Digizenship

March 10, 2009

I know that this week we’re studying digital activism which generally precludes talking about action taken by government. In fact, most of the case studies we’ve been studying are directed against sitting governments. But I don’t think that precludes digital activists from working with governments or forming constructive relationships with  incumbent institutional frameworks – especially when those structures are willing to take an enlightened approach to ICT participation and transparency. 

Last week, the White House announced the appointment of the nation’s First Chief Information Technology Officer, Vivek Kundra, a “Google-apps lovinghappiness-index-embracingdata-democratizing” Chief IT officer for DC, according to TechPresident. One of Kundra’s big ideas is to create data.gov – a huge data dump for all manner of inaccessible or unavailable government information and a viable platform for inviting community data mashup and analysis. 

Poking around TechPresident, I found out about an interesting project at Wired.com on developing an open-government “data.gov” strategy that Kundra could then implement. Wired had a writer working on the piece until he realized that a magazine story…

…wasn’t up to the task.” So, he figured, hey, what’s good for the government is good for the writer, and went open source with the project. 

Going “open source” means harnessing the crowd at an the Open Government Google Group and creating an interactive wiki on the Wired site to encourage community input on what a “data.gov” strategy ought to entail. The conversation going on at Wired is informative, provocative, and active. The foreword to the wiki:

This is your place to report where government data is locked up by design, neglect or misapplication of technology. We want you to point out the government data that you need or would like to have. Get involved!

Based on what you contribute here, we’ll follow up with government agencies to see what their plans are for that data — and track the results of the emerging era of Data.gov.

Now if this were a state-sponsored initiative, it would have no credibility. If it were a team of Wired writers plugging away, it would have no relevance. But Wired.com’s editors have chosen to build a powerful portal to access a wide range of voices and empower citizens to be constructively active. Don’t like what the government’s doing about information technology? Forget writing your Congressman, just build a better strategy. 

Who knows if the Wired wiki will have any effect on the ultimate data.gov implementation. But if Kundra is as user -friendly as he claims to be, ignoring the mountains of advice would be a missed opportunity for the kind of synergy the government is looking to capitalize on. 

— Patrick Roath

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