President Ford and Tip O'Neill - Government 2.0, Open Government Data and Fixing Potholes
“All politics is local” said Tip O’Neill. An early American hero of mine while I was a young politico working in the States in the midwest and then Washington D.C.
And I have lived my life believing that, driving for it when I worked as an LBJ Scholar in Congress, with Congressman Jerry Kleczka representing Milwaukee’s South Side, as a Get Out The Vote specialist on multiple campaigns (School Boards, State Legislatures, Senators, Congressmen, Governors and candidates for President), when I had the honor of working for Governor Jim Doyle and running his ICT Department for years. And when I led the National Association of State CIO’s (NASCIO) as their President and, as the General Manager for Worldwide Government at Microsoft and most recently as the SVP of Global Public Sector at Salesforce.
Through all of these experiences I try to remember that real people care about things like, well, potholes. And that while those issues may seem small, they are, in fact enormous. You see, when potholes exist they affect all that we do in society. Single moms cant get their kids to school so she can get to work. Those same potholes stop both local tradesmen and global logistics firms from moving commerce along, affecting local and global commerce. Our brave first responders can’t respond in a timely manner to citizen emergencies. Kids can’t safely play a game of stickball in the street safely (I know, they shouldn’t be playing in the street anyways).
But, through my experiences I have found one issue among all of these to be primary. Potholes erode the faith that citizens place in their government. They generate a perception that government is not effective at solving problems, cares less than they do about safety or is not focused on those things that matter most to citizens. That erosion is becoming even more evident as young adults now enter civil society (digital natives) wondering why interactions with government are so hard when their digital world is so darn easy. But, when Governments focus on getting small things, like potholes, right then we all start to rebuild that faith, our community and the future of civic life.
And that is why I focus on Potholes.
And as an unconventional thinker since birth, please don’t think I feel that there is only one way to fix those pesky things either. I believe that Government should be more oriented toward being a platform upon which citizens, non-governmental organizations, unions, churches, associations, developers, database admins and single moms can work together to hope to fix. By Fixing Potholes I mean all of us, which requires Governments to shift their orientation. From simply providing the workers, trucks, shovels and asphalt to providing data streams and sensors and information on routes and other masses of data directly to those single moms and her brethren. To rebuild the trust we have eroded by focusing too much on providing services directly (the vending machine model) and instead switching to providing platforms that we can all work on collaboratively. From the pipes (broadband deployment), to software platforms like the Force.com and driving data to a new open world potentially at database.com.
You see I was raised by one of those single mothers. And the greatest gift she gave me was her passion for politics. She had incredible insight into politics from environmental sustainability to workers rights to growing our economy. But she was a single mom, who worked hard, late into most nights, so her boys could grow up to live a better life. And because our government drove service delivery exclusively, they did not have platforms available for my mom to pass along her passion. Her voice remained silent, as she was at work during the only public meeting times left open in our state – from 9AM to 5PM. Had we embraced always on, 24-hour social computing connected to government, or had multi-day GovCamps that allowed ongoing interactions, or had her young boy had access to the data from the State so he could put his coding skills to good use – who knows how incredible our state could have become.
But the incredible thing is, she can now start to unleash that passion. The US, the UK and Australia have publicly committed to open data in Government. There are now myriads of online systems dedicated to crowdsourcing public policy solutions, and yes, potholes are well covered from FixMyStreets to our own solution soon to be released called StreetCare. The impact can be felt world of education as with the New York City Department of Education deployment of Force.com and beyond. It is an exciting time to be a part of government transformation.
And a darn good time to fight for us all to start Fixing Potholes.