Office) but they are the first in Canada – a country not known for its risk taking IT departments.

I can imagine that a lot government IT people will be watching closely. And that’s too bad. There is far too much watching in Canada when there could be a lot of innovating and saving. While some will site LA’s bumpy transition, Orlando’s and DC’s were relatively smooth and are still cities that are far larger than most of their Canadian counterparts. LA is more akin to transitioning a province (or Toronto). Nobody else get’s that pass.

Two things:

1) I’ve highlighted what I think is some of the interesting points in the document being presented to council.

2) A lot of IT staff in other cities will claim that it is “too early” to know if this is going to work.

People. Wake up. It is really hard to imagine you won’t be moving to the cloud at some point in the VERY near future. I frankly don’t care which cloud solution you choose (Google vs. Microsoft) that choice is less important than actually making the move. Is Edmonton taking some risks? Yes. But it is also going to be the first city to learn the lessons, change its job descriptions, work flows, processes and the zillion other things that will come out of this. This means they’ll have a cost and productivity advantage over other cities as they play catch up. And I suspect, that there will never be a catch up, as Edmonton will already be doing the next obvious thing.

If your a IT person in a city, the question is no longer, do you lead or follow. It is merely, how far behind are you going to be comfortable being?

6. 13

Workspace Edmonton

Sole Source Agreement

Recommendation:

That, subject to the necessary funding being made available, Administration enter into a sole source agreement, in an amount not exceeding $5 million, and a period not exceeding five years, with Google Inc., for the provision of computing productivity tools, and that the contract be in form and content acceptable to the City Manager.

Report Summary

The IT Branch undertook a technical assessment of seven options for the delivery of desktop productivity tools. Software as a Service (‘cloud computing’) was identified as the preferred direction as it allows the corporation to work from anytime, place or device. Google Mail and Google Apps were determined to provide the best solution. The change will ensure ongoing sustainability of the services, provides opportunities for service and productivity gains, and align IT services with key principles in The Way We Green, The Way We Live and The Way We Move.

Report

The City Administration Bylaw 12005 requires approval from Executive Committee for Single Source Contracts (contracts to be awarded without tendering) in excess of $500,000, and those contracts that may exceed ten years in duration.

The Workspace Edmonton Program consists of two initiatives, which will allow the delivery of information technology software and services to employees, contractors and third party partners anytime and place, and on any device. In order to accomplish this the administration is proposing moving away from a model where software is installed on every computer to a solution where the software is housed on the internet (‘cloud computing’).

Administration is recommending the implementation of Google Apps Premier Edition as the primary computing productivity tool, with targeted use of Microsoft Office and SharePoint. The recommended direction will allow the City to move to Google Mail as the corporate messaging tool and Google Apps as the primary office productivity tools. It will also allow the corporation access to other applications offered by Google Inc. and partners to Google Inc. Microsoft Office and SharePoint will remain as the secondary office productivity tools for business areas that require these applications for specific business needs. Use of the Microsoft tools will require completion of the appropriate use case and approval by the Chief Information Officer.

Administration is requesting approval to proceed to negotiation of a contract with Google Inc. The sole source agreement is required at this time to allow the program to be developed in 2011. This is foundational work that will allow the program to proceed to implementation in 2012. The contract is also required in order to complete the Privacy Impact Assessment and develop implementation plans.

Benefits

Workspace Edmonton creates the opportunity for the City of Edmonton to significantly change the way we work. Administration will have increased options for delivering services to citizens, including enhanced mobile field services and new opportunities for community consultation and collaboration. The consumer version of Google is free to private citizens and not-for-profit groups and would allow additional options for collaboration with organizations such as community leagues with no net cost to the corporation or organization.

The move to G-Mail will allow the corporation to extend email access to all city employees, improving access to information and communications. It will also allow for implementation of a number of services without additional licensing costs, including:

  • audio and video chat
  • group sites to allow improved collaboration with external
    partners and community groups
  • internal Youtube for training and information sharing
  • increased collaboration through document sharing and simultaneous authoring capabilities

The program presents the opportunity for the City to better address the expectations of the next generation of workers by providing options to bring your device and to work with software many already use. Both Edmonton Public Schools and the University of Alberta have implemented Google Apps.

