Tag Archives: open source

Mozilla and leadership: Rethinking the CEO

Last week John Lily – CEO of Mozilla – announced he will be stepping down to take a job at Greylock, a venture capital firm. I’ve only met John twice, and both times he was generous with both his time and willingness to engage some of my thoughts and (many) questions. I know he is a huge asset to Mozilla and has done a great deal to help mature the organization.

With the Mozilla now planning a CEO succession it seems like an opportune time to raise an idea that first came to me a few months ago: Should Mozilla rename the role of CEO?

Why change the title? My interest is that the title communicate the message of Mozilla mission and its method. CEO’s are usually (although, admittedly not exclusively) associated with traditional companies, and to a lesser degree, hierarchical decision making structures. Indeed, if asked what words I were to associate with the CEO I think “authority,” “command” and “hierarchy” would be among the top to jump into my mind.

Mozilla has never been, and I hope never will be, a traditional software company. It is not profit driven but mission driven – its goal is to keep the web open in part by providing a competitive, open standards compliant web-browser. More importantly, the Mozilla models depends not on a large staff to succeed, but on a community of volunteers whose donations of time and code are coordinated by a (relatively) small staff.

So what do I think the core values the titles of Mozilla’s leadership needs to communicate? I think authority and command are definitely part of the mix. Ultimately the senior leadership of Mozilla needs to make difficult strategic and management choices, just like a CEO. But one of the things that I think makes the role so difficult (and different) is that it requires other key attributes as well, including “engagement,” “fun,” and “community.” Let’s face it, if your capacity to create software depends on a volunteer community, that community had better be fun, engaging and with – ideally – low transaction costs.

None of this, I think, is new. Mitchell Baker, Mozilla’s chairman and Lily’s predecessor, retains the title she popularly used while in her previous job: Chief Lizard Wrangler (also the name of her blog). That title says it all: Fun, community-oriented, hints at decision-making that is consultative, but still a dose of authority…

So, can we find a new title that reflects these values? I know at Mozilla solutions are prized above observations but I’ll confess I’m a little short on suggestion (I actually love Chief Lizard Wrangler and wonder if that should not be the title). Community Director (as opposed to Executive Director) has come to mind. I’m ultimately not attached to a given solution, I just believe it is important that the title be consistent with the spirit and values of the Mozilla project. I know that the leadership and staff have a lot of its plate and that this is not the most critical issue, but I wanted to put the thought out there nonetheless as symbols such as these matter, I believe especially in mission driven organizations.

CIO Summit recap and links

Yesterday I was part of a panel at the CIO Summit, a conference for CIO’s of the various ministries of the Canadian Government.  There was lots more I would have liked to have shared with the group, so I’ve attached some links here as a follow up for those in (and not in) attendance, to help flesh out some of my thoughts:

1. Doing mini-GCPEDIAcamps or WikiCamps

So what is a “camp“? Check out Wikipedia! “A term commonly used in the titles of technology-related unconferences, such as Foo Camp and BarCamp.” In short, it is an informal gathering of people who share a common interest who gather to share best practices or talk about the shared interest.

There is interest in GCPEDIA across the public service but many people aren’t sure how to use it (in both the technical and social sense). So let’s start holding small mini-conferences to help socialize how people can use GCPEDIA and help get them online. Find a champion, organize informally, do it at lunch, make it informal, and ensure there are connected laptops or computers on hand. And do it more than once! Above all, a network peer-based platform, requires a networked learning structure.

2. Send me a Excel Spreadsheet of structured data sets on your ministries website

As I mentioned, a community of people have launched datadotgc.ca. If you are the CIO of a ministry that has structured data sets (e.g. CVS, excel spreadsheets, KML, SHAPE files, things that users can download and play with, so not PDFs!) drop the URLs of their locations into an email or spreadsheet and send it to me! I would love to have your ministry well represented on the front page graph on datadotgc.ca.

3. Some links to ideas and examples I shared

– Read about how open data help find/push the CRA to locate $3.2B dollar in lost tax revenue.

