Tag Archives: government 2.0

Toronto Innovation Summit on Open Government

Today I’m at Toronto City Hall doing a panel on Open Government for the Innovation Showcase. If you are reading this before 10am EST you can catch a webcast of the panel at the above link.

I’ve pasted in my slides for those who would like to follow along. Down below I’ve included a few links that those who are new to my site (or who haven’t read my writing on government 2.0) might find interesting.

Some of my favourite posts of open government, open data and gov 2.0:

The Three Laws of Open Government Data

Open Data: USA vs Canada

Create the Open Data Bargain in Cities

Globe and Mail Op-Ed: Don’t Ban Facebook

If I could start with a blank sheet of paper… (written for the Australian Government’s Web 2.0 Taskforce)

Mapping Government 2.0 against the Hype Curve

Feeding the next economy – Give us a stimulus that stimulates, not placates

Why the Government of Canada needs bloggers

Why StatCan could be like Google

The Public Service as Gift Economy

Public Service Sector Renewal and Gen Y: Don’t be efficient

Public Service Sector Renewal: Starting at the APEX

Mapping Government 2.0 against the Hype Curve

Last week Andrea DiMaio wrote an interesting post on how Government 2.0 may be approaching the peak of the hype cycle. I’d never seen the hype cycle before and it looked fun, so I thought it might be interesting to try to map where I believe some current Canadian government 2.0 projects, a few older technologies, and a few web 2.0 technologies in general, are against this chart from a government perspective.

My suspicion is that we haven’t even begun to dip into the Trough of Disillusionment with most true Web 2.0 government projects (GCPEDIA & GCConnex). However, I think governments have overcome their paranoia about facebook, but are still very wary… that said I’ve noticed some government ministries have started to use facebook as a communication tool with the public. Blogs however (which are perfectly okay for public servants to create internally) are still viewed with suspicion – internally they are almost never used. But then, heck, given the cluttered nature of most government website (and the fact that finding info is hard), I think it is clear that we are still working our way up the “Slope of Enlightenment” on this web 1.0 technology.

Gov 20 hype curve 3

Those who’ve seen me speak know I much I love Arthur Schopenhauer‘s three stages of truth:

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

So I’ve also included how I think the three stages map against this chart too.

So in sum… in  my view there is good news for Government 2.0 projects – visibility is still increasing. Unfortunately there is also some bad news: prepare for increased violent opposition…

Misunderstanding and understanding the Open Data Hype

On Wednesday Gartner’s Andrea Dimaio wrote an interesting blog post entitled Open Data and Application Contests: Government 2.0 at the Peak of Inflated Expectations which Peter Smith nicely linked to the Gartner’s Hype Cycle graph from Wikipedia. I want to break his post down into three components. Two – the bad and the good, I’m going to talk about today – the third, which I’ll tackle on Monday involves some mapping and fun.

The Bad

As someone whose been thinking about and working on Open Data and Gov 2.0 for several years now three things struck me as problematic about Andrea’s post. Firstly, he misunderstands the point of open data. While many people – self-included- talk about how it can empower citizens, citizens will not be its primary beneficiary. The biggest user of open data portals is going to be government employees. Indeed, Tim Wilson reminded me the other day of our conversation with Jason Birch, the thought leader who made much of Nanaimo’s geo-data public, where he talked about how he wasn’t actually tasked with sharing data publicly – he was tasked with making the data available to other Nanaimo city employees. Sharing it with citizens was a (relatively) cost free addition. These projects aren’t about serving some techo-literati, it is about getting a city to first and foremost talk to itself – having it talk to its citizens is an important (and democracy expanding) benefit.

Second, was this unfortunate anecdote:

Yesterday I was discussing with a British client over lunch and he told me how the publication of data may lead to requests for more data (through the Freedom of Information Act), in a never-ending cycle of information gathering which is likely to cost a lot to both government and taxpayers. Another client observed (as I said in a previous post) that there is no way people will be able to tell to what extent a mash up on an application actually uses official, trusted government data.

Could government become swamped with data requests? Who knows, but in theory… it shouldn’t. Making data available should reduce the amount of time public servants spend responding to requests by diverting requests to open data portals. But let’s say Andrea’s concerns are valid and that, as a result of open data, citizens become more actively concerned and interested in how government works and thus Freedom of Information Act requests increase. The horror… citizens are interested in government! Citizens want to know how decisions are made! Remind me again… why is this a problem?

The real problem here isn’t access to data, it’s that the Freedom of Information Act process is itself broken. If open data creates a further demand for more transparent government and pushes us to foster better mechanisms for sharing government information, this is a good consequence. As for concerns that people might misrepresent public data, well a) people can already do this and we haven’t had a rash of bad applications, but even if they tried… people will stop using their service pretty quick.

