Aaron Smith and Susannah Fox recently attended the Gov 2.0 Expo, a smorgasbord of policy, technology and citizen engagement put on by the good folks at O’Reilly Media. These are their notes from the conference.

Aaron’s notes:

These are my five key takeaways from the conference that government agencies should consider as they think about their online strategies:

Have fun, be passionate, inspire others, don’t be afraid to fail –The success of any online government effort is directly proportional to the amount of passion you invest, and the extent to which you make government fun and exciting for ordinary citizens. Some of my most memorable moments from the conference included HHS CTO Todd Park nearly flying off the stage as he discussed opening data to improve health outcomes, and Peter Corbett describing his vision of “civic innovator networks” even though he freely admitted that he had no idea what they might do or how they might develop. If you doubt that fun, passionate people can’t make government exciting, just check out what the city of Bryan, Texas is doing with their drinking water quality reports.

People > Process > Tools – If the first step in your technology plan is “we want to start a Facebook page” or “let’s have an apps contest”, then you’ve probably already failed. When the Australian government was planning their Gov 2.0 strategy, they started with three questions having nothing to do with technology per se: Who do we want to engage? How do we want to engage them? And why would they want to engage with us? If you can answer these questions, the tools you use will follow naturally from that. As Kathy Sierra put it, “don’t make a better [x], make a better user of [x]”.

Create an environment that encourages serendipitous discovery – By definition, serendipity cannot be manufactured; but you can create an environment that encourages people to consider problems in ways you might never have imagined. For Veteran’s Administration CTO Peter Levin, that means embracing the unpredictability of feedback from users and colleagues (“the entire value of feedback is that it’s unpredictable”). For the intelligence community, that means working topically instead of organizationally, and asking questions at the broadest level to encourage participation by a wide range of stakeholders. As Anil Dash put it, if you take inspired users and provide them with accessible prompts, they’ll give you answers to questions you never would have thought to ask on your own.

Open data can spark creativity, but data without context can be dangerous – The conference was awash in examples of government agencies opening their data to citizens as a way to spark creativity, develop new applications, crowdsource problems and encourage direct feedback.  However, as danah boyd noted in her Thursday keynote, data alone can be dangerous or misleading if we don’t also provide citizens with the tools they need to interpret and contextualize that data.

Examples of awesomeness are all around us – The world is full of cool people doing awesome things, and some of the best “ah-ha” moments of the conference took those outside examples and tied them in to a government context. Some of my personal favorites:

  • Joshua Robin from MassDOT wondering why it was so easy to get weather information but so hard to find out when your bus was going to arrive (hint: it’s because weather data is open, and transit data is often walled off from the world)
  • David Eaves speaking to my inner baseball nerd by pointing out that Bill James and the sabermetric movement have been using open data for years (“open data is old!”)
  • Tim Berners-Lee making the case that the semantic web is like a bag of chips
  • danah boyd using a rather unexpected protagonist (sex offenders) to make us think about the unintended consequences of open data
  • Fred Dust using the Toyota Prius fuel monitor as an example of designing participation
  • Dan Munz citing Harold Bloom’s How to Read to make the case that “literacy” can have multiple meanings in a technological context
  • Andy Carvin pointing to the Heroes fan page as a touchstone in the development of the crisiswiki platform
  • Jay Parkinson’s use of online dating sites, kayak.com and zipcar to illustrate his vision for how we might engage with doctors and health care providers in the future

Susannah’s notes:

Apps for America Contest Winners – Clay Johnson of Sunlight Labs presented the awards. The health data winner was Forum One Communications’ County Sin Rankings (chlamydia rate – lust; adult obesity – sloth; you get the picture). It was a fun tribute to the County Health Rankings produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U. of Wisconsin. Check out the submission by hometown favorites Regina Holliday and Ted Eytan, which won an honorable mention. (Video of his remarks.)

Elizabeth Losh knocked my socks off with her 12 Don’ts for Government 2.0, which could be applied to any organization. (