In addition, the implementation of Google Apps will include an e-records
solution for documents stored in Google Apps. This will be implemented in partnership with the Office of the City Clerk. The benefit of this being alignment with legislated and corporate requirements for records retention, retrieval, and disposal.

Moving to the Software as a Service Model (‘cloud computing’) through the internet will avoid additional hardware and support costs associated with increased service demands due to growth. This solution provides a more sustainable business model, reducing demands on resources for regular product upgrades and services support. Finally, the relocation of software and data to multiple secure data centres facilitates continuation of services during emergencies such as natural disasters and pandemics. City employees will be able to access email and documents through the internet from any office or home computer.

Solution Assessments

The IT Branch undertook a technical assessment of seven office productivity software and service delivery options. A financial assessment of the top three options was subsequently completed and the recommended direction to move to Google Inc. as the service provider was based on these assessments. Following this, the IT Branch undertook a security assessment to ensure the option chosen met security requirements and industry standards. A Privacy Impact Assessment has been initiated and will be completed upon negotiation of an agreement. Precedent in Alberta has been set with both the Edmonton Public School Board and the University of Alberta entering into agreements with Google Inc.

Strategic Direction

The Workspace Edmonton Program supports Council’s strategic direction for innovation and a well managed city, as well as key principles in The Way We Green, The Way We Move, and the Way We Live.

Budget/Financial Implications

Google Messaging and Apps will replace the existing Microsoft Exchange and majority of Office licenses. The funding currently in place for Microsoft license maintenance will be sufficient to fund the annual Google services.

2011 funding for the implementation of overall Workspace Edmonton Program is within the current IT budgets and will be the source of funding. Funding for 2012 will be included in the 2012 budget request.    A business case for this initiative was completed and is available for review.

The Workspace Edmonton model aligns with and complements the corporate initiative of Transforming Edmonton. The administration will look for opportunities to integrate the programs and utilize a portion of the funding for Transforming Edmonton to fund Workspace Edmonton change and transition requirements.

Risks

If the recommendation is not supported, Workspace Edmonton will stop and the corporation will be required to either go to Request For Proposal or remain on the existing platform. Remaining on the existing platform will require additional funding in future years to support continued maintenance costs and future growth. (Extending email only to city staff who do not currently have email accounts would cost the corporation approximately $900,000 per year with the existing solution.) Delaying the implementation to 2012 would result in delays to return on investment and achievement of the benefits.

Justification of Recommendation
Technical, financial and security assessments have been completed. The recommended solution meets business requirements, provides opportunities to increase and improve service delivery and is projected to garner a return on investment within 18 to 24 months of implementation. Approval of this recommendation will allow Administration to proceed to negotiation of a contract.

Others Reviewing this Report
• L. Rosen, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

WRITTEN BY – D. Kronewitt-Martin | August 24, 2011 – Corporate Services 2011COT006

Why Social Media behind the Government Firewall Matters

This comment, posted four months ago to my blog by Jesse G. in response to this post on GCPEDIA, remains one of the favorite comments posted to my blog ever. This is a public servant who understands the future and is trying to live it. I’ve literally had this comment sitting in my inbox because this whole time because I didn’t want to forget about it.

For those opposing to the use of wiki’s social media behind the government firewall this is a must read (of course I’d say it is a must read for those in favour as well). It’s just a small example of how tiny transactions costs are killing government, and how social media can flatten them.

I wish more elements of the Canadian government got it, but despite the success of GCPEDIA and its endorsement by the Clerk there are still a ton of forces pitted against it, from the procurement officers in Public Works who’d rather pay for a bulky expensive alternative that no one will use to middle managers who forbid their staff from using it out of some misdirected fear.

Is GCPEDIA the solution to everything? No. But it is a cheap solution to a lot of problems, indeed I’ll bet its solved more problems per dollar than any other IT solution put forward by the government.

So for the (efficient) future, read on:

Here’s a really untimely comment – GCPEDIA now has over 22,000 registered users and around 11,000 pages of content. Something like 6.5 million pageviews and around .5 million edits. It has ~2,000 visitors a week and around 15,000 pageviews a week. On average, people are using the wiki for around 5.5 minutes per visit. I’m an admin for GCPEDIA and it’s sister tools – GCCONNEX (a professional networking platform built using elgg) and GCForums (a forum build using YAF). Collectively the tools are known as GC2.0.