– Read about how open data needs to be part of the stimulus package.

– Why GCPEDIA could save the public service here.

– Check out Vantrash, openparliament is another great site too.

– The open data portals I referenced: the United States, the United Kingdom, The World Bank, & Vancouver’s

4. Let’s get more people involved in helping Government websites work (for citizens)

During the conference I offered to help organize some Government DesignCamps to help ensure that CLF 3 (or whatever the next iteration will be called) helps Canadians navigate government websites. There are people out there who would offer up some free advice – sometimes out of love, sometimes out of frustration – that regardless of their motivation could be deeply, deeply helpful. Canada has a rich and talented design community including people like this – why not tap into it? More importantly, it is a model that has worked when done right. This situation is very similar to the genesis of the original TransitCamp in Toronto.

5. Push your department to develop an Open Source procurement strategy

The fact is, if you aren’t even looking at open source solutions you are screen out part of your vendor ecosystem and failing in your fiduciary duty to engage in all options to deliver value to tax payers. Right now Government’s only seem to know how to pay LOTS of money for IT. You can’t afford to do that anymore. GCPEDIA is available to every government employee, has 15,000 users today and could easily scale to 300,000 (we know it can scale because Wikipedia is way, way bigger). All this for the cost of $60K in consulting fees and $1.5M in staff time. That is cheap. Disruptively cheap. Any alternative would have cost you $20M+ and, if scaled, I suspect $60M+.

Not every piece of software should necessarily be open source, but you need to consider the option. Already, on the web, more and more governments are looking at open source solutions.

Connectedness, Volleyball and Online Communities

I’m currently knee deep into Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Christakis & Fowler and am thoroughly enjoying it.

One fascinating phenomenon the book explores is how emotions can spread from person to person. In other words, when you are happy you increase the odds your friends will be happy and, interestingly, that your friends’ friends will be happy. Indeed Christakis & Fowler’s research suggests that emotional states are, to a limited degree, contagious.

All this reminded me of playing competitive volleyball. I’ve always felt volleyball is one of the most psychologically difficult games to play. I’ve regularly seen fantastic teams collapse in front of vastly inferior opponents. I used to believe that the unique structure of volleyball accounted for this. The challenge is that the game pauses at the end of every point, allowing players to reflect on what happened and, more importantly, assign blame (which can often be allocated to a single individual on the team). This makes it easy for teams to start blaming a player, over-think a point, or get frustrated with one another.

As a result, even prior to reading Connected, I knew team cohesion was essential in volleyball (and, admittedly, any sport) . This is often why, between points, you’ll see volleyball teams come together and high-five or shake hands even if they lost the point. If emotions and confidence are contagious, I can now see why it is a team starts to lose a little confidence and consequently then plays a little worse causing them to lose still more confidence and then, suddenly they are in a negative rut and can’t escape.(Indeed, this peer reviewed paper showed that tactile touch among NBA players was a predictor of individual and team success)

Of course, I’ve also long believed the same is true of online (and, in particular, open source) communities. That poisonous and difficult people don’t just negatively impact the people they are in direct contact with, but also a broader group of people in the community. Moreover, because communication often takes place in comment threads the negative impact of poisonous people could potentially linger, dragging down the attitude and confidence of everyone else in the community. I’ve often thought that the consequence of negative behaviours in the online communities has been underestimated – Christakis and Fowler’s research suggests there are some more concrete ways to measure this negative impact, and to track it. Negative behaviour fosters (and possibly even attracts) still more negative behaviour, creating a downward loop and likely causing positive or constructive people to opt out, or even never join the community in the first place.

In the end, finding ways to identify, track and mitigating negative behaviour early on – before it becomes contagious – is probably highly important. This is just an issue of having people be positive, it is about creating a productive and effective space, be it in pursuit of an open source software product, or a vibrant and interesting discussion at the end of an online newspaper article.