Finally, another nice thing about public data is that it tends to get very clean, very quickly. My concern isn’t that government data will be misrepresented… I’m concerned that government data is already wrong and isn’t being verified. Knowing that someone might actually look at a data set is one of the most powerful incentives for organization to improve its collection. (Something Clay Shirky noted in a talk he made the other day at a Bioinformatics conference I’m at).

(There is of course, one group who may not see these a good consequences as it will change how they work: British public servant like Andrea’s client’s who raised the objections… but then they pay Gartner’s bills, not you.)

The Good

The end of Andrea Dimiao’s piece is where we find common ground. I agree that the Apps for Democracy competitions run the risk of limiting the definition of “the public” to citizen coders.  We want broader participation – particularly once more complex data sets like budgets, procurement and crime data are released – from academics, citizens groups and NGOs. Here in Vancouver we’ve talked about focusing any Apps competition on the themes of homelessness, housing and the environment, since these have been the dominant concerns of citizens in recent years.

More importantly, I agree (and love) Dimiao’s concept of employee-centric government. Indeed, my chapter for Tim O’Reilly’s upcoming book on Open Government makes a parallel argument, that namely we should stop trying to teach an analogue government to talk to a digital public and instead focus on making government digital (ie. getting it “open,” networked and using web 2.0 internally) first.

And perhaps most importantly, I agree that government 2.0 risks being over-hyped. I still believe in the potential, but know that getting there is going to be a painful process (mind the gap!). Government 2.0 advocates should expect lots of resistance and adoption problems ahead – but then change is painful.

Garbage Collection now IS sexy: Introducing VanTrash

garbage-can_rgbA few months ago some of you will remember I blogged about How Open Data even makes Garbage collection sexier, easier and cheaper. I suggested that, with open data, coders could digitize the city’s garbage collection schedule and city maps and enable citizens to download it into their calendar or even set up a recurring email reminder.

The post went fairly viral being picked up places like here and here. As a result, two weeks later Luke Closs and Kevin Jones, two Vancouver based coders with a strong sense of fun and civic duty emailed me and said they’d actually scrapped the data and had created an alpha version of the site. I offered my (meagre) skills to help move the application forward and we began working on it.

Today, I’m pleased to say that VanTrash has been launched. If you live in Vancouver (or don’t) please do take a look at the website.

Our goal with VanTrash is twofold. First: we want a great service that leverages public data to helpmake our fellow citizens’ lives a little better or easier. Second: we’d like to sign up 3000 or more users.

Since there are about 260,000 households in Vancouver (although many have private contracted garbage pick up) 3000 users would represent between 1-2% of all households for whom the city collects their garbage. There are not that many services that citizens opt in for that get this market penetration – especially services created for virtually nothing. The more users we get, the stronger the message we send to government’s everywhere that government is a platform and that we need to let citizens built on top of it. More importantly, we demonstrate that great, and useful, things can be done for cheap, a lesson citizens and governments need to constantly relearn.

So if you live in Vancouver, and you think there service would be helpful to you (or perhaps to a forgetful or absent minded friend, family member or neighbour) please sign up or spread the word.

The Rise of the Open City: the current state of affairs

I’ve been following with great interest the number of cities partaking in open data initiatives. With the online announcement yesterday of a motion going before Calgary’s City Council, things are again on the move. So what is the count at now? This little table tries to capture who’s done what so far. If I’m missing something please do let me know – I will try to update this from time to time.


Date of initial activity




Washington, DC October 12th, 2008 Created a data portal on city website and launched apps for democracy Action was taken by the CIO, no city motion passed. Currently launching a second apps for democracy contest. http://data.octo.dc.gov/
Vancouver, BC May 21st, 2009 Vancouver City Council Passes the Open Motion Open Data website is in the works, release date unknown. N/A
San Francisco, CA June 16th, 2009 City of SF posts a craigslist request looking for developers to help create a data.gov like site for the city No motion passed, there is an OpenSF blog where current activities and ideas are shared. N/A
Nanaimo, BC June 22nd, 2009 City launches an open data website No motion passed http://www.nanaimo.ca/datafeeds/
New York City, NY June 25th, 2009 A bill is being circulated by Council Member Gale Brewer Has announced a “Big Apps” competition for apps that use 80 soon to be released city data sets. N/A
Calgary, AB July 27th, 2009 City of Calgary tables an Open Motion to be debated N/A N/A
Toronto, ON 2010 Announces (April 7th, 2009) intention of creating open data website Mayor David Miller announces Toronto will create an open data website by fall of 2009 at Mesh 09 conference N/A
Ottawa, ON I’ve heard there is movement in Ottawa, have not found any information

Why StatCan is (or could be) like Google

Statscan Google logoThe other week I gave a talk on Gen Y, Gen X, Technology and the Future of the Public Service at StatCan’s managers’ meeting. The speaker before me apparently told the gathering that they “should be more like Google” if they want to recruit young talent. During his Q&A one of the managers asked how a government agency could be like Google (a legitimate question, I thought) and the speaker didn’t have much to say. Frustrating, no?


