US CTO Chopra on what’s next in tech: open government, spectrum policy, HIT, learning IT

“The single best thing we could do in open government is to get the American people engaged in the question of what high value data is,” said Aneesh Chopra, the first United States chief technology officer, speaking at this morning’s Politico “What’s Next in Tech” forum in Union Station. Video is below:

In an interview with Politico’s technology editor, Kim Hart, Chopra looked back at the lessons learned from his first two years on the job and ahead, appropriately, to what to expect in tech policy from the Obama administration. They covered a lot of ground, from open government successes to what’s next in Congress (hint: watch the push to open up spectrum for first responders) to supporting entrepreneurial growth.

Lessons learned

What were Chopra’s lessons learned? He offered up three examples.

First, with support from the President, Chopra said that they’ve been able to open up discussion and build trusted relationships across the federal government, which has been “critical” to improving the way technology could be used and the long term policy posture.

Second, with that support, he’s been surprised on seeing the pace of response become fast. There’s a “lesson on balance of getting long term balance, versus getting results in 90 days,” he said, referring to the turnaround on projects like HealthCare.gov.

Third, Chopra emphasized the role of “government as a convener,” where the administration can use its influence to bring people together to accomplish goals with technology without new regulations or legislation.

Working tech policy levers

What are the levers that the first US CTO has worked to try to galvanize action on the administration’s priorities?

First, a commitment to openness. From Manor, Texas, to inner cities, “people have found ways to tap into info in ways that helps them do something different,” said Chopra, speaking to the phenomenon of Gov 2.0 going local. “85 to 90% of that activity is happening in places we wouldn’t have imagined,” not gathering in Washington.

Second, Chopra cited the White House’s work towards “voluntary, consensus-driven standards,” noting that he was ” very proud of the work on NHIN Direct.”

Finally, Chopra noted that there’s some $150 billion spent on research and development every year, which offers a number of ways to push forward with innovation in priorities like healthcare IT, energy, smart grid or communications.

Making meaningful use modular

Given the new Congress coming in to Washington, Chopra’s description on the bipartisan agreement on tech policy from his time in Virginia under Republican leadership has to be more than a little strategic. He talked about “getting to the right answer,” referring back to an former manager, David Bradley, and his management strategy of “True North.”

That approach will be rested in the next Congress, on rulemaking. and in moving forward with the tech policy decisions. Outside of the healthcare bill that President Obama signed into law, which continues to meet with significant opposition in Congress, Chopra noted that “healthcare is signature part of President’s agenda,” specifically advanced by more than 20 billion dollars in Recovery Act spending on healthcare IT.

Chopra looked back at two decisions related to approaching technology policy a bit differently. “Rather than walking into Best Buy and buying software, we created more flexible standards for meaningful use,” he said. As a result, “entrepreneurs that never thought of themselves as EMR companies are entering the market.”

The decision to make meaningful use more modular was also significant, asserted Chopra. “We opened up the regulatory regime so you could certify each and every regulatory module.”

In aggregate, Chopra associated that R&D investment, work to convene conversations, open up data and create more flexible regulatory regimes with a better outcomes: venture capital investment in HIT going up by 39%, citing a statistic from the National Venture Capital Association.

Addressing the critics

Kim Hart brought up industry criticism of what the “first tech president” has delivered on, versus President Obama’s campaign promises. Halfway his term, the San Jose Mercury News reported this morning that on tech issues, Obama falls short of high expectations.

How did Chopra respond? He asked for more criticism, responding that you “must listen to people who are frustrated” and consider that much of the tech platform is in the space “where the plane is yet to land.” If you go through campaign promises, and look at executive ability to move the needle on different areas, Chopra asserted that the
biggest part of that – open government – has gone ahead. “It’s not ‘mom and apple pie perfect’,” he said, but they’re proud of delivering on 90 day deliverables like standards, or websites.

Part of the challenge of delivering on campaign promises is that budgetary or legislative action requires different stakeholders, observed Chopra, a reality that will become even more sharply defined in the next Congress. “The Recovery Act is a unique moment in time,” which, as he argued is “overwhelmingly the vehicle for campaign promises” in health IT and clean tech.

What’s next in United States technology policy?

First, it’s clear that Chopra and the Obama administration is thinking about online privacy, with the recently announced Internet privacy committee. There are open questions about how much portfolio, budget, subpoena power or other authority any new position would hold, but it’s an area to watch. Chopra said that he had met with Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and had found him supportive of privacy policy.

Chopra also met with Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is very supportive of increased government transparency through technology. Issa, a successful technology entrepreneur, is one of the most knowledgeable members of Congress when it comes to technology. Whatever comes out of his his legislative staff, or the new House Oversight committee, which he will chair, could represent a step forward for open government after the 2010 election.

Chopra also emphasized “modest but significant actions” that could improve the conditions for tech entrepreneurs in the United Stats, from open government data to regulatory action to smart grid or support for new learning technologies. On that count, Chopra offered up a “scoop” to Kim Hart, observing that the next area where he will focus on driving innovation will be into learning technologies, with more news coming at a Brookings Institute event in December.

The top opportunities that Chopra sees for entrepreneurs are in healthcare and energy, the former of which is already becoming hot with more healthcare apps provisioned with open healthcare data

“One policy lever is the role of public-private partnerships,” observed Chopra, highlighting the growth in STEM education, with over half a billion dollars in investment. “It’s not the money, it’s the platforms,” he said.

