Big Data and Open Government: This Changes Everything / by Justin Longo

Presentation to the 2016 ARMA NCR Fall IM Days
November 14 2016 - 9:55 am - 10:40 am    The Shaw Centre, Ottawa

Abstract: The movement towards open governance - where a broader concept of relevant participants and stakeholders challenges traditional hierarchical notions of organizing, dispersing authority - is generally the result of three forces: technological, organizational, and cultural. Technological change is largely driven by Web 2.0 platforms that are make information more open and easily sharable, and the massive amounts of data that are now accumulated through avenues such as the online activity and social media engagement of individuals, purchasing behaviour and transportation choices revealed through electronic payment cards, movement and interaction captured through mobile smartphones and wearable technology, behavioural choices measured through Internet of Everything consumer products, a range of measurements captured by in situ and personal sensors, satellite remote sensing, counters and smart meters, and interactions with devices and control technology. Organizations are experimenting with nontraditional forms that promote network collaboration over hierarchical authority or market incentives. Following from these two forces, a shift in cultural norms is underway, where participants are unwilling to accept the boundaries that constrain them from sharing and seeking knowledge. In this dynamic environment, institutions and individuals will try to hold onto authority - but open governance trends are already evident and will likely continue and expand. This struggle between control and openness will likely lead to challenging settings in which access, privacy, security and information management professionals will increasingly find themselves. This talk will scan these forces and consider ways that the quest for open governance can be accommodated within an information management regime, while preserving the objectives and benefits that open governance seeks.

In this post, I discuss a particular type of change that will increasingly confront information management (IM) professionals in the coming years.

My foundational argument - the headline tweet, if you will - is that we are living in a time of profound change, and we - this includes the IM community - do not have the luxury of ignoring this, nor pretending it isn’t affecting us.

The profound change affecting us can be captured under the heading of the “open governance movement” - where a broader concept of participants and stakeholders relevant to governance questions is challenging our traditional hierarchical notions of organizing, and resulting in dispersed authority.

The cause of this movement lies in three forces: technological, organizational, and cultural.

  • Technological change is largely driven by Web 2.0 platforms that make information more open and easily sharable. Related to this, though distinct, is the rise of big data - another big technological change where data is generated everywhere, continually, and in such volume as to have profound implications for how we understand what’s happening, and how we might reconceptualize public policy.  
  • On the organizational front, we are beginning to see the impact of several very interesting experiments with nontraditional forms of collaboration and knowledge sharing that promote network forms over hierarchical authority.
  • And paralleling these forces, a shift in cultural norms is underway, where participants are unwilling to accept the boundaries that constrain them from sharing and seeking knowledge.

In this dynamic environment, institutions and individuals will reflexively try to hold onto authority. However, open governance trends are already evident and will likely continue and expand. This struggle between control and openness will likely lead to challenging settings in which records and information management professionals will increasingly find themselves.

This post will scan these forces and consider ways that the quest for open governance can be accommodated within an information management regime, while preserving the objectives and benefits that open governance seeks.

And I’ll apologise from the start, that this isn’t going to be a very comforting message.

As I conceptualise the change management problem in the context of information management, I have a feeling that it’s going to require you to consider a world quite distinct from that which you are used to and (I’m assuming) prefer.

Consider how IM might be thought of in the “Known World”: nicely organized, with identifiable nodes, actors, control processes, policies and an overall architecture that really tries to make sense of the information landscape.

Unfortunately, if trends continue as I suspect, and we are successful in using open collaboration systems in which participants are able to contribute their knowledge, the risk for IM professionals is that we move from an IM architecture to what I’ll call an IC (Information Chaos) state.

And I would imagine this is possibly frightening for those who would have found the previous description reassuring.

But again, and nonetheless, I don’t think we can go back and we can’t ignore this.

And these trends I’ll describe don’t just affect information management. The three broad forces behind the open governance movement are coming together at this point in history, and are having dramatic impacts on our societies.

