A Digital Revolution

As an exercise in citizen participation in Government I developed a Digital Government Tracker.

At a pivotal time in history, a famous man once said: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” – Gettysburg Address

It’s been almost 150 years since those words were first spoken, but the sentiment remains; a Nation, founded on principles and great expectations must continue to uphold those values, despite great change and through great turmoil.

Certainly no founding father, or citizen, could imagine all the challenges a Nation would face, and the strength of our Government is that “it can always be changed … the beauty of the Constitution is that it makes no set law other than faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves.”1

This philosophy, and mandate for constant reaffirmation and reinvention, has never been truer than in the digital age we live in now.

I couldn’t state the case any better than to quote two other great characters in history;

  • “In 2011, global smartphone shipments exceeded personal computer shipments for the first time in history, and more Americans will soon access the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs.”2
  • and ultimately that the “innovative use of technology is fundamentally transforming how the American people do business and live their daily lives.”3

The new U.S. Digital Governmental Strategy attempts to outline how agencies can safely embrace this latest challenge, among the many that technology constantly brings.

Throughout this strategy, and activities such as the Open Government Initiative, I believe there are two overarching implications, beyond the obvious technical considerations:

  1. Citizens matter – Leaders in the ‘civic hacking’ community such as Jennifer Pahlka, Sunlight Labs, reporters such as Alex Howard, leaders like Todd Park, and many others have shown us that innovations and expectations outside government, can be pushed/pulled into the realm of agencies.
  2. Evidence-based impact – Never before has there been such an opportunity to illustrate the correlation between cost and value in our Government’s budget (pdf). Technology provides empirical data like nothing else and, given some of the high profile successes and failures in Federal IT, I think technology can link the cost of doing business with the civic value citizens expect and deserve (think SLA’s for Federal services).

Certainly there are are some high profile efforts to engage citizens in these activities, but when the WhiteHouse github account has only 2 followers (as of 6/2/2012) I can’t help but feel like the evidence for change is still unfolding.

Rather than being daunted by the circumstances, I decided to be inspired by these ‘digital government heroes’. I’m sure we’ll never be a country where developers get a nanoKardishian of attention, or receive the star treatment Europe bestows on board-game designers.

However, there is an important transformation looming, for geeks not just government. So I decided to create a personal project to, quite literally, codify some of my experiences and I’ve made it open source, to pay a small debt of gratitude to some of the geeks in government.

This Digital Government Tracker highlights, and tracks progress on, two elements of the Digital Government Strategy and the accompanying Presidential Memorandum.

Specifically the requirements for every agency to establish:

One of the interesting lessons I learned through this exercise, was that agencies are required to create two websites!

Although I have not participated in the creation of these policies, I have been involved as an analyst and advocate for government transformation, and my experience suggests that most participants assumed there was only URL.

I think this is a great example of how making dialogues tangible, through technology, reduces ambiguity and improves the results.

This site owes much to the SunlightLabs and the /Open Watcher site. NIST also has an excellent IPv6 and DNSSEC Deployment Monitor that may be a relative first in tracking success through empirical evidence based assessment. Perhaps The Government Accountability Office could partner with The Office of Management and Budget to developed these techniques, making process of government, not just its citizen services, more efficient and effective.

“I want us to ask ourselves every day, how are we using technology to make a real difference in people’s lives.”4 – President Barack Obama

I hope in some small way this manages to help.

About jay

I'm trying to build something interactive where I can learn from others and hopefully share useful knowledge too. thecapacity@gmail.com
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