In an age where setting up a livestream to the Web and the rest of the networked world is as easy as holding up a smartphone and making a few taps, the United States Supreme Court appears more uniformly opposed to adding cameras in the courtroom than ever.
The OpenGov Hub has similarities to incubators and accelerators, in terms of physically housing different organizations in one location, but focuses on scaling open government and building community, as opposed to scaling a startup and building a business.
Samantha Power, special assistant to President Obama and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights in the White House, spoke about the Hub, the Open Government Partnership, which she was at the heart of starting — and the broader importance of why “open government” is important to everyday citizens: improving lives and delivering results.
A video I recorded at the event, embedded below, captured her talk. Afterwards, I’ve posted text of her remarks, lightly edited for clarity. The emphases are mine.
“I’m jealous. It just feels cool. It feels like you’d come up with lots of ideas if you worked here. My office doesn’t feel quite like this, but we did hatch, collaboratively, the Open Government Partnership.
I’ll just say a few things, mainly just to applaud this and to say how exciting it is.
The White House is a couple blocks in one direction, the State Department is another couple blocks in another, and there are a gazillion departments and agencies around who would really benefit from the infusion of energy and insight that you all bring to bear every day to your work.
President Obama started his first term issuing this Open Government Memorandum and it really did set the tone for the administration, and it does signal what a priority this was to him.
We are now on the verge of starting a second term and everybody in the administration is working to think through how does this manifest itself in the second term, the last term. You don’t get a chance after this next four years to do it again. We’re all very aware of that and we’re going to benefit from the ideas that you have.
Just to give you an indicator of what OGP has come to mean to the President — and this was catalyzed in a speech that he gave before the UN General Assembly. Those speeches are a kind of ‘State of the Union’ for foreign policy, and he chose to use that speech in year two of his presidency to talk about the fact that the old divisions, the old way of thinking of North and South, East and West, have been overtaken by open and closed and scales of openness, degrees of openness.
He challenged the countries there, the leaders, the peoples, to come back with ideas for how we could achieve more transparency, fight corruption, harness new technologies for innovation, and empower citizens. And that gave rise to this brainstorm, which in turn gave rise to this OpenGovHub, with this new leadership. We’re very, very excited about this next phrase of OGP’s growth.
This, I think in many ways, is President Obama’s signature governance initiative, and it’s something he takes extremely seriously. In bilateral meetings with foreign heads of state he often brings this up, spontaneously, if we have failed, somehow, to get it into the talking points. It is something he’s talked to Prime Minister Cameron about in the U.K. The Indonesians of course are the co-chairs now, so it’s not longer his.
The trip to Burma, which just occurred, was a very moving trip. I got to be a part of that. It was amazing to see President Barack Hussein Obama at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, maybe the next leader of that country, talking about open government, and the Open Government Partnership, and the Burmese coming out on that trip and committing to be part of the Open Government Partnership by 2015, and articulating each of the milestones for budget transparency, on disclosure for public officials, on civil liberties, freedom of information.
So [using] OGP, and this open government conversation, as a hook to make progress on issues that this stage of Burma’s long journey it’s critical that they make progress on. So I just wanted to convey how much this really matters to him personally.
Second, and you talking about this earlier today, the challenge of conversions still exists, with other governments, with officials, in my own government, and certainly with citizens and other groups around the world who don’t self-identify within the space. And so, I think, thinking through the ways in which platforms like this one that pull together success stories and ways in which citizens have concretely benefitted, this is what it’s all about.
It’s not about the abstraction about ‘fighting corruption’ or ‘promoting transparency’ or ‘harnessing innovation’ — it’s about ‘are the kids getting the textbooks they’re supposed to get’ or does transparency provide a window into whether resources are going where they’re supposed to go and, to the degree to which that window exists, are citizens aware and benefiting from the data and that information such that they can hold their governments accountable. And then, does the government care that citizens care that those discrepancies exist?
That’s ultimately what this is about, and, I think, the more that we have concrete examples of real children, of real hospitals, real polluted water and clean water, real cost savings, in administrative budget terms, the more success we’re going to have in bringing new people into this community — and I confess, I was not one. Jeremy Weinstein used to come and knock on my door, and say, ‘What is this, open government?’ and I didn’t understand it.
Then, with a few examples, I said, ‘Oh, this is exactly what I’ve been trying to do under another rubric, you know, for a very long time.” This creates the possibility for another kind of conversation.
Sometimes, democracy and human rights, issues like that, can get other governments on their heels. Open government creates the opportunity for conversations that sometimes doesn’t exist.