First example is in the democratic arena. You’re likely aware that there was an election in the United States recently, and we are now confronted with the reality of President-Elect Trump.

Now I don’t claim that a Trump presidency will be a paragon of open government. But I will say that the forces that are propelling the open governance movement - and remember, that forces such as technology are value-neutral - are the same forces that have given rise to the phrase “President-Elect Donald J. Trump” that many of us, I suspect, would have had trouble taking seriously until recently.

Trump, and the Brexit vote for that matter, are examples of the combination of technology, organizational and social change where authority is diminished, experts are not “trusted”, and people demand to be involved because the technology means they now can. I truly believe that it cannot be turned back, so we have to learn how to manage within this new reality.

Second story that I think supports my claim that open governance and big data represent profound shifts in social evolution? I’m sure you’ve heard of Uber.

Uber is the current best example we have of how open governance is replacing traditional governing authority. It has accomplished this essentially by leveraging the power of Web 2.0 technologies to lower transactions and communications costs in order to connect app users wanting to hire transportation or carriage in a local area with a roster of private providers who respond to those requests via the app.

Since launching in 2009, Uber has grown to an estimated value of between USD 28B and 66B (depending who you ask), and operates in 526 cities worldwide (including Ottawa).

While Uber's primary function is in providing transportation services, it has emerged as an example of an alternative approach to governance in the digital era, undermining the traditional governmental approach of regulating taxis and replacing it with a built-in peer-to-peer reputation system where drivers and passengers are continually evaluated by each other.

While the entire transaction is enabled by mobile technology - from calling the car to paying the fare - it is the reputation-based aspect that aims to replace traditional government with participant governance.

As governments struggle with the decision of whether to embrace Uber in their cities, Uber raises wider issues related to the disruption of traditional regulated industries, the impact of contingent employment on worker wellbeing, data-driven service delivery as an alternative to to planning and rationing, and - in the not-too-distant future - the employment and social effects of robotics and artificial intelligence (as Uber explores driverless cars and management without managers).

Governments have responded to Uber's presence or intention to operate in their jurisdiction across a spectrum of approaches, ranging from outright prohibition, through attempting to accommodate Uber within their existing regulatory regimes, to welcoming the Uber approach as a replacement for their existing taxi systems.

For our purposes here today, I’ll just ask you to ask yourselves what this new governance environment might mean for a traditional approach to IM, and how you might need to reconceptualize the future of information management.

All of these are interesting questions we’re all going to have to face in the coming years.

But for me, the interesting observation is that it has happened - and we don’t know how to deal with it. Uber has happened now because of this confluence of forces - technological, organizational, and cultural - and is part of a bigger trend towards replacing hierarchical coordination and authority with cooperation, autonomy and openness.

So the question I have for the IM community - as much as this applies to any other relevant governance system whether it’s the regulation of local taxi services, national policy debates like electoral reform, or international commons problems like climate change - the question is: what are we going to do about it, now that our traditional hierarchical control systems are being undermined?

Think simply about how we organize work. In the past, if you wanted to accomplish something, you created an organization. In the history of organizations, the challenge has always been - how do groups get collective work done? And the traditional approach has been: to direct the work of a group of people, you create an organization. And it’s no good just hiring a bunch of people, putting them in the same building and saying “get to work”. You also have to hire managers to ensure that the efforts of the group’s members are oriented in the same direction and not just chaos.

And part of that infrastructure involves information and records management professionals to organize the information that is generated. Right? OK, that’s good for us.

But with these new forces at play, we see new organizational forms emerging that don’t build a management structure on top of the work structure, but rather build a cooperative infrastructure that allows people to collaborate without imposing a formal management relationship between the organization and the contributors.