Datadotgc.ca Launched – the opportunity and challenge

Today I’m really pleased to announce that we’ve launched datadotgc.ca, a volunteer driven site I’m collaboratively creating with a small group of friends and, I hope, a growing community that, if you are interested, may include you.

As many of you already know I, and many other people, want our governments to open up and share their data, in useful, structured formats that people can actually use or analyze. Unlike our American and British peers, the Canadian Federal (and provincial…) government(s) currently have no official, coordinated effort to release government data.

I think that should change.

So rather than merely complain that we don’t have a data.gov or data.gov.uk in Canada, we decided to create one ourselves. We can model what we want our governments to do and even create limited versions of the service ourselves. So that is what we are doing with this site. A stab at showing our government, and Canada, what a federal open data portal could and should look like – one that I’m hoping people will want to help make a success.

Some two things to share.

First, what’s our goal for the site?

  • Be an innovative platform that demonstrates how government should share data.
  • Create an incentive for government to share more data by showing ministers, public servants and the public which ministries are sharing data, and which are not.
  • Provide a useful service to citizens interested in open data by bringing it all the government data together into one place to both make it easier to find.

Second, our big challenge.

As Luke C, one datadotgc.ca community member said to me – getting the site up is the easier part. The real challenge is building a community of people who will care for it and help make it a living, growing and evolving success. Here there is lots of work still to be done. But if you feel passionate about open government and are interested in joining our community, we’d love to have you. At the moment, especially as we still get infrastructure to support the community in place, we are convening at a google group here.

So what our some of the things I think are a priority in the short term?

  • Adding or bulk scraping in more data sets so the site more accurately displays what is available
  • Locating data sets that are open and ready to be “liberated”
  • Documenting how to add or scrape in a data set to allow people to help more easily
  • Implement a more formal bug and feature tracker
  • Plus lots of other functionality I know I at least (and I’m sure there are lots more ideas out there) would like to add (like “request a closed data set”)

As Clay Shirky once noted about any open source project, datadotgc.ca is powered by love. If people love the site and love what it is trying to accomplish, then we will have a community interested in helping make it a success. I know I love datadotgc.ca – and so my goal is to help you love it too, and to do everything I can to make it as easy as possible for you to make whatever contribution you’d like to make. Creating a great community is the hardest but best part of any project. We are off to a great start, and I hope to maybe see you on the google group.

Finally, just want to thank everyone who has helped so far, including the fine people at Raised Eyebrow Web Studio, Luke Closs, and a number of fantastic coders from the Open Knowledge Foundation. There are also some great people over at the Datadotgc.ca Google Group who have helped scrape data, tested for bugs and been supportive and helpful in so many ways.

Mozilla Drumbeat: Help keep the web open

Mozilla Drumbeat is the Mozilla Foundations new venture. An effort to reach out beyond those who have helped make the Firefox web browser to a broader community – those that care about keeping the internet open but who want to contribute in other ways.

Drumbeat will have three components:

1) Projects – many of which are already underway

2) Local events – like the upcoming on in Toronto on April 24th

3) A website – that ties it all together, a place where people can gather virtually to organize

So what can you do?

First, if you are interested in hosting a local Mozilla Drumbeat event, contact Nathaniel James at the Mozilla Foundation, there is going to be Facilitator Training event in Toronto on April 23-24th and in Berlin on May 7th-8th.

Second, consider participating in one of the Drumbeat projects listed on the Drumbeat website (still in beta).

I’m looking forward to see Drumbeat evolve and for it to become easier for people to participate in its various projects. Ultimately we need a way to protect the openness of the web – the thing that makes the web so fun and interesting for all us – and Drumbeat is a great starting point.

BC Apps For Climate Change Contest to be Announced

Over the past few months I’ve been working with the BC Government around the idea of an “Apps for Climate Change.” The idea, initiated by the province, is to hold a development competition akin to the “Apps for Democracy” competition hosted by Washington DC but focused around climate change.

