Current Events

The intersection of data and technology with current events

Using Gov 2.0 to meet the Obama administration’s requirements for transparency & open government

General Note: This blog post comes from a recent white paper I authored on behalf of Neighborhood America in response to new requirements for transparent and open government to comply with Executive Order #3 of President Barack Obama’s Administration and The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. You can find the entire white paper here. I have included an excerpt of this white paper below:

Today’s Challenge

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Act”) requires an extraordinary level of transparency on the part of Federal, State and Local agencies. It also requires ongoing certification of meeting Act requirements for transparency and inter-agency coordination. These transparency requirements are embodied in Title XV as follows:

  • Section 1511 requires that all local and state governments receiving funding for infrastructure investment must certify:

…[T]hat the infrastructure investment has received the full review and vetting required by law and that the chief executive accepts responsibility that the infrastructure investment is an appropriate use
of taxpayer dollars… the certification shall be posted on a website and linked to a website established by section 1526.

  • Section 1521 in Subtitle B requires reporting that shows:

[A]ppropriate measures for inter-agency collaboration relating to covered funds.

  • Section 1526 then contemplates that the federal government, through a newly created review board (The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board), establish a super portal to which all information related to awards and expenditures under the Act is then published. Subsection (c) describes the type of content to be posted to the website. It includes in part:

(3) [D]ata on relevant economic, financial, grant and contract information in user-friendly visual presentations to enhance public awareness of the use of covered funds…

(6) The website shall provide a means for the public to give feedback on the performance of contracts that expend covered funds.

The Act’s intent to create transparency at all levels of government is extraordinary. But how do government agencies satisfy Act requirements and drive eligibility for Act funds?

Government 2.0 Can Help to Realize the Benefits of Transparency and Openness

The benefits of transparent and open government are to harness the power of employee, citizen, and stakeholder involvement to—

  • Better understand the needs and priorities of citizens and stakeholders
  • Act on these needs with greater effectiveness
  • Achieve improvements in efficiency and effectiveness across all levels of government
  • Inform citizens of these actions and improvements, thereby increasing public trust

Applying Government 2.0 Solutions at the Fulcrum: Common Modes of Public Engagement

Simple application of Gov 2.0 technology haphazardly is simply “throwing technology (and money)” this challenge. However when, Gov 2.0 solutions are designed around existing, common modes of engagement between government agencies and their staff and constituents they magnify governments ability to serve their constituents — in a highly open and transparent manner.

There are nine modes of engagement that can immediately benefit from Gov 2.0 solutions. Five of these span the area of Public Outreach, while four span the area of Agency Coordination.

Public Outreach modes of engagement involve interactions between government agencies and their constituents. Gov 2.0 solutions can provide significant public benefit in five specific areas in the follow ways:

  1. Projects: By engaging their constituents, agencies can efficiently: surface ideas for public process, conduct alternative analyses of one project idea against another, and rapidly complete the public comment and certification periods required prior to project start and throughout all project phases.
  2. Issues: Using Gov 2.0 solutions, agencies and legislative bodies can assess public ideas, interests and preferences regarding how best to address public policy issues. They can also accelerate consensus building, aiding future policy execution.
  3. Rules: By engaging their constituents, agencies can efficiently: surface ideas and input for rule development. They can also conduct alternative analyses of rule alternatives and more rapidly complete the public comment and certification periods required prior to rule enforcement.
  4. Legislation: Using Gov 2.0 solutions, legislative bodies can surface ideas and evaluate public ideas, interests and concerns regarding pending legislation. They can do this in a transparent manner that reinforces trust and adoption.
  5. Events: Agencies can call their constituents to action and share information in advance of important events or emergencies. They can also capture insight and feedback to improve future planning and response

Agency Coordination modes of engagement involve interactions within and between government agencies and their constituents. Neighborhood America has identified four modes of engagement where Gov 2.0 solutions can provide significant public benefit:

  1. Intra-Agency Process: Agencies can engage their staff and constituents to find ideas to improve effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery. Byproducts of this not only include cost and time savings, but also higher staff productivity and morale.
  2. Inter-Agency Collaboration: Gov 2.0 solutions help bypass agency barriers and foster greater collaboration and teamwork across organizations and jurisdictions. This creates openness that not only leads to greater efficiency but also can prevent problems caused by isolation of information and lack of collaboration.
  3. Mission Fulfillment: Agencies simultaneously engage staff and constituents to build stronger connections and exchange information. This creates higher efficiency, satisfaction and public trust.
  4. Recruitment: Agencies can leverage Gov 2.0 solutions to recruit more efficiently, and from a wider group of candidates. The benefits of this are manifold.


President Obama’s American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act raises a challenge for government agencies to establish websites in order to achieve agency transparency and citizen participation — and do it in a time-sensitive manner. The ongoing certification process requires the public to be fully aware of all agency expenditures of government funds and enable them to provide feedback via the web.