The two canonical examples of this are Wikipedia and open source software. Crowdsourcing and virtual citizen science are like this too, and I’ll talk about these later. But this movement is also happening inside of traditional organizations. What we are now witnessing is a shift in organizational design that is attempting to use the motives of employees, and advances in communication technology, to build cooperation into the fabric of organizations as a way of replacing hierarchical control.

When adopted within organizations, open knowledge sharing means anyone can contribute. The best example we have for this is the wiki. A wiki is a web repository that anyone with access to can edit. This moves us from a question of “who holds the pen?” to “everyone has a pen” - and an eraser.

You’ll be familiar with this through sites like Wikipedia. While the Wikimedia Foundation has some number of employees, what is remarkable about Wikipedia is how is was created through the volunteer efforts of thousands of editors and contributors, acting without overt coordinating management, and essentially killed the traditional encyclopedia business.

The premise of Wikipedia wasn’t to disrupt an industry (as with Uber) but to acknowledge that it was not possible for a commercial encyclopedia to have entries for every topic that readers might be interested in, and it was unlikely that the writer hired to create each entry would be able to craft an article that would capture robustly all the knowledge that could inform such an article. And easily keep it up to date.

Wikipedia is like the bumble bee: theoretically, it shouldn’t be able to fly - it’s just that no one told the bumble bee that. What is remarkable about Wikipedia is that it works.

Perhaps less remarkable, but still impressive, are the wikis that exist in corporate environments as ways of capturing the knowledge of employees. Like Wikipedia, these are essentially voluntary initiatives in which employees co-write articles of interest to them for the benefit of other employees. These originated in private sector corporate environments, but the first best example of this happening in a government environment was the creation of Intellipedia by the US State Department.

GCpedia is a Government of Canada wiki that originated in Natural Resources Canada and continues to be cited as a remarkable success.

Keep in mind, however, that these articles are not managed by information professionals, there is no central organizing structure, no one assigns them and there is no overt quality control. But again, remarkably, it works.

Despite some examples of successes, our organizational response to this new world of openness will not be seamless nor painless. And here I’m not necessarily talking about the IM challenges that you will all know better than I do. Rather, I’m talking about the broader management and social challenges of openness.

There’s an interesting story in Saskatchewan about a registered nurse who still faces charges of professional misconduct from the provincial registered nurses association for posting a comment to Facebook criticizing hospital staff in a facility where her grandfather spent the last weeks of his life.

According to the public notice of hearing, the SRNA charged Caroline Strom under the Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses with violation of confidentiality, failure to follow proper channels, impact on reputation of facility and staff, failure to first obtain all the facts, and using her status of registered nurse for personal purposes.

“Not everyone is 'up to speed' on how to approach end of life care or how to help maintain an ageing senior's dignity," wrote Strom in her post.

Despite not identifying herself in her Facebook post as an RN, she was charged for inappropriately questioning the practices of a health care facility as an RN.

In my optimistic view of open governance, I agree with her lawyer who asked: “What happens to the discussion of health care if you take the people who are experts on that subject and remove them from the discussion?”

But I’ve reviewed this case with enough people to know that there are no easy answers to the question of whether professionals should have the right to voice their opinions on social media.

I simply present this case as an example of the clash of perspectives that this new world of open governance will increasingly present us with.

Social openness challenges: It will come as a surprise to no one in this room that social media - especially platforms like Twitter and open comment spaces - can be a very unwelcoming places, and do not always promote what we might call reasoned and useful debate.

Earlier this year, the CBC shut down commenting on its website for stories related to Indigenous peoples because it was unable to moderate the volume of incivil and racist comments made there. If you are at a loss for ways to depress yourself, check out the “conversation” going on on the alt-right site 8chan about how the Trump victory should be used to entrench an old-world order that some of his followers have long longed for.

It is clear that at this early stage of experimentation with social media, we have a lot to learn about how to have reasoned discourse in public spaces.

Political openness challenges: Turning away from the dark side - if you don’t know the story of Boaty McBoatface, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to him.