Chopra fielded a question Congressman Wu (D-OR), the current chairman of the House technology and innovation committee. After a discursion into what went wrong for the Democratic Party in the midterm, Wu asked what the next priority will be for Congress and Chopra to work together upon. His answer was simple: spectrum policy, emphasizing voluntary processes for formulating solution. The priority, he said, was to get a broadband network for public safety that’s interoperable for first responders.

Finally, Chopra talked about the story of the Alfred brothers, who founded Brightscope in California in 2008. The story of Brightscope is important: data driving the innovation economy. They knew about key data on 401(k) plan fees at the Department of Labor, worked hard to liberate it and now have a successful, growing startup as a result.

Look for video of the event on Politico’s multimedia section later today to tomorrow. For more on Chopra, open government and participatory platforms, read Radar or watch the interview below.

Eight lessons for social media and politics from Politico, Facebook and media

Ten years ago, staffers thought Al Gore was weird for texting Tipper. Fast forward a decade to late 2010, when any politician who doesn’t use check email on a smartphone or monitor what the media and voters are saying on social media platforms risks being judged out of step. As the midterm elections loom large next month, a large majority of the United States House and Senate are on Facebook. A smaller majority uses Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. While the effectiveness of that usage varies from candidate to candidate, the question of whether social media is a fad is largely settled.

One of the great unanswered questions of this election with respect to social media will be whether fan or follower numbers have any predictive value with respect to elections. Another will be whether more interactive candidates are more successful. What remains is to decide which strategies and tactics will make the difference in winning elections.

Earlier tonight, a panel of experts from media, campaigns and academia came together at George Washington University for “Going Viral: How Campaigns are Using Social Media,” an event jointly sponsored by Politico and Facebook. The panel featured:

What was the high level take away? You can judge yourself: Video of the panel onĀ political campaigns and social media is available at CSPAN and embedded below:

Politico’s own Meredith Shiner reported that “social media still has much to prove.” As Shiner noted, Finn told the audience that “Despite the increased attention paid by the media to political Facebook and Twitter accounts, campaigns today still spend less than 5 percent of their media expenditures online.” Determining whether that spend is consistent across all campaigns would be useful. That said, part of the allure of social media is that it requires an investment in time and expertise, not classical media buys. Sarah Palin, Scott Brown and Barack Obama could use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to achieve awareness of their messages without huge campaign war chests. For underfunded campaigns, using those tools isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity.

Drawing from those take aways, here are eight more lessons for social media and politics:

1) Politicians have to use social media themselves to realize its full potential. Most campaigns are on Facebook. As Facebook’s Adam Conner pointed out, however, what remains is for candidates to understand tech personally and use it. “When you put a communications manager or staffer in between 140 characters or a Facebook update,” he said, “it’s much less authentic.”

2) Social media is not going away. “It’s the place we all have to be,” said Smith. As citizens turn to the Internet for government data, information, e-services, not to mention news, media and government entities have to “fish where the fish are.”

3) Very few Congressional candidates are doing a good job with these tools. At least, that was Professor Matthew Hindman’s take at the event. Judging from the feeds of many candidates, there’s clearly a learning curve with respect to style, conventions and technical acumen. Posting press releases to Twitter or Facebook does not realize their potential. Neither does treating the platforms the same way. For instance, Finn said that “tweeting from Facebook” is one of her pet peeves. Connor had seen enough “double third person posting” by staff to find it annoying. Voters are likely no different.

4) Social media enables candidates to build the intensity of support. While tweets and updates may not sway independents in of themselves, building strong online communities of supporters can translate into electoral success.

5) Friend power is important. Online, people are increasingly finding news stories from one other on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks, as opposed to through a search engine. That makes creating content with high “shareability” key, whether it’s embeddable videos, polling widgets or tweetable campaign slogans.

6. Leaving negative comments online builds trust, up to a point. In order for voters to see a page is a place for debate, you need to leave as many negative comments up as possible, said de Vellis, with the exception of abusive or pornographic content, which should be moderated. “Leave as much up as much as you can stomach,” said Finn. If the site is a place for supporters, “they’ll jump in and support you.” Conner suggested setting a policy up ahead of time, which a campaign can use to tramp down bad publicity. He said that it’s even more imporatnt to internal staff to have discussions ahead of time to get universal understanding of that policy.

7. This is the year of mobile. Again. As Pew Internet researcher Susannah Fox powerfully articulated in her presentation on the power of mobile this fall, 82 percent of American adults have a cell phone. Six in 10 American adults go online wirelessly with a laptop or mobile device. “Mobile was the final front in the access revolution,” she said. “It has erased the digital divide. A mobile device is the Internet for many people. Access isn’t the point anymore. It’s what people are doing with the access that matters.” As important as social media may become to the future of campaigns, reaching voters using email, text messages and calls to their cellphones – good old “Web 1.0” – is still paramount, along with a ground game to get them to the polls.

8. Candidates who use social media personally are more likely to use it on campaigns and ultimately in governance, says Adam Conner.

Once in office, the challenges of using technology for open government are even greater. Just ask the staffers at the Obama Administration and federal agencies, where open government initiatives in beta are moving from plans to implementation.

Telling the story of social media and politics

Befitting the occasion, below are selected tweets and images from the event, curated using Storify: