For the past few years, my primary advocacy focus has been on increasing government efficiency and transparency through technology. One of the areas of focus for me and other government-reform-through-technology advocates has been "open data", or increased access to government information, in machine readable and structured formats where possible. Other prominent open data advocates include Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and the Craigslist Foundation, and Tim O'Reilly, a tech publisher who has popularized the notion of "government as a platform" for economic growth and innovation.
Over the past several months, I've been supporting a California initiative that would incorporate a modest "open data standard" into the California Public Records Act.
The bill is backed by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the SF Tech Dems (a group I co-founded last year), the California Faculty Association, California Teachers Association, Common Cause, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and many other prominent good government and employee groups across California and the United States. The most important provision of the bill, the California Senate 2011-2012 session's SB 1002, by Sen. Leland Yee, would ensure that when available, records would be produced in electronic form searchable by free software. The changes the bill proposes to California law are key to ending practices of posting records in unsearchable formats that are not indexed by search engines and are of low value for resuse and research.
Regretfully, the lobbing group League of California Cities has made gutting or killing this modest and needed reform one of its top priorities. The League, in a muddled screed nearly as long as the simple open data bill, makes false assertions about its language and intent, and attacks the aims of open data advocates: "It appears that the bill sponsors are more focused on imposing a new mandate requiring public agencies to create new data files and formats on request, to facilitate the creation of commercial, information-based products and services at public expense." In fact, open government advocates are very forward about our goals, which include reuse of existing government data as an economic engine. It is befuddling and troubling that the California League of Cities would object to beneficial reuse of public records and adjacent economic growth. (Ironically, the League's effort to kill this important economic growth and government transparency bill is funded by your money and mine in the form of its public funding for Capitol lobbying on behalf of city executives.)
SB 1002 is the product of open and public discussion by open government advocates around the state, nation and world. The League of California Cities has participated only through misleading lobbying and efforts to mute open data advocates.
Adriel Hampton is an entrepreneur, private investigator and journalist. He is a founding employee of NationBuilder, founder of Gov 2.0 Radio, advisory board member of LegiNation Inc., and co-founder of the SF Tech Dems. Before joining NationBuilder, he worked for the San Francisco City Attorney's Office for six years, where he developed the office's social media practice, and as an editor and writer at the San Francisco Examiner, ANG Newspapers and the Lodi News-Sentinel.
Malamud is not a lawyer, but he's met plenty - allies and adversaries - in his time as the nation's "rogue archivist." If you want open government, Malamud's your go-to guy. Intense and lightly sweating, at 9 a.m. he was decorating tables with postcards highlighting one of Law.gov's foundational elements, a state-by-state national inventory of legal materials; after the event, he broke down the space himself. Soon he'll be in Chicago and DC before returning home to the Bay Area and wrapping up a project report. He exudes a revolutionary zeal and the steady confidence of a veteran of many open government and privacy skirmishes.
Wednesday's series of panelists balanced open data dreams with hard truths about privacy in the globalized infoweb. Bob Berring, a UC Berkeley law professor, summed up the core issue: Carl is working on a 10 year old's question: Government has laws. We have to obey those laws. Where are they?
Twitter in-house counsel Alexander Macgillivray talked about the difficulty for legal staff's at small companies to afford basic research because of high Westlaw and Lexis fees - fees that units of government pay as well for access to legal documents.
Malamud believes that the law is one area that the disintermediating promise of the Internet has barely touched, and he brought in friend O'Reilly for a lunchtime discussion with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. "What are we missing as a society because we are denied access to what is essentially the open source of our democracy?" O'Reilly asked.
A recurring theme was the problem of authentication of legal materials online, and the implied authority of the two major vendors. Erika Wayne, a Stanford law librarian, asked if anyone had seen an "informational only" disclaimer - common on web legal materials - on a physical book.
Chris Hoofnagle, a privacy researcher and UC Berkeley law professor also had a stark warning about the need to protect individual privacy as advocates seek to put more government information online. He argued that believers in "Big Brother" powers for the government - "I'm serious" - will use the language of the transparency movement to accomplish their goal of a surveillance society.
Despite the serious mission and very real challenges, the promising theme of open data, Law 2.0 mashups and lowered barriers to legal knowledge was not lost. Said Macgillivray, imagine a statue with its own Twitter account, tweeting its revisions.
