Beth Noveck: think about how to open up the API of government

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”

Beth Noveck on connecting the academy to open government R&D

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.

White House deputy CTO for open government Beth Noveck returns to teaching

Beth Simone Noveck, director of the White House Open Government Initiative, and U.S. deputy chief technology officer, will return to academia as a professor of law at New York Law School on January 15th 2010.

Noveck is the author of “Wiki Government,” where she wrote about using social networking technology to connect people to policymakers.

People in the open government community began to thank her for her service today. “We’re lucky to have brilliant & dedicated leaders (& working moms!) like Beth Noveck serving our country. Thx, Beth & good luck!” tweeted Twitter’s Katie Stanton, a former colleague at the White House.

“Thanking Beth Noveck for 2 years of @OpenGov public service,” tweeted open government godfatherCarl Malamud. “Good luck on next gig, great job.”

More details will emerge on who will take on Noveck’s role at the White House in the coming weeks. For more on Noveck’s open government legacy, look back at her work on leveraging on the civic surplus, next steps for open government, the relaunch of the Federal Register and designing democracy with “ExpertNet,” a proposed a citizen consultation platform.

Also see coverage of Noveck’s resignation in NextGov, InformationWeek and FederalNewRadio.

UPDATEOn January 11, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded Noveck a grant “to apply her expertise to developing a multi-year interdisciplinary research agenda to gauge the impact of digital networks on institutions,” including how society can use technology to strengthen democratic culture.

“The Foundation’s interest in public sector innovation as a potential longer term area for focused investment is testament to Beth’s success—through her research, writing, and public service—at putting the topic of 21st century democracy on the national agenda,” said Dean and President Richard A. Matasar. “We are delighted to have her back.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation, Noveck is now working with colleagues both inside and outside of government on the design for “IOPedia,” a platform for mashing up and visualizing public corporate accountability data and tracking the evolution of organizations.

“I am proud to have helped fulfill the president’s historic commitment to promoting an open and innovative government—one that uses openness and collaboration as core elements of governance and policy making,” Noveck said in a statemnt. “I look forward to working with students and the wider open government community to continue my research and advocacy to promote the adoption of public sector innovations.”

Reflections from Manor Govfresh: Voices of Open Government and Gov 2.0

If you’re looking for the faces of government 2.0, look no further. The video above, released today by Manor New Tech High‘s “Digital Dojo,” features more than a dozen voices (including this correspondent) talking about what Manor.Govfresh meant to them and what open government means to the country.

“I am very excited to be at Manor Govfresh because it’s the first time I’ve ever been to a conference that doesn’t just talk about change but actually does it,” said White House deputy CTO for open government Beth Noveck. “What’s exciting about Manor Govfresh is that it’s brought together so many people who are interested in municipal innovation and using technology to actually make a difference in local communities here in Manor, Texas, in Deleon, Texas, and across America, to actually make government work better.”

When you watch the video, of course, you’ll hear many more voices than Noveck’s, which is of course the point. The movement towards open government at the local level puts the growth of government 2.0 in context. As Stacy Viselli said this morning in a comment on Radar, “Communities and neighborhoods have been moving their organizations online for a while now and are looking for ways to do more. It creates an optimum environment for collaborative projects that include local governments, business, civic associations, nonprofits, and community foundations. Sometimes it’s not about the data so much as it is about providing a platform that empowers communities do what they are already doing–better.”

For more on how local governments are using technology to deliver smarter government, read about how Gov 2.0 is growing locally. And for more on Manor Govfresh, read about harnessing the civic surplus for open government.