Earlier this year (perhaps an early indication of how interesting 2016 would turn out to be), an open naming contest for a new polar ship was launched by the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. The early leader and ultimate winner was the aptly named Boaty McBoatface. Despite the widespread popularity of this eminently suitable name for a boat, the Minister responsible for the contest and for naming the boat withdrew the competition and named the ship what was her preferred name all along: the Sir Richard Attenborough. (Apparently, one option to holding a vote in the UK that you don’t like the result for is to void the vote - but I guess only in certain circumstances.) This was clearly a case of a social media, open voting approach that was not clearly conceived. I think the Minister got this really wrong. Not in the process, however, but in the choice. "Boaty McBoatface" is an awesome name for a boat that not only responds to the ability of the Internet to occasionally come up with truly funny and charming ideas, but also provides an identity to something as obscure as a polar research vessel. I care about a boat named Boaty, and will want to bookmark his webcam and follow his tweets. But the polar research ship  “the Sir Richard Attenborough”? That is a name only a polar research scientist could love. 

Anyway, the name lives on in the Boaty McBoatface chrome browser extension that changes every instance of “Sir Richard Attenborough” to “Boaty McBoatface”.

As I mentioned previously, the cause of the open governance movement lies in three forces - technological, organizational and cultural - And I’d like to discuss each of these in turn.

First is Technological Change largely propelled by the evolution of what’s called Web 2.0. The simplest way I like to understand this change is the idea that we have moved from the first generation web with the ubiquitous webmasters who controlled web content, to a new setting where there are multiple pens, where every new consumer of information is now a potential producer.

This fundamental change in the publishing landscape continues to have profound impacts, from traditional media to politics, and including how information is shared in organizations.

The second technology force relates to the proliferation of Internet connected devices in society, and what we might now be able to do with all this data.

Consider how we have done policy analysis for the past 65 years, an approach that has been described in “the policy cycle”, with a sequence usually characterized as involving stages like problem definition, analysis, solution identification, decision making, implementation, and evaluation, cycling back to future analysis. When undertaken in practice, policy analysis has usually relied on data collected at discrete intervals: collect data so as to better understand the problem; collect evidence to inform the analysis and solution choice; once a policy choice was determined, data collection would follow the implementation of those policies to evaluate whether they had the desired effect.

If I’m right, openness in policy analysis promoted by profound technology change is going to produce something I’m calling policy analytics, which represents the combination of new data sources – e.g., from search and social media, to mobile smartphones, Internet of Everything (IoE) devices, Internet-connected sensors, and electronic payment and transaction cards – with new data analytics techniques for informing and directing public policy. It involves the bringing together of all the discrete stages of the policy cycle into one continuous environment of observation, intervention, and modification.

This is a big change in my field of policy analytics - but it will continue to have big changes in the work you do in information management.

Next, the other force is a willingness on the part of organizations to pursue change and transform themselves into knowledge organizations

This is an idea that has spread through private sector and public sector organizations, based on the idea that organizations that fail to take advantage of the knowledge of their employees by keeping them walled off from each other will not survive in an information economy.

This graph is from some work I did several years ago with a government organization.  

Vertical divisions are the different ministries, and the connecting lines between nodes indicate knowledge flows. If you squint real hard and, well, trust me, what this shows is that people are more likely to share knowledge with other people in the same ministry as them and less likely to share across government with people in different ministries. However, this is starting to change. This type of knowledge sharing requires relentless commitment from corporate leadership to change the culture of the organization.

And third are the changing social dynamics that are promoting open governance.

I’ve made the argument recently that this type of change originates in changing dynamics of the family, but it centres on two motivations: a desire of people to share the knowledge they have, and their interest in being part of something bigger and to make a meaningful contribution. This is reflected both within organizations and it helps to explain the growth of social media and things like virtual citizen science.