I talked a little bit about the upcoming competition during my O’Reilly Gov 2.0 International Online talk and referenced an article by Stephen Hui in the Georgia Straight which outlines some of the competitions details. (some people have been asking for that link).

In short, the province is assembling a fairly large data catalog focused around climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, along with a number of other data sets. I expect the contest to be announced at GLOBE 2010 (Mar 24-26) with a side announcement at OpenGovWest and hope to share more information soon. There will be prize money involved – but more importantly, an opportunity to create something that could get serious profile.

In addition to interested independent developers, one hope I have is that non-profits like Greenpeace, the David Suzuki foundation and others will reach out to developers in their volunteer/activist community and encourage them to use these data sets in ways that might help the public. I’m also hoping that some private sector actors may see ways to use this data to better serve their clients or save them, or their customers, money.

Either way, I hope the competition sparks the interest of Canadians across the country and generates some interesting applications that can help citizens act on the issue of climate change.

Open Source Strategy: OpenMRS case study

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to Indianapolis to give a talk at the Regenstrief Institute – an informatics and healthcare research organization – which also happens to host the founders of OpenMRS.

For those not familiar with OpenMRS (which I assume to be most of you) it is open-source, enterprise electronic medical record system platform specifically designed to respond to those actively building and managing health systems in the developing world. It’s a project I’m endlessly excited about not only because of its potential to improve healthcare in developing and emerging markets, but also because of its longer-term potential to serve as a disruptive innovator in developed markets.

Having spent a few days at Regenstrief hanging out with the OpenMRS team, here are some take aways I have regarding where they are, and where – in my mind – they should consider heading and what are some of the key places they could focus on to get there.

Current State: Exiting Stealth Mode

Paul Biondich and Andrew Arenson point me to this article about Community Source vs. Open Source which has an interesting piece on open source projects that operate in “Stealth Mode”

It is possible to find models similar to community source within the open source environment. For example, some projects opt to launch in a so called ‘stealth mode’, that is, they operate as a truly open source development from inception, but restrict marketing information about the project during the early stages. This has the effect of permitting access to anyone who cares enough to discover the project, whilst at the same time allowing the initiating members to maintain a focus on early strategic objectives, rather than community development.

OpenMRS has grown in leaps and bounds and – I would argue – has managed to stay in stealth mode (even with the help of their friends at Google summer of code). But for OpenMRS to succeed it must exit stealth mode (a transition that has already been steadily gathering steam). By being more public it can attract more resources, access a broader development community and role out more implementations for patients around the world. But to succeed I suspect that a few things need to be in place.

Core Opportunities/Challenges:

1. Develop OpenMRS as a platform to push people towards cooperating (as opposed requiring collaboration) whenever possible.

One of the smartest things Firefox did was create add-ons. The innovation of add-ons accomplished two benefits. First, it allowed those working on the trunk of the Firefox code to continue to do their work without being distracted by as many feature requests from developers who had an idea they wanted to try out. Second, it increased the number of people who could take interest in Firefox, since now you could code up your own add-on cooperatively but independently, of the rest of the project.

With OpenMRS my sense is that then entire UI is a platform that others should be able to develop or build add-on’s for. Indeed, the longer term business model that makes significant sense to me is to treat OpenMRS like WordPress or Drupal. The underlying code is managed by a core open source community but installation, customization, skinning, widgets, etc… is done by a mix of actors from amateurs, to independent hackers and freelancers to larger design/dev organizations. The local business opportunities to support OpenMRS and, in short, create an IT industry in the developing world, are enormous.

2. Structural Change(s)

One consequence of treating OpenMRS as a platform is that the project needs to be very clear about what is “core” versus what is platform. My sense is that members of the Mozilla team does not spend a lot of time hacking on add-ons (unless they have proven so instrumental they are brought into the trunk). Looking at WordPress the standard install theme is about as basic as one could expect. It would seem no one at WordPress is wasting cycles developing nice themes to roll out with the software. There is a separate (thriving) community that can do that.