The last thing I’d say is, just to underscore a data point that’s been made, but in some sense, art imitates life, like this space imitates life. This space itself seems to be kind of predicated on the logic of open government — open idea sharing, information sharing, it’s great.
Our little OGP experiment, I think, is one that a lot of these groups are using. We benefited from what most of these groups and most of you have been doing, again, for a very long time, which is to recognize that we don’t know what we’re doing. We need to hear and learn from people who are out in the field. We have ideas and can be very abstract.
What the civil society partners have brought to the Open Government Partnership is just one example of what you’re bringing to people’s lives every day. You have to interface with people [to get] the ability to track whether policies are working. J
Just as the partnership itself has this originality to it, of being multi-stakeholder and having civil society and governments at the table, figuring out what we’re doing, so too our criteria, whether a country is or isn’t eligible, is the product of NGO data, or academic frameworks, there just has to be cross-pollination.
Again, OGP is just one version of this, but I think the more that our communities are talking to one another, and certainly, speaking from the government perspective now, just sucking in the work and the insights that you all bring to bear, the better off real people are going to be in the world, and the more likely those kids are going to be to get those textbooks.
Thanks for having me.”
As is the case in every major event in the U.S., social media was part of the fabric of communications during Hurricane Sandy. Twitter was a window into what was happening in real-time. Facebook gave families and friends a way to stay in touch about safety or power. And government officials and employees, from first responders mayors to governors to the President of the United States, put critical information into the hands of citizens that needed it.
— FEMA (@fema) October 29, 2012
— FDNY (@FDNY) October 30, 2012
While Hurricane Sandy cemented the utility of these networks, neither they nor their role are new. With all due respect to Gartner analyst Andrea Di Maio, his notion that people aren’t conveying “useful information” every day there — that it’s just ” chatting about sport results, or favorite actors, or how to bake” — is like some weird flashback to a 2007 blog post or ignorant cable news anchor.
Public sector, first responders and emergency management officials have recognized the utility of social media reports as a means for situational awareness before, during and after natural or man-made disasters for years now and have integrated tools into crisis response.
Officials at local, state and federal levels have confirmed to me again and again that it’s critical to build trusted networks *before* disaster strikes so that when crises occur, the quality of intelligence is improved and existing relationships with influence can amplify their messages.
Media and civil society serve as infomediaries and critical filters (aka, B.S. detectors) for vetting information, something that has proved crucial with fake reports and pictures popping up. Official government accounts play a critical role for putting trusted information into the networks to share, something we saw in real-time up and down the East Coast this week.
To be frank, Di Maio’s advice that authorities shouldn’t incorporate social media into their normal course of business is precisely the opposite of the experience on the ground of organizations like the Los Angeles Fire Department, Red Cross or FEMA. Here’s Brian Humphrey, public information officer of the LAFD, on best practices for social media:
If public safety officials come across Di Maio’s advice, I hope they’ll choose instead to listen to citizens every day and look to scale the best practices of their peers for using technology for emergency response, not start during a crisis.
Today, I hosted a Twitter chat with the Voting Information Project. They partner with states to provide official election data that developers can use to create free, open source tools for voters.
I’ve embedded a storify of our conversation below, along with a video explaining more about what they do. Of special note: VIP is partnering with Mobile Commons to let registered voters know where to vote. Just txt “where” or “donde” to 877-877.
He was straightforward in his assessment: he said that there’s “at best a one in five chance” that the partnership will achieve its full potential. Rajani also offered a fundamental metric for assessing the success of OGP: “not how many countries sign on to the open government declaration, but how many commitments are delivered in countries, and how many citizens experience concrete improvements in their lives.”
In that vein, he highlighted two projects in Africa that haven’t delivered upon their promise:
Even where governments and civil society are willing, realizing the full promise of OGP commitments is not easy; executing meaningful programs is very difficult. In Kenya the Open Data portal makes an impressive level of data public for the first time, but few use it. In Tanzania, the project to enable citizens to report broken water points through their mobile phones, a project that was featured in the OGP launch film and that my organization supported, has largely failed, because people simply did not believe reporting data would make a difference. Overall, if we are honest, of the 300 or so commitments made in the OGP plans so far, the glass is more empty than full. These are still early days, but the window to learn lessons and get our act together is closing fast.
That said, Rajani remains fundamentally optimistic about the world’s movement towards open government:
“I believe that the idea of open government is as fundamental as some of our greatest achievements of the last century, such as that of the equality of men and women and equality of the races; indeed underlying them all is the deep human impulse for freedom and dignity. That is why, despite my concern about the prospects of the OGP, I am optimistic. Open government is so fundamental to being human that the arc of human history, driven by the everyday actions millions of people across the world, will inevitably bend towards openness. The challenge before us, and awesome privilege, is whether we muster the humility and good sense to be part of that movement.”
