Smart(er) Government Through Openness

We live on the cusp of an era which could be booming with troves of freely available data and other resources, created and curated lovingly by technical experts of all types, and made easily accessible through a web browser or mobile device. We need an Open Source and Open Data revolution in government to make this a reality, but it needs our help to happen.

Government is still (and will probably forever continue to be) replete with archaic procurement mechanisms and privacy rules dating back decades, even centuries. New regulations are piled on year after year, and few are ever removed. Data of all flavors and formats are hoarded, even stuffed into old coal mines, without any concern for accessibility because of pre-internet practices established when Amazon was just a forest in South America. But there is a new hope on the horizon, as many agencies are starting to awake from their decades-long innovation-less slumber starting at several levels, but most pronounced in cities large and small.

Starting some years ago with crime and zoning maps, such as those compiled by the City of Chicago, to the recent implementation of an SMS text citizen survey system in Philadelphia and data collection applications such as those created for citizens to report on everything from potholes to storm damage, there is a municipal renaissance underway which has the potential to improve access of citizens to their government in an unprecedented manner. But it needs evangelists from individuals and companies alike.

It’s not like it is charity work, either, with reputable analysts estimating so called “Smart Cities” to be a $200 billion industry which encompasses everything from cloud computing and Big Data to the Internet of Things (sensors) and website platforms specifically designed for data accessibility and citizen communications. There has never been anything like it, but we need to find ways around ridiculous procurement mechanisms and a risk-averse culture to reach its full potential.

We need to bring data out of its current moldy storage bins and into the open for citizens and companies alike to build upon it with all the power of the population. We need to find ways to create lower barriers to entry in order to overcome entrenched personnel and burdensome procurement processes. We can do this by proposing change in multiple smaller doses instead of an overnight revolution and finding ways to make such changes easier for civil servants to implement with limited budgets and siloed organizational authority. Only then can we change things city-by-city, agency-by-agency until our government is as we need it to be – full and open for all to learn, build and explore.

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