I will just briefly mention Countervailing Forces in each of these categories:

On the technology side is a concept we’re calling “Digitally Invisible”, that is, who are not represented in the big data sets and social media discussions, and if we’re making policy based on this new openness who are we missing because we can’t see them?

Next, the organizational barriers to open governance may be some of the hardest to overcome.

This is the model I used to investigate what promotes and constrain open dialogue using social platforms in policy analysis settings. This is from widely used model in social psychology called the theory of planned behavior. Despite this diagram, it’s really simple. Really. Think about trying to quit smoking. This model says: if you want to quit smoking (that’s your attitude), and if people you care about want you to quit smoking (that’s your perception of social norms) and you have the ability to quit smoking (called your perceived behavioural control), chance are pretty good you’ll be successful in quitting smoking.

So apply this to open dialogue and cross-government knowledge sharing. What I found, unfortunately, was that while policy analysts believe that sharing knowledge and collaborating across government is the right thing to do, and they are regularly told that they should engage on these platforms, they stop short at the point of perceived behavioural control - the belief that they have the authority and permission to share their knowledge and views on open collaboration platforms. At its most basic, the problem was a lack of certainty and confidence that public servants really do have the authority and permission to share knowledge online.

This is perhaps the biggest challenge because it speaks to the organizational cultural barriers that stand in the way of open innovation. Establishing this belief will require profound cultural shifts in our organizations and society, not just rhetoric.

Lastly on the cultural side, there is an argument that we are moving towards authoritarianism and not away from it. 

But let me state clearly that I think open governance is a good thing - it’s good for our organizations, potentially making them smarter and more effective, and good for our societies.

Based on that premise, my work is in how to more effectively use technology, building on the organization and social momentum underway, to make open governance work better than it has to date.

So I’m going to conclude with five examples of how we can open governance in a practical way, that takes advantage of all the knowledge in society while avoiding some of the downsides we’ve experienced to date and attempts to overcome some of the barriers that have arisen.

Opening Governance (1): Accountable Anonymity

One of the challenges in open knowledge sharing systems inside organizations is that people withhold their knowledge or opinion. There are various reasons for this, but one counterintuitive finding is that women will avoid sharing knowledge because they can be judged as being aggressive know-it-alls if they do. (This label generally does not fall on men, who are usually more than happy to tell you what they think). 

One solution could be anonymous systems, but these have generally been a failure as people are not accountable for what they contribute - accountable in both senses, as in not taking responsibility for what they say, and not being rewarded for what they contribute. So you get too much worthless commenting, and not enough valuable content. 

There are a number of things governments can do to help correct this, not least of which is moving beyond passive representative bureaucracy to more active forms of representative bureaucracy, but one possible idea I’m exploring is something I call “Accountable anonymity”, where verified organizational members can make contributions that protect their identity from their colleagues while allowing for back-end accountability and ultimately performance recognition.

This is something that my colleague Tanya Kelley and I explored in a series of posts for the Brookings Institution earlier this year. The idea is that, if public servants could contribute without being immediately identified in internal policy debates—but coupled with a system where their contributions were ultimately accounted for in their performance evaluations—it may change their willingness to contribute to a knowledge sharing system. There is some evidence that anonymity can help to reduce some of the gender disparities in online spaces.

Opening Governance (2): Attention Economics

With the emergence of multidirectional Internet communication technology—captured under terms such as Web 2.0 or social media—many-to-many communication has become possible, among citizens, stakeholders, and governments, with each having more equitable access to the communication platforms. For all the change that the digital era has brought, and continues to reveal, a simple observation prevails: the economics of communicating have been radically altered with the spread of digital technologies and especially the layering of Web 2.0. The volume of communication coming from all directions has increased because the costs of communicating out have collapsed, leading to an increase in the range and volume of content now available (Shirky 2008). With so much available, getting Internet users to attend to a specific communication message or channel is now very difficult. In such an environment, with a virtually unlimited menu of things Internet participants can and must pay attention to, the cost of attention becomes very high (Festré & Garrouste 2015; Goldhaber 1997; Lanham 2006).

