With Gov 2.0 at a crossroads, context, incentive, and value is King

(cross posted from my FutureFed article)

Back in April it was announced that the FY2011 budget reduced the Obama Administration’s Electronic Government Fund from $35 million to only $8 million, including cuts to landmark transparency initiatives like the Federal IT Dashboard and USASpending.gov. Yesterday we received additional details on how specific programs would be impacted, as WFED reported that the Office of Management and Budget will terminate both FedSpace and the Citizen Services Dashboard initiatives. Data.gov will survive, but will also be impacted, even as the site recently celebrated its second birthday with a big announcement about its move to the cloud.

These development could have a serious impact on the mission of Gov 2.0 and Open Government – both from a practical standpoint as well as in overall perception. Obviously, building out the infrastructure and processes to support Gov 2.0 and Open Government initiatives takes time, effort, and money – and any reduction in funding will make it more challenging for those tasked with building such systems. Having these programs on the chopping block creates the perception of the lack of realized value and priority with policymakers (and thus, citizens).

In general, these changes are forcing all of us in the government community to take a hard look at what’s working, and what isn’t. These cuts raise an important reminder about Gov 2.0: It’s not enough just to make data available and to open up forums for participation. Agencies must provide sufficient context about what the data means to people and what they can do with it – and also need to provide sufficient incentives for people, especially developers, to motivate them to build systems that provide tangible value and return on investment.

Government agencies at all levels can do the following to help ensure people use data in the right context:

  • Provide data in open, easy-to-understand, standardized formats that encourage developers and other people to build apps on them.
  • Provide background on how recent and authoritative data is, as well as who owns it and whom it applies to.
  • Ensure data privacy and security so people can trust the data’s integrity.
  • Offer good tools and user interface technologies that enable developers to present data in clear, compelling and accurate ways.
  • Provide easy access to qualified expert guidance, both live and asynchronous like FAQs. This helps answer questions on what legitimate connections people can make with the data and what application capabilities would best benefit the government and public.

Providing incentive and motivation is more challenging:

  • Many have already gone the route of contests with some good results. But while that’s a good way to kickstart development, it’s not really a sustainable model, and we have lots of orphaned apps lying around to show for it.
  • Agencies could provide ideas for solution scenarios along with matching capabilities between entities that have uses for the data and developers who would be able to deliver solutions…sort of a job-matching/idea catalog to go with each dataset.
  • Agencies need to market their successes to help the masses recognize the value that has been achieved (actually, the developers and other organizations would probably be more than happy to highlight the successes themselves – they’ll just need support from the agencies to get visibility).

Finally, agencies will need to optimize their processes and systems for publishing data and driving citizen engagement, and consider new technology and models, such as cloud computing, to make that happen. It is also critical to track consumption and participation on an ongoing basis to help prioritize activity and the limited investment – thus insuring the biggest impact for every dollar.  Everything needs to be in a process of continuous improvement… not a one shot deal.

Gov 2.0 just got lean… it’s now our job to effectively use technology to make it mean.

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