I interviewed Rajani earlier this year. If you’re interested in how civil society plays a central role in holding governments accountable, do watch:
Mike Bracken, U.K. government’s executive director of digital, talks with the Wall Street Journal about how new technologies and approaches can reduce one of the biggest issues in government IT: expensive government IT projects that run long.
Former White House deputy CTO for open government Beth Noveck recently gave a TED Talk on a “more open source government. For more perspective in the vein of “open,” read CNN’s TED summary, “What if you could make anything you wanted?” Noveck’s talk is embedded below:
“…start by teaching young people that we live, not in a passive society, a read-only society, but in a writable society, where we have the power to change our communities, to change our institutions, that’s when we begin to really put ourselves on the pathway towards this open government innovation”
Last month, I traveled to Moldova to speak at a “smart society” summit hosted by the Moldovan national e-government center and the World Bank. I talked about what I’ve been seeing and reporting on around the world and some broad principles for “smart government.” It was one of the first keynote talks I’ve ever given and, from what I gather, it went well: the Moldovan government asked me to give a reprise to their cabinet and prime minister the next day.
I’ve embedded the entirety of the morning session above, including my talk (which is about half an hour long). I was preceded by professor Beth Noveck, the former deputy CTO for open government at The White House. If you watch the entire program, you’ll hear from:
- Victor Bodiu, General Secretary, Government of the Republic of Moldova, National Coordinator, Governance e-Transformation Agenda
- Dona Scola, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Information Technology and Communication
- Andrew Stott, UK Transparency Board, former UK Government Director for Transparency and Digital Engagement
- Victor Bodiu, General Secretary, Government of the Republic of Moldova
- Arcadie Barbarosie, Executive Director, Institute of Public Policy, Moldova
Without planning on it, I managed to deliver a one-liner that morning that’s worth rephrasing and reiterating here: Smart government should not just serve citizens with smartphones.
I look forward to your thoughts and comments, for those of you who make it through the whole keynote.
On Friday night, a packed room of eager potential entrepreneurs, developers and curious citizens watched US CTO Todd Park and Bill Eggers kick off Startup Weekend DC in Microsoft’s offices in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
— Alex Howard (@digiphile) June 15, 2012
Park brought his customary energy and geeky humor to his short talk, pitching the assembled crowd on using open government data in their ideas.
— Alex Howard (@digiphile) June 15, 2012
Park wants to inject open data as a “fuel” into the economy. After talking about the success of the Health Data Initiative and the Health Datapalooza, he shared a series of websites were aspiring entrepreneurs could find data to use:
Park also made an “ask” of the attendees of Startup Weekend DC that I haven’t heard from many government officials: he requested that if they A) use the data and/or B) if they run into any trouble accessing it, to let him know.
“If you had a hard time or found a particular restful API moving, let me know,” he said. “It helps us improve our performance.” And then he gave out his email address at the White House Executive Office of the President, as he did at SXSW Interactive in Austin in March of this year. Asking the public for feedback on data quality — particularly entrepreneurs and developers — and providing contact information to do so is, to put it bluntly, something every city and state official that has stood up and open data platform could and should be doing. In this context, the US CTO has set a notable example for the country.
Examples of startups, gap filling and civic innovation
Following Park, author and Deloitte consultant Bill Eggers talked about innovative startups and the public sector. I’ve embedded video of his talk below:
Eggers cited three different startups in his talk: Recycle Bank, Avego and Kaggle.
1) The outcome of Recycle Bank‘s influence was a 19-fold increase in recycling in some cities from gamification, said Eggers. The startup now has 3 million members and is now setting its sights on New York City.
2) The real-time ridesharing provided by Avego holds the promise to hugely reduce traffic congestion, said Eggers. According to the stats he cited, 80% of people on the road are currently driving in cars by themselves. Avego has raised tens of millions of dollars to try to better optimize transportation.
3) Anthony Goldbloom found a hole in the big data market at Kaggle, said Eggers, where they’re matching data challenges with data scientists. There now some 19,000 registered data scientists in the Kaggle database.
Eggers cited the success of a competition to map dark matter on Kaggle, a problem that had had millions spent on it. The results of open innovation here were better than science had been able to achieve prior to the competition. Kaggle has created a market out of writing better algorithms.