As a result, my sense is that OpenMRS should ensure that its front-end developers slowly begin to operate as a separate entity. One reason for this is that if they are too close to the trunk developers they may inadvertently prevent prevent the emergence of a community that would specialize in the installing and customizing of OpenMRS. More importantly, those working on the platform and those working on the trunk may have different interests, and so allowing that tension to emerge and learning how to manage it in the open will be healthy for the long term viability of the project as more and more people do front end work and share their concerns with trunk developers.

3. Stay Flexible by Engaging in Community Management/Engagement

One of the challenges that quickly emerges when one turns a software product into an innovation platform is that the interests of those working on the product and those developing on the platform can quickly divide. One often here’s rumblings from the Drupal community about how drupal core developers often appear more interested in writing interesting/beautiful code than in making Drupal easier to use for businesses (core vs. platform!). Likewise, Firefox and Thunderbird also hear similar rumblings from add-on developers who worry about how new platforms (jetpack) might make old platforms (add-ons) obsolete. In a sense, people who build on platforms are inherently conservative. Change, even (or sometimes especially!) change that lowers barriers to entry means more work for them. They have to ensure that whatever they’ve built on top of the platform doesn’t break when the platform changes. Conversely trunk developers can become enamored with change for change’s sake – including features that offer marginal benefits but that disrupt huge ecosystems.

In my mind, managing these types of tension is essential for an open source project – particularly one involving medical records. Trunk developers will need to have A-level facilitation and engagement skills, capable of listening to platform developers and others, not be reactive or defensive, understand interests and work hard to mediate disputes – even disputes they are involved in. These inter-personal skills will be the grease that ensure the OpenMRS machine can keep innovating while understanding and serving the developer community that is building on top of it. The OpenMRS leadership will also have to take a strong lead in this area – setting expectations around how, and how quickly OpenMRS will evolve so that the developer ecosystem can plan accordingly. Clear expectations will do wonders for reducing tensions between disparate stakeholders.

4) Set the Culture in Place now

Given that OpenMRS is still emerging from Stealth mode, now is the time to imprint the culture with the DNA it will need to survive the coming growth. A clear social contract for participation, a code of community conduct and clearer mission statement that can be referenced during decisions will all be essential. I’m of course also interested in the tools we can role out that will help manage the community. Porting over to Trac the next generation of Diederik’s bug-fix predicter, along with his flame monitor, are ways to give community the influence to have a check on poor behaviour and nudge people towards making better choices in resolving disputes.

5) Create and Share Data to Foster Markets

Finally, I think there is enormous opportunity for a IT industry – primarily located in the developing world – to emerge and support OpenMRS. My sense is that OpenMRS should do everything it can to encourage and foster such an industry.

Some ideas for doing this have been inspired by my work around open data. I think it is critical that OpenMRS start asking implementations to ping them once complete – and again whenever an upgrade is complete. This type of market data – anatomized – could help the demonstrate demand for services that already exists, as well as its rate of growth. Developers in underserved counties might realize there are market niches to be filled. In addition, I suspect that all of the OpenMRS implementations that have been completed that we don’t know about represent a huge wealth of information. These are people who managed to install OpenMRS with no support and possibly – on the cheap. Understanding how they did and who was involved could yield important best practices as well as introduce us to prospective community members with a “can do” spirit and serious skills. I won’t dive into too much detail here, but needless to say, I think anonymized but aggregated data provided for free by OpenMRS could spur further innovation and market growth.

Postscript

I’m sure there is lots to debate in the above text – I may have made some faulty assumptions along the way – so this should not be read as final or authoritative, mostly a contribution to what is an ongoing discussion at OpenMRS. Mostly I’m excited about where things are and where they are going, and the tremendous potential of OpenMRS.

More Open Data Apps hit Vancouver

Since the launch of Vancouver’s open data portal a lot of the talk has focused on independent or small groups of programmers hacking together free applications for citizens to use. Obviously I’ve talked a lot about (and have been involved in) Vantrash and have been a big fan of the Amazon.ca/Vancouver Public Library Greasemonkey script created by Steve Tannock.