The way that agencies can best meet the objectives of the Act is through the provision of understandable, reportable and evaluable data generated by citizen participation. Most government agencies and their partners do not have the time or experience to establish methods to engage citizens online effectively, rapidly and in an enterprise environment. Gov 2.0 solutions give government agencies the position and power to harness citizen networks to realize the benefits of transparent and open government. For more information on this, please see my white paper in its entirety.

Web 2.0: It feels like 1999 all over again

A refresher on the state of Web 1.0 in 1999

I was one of those lucky few to be a part of the explosion of the Internet (not just the dot-com boom but also the earlier DARPA-driven R&D at MIT, CMU, Stanford and Berkeley the 80s). For those of you who do not remember (or — I am sad to remind myself — may be too young to remember) here are some things that were going on in the Web 1.0 world in 1999:

  • The Horsemen of the Internet (Cisco, EMC, Oracle and Sun in the B2B world, Amazon, AOL and Yahoo! in the B2C one) had introduced “new models of doing business that would change everything” to millions of people
  • These models were very technology-centric and focused on “new measures of value” such as click-thru’s, eyeballs, audience, etc. (discarding traditional EPS and PEG values)
  • Lots of “traditional” companies were racing to adopt these models — instead one core to their businesses. (Remember all those tracking stocks like NBCi and Borders Online?)
  • Technology vendors were rushing out tool boxes to build web sites,
  • As same time, analysts were heavily questioning if these models had staying power (the stocks of the horsemen actually dipped heavily at this time — just before rising as part of the last-minute Y2K Technology Gold Rush

The Web 2.0 parallels of today are eerie

This sounds a little familiar what is happening today in the Web 2.0 world (minus the overtones of the current world recession):

  • Thanks to Web 2.0 Horsemen (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter) millions of people now roughly understand what Web 2.0 means — at least in the consumer space
  • Like 1999, the business models in the Web 2.0 space are still largely in the formative stages (just a few minutes on TechCrunch or Silicon Alley Insider will highlight this)
  • Lots of “traditional” companies were racing to add Web 2.0 offerings — with varying degrees of success. (At least we are avoiding Web 2.0 tracking stocks for now)
  • As the analyst reports attest, the Web 2.0 space is becoming filled with companies who offer “toolboxes that can uses to quickly stand up communities”
  • At the same time, many are asking if “there is any there there” in the Web 2.0 business model (and the valuation of Web 2.0 companies have crashed — ahead of the recession)

What happened after 1999 to Web 1.0

Within five years, the Web 1.0 world have moved to a very different place than it was in 1999. Essentially, it integrated with (instead of disrupting) the rest of the business world. Web technology moved from being an end-to-itself to becoming a means to create value. This significantly changed the market space: web-only companies diminished or disappeared (web hosting, domain name services and email are now commodities) while companies who could use web technology to create value-added Business Solutions created whole new markets. Examples easily come to mind:

  • Content Management systems replaced the build-your-own-website tool kits (and pushed these companies aside)
  • eCommerce platforms became a core purchase for every major CPG company
  • Advertising and creative agencies became Interactive Agencies, providing holistic advertising and brand service across all media channels (pushing the ‘webmaster’ back to the IT department)
  • CRM moved from a back office function to an real-time service to manage revenue creation
  • Digital music replaced the experience of going to the record (or CD) store
  • Searching for information online (instead of going to a library or buying a “List of…” book)

We are now ready for this in the Web 2.0 world

I believe Web 2.0 will follow a similar integration path that Web 1.0 did. Those companies who can figure out how to create value-added Business Services using Web 2.0 communication approaches (be them technology firms of consulting and creative groups) will expand and develop new markets. Those enterprises who fold these services into the day-to-day execution of their mission will realize the most benefit.

If you disagree, the perhaps you can answer the following question for me: what is the value of a blog or a forum? I do not think blogs or forums have much intrinsic value in themselves. However they can create value when integrated into a higher value business service or process.

On the other hand, what is the follow of the following services?:

  • Leveraging your customers to tell you what you need to invest in to sell more (would save a lot on Product Development and increase product success rate)
  • Harnessing citizen input to shape more efficient public budgeting (would save a lot on public referenda)
  • Using the the contributions and input of your customers to drive advertising traffic and urge new customers to buy your product (saves on advertising costs and increases sales)

Not only are these services valuable, they are also broadly applicable, easy to understand (from both a business model and end user perspective). The firms that can create these will become the Vignettes, Crispin Porters, Salesforce.coms and Apples of the Web 2.0 world.

Addendum 1: I am not the only person who thinks this

McKinsely & Company recently included a segment “Six Ways to Make Web 2.0 Work” in their last McKinseyQuarterly publication. This article discussed a very similar evolution of adoption of Web 2.0 “tools” that will overlay existing infrastructure to encourage engagement and participation. They included a graph that shows the same ten-year repetitive cycle:


Addendum 2: Here we go again

IoT is the third big technology ‘wave’ in the last 50 years — and perhaps the biggest