— Alex Howard (@digiphile) June 15, 2012
After Eggers spoke, the organizers of Startup Weekend explained how the rest of the weekend would proceed and asked attendees to pitch their ideas. One particular idea, for this correspondent, stood out, primarily because of the young fellows pitching it:
— Alex Howard (@digiphile) June 16, 2012
On Monday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OK) introduced a proposal for a “Digital Bill of Rights” at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City. You can watch a video of their conversation with Personal Democracy Media publisher Andrew Rasiej below:
Congressman Issa has posted the proposed Digital Bill of Rights on MADISON, the online legislation platform his staff built last December. The 10 proposed rights are the following:
The Digital Bill of Rights
1. Freedom – digital citizens have a right to a free, uncensored internet
2. Openness – digital citizens have a right to an open, unobstructed internet
3. Equality – all digital citizens are created equal on the internet
4. Participation – digital citizens have a right to peaceably participate where and how they choose on the internet
5. Creativity – digital citizens have a right to create, grow and collaborate on the internet, and be held accountable for what they create
6. Sharing – digital citizens have a right to freely share their ideas, lawful discoveries and opinions on the internet
7. Accessibility – digital citizens have a right to access the internet equally, regardless of who they are or where they are
8. Association – digital citizens have a right to freely associate on the internet
9. Privacy – digital citizens have a right to privacy on the internet
10. Property – digital citizens have a right to benefit from what they create, and be secure in their intellectual property on the internet
Congressman Issa made the following statement about the rights, which could well end up in a bill at some point, as with other proposals on the MADISON platform:
I believe that individuals possess certain fundamental rights. Government should exist to protect those rights against those who would violate them. That is the revolutionary principle at the heart of the American Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. No one should trample our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s why the Bill of Rights is an American citizen’s first line of defense against all forms of tyranny.
But where can a digital citizen turn for protection against the powerful? This question lay at the heart of the fight to stop SOPA and PIPA and keep the web open. While I do not have all the answers, the remarkable cooperation we witnessed in defense of an open Internet showed me three things. First, government is flying blind, interfering and regulating without understanding even the basics. Second, we have a rare opportunity to give government marching orders on how to treat the Internet, those who use it and the innovation it supports. And third, we must get to work immediately because our opponents are not giving up.
We need to frame a digital Bill of Rights. This is my first draft. I need your help to get this right, so I published it here in Madison for everyone to comment, criticize and collaborate. I look forward to hearing from you and continuing to work together to keep the web open.
-Congressman Darrell Issa
As of June 14th, the proposed rights have received 101 suggested edits and 35 community comments. Elsewhere on the Internet, they’ve generated considerably more attention. The proposed Digital Bill of Rights has received widespread news coverage, from the The Guardian to BoingBoing to Ars Technica to The Verge to CNET to The Hill.
A little online history
The idea of an online bill of rights isn’t a new one. Recently, as Evan Rodgers pointed out at the Verge, the Reddit community has been drafting its own digital bill of rights. Earlier this spring, the White House releases a consumer privacy bill of rights earlier this spring, albeit one focused on privacy.
The history of this idea goes back further, however, going back to John Perry Barlow’s 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace to a 2007 proposal for a Internet bill of rights that came out of a meeting of the Internet Governance Forum to the iterations of a bill of rights in cyberspace that Jeff Jarvis went through in 2010. The idea of “Internet rights as the new frontier has, in other words, been around for a while.
And, for all of the interest around this week’s version, the proposal from Rep. Issa and Senator Wyden itself is relatively non-specific and does not officially recognize the iterations that have come before it. The Internet Bill of Rights that came out of Rio a few years ago, for instance, layered on a few additional (important) points:
“Privacy, data protection, freedom of expression, universal accessibility, network neutrability, interoperability, use of format and open standards, free access to information and knowledge, right to innovation and a fair and competitive market and consumers safeguard.”
There’s also a more fundamental question of how such rights would be enforced, by whom and in what context. In the United States, after all, there’s already a Bill of Rights, and one that’s held up rather well for over two centuries. Focusing on how and where the rights that citizens (digital or otherwise) already enjoy apply online would be a constructive and useful role for lawmakers to consider, particularly given the unprecedented capacity of both governments and private actors to search, surveil and censor humanity on the Internet.
All that being said, it’s significant that this pair of Congressmen introduced them and notable that the they’re taking comments from the online community using the Internet itself.
On Friday, I expect to have the opportunity to ask Rep. Issa about his thinking about a digital bill of rights, amongst other issues related to technology, data and open government. If you have questions or concerns about the proposals above that you’d like posed to the Congressman, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: Embedded below are the reactions on Twitter to the question posed in the headline of this post: