Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government By Gavin Newsom with Lisa Dickey (The Penguin Press; 249 pages; $25.95)
Beth Simone Noveck
When I started work in the White House in 2009, I had been brought in to help implement the Obama administration's commitment to making government more transparent, participatory and collaborative. At the time, the federal government, like governments worldwide, was anything but open. The White House didn't have a blog, Twitter accounts or a social media site. To make matters worse, we were running Windows 2000.
As a colleague described the situation: "We have a nearly obsolete infrastructure, so a lot of things have to be done 'by hand.' Don't think Google server farm. Think gerbil on a wheel."
Things have gotten better since those early days, but they're not yet good enough. Approval rates for government are at an all-time low. We need more open, innovative government to connect with citizens and win their trust. But it can be hard to know how to talk about government innovation in a way that is exciting and inspiring. Through lively stories and engaging quotes from famous digerati and less-famous policy entrepreneurs, Gavin Newsom's new book, "Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government," does just that.
In this interview with Steve Koonin, Director of NYU's Center for Urban Science and Progress and former Undersecretary of Energy for Science, we talk about the big thing happening in technology enabling smarter government, namely big data, the oil of the 21st century. In this lively half hour discussion, we talk about the technological developments driving the rise of big data, how big data changes the ways we govern, the impact of big data on innovation and entrepreneurship, the challenges and limits of using big data effectively, and how to train the next generation of data-savvy decisionmaker who can solve problems.We also brainstorm about what it would take to create a "politfact for urban data" and how to engage citizens in designing smart cities from the bottom up as well as about the need to get both private and public sector using data in conversation together.
This morning, the White House announced the launch of a Smart Disclosure Community at Consumer.Data.gov. (Link to the announcement: http://go.usa.gov/4fkT) This launch is an important step forward for the Administration’s ongoing smart disclosure agenda to help expand access to data that can be used to build apps and other services that help consumers make smarter choices in the marketplace.
The Administration has made steady progress expanding the use of smart disclosure across the federal government. More and more companies are using smart disclosure data sets to build consumer tools.With the launch of the Smart Disclosure Community, there is now a one-stop-shop for developers and other innovators to access hundreds of smart disclosure data sets published by federal agencies. The Community is also a platform for the public to engage on smart disclosure. It features resources for the public to learn about smart disclosure policy, examples of consumer apps and services using smart disclosure data, and forums for the public to participate in a dialog about the future of smart disclosure.
Brandon Greenberg @Disasternet published a blog post today on the value of using Evernote to capture and collate notes, articles, and knowledge collaboratively and from a variety of sources into a virtual filing cabinet.
Evernote's sharing features allow me to share notes via or social media and share notebooks with collaborators and the public. Working on my capstone project for my MPA, our team decided to dump our research, articles, thoughts, meeting notes, etc. into one shared notebook for easy reference. This comes in handy as we all have access to the material for related blog posts and conversations that we will create or have over the duration of the project. The search features combined with tagging also allow us to hone in on what we are looking for very easily.
The key takeaway for me isn't specifically about Evernote, which I love and use daily. Rather, Brandon's comments underscore the importance of regular experimentation with myriad new platforms available for increasing our ability to teach ourselves.
Evernote is just one tool whose purpose is to help us sort and remember increasing quantities of content. Other tools like RSS feeds and blog aggregators and podcast directoris help us find new content. Then there are productivity tools to help us manage things like email and communications so we have more time to learn. And I'm falling in love with Google docs all over again after one too many "version control" problems in trying to collaborate on authoring documents.
As we explore how to develop our individualized curriculum and understand how innovation is changing the sectors about which each of us are passionate, it is incumbent to dig, search, and explore for ourselves. Maximizing our ability to do so well depends upon identifying the challenges that impede us from learning well. If only there were an app to create more hours in the day!
Every year in the United States approximately 1.5 million registered tax-exempt organizations file a version of the “Form 990” with the IRS and state tax authorities. While the questions vary between the version for private foundations or small nonprofits, the 990 collects details on the financial, governance and organizational structure of America’s universities, hospitals, foundations, and charities to the end of ensuring that they are deserving of tax exempt status. These organizations, which together pay $670 billion in wages and benefits annually, create America’s education, culture, art, religion, science, and provide many of the social services upon which our communities depend.
With a national movement in the U.S. to shrink the role of government, non-profits may be expected to expand their programs as they step in to fill essential needs. The role of nonprofits may now become even greater – and deserving of greater scrutiny.