But independent hackers aren’t the only ones who’ve been interested. Shortly after the launch of the city’s Open Data Portal, Microsoft launched an Open Data App Competition for developers at the Microsoft Canadian Development Centre just outside Vancouver in Richmond, British Columbia. On Wednesday I had the pleasure of being invited to the complex to eat free pizza and, better still, serve as a guest judge during the final presentations.

So here are 5 more applications that have been developed using the city’s open data. (Some are still being tweaked and refined, but the goal is to have them looking shiny and ready by the Olympics.)

Gold

MoBuddy by Thomas Wei: Possibly the most ambitious of the projects, MoBuddy enables you to connect with friends and visitors during Olympics to plan and share experiences through mobile social networking including Facebook.

Silver

Vancouver Parking by Igor Babichev: Probably the most immediately useful app for Vancouverites, Vancouver Parking helps you plan your trip by using your computer in advanced to find parking spots, identify time restrictions, parking duration and costs… It even knows which spots won’t be available for the Olympics. After the Olympics are over, it will be interesting to see if other hackers want to help advance this app. I think a mobile or text message enabled version might be interesting.

Bronze (tie):

Free Finders by Avi Brenner: Another app that could be quite useful to Vancouver residents and visiting tourists, Free Finders uses your facebook connection to find free events and services across the city. Lots of potential here for some local newspapers to pick up this app and run with it.

eVanTivitY by Johannes Stockmann: A great play on creativity and Vancouver, eVanTivity enables you to find City and social events and add-in user-defined data-feeds. Once the Olympics are over I’ve got some serious ideas about how this app could help Vancouver’s Arts & Cultural sector.

Honourable Mention:

MapWay by Xinyang Qiu: Offers a way to find City of Vancouver facilities and Olympic events in Bing Maps as well as create a series of customized maps that combine city data with your own.

More interestingly, in addition to being available to use, each of these applications can be downloaded, hacked on, remixed and tinkered with under an open source license (GNU I believe) once the Olympics are over. The source codes will be available at Microsoft’s Codeplex.

In short, it is great to see a large company like Microsoft take an active interest in Vancouver’s Open Data and try to find some ways to give back to the community – particularly using an open source licenses. I’d also like to give a shout out to Mark Gayler (especially) as well as Dennis Pilarinos and Barbara Berg for making the competition possible and, of course, to all the coders at the Development Centre who volunteered their time and energy to create these apps. These are interesting times for a company like Microsoft and so I’d also like to give a shout out to David Crow who’s been working hard to get important people inside the organization comfortable with the idea of open source and open to experimenting with it.

Vancouver Open Data Version 2: New Apps to create

Wow, wow, wow.

The City of Vancouver has just launched version 2 of its open data portal. A number of new data sets have been added to the site which is very exciting. Better still previously released data sets have been released in new formats.

Given that at 5pm tomorrow (Tuesday. Jan 26th) there will be the third Open Data Hackathon at the city archives to which anyone is invited, I thought I’d share the 5 new open data apps I’d love to see:

1. Home Buyers App.

So at some point some smart real estate agent is going to figure out that there is a WEALTH of relevant information for home buyers in the open data catalogue. Perhaps someone might create this iPhone app and charge for it, perhaps a real estate group will pay for its creation (I know some coders who would be willing – drop me an email).

Imagine an iPhone app you use when shopping around for homes. Since the app knows where you are it can use open data to tell you: property assessment, the distance to the nearest park (and nearest park with off leash area), nearest school, school zone (elementary, plus secondary immersion and regular), distance to the local community centre, neighborhood name, nearest bus/subway stops and routes, closest libraries, nearest firehall among a host of other data. Having that type of information at your finger tips could be invaluable!

2. My Commute App:

One of the sexiest and most interesting data sets released in version 2 is a GeoRss feed of upcoming road closures (which you can also click and see as a map!). It would be great if a commuter could outline their normal drive or select their bus route and anytime the rss feed posts about roadwork that will occur on that route the user receives an email informing them of this fact. Allows you to plan an alternative route or know that you’re going to have to leave a little early.