This is the opposite of the prior information landscape, where broadcasting was expensive (consider the cost of owning and running a television station), but commanding an audience was easy in a limited-channel world. And while the supply of content has expanded, there is a limit to the audience and the collective attention they can or will devote to messages even with the increasing ubiquity of mobile devices that increase the times and places in which information can be consumed. Every kid with a video camera and a YouTube account can start their own television station, but getting a following is still a long-shot.

So how can we hope to get people to contribute their knowledge in such a crowded landscape, where every website is trying to capture their attention? One model for how we might do this is virtual citizen science. You’ll be familiar with citizen science from things like Zooniverse - these are initiatives that allow volunteer participants to collect observations, interpret data, and contribute to formal scientific projects. A large and growing number of opportunities are available for volunteer enthusiasts to contribute to science through field studies, organized events, classroom-based activities, and open science investigations.

Recently, along with my colleagues Dara Wald of Iowa State University and Rod Dobell of the University of Victoria, we completed a study of what I’ll refer to as virtual citizen science (or VCS). In an article just published in Conservation Biology, we recently reviewed a sample of VCS projects to determine indicators of success. The central findings of our study is that it’s not enough for web and app design of VCS projects to focus on standard usability criteria. Rather, that VCS projects must focus on engagement (that is – why should an Internet-based volunteer choose their project over another, and – more to the point – why should they choose citizen science over one of the many other activities the Internet affords?) and retention (that it, how to keep them doing what they started? So we propose that successful VCS projects will do these three things well – engagement, usability, and retention. Unfortunately, what we found it that VCS sites do one thing well – usability – but they don’t consistently do engagement and retention well. And the reason they discount engagement and retention is because VCS projects rely on the inherent motivation of volunteers to contribute to citizen science projects and don’t worry themselves about whether the volunteer is gaining from the experience, or will find a reason to stay connected.

The concept of the attention economy causes us to think about the opportunity to participate in an open dialogue as a commodity, and the customer is the person you’re seeking to engage. They have a lot of things they have to do, and a huge number of things they can do. Why should they choose to participate in your dialogue as opposed to someone else's - or something more interesting?

Opening Governance (3): One-Button Participation

We now have a technology landscape that allows us to take advantage of enhanced community support networks through passive sensing, observation and networking. There are many examples of how we can use the ubiquity of mobile devices to contribute environmental observations that require very little effort on the part of the participant. The one I particularly like is the Tile, a bluetooth device that helps you find your keys when they’re lost.

I bought these for my sons after they lost their very expensive door fobs (I like giving gifts that have at their core an element of frustration: “stop losing your damn keys! and happy birthday!”).

Now, being able to use your phone to find your misplaced keys is a slightly interesting technology (though I would just as soon have this inside a golf ball because that would be really useful). But that’s not what I find interesting about the Tile. What I’m really excited about is the invisible community of searchers that Tile owners constitute. Because in installing the Tile app and having it running in the background on my phone, I’m also searching for and finding other Tiles that aren’t mine, and other people are doing the same for me. I've tested this in various places by marking my Tile as lost, turning off my phone’s search capacity, and walking around the city with my Tile in my pocket. Within hours, someone found my Tile simply by walking near me. I got a notification it had been found

and I was able to send them an anonymous thank you.

Nerd alert! Two people completely unknown to each other are connected in a helper/helped relationship through a simple technology. This is what I’d call a low effort, invisible, unconscious, enhanced community support network built through passive sensing, observation and networking. This approach builds on earlier distributed computing projects like SETI@home, Folding@home and Fightaids@home where the unused computer processing cycles of millions of volunteers with computers connected to the Internet were harnessed to process vast data sets. But the Tile model is different because while the primary motivation is to get the benefit of being a Tile owner (i.e., being able to find my keys), what is really cool is the way that I have become part of a network that helped me while giving the finder an extremely low effort way of helping an unknown community member.