But I think there is a good case. While the idea of StatCan emulating one of the best performing, young, hottest companies in Silicon Valley may sound far-fetched, it needn’t. StatCan can be like Google. In fact, it already is.

Look, for a second, a Google’s strategy. Google’s mission is encapsulated in its SEC filing statement:

“to organize the world’s information …. and make it universally accessible and useful”. Google explains that it believes that the most effective, and ultimately the most profitable, way to accomplish our mission is to put the needs of our users first. Offering a high-quality user experience has led to strong word-of-mouth promotion and strong traffic growth. Putting users first is reflected in three key commitments illustrated in the Google SEC filing: “1. We will do our best to provide the most relevant and useful search results possible, independent of financial incentives. Our search results will be objective and we will not accept payment for inclusion or ranking in them.

  1. We will do our best to provide the most relevant and useful advertising. Advertisements should not be an annoying interruption. If any element on a search result page is influenced by payment to us, we will make it clear to our users.
  2. We will never stop working to improve our user experience, our search technology and other important areas of information organization”.

To organize the world’s information… and make it universally accessible. This a huge part of StatCan’s mission. To organize Canada’s information… (now if only we made it universally accessible).

I think Google’s mission is similar to StatCan’s. Indeed the main difference is that StatCan not only organizes Canada’s information; it also creates that data. However, this is a space that Google has moved aggressively into — why do you think it has created platforms like Google Earth? To facilitate the creation of data so that it has more to organize and offer its users. Indeed, what is interesting about Google is that it knows the more information and data that is out there – for free – the more useful and important it becomes. It means more people doing searches, which means more advertising revenue.

So what does this mean for StatCan?:

First, distinguish and separate what you do: “Creating and organizing information about Canada” from what makes you valuable: making this information universally available to citizens.

Second, make yourself the centre of a data gathering, sharing and analyzing eco-system: There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people out there who could do amazing things with StatCan’s data. The problem is, it isn’t easy to find, often you have to pay for it, and it is usually only available in HTML charts that aren’t easily accessed, and certainly not dynamically available. If StatCan data was available as API’s and Excel spreadsheets, then a whole ecosystem of multimillion dollar businesses, bloggers and other pro-ams would emerge around it as supporters, collaborators and complementors.

Finally, hire young people to make it happen because if you are open, they will come: Does StatCan want young people to come work for them? Then stop behaving like a 20th-century consulting firm whose job is to hoard data and conduct analyses for clients. (Don’t worry you can still do this). Instead, act like the 21st-century Google-like platform that you are. Your job should be to make your data as searchable, taggable, as pluggable, in short, as usable, as possible. This, in addition to collection, should be the top priority. If StatCan’s data were easily available (say as an API) people would start using it in all sorts of creative ways – this, and this alone will drive innovation, excitement, energy and buzz about Statcan into the workplace. In short, it will make Statcan relevant. StatCan should be a place where young Canadians want to work so they can learn how to handle and disseminate HUGE quantities of data to everyone from the smallest bloggers to the largest companies. That skill set is going to be critical in the 21st century and so such a mission will attract talent top talent, if StatCan gives them the freedom to play and build it.

StatCan is like Google — if it chooses to be. It can’t offer the stock options, but it can offer a cool opportunity to help build the country’s most critical data ecosystem for a 21st century economy. That’s a job lots of geeks would be interested in.

Government social networking

Again, as a follow up to my talk at DPI on web 2.0 technologies and government, Nicolas sent me a brief article on IBM’s internal experimentation with of Socian Networking.

Those at DPI will know that one of the reasons I believe social networking for government is important is that enables employees of massive organizations – both in terms of geography and number of employees – to find and engage with one another. As such it is a clearing house for ideas and people, helping them find and connect with one another. Hence this paragraph in the article obviously tickled my goat (yeah, I said tickled my goat):

…in a global company with nearly 400,000 employees, most people are too far away to plop down in a teammate’s cubicle or grab a cup of coffee. These social tools, IBM hopes, will provide a substitute for personal connections that flew away with globalization—and help to build and strengthen far-flung teams. “People are putting up pictures of their family, the same way they’d put them up in the cubicle,” says Joan DiMicco, one of the research scientists.

People may not think of the public service as globalized (or like IBM) but it does have over 325,000 employees spread out over 3 and half time zones across a 5,187 km axis east to west. That’s pretty globalized and IBM-like right there.