SXSW 2010: In Code We Trust: Open Government Awesomeness

Friday, March 12, 2010 2:00pm
Alissa Black, City & County of San Francisco
Dmitry Kachaev, OCTO Labs/DC Government
Noel Hidalgo, New York State Senate

Session Description

“In Code We Trust” is the new motto for Government in the 21st century. Across the country, geeks inside and outside of government are developing a new model for a participatory and transparent Federal, State and Municipal governments. Built upon open-source tools, open standards, and best practices, this panel will highlight practical examples of initiatives from private, public and government sectors.


Why this rocks? Makes democracy participatory and saves money.

Digital technology erases the distance between the electorate and those who are sent to serve them. This type of technology allows for contacting senate from multiple technological means. Typically these means are via Social Media.

Since all of life is collaborative, government should be the same way. This causes questionable circumstances where they may diverge and play online games instead of using their access to technology is a productive manner. Most data is public knowledge and thus it is all posted online via multiple means: video, audio, written, and even analytics for website usage. This happens both in person and online where people are fully engaged and watching these questions while having access to these senators in real-time. This is great for desolate areas, such as Albany, where traveling to these meetings becomes difficult.

“Open Legislation” is one of the online applications that was built which has all of the bills in legislation created. This data has an API where you can see at any one point where the bill stands (in process, post process, etc) and who’s voting on them.

How can open government be sustainable?

OpenSF is San Fransisco’s open source software that contains “Data sets” and allows raw data to be public. At California Data Camps multiple Applications were developed to have a friendly public front end to interpret these Data sets. Since you cannot get people to enter new data into the system, they got the Mayor involved. Basically they put into effect a policy where if a Data set is requested, they must comply. This makes Open Government more sustainable.

RecoverySF, iHeartSanFransicoWater, PolicySF, ImproveSF, and DataSF were also released which do various online Open Government data sharing. Citypedia is used by the Department of Technology but San Fransisco find it useful as a Wiki to store data.

The moment public participation becomes a way of doing business in Government it makes it really hard to then take this type of technology away from people. Basically once the ball gets rolling it’s in tact forever.

An Open Source Software Policy was put into effect which basically says, “if your department is considering purchasing a piece of software over $100,000 then you must research alternative Open Source options.” This is good because although they may not use the Open Source option, it will still force them to do better research and overlook everything.

Washington DC have put into place Open API feeds which help Developers to allow developers to have independent systems which use different data mash-ups in different ways. One of the issues around Open Data is sometimes it’s hard to understand: business processes, government terms, meta data, etc. If you’re going to wait for 100% clean data and then use it to build a system, it’ll never happen. It doesn’t matter if you have 60% or 70% of accurate data, because as the public starts using this data it will eventually have a need to be cleaned up.

Questions and Answers

  • What about not having a representative from a red state?
    In New York they had two elected officials switch their political views to cause better effective government.
  • How do citizens go about getting better information online?
    Having an online community, excellent applications, and other services is key. Governments are really bad at getting accessible apps, or even advertising they exist. Washington DC released an “App Store” which was a database of search-able e-apps so they were better accessible. It really boils down to just opening up more channels of communication and data flow.
  • Can you talk more about using the Wiki and getting it approved to using this, while also keeping sustainability and the challenges involved?
    The Wiki Alissa (San Fransisco) uses had no criteria defined as how to use it. Originally it was used quite a bit and accepted pretty well, but after everything was put in it hasn’t been used as much. It becomes a good resource to reference people to for multiple things. It just becomes one good spot where all questions can be answered. Finding powerful allies within the city government is highly suggested.
  • Open Government Directive speaks to transparency and collaboration is great, but what else have you done to get groups to collaborate? How do you take these tools to build these widgets to interface the data?
    One goal was to collaborate between multiple cities. Holding a DevCamp was great, because it gave ideas when starting up Open311. There are always teams somewhere who will help you start up these projects.

More Information

Code is law, Lessig
Transparency Camp
GovLoop – Online Community
OpenMuni – OpenGov Wiki