Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Government as platform: the podcast

by November 25th, 2011

The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU-FM at American University in Washington, D.C. recently featured an hour-long podcast about how governments are using emerging technology to engage stakeholders. Joining the host were: Bryan Sivak, Chief Innovation Officer for the State of Maryland and former Chief Technology Officer, District of Columbia; Tom Lee,
Director, Sunlight Labs; Alex Howard, Government 2.0 Correspondent, 
O’Reilly Media; and Abhi Nemani, Director of Strategy and Communications at Code For America. A money quote, from Alex Howard:

One of the principles when you think about this open-data movement which is now worldwide is to help the data find the people who need it. And that often won’t mean going to a government website…In the ’90s, we talked about websites. Last decade, we started talking about Web services. So it’s not about going to a portal anymore. It’s about going to an application that might pull in data feeds from dozens of different places.

And the thing that government can do in releasing public sector data is then see that data be baked into applications that are useful and find citizens where they are actually using it. So mobile application which uses local health data, a transit application that uses transit data to help people to, you know, find where they need to go…Most citizens don’t want to see raw data, but they do want to know how to do things. And that’s where the Gov 2.0 movement can make a difference.

That’s just a snippet of a rich conversation. Listen to the whole show, even read the transcript.

Alex Howard, O'Reilly Media/Alex Howard

In coming months, here at Social Capital Review, the mother blog of the Public Data Ferret news knowledge base project, we’ll be developing a guide to Seattle-area civic apps including mobile, that use government data streams to help people meet their everyday information needs. Over time, it’s also going to be interesting to look at the “conversion rate” of government data sets posted online. Every big city, county and state government worth it’s salt, and numerous federal agencies, all have so-called “data sites” full of data sets, typically in formats that are accessible mainly to software developers.

The idea is that civic-minded geeks will come along, in many instances, and do the “social utility value add” by developing apps for mainstream audiences, such as ones we have here in the Seattle region which tell you when your bus is really going to arrive, or what the recent health inspection scores are for that Thai restaurant you’re about to enter. But how often does that value add – that packaging of the data into a useful, customizable tool – really happen? And are enough of the right data being released, or sought out?

(Note: the podcast transcriptionist incorrectly refers to the pioneering Baltimore government performance data program CitiStat as “city set” and a corollary Maryland program called StateStat as “state set.” (StateStat is well worth a look, BTW).


Alex Howard’s Digiphile blog, and his Google+ page.

Sunlight Labs.

Code for America.

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