Opening Governance (4): Self-Interestedness

We can also see technology-enhanced community support networks through the aggregating of volunteers’ self-interested contributions. This model is akin to citizen science initiatives that ask volunteers to collect and upload data from their local environment as a way to expand the data collection capacity of science projects. The leading example here is the work of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, except that it relies on the self-interestedness (if that’s a word) of the contributor, rather than some intrinsic motivation like contributing to science. In this case, I think the prototypical example is Patients Like Me.

PatientsLikeMe is a patient-powered research network that aims to improve lives and develop a research platform to advance medicine. On the PatientsLikeMe network, people connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that can help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers and nonprofits develop more effective products, services and care. Participants engage with the site because they get answers to questions like “Is what I’m experiencing normal?” or “Is there anyone out there like me?”

PatientsLikeMe relies on a fundamental quid-pro-quo in VCS, that the reason that people contribute is because they get benefit from their contribution. And the more that community members contribute, the more benefit individual contributors get. (One thing that needs to be guarded against in such a system is the problem of free-riders who do not contribute but rather take the benefit of the collective contributions without contributing any new knowledge.)

Another good example is Waze, a GPS-based driving and navigation app for smartphones that provides turn-by-turn information. As users use Waze to help with their commutes and trips, they benefit from the travel times and route details like accidents and construction that are submitted by other users. As with Patients Like Me, users turn to Waze for the information it contains. But once they're there, their use contributes more value back to other users.

Opening Governance (5): Platforms for Participation

Lastly, we can have technology-enhanced citizenship through a platform for DIY governance. The future of citizenship, in my opinion, will continue to see a shift from government (as institutional response to collective problems) to governance whereby people come together to address public problems either through government or some other alternative arrangement. DIY governance is a shorthand that suggests that there are problems that can be addressed through people coming together to solve them, and technology can be used to facilitate this coming together.

One of the best early examples of this is the Guardian’s use of crowdsourcing to interpret Members’ of Parliament expense claims from the UK. Later examples are the UK Fixmystreet and the US SeeClickFix, which are web-based services designed to help citizens report non-emergency issues in their neighbourhood.

The submissions can be submitted via a web interface, by iPhone, Blackberry and Android reporting apps and a Facebook application. Local government officials receive alerts about submitted issues or can track issues that citizens submitted via the so-called “Watch Area” they are responsible for. The platform allows for direct feedback mechanisms: Local government officials assign a work order number and can change the status of the repair (from open, in progress, to fixed). Citizens are automatically informed about changes in the status of their reported issues allowing for a full feedback cycle. The service is integrated into the social networking services Twitter and Facebook and provides map-based reporting widgets for government and newspaper websites. The problem here is in getting past what people think to what they know or perceive, to get beyond web 2.0 platforms that serve as a medium for advancing an agenda to become platforms for sharing in our governance. And getting people to be active participants in their governance and not just complaining about what doesn’t work.

And one further step is providing a platform for people to take action in support of their governance once they’ve identified a governance failure. My favourite example here is Adopt-A-Fire-Hydrant, a Code for America project created in Boston. Adopt-a-hydrant allows citizens to claim responsibility for shoveling out fire hydrants after heavy snowfall. After a heavy snowstorms, buried hydrants cannot be immediately cleared by city work crews, and if uncleared can cause dangerous delays for fire fighters. This map-based web app allows individuals, small businesses and community organizations to volunteer in shoveling out specific hydrants. This approach to DIY governance gives community members a platform for identifying civic problems and making a public commitment to take action that can have personal as well as community benefit.

So I hope this tour through the rapidly changing world of open governance has at least been interesting - though I sincerely hope that you will find it useful as you navigate the rapids of your professional work.