Anyways, I’m only piping up because I love GCPEDIA so much. For me and for thousand of public servants, it is something we use every day and I cannot emphasize strongly enough how friggin’ awesome it is to have so much knowledge in one place. It’s a great platform for connecting people and knowledge. And it’s changing the way the public service works.

A couple of examples are probably in order. I know one group of around 40 public servants from 20 departments who are collaborating on GCPEDIA to develop a new set of standards for IT. Every step of the project has taken place on GCPEDIA (though I don’t want to imply that the wiki is everything – face-to-face can’t be replaced by wiki), from the initial project planning, through producing deliverables. I’ve watched their pages transform since the day they were first created and I attest that they are really doing some innovative work on the wiki to support their project.

Another example, which is really a thought experiment: Imagine you’re a coop student hired on a 4 month term. Your director has been hearing some buzz about this new thing called Twitter and wants an official account right away. She asks you to find out what other official Twitter accounts are being used across all the other departments and agencies. So you get on the internet, try to track down the contact details for the comms shops of all those departments and agencies, and send an email to ask what accounts they have. Anyone who knows government can imagine that a best case turnaround time for that kind of answer will take at least 24 hours, but probably more like a few days. So you keep making calls and maybe if everything goes perfectly you get 8 responses a day (good luck!). There are a couple hundred departments and agencies so you’re looking at about 100 business days to get a full inventory. But by the time you’ve finished, your research is out of date and no longer valid and your 4 month coop term is over. Now a first year coop student makes about $14.50/hour (sweet gig if you can get it students!), so over a 4 month term that’s about $10,000. Now repeat this process for every single department and agency that wants a twitter account and you can see it’s a staggering cost. Let’s be conservative and say only 25 departments care enough about twitter to do this sort of exercise – you’re talking about $275,000 of research. Realistically, there are many more departments that want to get on the twitter bandwagon, but the point still holds.

Anyways, did you know that on GCPEDIA there is a crowd-sourced page with hundreds of contributors that lists all of the official GC twitter accounts? One source is kept up to date through contributions of users that literally take a few seconds to make. The savings are enormous – and this is just one page.

Because I know GCPEDIA’s content so well, I can point anyone to almost any piece of information they want to know – or, because GCPEDIA is also a social platform, if I can’t find the info you’re looking for, I can at least find the person who is the expert. I am not an auditor, but I can tell you exactly where to go for the audit policies and frameworks, resources and tools, experts and communities of practice, and pictures of a bunch of internal auditors clowning around during National Public Service Week. There is tremendous value in this – my service as an information “wayfinder” has won me a few fans.

Final point before I stop – a couple of weeks ago, I was doing a presentation to a manager’s leadership network about unconferences. I made three pages – one on the topic of unconferences, one on the facilitation method for building the unconference agenda, and one that is a practical 12-step guide for anyone who wants to plan and organize their own (this last was a group effort with my co-organizers of Collaborative Culture Camp). Instead of preparing a powerpoint and handouts I brought the page up on the projector. I encouraged everyone to check the pages out and to contribute their thoughts and ideas about how they could apply them to their own work. I asked them to improve the pages if they could. But the real value is that instead of me showing up, doing my bit, and then vanishing into the ether I left a valuable information resource behind that other GCPEDIA users will find, use, and improve (maybe because they are searching for unconferences, or maybe it’s just serendipity). Either way, when public servants begin to change how they think of their role in government – not just as employees of x department, but as an integral person in the greater-whole; not in terms of “information is power”, but rather the power of sharing information; not as cogs in the machine, but as responsible change agents working to bring collaborative culture to government – there is a huge benefit for Canadian citizens, whether the wiki is behind a firewall or not.

p.s. To Stephane’s point about approval processes – I confront resistance frequently when I am presenting about GCPEDIA, but there is always someone who “gets” it. Some departments are indeed trying to prevent employees from posting to GCPEDIA – but it isn’t widespread. Even the most security-conscious departments are using the wiki. And Wayne Wouters, the Clerk of the Privy Council has been explicit in his support of the wiki, going so far as to say that no one requires manager’s approval to use the wiki. I hope that if anyone has a boss that says, “You can’t use GCPEDIA” that that employee plops down the latest PS Renewal Action Plan on his desk and says, “You’ve got a lot to learn”.