3. Development Feedback App

There is always so much construction going on in Vancouver it is often hard to know what is going to happen next. The city, to its credit, requires developers to post a giant white board outlining the proposed development. Well now a data feed of planned developments is available on the data portal (it also can already be viewed in map form)! Imagine an iPhone app which shows you the nearest development applications (with details!) and heritage buildings so you can begin to understand how the neighbourhood is going to change. Then imagine a form you can fill in – right then(!) – that emails your concerns or support for that development to a councilor or relevant planning official…

For a city like Vancouver that obsesses about architecture and its neighborhoods, this feels like a winner.

4. MyPark App

We Vancouverites are an outdoorsey bunch. Why not an app that consolidates information about the cities parks into one place. You could have park locations, nearest park locator, nearest dog park locator, the Parks Boards most recent announcements and events RSS Feed. I’m hoping that in the near future Parks Board will release soccer/ultimate frisbee field conditions updates in a machine readable format.

5. VanTrash 2.0?

Interestingly Apartment recycling schedule zones was also released in the new version of the site. Might be interesting to see if we can incorporate it into the already successful Vantrash and so expand the user base.

I’m also thinking there could be some cool things one could do with Graffiti information (maybe around reporting? a 311 tie in?) and street lights (safest route home walking app?)

So there is a start. If you are interested in these – or have your own ideas for how the data could be used – let me know. Better yet, consider coming down to the City Archives tomorrow evening for the third open data hackathon. I’ll be there, it would be great to chat.

BC Government's blog on renewing the Water Act

On Friday the Government of British Columbia announced that it was beginning the process to renew the province’s water act. This is, in of itself, important and good.

More interesting however, is that the government has chosen to launch a blog to discuss ideas, prospective changes and generally engage the public on water issues.

It is, of course, early days. I’m not one to jump up and proclaim instant success nor pick apart the effort and find its faults after a single post. What I will say is that this type of experimentation in public engagement and policy development is long overdue. It is exciting to see a major government in Canada tentatively begin to explore how online technology and social media might enhance policy development as more (hopefully) than just a communication exercise. Even if it does not radically alter the process – or even if it does not go well – at least this government is experimenting and beginning learn what will work and what won’t. I hope and suspect other jurisdictions will be watching closely.

If you are such a government-type and are wondering what it is about the site that gives me hope… let me briefly list three things:

  1. Site design: Unlike most government websites which OVERWHELM you with information, menus and links, this one is (relatively) simple.
  2. Social media: A sidebar with recent comments! A tag cloud! RSS feed! Things that most blogs and website have had for years and yet… seem to elude government websites.
  3. An effective platform (bonus points for being open source): This may be the first time I’ve seen an official government website in Canada use wordpress (which, by the by, is free to download). When running a blog wordpress is certainly my choice (quite literally) and has been a godsend. The choice of wordpress also explains a lot of why point #2 is possible.

So… promising start. Now, what would I like to see happen around the government’s blog?

Well, if you want to engage the public why not give them data that you are using internally? It would be great to get recent and historic flow rate data from major rivers in BC. And what about water consumption rates by industry/sector but also perhaps by region and by city and dare we ask… by neighborhood? It would also be interesting to share the assumptions about future growth so that professors, thinktanks and those who care deeply about water issues could challenge and test them. Of course the government could share all this data on its upcoming Apps For Climate Change data portal (more on that soon). If we were really lucky, some web superstar like this guy, would create some cool visualization to help the public understand what is happening to water around the province and what the future holds.

In short, having a blog is a fantastic first start, but lets use it to share information so that citizens can do their own analysis using their own assumptions with the same data sets the government is using. That would certainly elevate the quality of the discussion on the site.

All in all, the potential for a site like this is significant. I hope the water geeks show up in force and are able to engage in a helpful manner.