Earlier this week, the White House convened an open government research and development summit at the National Archives. Columbia statistics professor Victoria Stodden captures some key themes from it at her blog, including smart disclosure of government data and open government at the VA. Stodden also documented the framing questions that federal CTO Aneesh Chopra asked for help answered from the academic community:
1. big data: how strengthen capacity to understand massive data?
2. new products: what constitutes high value data?
3. open platforms: what are the policy implications of enabling 3rd party apps?
4. international collaboration: what models translate to strengthen democracy internationally?
5. digital norms: what works and what doesn’t work in public engagement?
In the video below, former White House deputy CTO for open government, Beth Noveck, reflected on what the outcomes and results from the open government R&D summit at the end of the second day. If you’re interested in a report from one of the organizers, you’d be hard pressed to do any better.
The end of the beginning for open government?
The open government R&D summit has since come under criticism from one of its attendees, Expert Labs’ director of engagement Clay Johnson, for being formulaic, “self congratulatory” and not tackling the hard problems that face the country. He challenged the community to do better:
These events need to solicit public feedback from communities and organizations and we need to start telling the stories of Citizen X asked for Y to happen, we thought about it, produced it and the outcome was Z. This isn’t to say that these events aren’t helpful. It’s good to get the open government crowd together in the same room every once and awhile. But knowing the talents and brilliant minds in the room, and the energy that’s been put behind the Open Government Directive, I know we’re not tackling the problems that we could.
Noveck responded to his critique in a comment where she observed that “Hackathons don’t substitute for inviting researchers — who have never been addressed — to start studying what’s working and what’s not in order to free up people like you (and I hope me, too) to innovate and try great new experiments and to inform our work. But it’s not enough to have just the academics without the practitioners and vice versa.”
Justin Grimes, a Ph.D student who has been engaged in research in this space, was reflective after reading Johnson’s critique. “In the past few years, I’ve seen far more open gov events geared towards citizens, [developers], & industry than toward academics,” he tweeted. “Open gov is a new topic in academia; few people even know it’s out there; lot of potential there but we need more outreach. [The] purpose was to get more academics involved in conversation. Basically, government saying ‘Hey, look at our problems. Do research. Help us.'”
Johnson spoke with me earlier this year about what else he sees as the key trends of Gov 2.0 and open government, including transparency as infrastructure, smarter citizenship and better platforms. Given the focus he has put on doing, vs researching or, say, “blogging about it,” it will be interesting to see what comes out of Johnson and Expert Labs next.
As an academic somewhat new to opengov, I’d say the reaction I’ve received has been mostly very positive. Folks from Boston, for example, have taken time to meet with me (via phone since I’m in Cleveland). The folks in DC changed their 311 API feed in 2 or 3 days to accommodate my research needs. I cannot even get someone from the City of Cleveland to call me back in 3 days, let alone change how government provides info in that time frame. As with all studies of government people are always worried you’re going to find something someone did wrong…or that your our to find bad stuff. This is a challenge in any government setting
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