The data that the IRS collects about nonprofit organizations present a great opportunity to learn about the sector and make it more effective. Yet this data could be made far more useful than it is today. It’s time to “liberate” 990 data and make it easier to gain insight into the workings of America’s nonprofits.For more, see Noveck and Goroff, Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data. Link (PDF)
Today we had our first class of sixty unbelievably energized grad students and one brave undergrad in Gov 3.0 @ NYU.
We got them out of their seats to meet one another and "speed date for social change" to the end of forming blogging communities. Cosmo and Laura asked everyone to make one name tag with three topics about which they are passionate and another with three skills they have. Then they took over the hallway and lobby outside the classroom to find complementary partners with whom to start blogs and "learn out loud" during the course of the semester. #Education and #Climate were popular destinations as was #IT and #Collaboration. Over the course of the next few days, students will self-organize into groups.
While this ice breaker was largely designed to find blogmates so that the responsibility of launching a blog on "innovation and X" won't be so onerous and students can learn from one another, it was also an exercise in learning about what's involved in building a network of collaborators. It's hard enough face to face in the classroom and that much harder? or easier? to do with strangers online.
Afterwards we talked about Newtown. I was frankly surprised that their response to my question about what's transpired since Newtown was to talk positively about social media stimulating a national conversation on gun control. No one expressed the outrage I feel about the anemic legislative response. Where, instead, are the collective intelligence platforms to develop good ideas for solving the problem of guns and school safety? Or the collaboration initiatives to crowdsource volunteer labor to protect schools for example? We are so conditioned to today's institutions that we are content to sit back and wait for the compromise-ridden, politicized process to play itself outself.
Let's see what we can teach ourselves this term about ways to tap social media networks and turn their energy into reliable ways of working together.
We're going to have a lot of fun exploring the opportunities and limits for collective intelligence and collaboration in this course.
We will run a twitter backchannel in an out of class under #gov30.
Unforunately, the chairs in our classroom are nailed to the floor in a lecture format, which didn't lend itself to collaboration. We are in search of a Pop Up Learning Space.
This course is an experiment. We are "flipping the classroom." Instead of passive learning in class, we'll record lectures by leading thinkers and doers working on government innovation to watch at home supplemented by relevant readings. This frees up time in class for active learning. We will work on projects and problems, including blog postings to apply what we are learning to the topics we each care most about.
Students from all over the world come to the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU to acquire some of the skills needed to be a successful change maker. Students have diverse interests that range from agriculture in India to education in New York. Some are working in specific locales. Others work across regions on causes that matter to them. Given the range of passions, it doesn't make sense to create a course focused only on one type of project or problem.
That's why video lectures and readings will focus on a specific technology or type of innovation and we will each "Learn Out Loud," reflecting on how what we learned about big data, predictive analytics, social media, collaboration tools and other technological advances might be applied in the contexts that matter to us.
Starting in the first week of class, students in the Government 3.0 course will create a solo or group blog. We've purchased equipment to enable students to do their own interviews, field studies and explorations and post those on their blogs as well.
The future of our society will depend on how we respond to the crisis of governance.
Governance -- the way we provide public goods, services, and solve problems collectively -- is broken. Confidence in government is at an all time low. Traditional institutions are widely perceived to be untrustworthy or ineffective. Around the world, we are witnessing public expression of pervasive disappointment with government and rising hostility toward mainstream institutions. Especially visible was the Occupy Movement, which launched in New York City during fall 2011 and rapidly spread across the globe and took aim at traditional, centralized hierarchies ranging from governments and corporations to non-profit and media institutions.
Troublingly, this erosion of trust in government comes at a time when a large portion of the world’s population continues to face significant challenges in daily life. One billion people live on less than $150 dollars each year, and lack access to clean water, basic education, or even minimal health care. Environmental catastrophes exacerbate their plight. Meanwhile, rising temperatures threaten the planet itself.
At the same time, tremendous leaps in science and technology offer new opportunities to address such challenges. Social networking and increased access to data enable citizens to connect and engage with one another to develop solutions to individual and collective problems. In order to recognize, implement and scale innovative solutions to public problems, however, we need open institutions capable of translating innovation into social progress. In this Cambrian age of big data and social media, we must use technology to transform governance.
Government 3.0: Rethinking Governance and Re-Imagining Democracy for the 21st Century at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU is a semester-long exploration of how to use technology to improve governance. Through conversations with leading technology and policy innovators, in-depth reading and, above all, personal reflection we will teach ourselves more about advances in technology, how those innovations can be applied to making decisions and solving problems and design new experiments that might help advance institutional innovation.