e-government


Your boss has a say over you while you’re on the clock or using the boss’s equipment. But can the boss control what you say off-duty, on the Web? Officials in Kent County, Delaware, think so:

The county’s Levy Court — the equivalent of a county council — has an existing rule that bars employees from using government equipment for personal social media activity at work. But a recent proposal would extend that ban to include activity during non-work times, specifically as it relates to commentary that disparages co-workers or reflects unfavorably toward the county government [Brian Heaton, “Social Media Usage Becoming a Free Speech Question for Governments,” Government Technology, 2011.05.17 ].

As law professor Phillip Sparkes points out in this article, Kent County is going well beyond the boundaries on public employee speech set by Garcetti v Ceballos (2006). That case recognized that public employers can place some limits on what city officials, teachers, and other public employees say while acting in an official capacity. However, that case does not allow government to impose rules on off-duty speech like those proposed by Kent County.

Arvada, Colorado, CIO Michele Hovet offers a more realistic approach to public employees’ First Amendment rights:

“I think folks that draw lines as far as what you can and can’t do on your free time are avoiding the inevitable,” she said. “Social media has been here and it’s not going away. Locking it down is just going to create more management headaches in the long run” [Heaton, 2011.05.17].

People are going to talk… and Tweet. They’re going to use their smartphones and iPads to do so. Trying to control employees’ every utterance is unconstitutional and impractical. Instead of trying to keep employees from talking, local governments will make better use of their time working to treat employees and the public right so they all have good things to talk about.

I knew open source software was just a Bolshevik plot:

Сегодня стало известно, что премьер-министр Владимир Путин подписал документ, в котором описан график перехода властных структур на свободное ПО (СПО).

…Заместитель главы Минкомсвязи Илья Массух рассказал CNews, что документ предусматривает полный переход федеральных властей и бюджетников на свободное ПО. План занимает 17 страниц, скачать его можно здесь (идея сохранить документ об СПО в формате .doc принадлежит аппарату правительства РФ) [Владислав Мещеряков, «Путин распорядился перевести власти на Linux», Open.CNews.ru, 2010.12.27].

Translation:

Today it became known that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed an order laying out a timetable for government agencies to switch to open source software (OSS).

…MinComNet [love those Soviet-style abbreviations] Deputy Chief Ilya Massikh told CNews that the document provides for a full transfer to open source software by federal agencies and budget offices. The 17-page plan can be viewed here (it’s the Russian government’s idea to save a document about OSS in .doc format) [Vladislav Meshcheryakov, “Putin Orders Government Switch to Linux,” Open.CNews.ru, 2010.12.27].

Alt Linux CEO Aleksei Smirnov tells CNews that the switch will save the Russian government money on licensing fees and software import costs while sparking innovation and economic development.

…of course it does!

Almost every city (and every other governmental entity, from local sewer district on up to Congress and the U.N.) can benefit from a Web 2.0 makeover. Russell Nichols at GovTech.com highlights Code for America, a new effort backed by Web 2.0 progenitor Tim O’Reilly to help local governments use the Web to “improve transparency, efficiency and citizen participation.”

Transparency, efficiency, and citizen participation–who doesn’t want more of that?

A couple things catch my attention about Code for America. First, CFA sees its mission as more than simply making more government data available to citizens. They recognize that online government tools are just about G2C; they also need to be C2G. In other words, CFA recognizes that government isn’t something done to us; government is something we all do. Citizens aren’t just consumers of government data; we are producers of data that we can use to improve our communities.

Also warming the cockles of my Web 2.0 heart is Code for America’s recognition of the importance of context, of place. CFA won’t just throw programmers in a room and ask them to make widgets. According to Nichols, CFA’s Web teams will spend a month living in their client cities. They’ll get to know their cities, the citizens their widgets will serve, and the problems those widgets will address. When it comes to local government, the World Wide Web needs to feel like a part of the neighborhood.

…hat tip to Deane at Gadgetopia!

After some test-driving a couple summers ago, I chose the open-source Drupal platform for my various online experiments (RealMadison.org, the Lake Herman Sanitary District, and my online dissertation). I wouldn’t be able to offer a strong techie defense of that choice: I just liked the look and feel of Drupal better than Joomla or some of the other tools I played with.