You like those stories about the new words that make it into Webster's each year, right? Well, I'm putting my Cal Rhetoric degree on the line to state that "Gov 2.0" is headed that way.
Plenty of smarter people have written a lot about the "language panel" at February's Gov 2.0 LA Camp, which was more of a look at humanizing a movement that could easily devolve into a technocratic and ultimately narrow-minded clique than it was about trying to do away with jargon. But every now and then, we want to define our terms and argue about them, and this past weekend was as good a time to do that as any.
I want to cite quickly why I'm convinced the term "Gov 2.0" is here to stay.
First, the term is a semantic umbrella for several movements with real muscle: open government (in the sense of transparent decision-making, "sunshine"/"sunlight"); open source software in government; free release of data collected by governments, preferably in machine-readable format; social media in government; collaboration, crowdsourcing and prediction markets in government; and traditional "eGov" online services. Really, the term has already taken on a much broader meaning than even "Web 2.0."
Next, I could cite the growing number of uncamps around Gov 2.0 or the fact that a growing number of public sector workers are embracing the term to describe their interest in shiny-cool government reform. Growing adoption of the term to describe a number of related and not-so-related initiatives and movements is part of the foundation for my opinion. But the key conversation that tipped me was a recent sit-down with Laurel Ruma, the chief Gov 2.0 evangelist for O'Reilly Media. Now, it might not agree with everything Tim O'Reilly says, but each time I've interacted with one of his company's employees, I've come away impressed. O'Reilly Media is a serious company that picks its tech advocacy battles for the long haul - open source and Web 2.0 being the big ones - and with some great success. The fact that O'Reilly has staked a claim on Gov 2.0 and Ruma's assertion that the company anticipates a decade-long evolution of the movement (O'Reilly's definition is "gov as a platform"), give me faith that whatever tech-enabled reform good government folks are working on in 2015, it will still fall under the umbrella of Gov 2.0.
Last Saturday night, I was around bouncing Bill Grundfest's Gov 2.0 LA language thoughts with Chris Heuer, co-founder of the Social Media Club. (Heuer's definition is "technology making government better.") Anyone who says "social media" with a straight face has already been in a few debates about the term, and staking his business model on it means Heuer's been at the center of the blogwars over how to describe the ever-evolving world of zero-cost communications. With his frank style, Heuer explained that whatever arguments exist, at some point people just call something what they call it.
"Gov 2.0" may be a Rorschach blot, but it's here to stay.
Over the past several months, I have been tremendously inspired by "just folks" working on the inside of government to transform its culture and technology. One of those people is my friend Steve Ressler, who founded a network of government employees, contractors and interested outsiders on $50 and a vision. That network is now an idea machine giving hope for true change to thousands of government worker bees.
Today, I was able to host a great radio show with Ressler and BearingPoint communications director Steve Lunceford in conversation with Tim O'Reilly, one of the top minds in tech, and Sally Lieber, a fabulous progressive Democrat from Silicon Valley who's working to wrap her mind around the Government 2.0 revolution. Also aboard for the show were Generation Shift blogger Andrew Krzmarzick and WELL alumnus Michael Russell.
A change is a'coming.
Steve Ressler of GovLoop and Steve Lunceford of GovTwit and BearingPoint in conversation with the founder of O'Reilly Media and the voice of Web 2.0. He's crashing DC in September with the Gov 2.0 Summit, and we're talking to him Sunday, 2 p.m., on BlogTalkRadio.
I'm down with O'Reilly's "Work on Stuff that Matters" meme, and I know you are, too.
Our demo show on Monday went down pretty well. The regular Government 2.0 Radio show on BlogTalkRadio will be Sundays at 2 p.m. PST/5 p.m. EST.
Based on the energy Monday night, when we actually trended Gov 2.0 on Twitter (trust me, that's hard to do), we'll be making the slot a regular hour as long as you keep joining us. For the first official show this Sunday, Steve Ressler and I will be joined by BearingPoint communications director Steve Lunceford (Lunceford runs the GovTwit list) and guest Tim O'Reilly to talk about his SF Web 2.0 Expo and the upcoming Gov 2.0 Summit in DC this September. Bet on Ari Herzog jumping in as well, with other TBA guests and call-ins, plus you.
From there on out, we will be looking to interview local, state and federal officials and consultants, as well as social media thinkers, using new technologies to transform government from the inside. Thanks for tuning in!