So I can’t help feeling my choice affirmed, just a little, by the news that the White House is replacing the Bush-era proprietary content management system with Drupal:

The great Drupal switch came about after the Obama new media team, with a few months of executive branch service (and tweaking of WhiteHouse.gov) under their belts, decided they needed a more malleable development environment for the White House web presence. They wanted to be able to more quickly, easily, and gracefully build out their vision of interactive government. General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), the Virginia-based government contractor who had executed the Bush-era White House CMS contract, was tasked by the Obama Administration with finding a more flexible alternative. The ideal new platform would be one where dynamic features like question-and-answer forums, live video streaming, and collaborative tools could work more fluidly together with the site’s infrastructure. The solution, says the White House, turned out to be Drupal. That’s something of a victory for the Drupal (not to mention open-source) community [Nancy Scola, “WhiteHouse.gov Goes Drupal,” Personal Democracy Forum, 2009.10.24].

Anyone care to draw parallels between open-source software choices and the future of democracy?

ThisWeKnow.org is one of three finalists in the Sunlight Labs Apps for America contest. It’s nothing big, really, just trying to make every bit of federal data available in super-searchable Semantic Web format:

Our long-term vision for ThisWeKnow is to model the entire data.gov catalog and make it available to the public using Semantic Web standards as a large-scale online database. ThisWeKnow will provide citizens with a single destination where they can search and browse all the information the government collects. It will also provide other application developers with a powerful standards-based API for accessing the data.

Loading governmental databases into a single, flexible data store breaks down silos of information and facilitates inferences across multiple data stores.  For example, inferences can be made by combining census demographic data from the Agency of Commerce, factory information from the Environmental Protection Agency, information about employment from the Department of Labor, and so on. We can’t even begin to imagine the discoveries that will become possible after all these data are loaded into an integrated repository.

Tim Berners-Lee‘s describes a Semantic Web with data distributed across the Internet that is readable by people while simultaneously being available and manipulable by software agents. To that end, in addition to building our Web pages for browsing and searching these data, we will expose all the data in the catalog to computers as RDF that can be retrieved via the SPARQL Query Language [ThisWeKnow.org About, 2009].

ThisWeKnow.org is a good first step toward consolidating diverse data stores and providing better comprehensive pictures of communities. But it will still take many eyes and many coders crunch more data together to produce Semantic Web apps that can produce insights not currently available.

My MWDSI 2009 paper was a day late and a euro short, thanks to Freiburg im Breisgau, but the U.K.’s Headstar.com still thought my discussion of electronic participatory budgeting was worth reading… and publishing! Editor Dan Jellinek boiled it down to an essay (stripping out all those boring old APA citations) and posted it in Headstar’s E-Government Bulletin Live online newsletter. Cool!

…or is it? For much of the academic world, publication in anything other than a scholarly journal is irrelevant to status. I’ve heard that occasionally profs look down on colleagues who get articles published in practitioner journals.

But again, to whom are we telling our stories? To whom do they matter? I know there’s some big timber we can fell in our forest that will build some spectacular houses, even if the rest of the world that lives in them can’t comprehend how they were built. But when we can express our ideas in ways that a broader audience can grasp, I see no reason that we shouldn’t. The fact that an idea can be expressed in a broadly comprehensible manner does not render that idea inherently inferior or less important. Spread the word!

…on something that’s already been done. Arrgghh!

Update 2009.05.02: I discover tonight that my presentation was wrong on one key point: that there weren’t any major experments in electronic/online participatory budgeting going on. Ha ha ha. I need to read more. Much more.

The southwestern German city of Freiburg im Breisgau, population ~218K, conducted an ePB trial April 7 to May 9, 2008. They combined online discourse, face-to-face discussions, and surveys.

The online tool is Demos-Budget, interactive planning software — server-side database, users need nothing but a browser. It has a graphical interface with budget sliders.

The online trial elicited the following participation:

  • 1861 registered users
  • 15K visits
  • 240K page views
  • 757 discussion forum articles
  • 1291 budgets with 914 text explanations
  • 22 issue-specific wikis

City government was on board 100%, funding the project and committing to incorporating the results in the actual budget.

“Lessons Learnt”:

  1. Aggregate the data for regular users; have detailed data ready for those who request it.
  2. Expect gamers and gunners; get moderation.
  3. Integrate online and offline activities; they each make the other better.
  4. Participants have to know this isn’t just a game; make it count! Get the city on board!

Read the details at ePractice.eu. By the way, Frieburg im Breisgau has a remarkable reputation as one of the greenest cities in the world.

——————original post, 2009.04.18———————–

Hey! I presented today! It was fun! Thanks to all who attended. If you’d like a copy of the presentation, you can download that (in .pptx format) right here. The full paper is available in the conference proceedings. Enjoy!

—And now I’ve just learned how to embed slideshows via Slideshare in WordPress! Kudos to Joe Bartmann, who always knows which button to press!

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