March 17, 2010
I’m very excited about SAP sponsorship for an upcoming developer contest by the Province of BC. The province is working with nine sponsors to develop an apps contest for climate action software applications. The contest asks participants to design fun, dynamic and innovative applications for both the Internet and mobile devices using government data.
Like the City of Vancouver did here, the province is developing a data catalogue focused on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in preparation for the contest. This will be a great opportunity developers to take advantage of this data to build some really interesting applications.
Details still to come but suffice it to say that SAP will be helping out developers with out data visualization and analysis solutions like Crystal Reports and Xcelsius. Imagine the possibilities!
An announcement about the contest is expected at GLOBE 2010 (Mar 24-26) so keep your ears open and I’ll have more info very soon.
Stephen Hui has more background in his Georgia Straight article here
March 8, 2010
Open Gov West is a very cool conference coming up in Seattle at the end of the month. Bringing together technologists, civic engagement organizations and governments, the conference is designed to “facilitate regional collaboration and share best practices across open government initiatives”. The concepts of open government have been very prevalent lately in forums such as The Economist and with the publication of the new book “Open Government“
Innovative governments and agencies are taking advantage of new technologies to create a different relationship with citizens. Rather than a limited and one-way flow of information, open governments create an environment for collaboration and conversation with citizens. Where citizens can not only access and make use of public information, but in turn influence government policy.
In an interesting twist, the two days of the conference take very different approaches. The first day is targeted mostly at government representatives and leaders of open government initiatives and takes a fairly traditional approach with keynotes and breakouts.
The second day brings in “Citizens, technologists, designers, academics, social entrepreneurs, policy wonks, political players, and government employees” and is built around the unconference format with some pre-determined sessions, but lots of room for anyone to propose a new session on the day. I had a great experience with this type event when helping to organize Vancouver Change Camp last year and the energy and ideas released have to be seen to be believed!
Register here and please pass on to your networks. Hope to see you there!
February 26, 2010
Last year, SAP released an application to enable management and reporting of American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA aka stimulus package) Funds. The Act specifically mandates that government agencies provide transparent reporting to citizens showing monies spent and impacts made – financial, jobs and more.
What’s really interesting about this application is how it was developed. Using “off the shelf” components from SAP Business Objects, “From start to deployment of this solution took us only about 60 days” according to Mark Testoni, President of SAP Public Services in an interview with Executive Biz.
Ultimately, what makes this speed possible is the data and the tools. As I have mentioned earlier here and here, open access to government data is key to building these types of applications. Once the data is open, vendors like SAP, along with ordinary citizens can do analysis and create reports. What is even more powerful is when we start to see applications that mash-up disparate data sets. For example, it would be great to see stimulus spending and jobs created correlated with latest unemployment statistics together with projected job growth by industry with cost of living indexes for the major cities in that state.
The tools are the second speed component. Whether using SAP Business Objects tools such as Xcelsius or Crystal Reports, or coding from scratch, reusable components and sharable templates can greatly accelerate development. Each application will have a different focus but there remains a large degree of commonality. Publishing tools and templates for reuse inside and outside your organization will help future projects develop quickly.
The challenges of integrating, connecting, aggregating and validating these disparate data sets can be daunting. Each government department can have different data standards, reporting periods and quality measures. Before one can come up with a visual report, it pays to invest in data quality and integration processes. In this case, SAP is using its own data federation and data quality tools. Going forward, this is a service that should be provided as part of a government data infrastructure. That would allow all developers to build robust applications delivering insight to fellow citizens and decision makers.
Will be sure to raise this at the upcoming Open Gov West conference in Seattle March 26-27. More on that soon
February 25, 2010
Vancouver is one of a small group of leading cities in North America that are opening up data to citizens. While most government decision making, processes and data (at all levels) are closed to the public, Vancouver has taken the unique step of publishing a Council resolution supporting Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source. The resolution reads in part:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of Vancouver endorses the principles of:
• Open and Accessible Data – the City of Vancouver will freely share with citizens, businesses and other jurisdictions the greatest amount of data possible while respecting privacy and security concerns;
• Open Standards – the City of Vancouver will move as quickly as possible to adopt prevailing open standards for data, documents, maps, and other formats of media;
• Open Source Software – the City of Vancouver, when replacing existing software or considering new applications, will place open source software on an equal footing with commercial systems during procurement cycles;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT in pursuit of open data the City of Vancouver will:
• Identify immediate opportunities to distribute more of its data;
• Index, publish and syndicate its data to the internet using prevailing open standards, interfaces and formats;
• Develop appropriate agreements to share its data with the Integrated Cadastral Information Society (ICIS) and encourage the ICIS to in turn share its data with the public at large;
• Develop a plan to digitize and freely distribute suitable archival data to the public;
• Ensure that data supplied to the City by third parties (developers, contractors, consultants) are unlicensed, in a prevailing open standard format, and not copyrighted except if otherwise prevented by legal considerations;
• License any software applications developed by the City of Vancouver such that they may be used by other municipalities, businesses, and the public without restriction.
To support developers in accessing data, the City has produced a Data Catalogue here. Most data is geospatial (boundaries, traffic, etc.) more and more interesting data is being added.
Most interesting is that the initiative has political support. Indeed, both Counciller Andrea Reimer and Mayor Gregor Robertson were speakers at the Open Data + Culture Day at the W2 Media Centre. Along with David Eaves, a tireless proponent of open government in Canada, they spoke about the opoortuities this data opens for citizens.
Whether creating simple applications that can automatically send you a text message reminding you to put the garbage out, to giving citizens access to council agendas and minutes to make their own informed decisions, to allowing detailed analysis of City data, the “open” movement has incredible potential. Almost a year ago I wrote about how this data is being used in the U.S. I’m very excited to see how applications and data use evolves in Vancouver. (See the wiki for examples of applications)
February 22, 2010
Speaking at a rally supporting the need for affordable housing in Vancouver on Saturday, Reverend Ric Matthews of United First Church elaborated on the theme of open-source collaboration without directly using that terminology.
He used the Redtents campaign as a model of citizen engagement going forward.
His message was that the campaign for affordable housing needs national presence along with local campaigners that both include and are accountable to grassroots organizations. He also points out that many of these grassroots organizations already have solutions and strategies in place. The value of a collaborative approach is that it provides the opportunity for various and disparate groups to pursue their strategies in search of a common objective.
Another of his comments reflect the need for integration and collaboration across disciplines. In the case of housing, this means bridging the traditionally independent government silos such as health, addictions, housing, finance and aboriginal affairs. This raises a very interesting question – would it be possible for an inter- or intra-governmental organization use these same open source collaboration principles? Could one envisage a real working coalition of municipal, provincial and federal organizations working on this issue?
Could the “open government” movement be an answer to this question? Most of what I have seen so far has focused on opening data to the public but opening models of communication and organization have the potential to literally revolutionize the relationship between citizens and governments.
March 10, 2009
The New York Times has a profile on the “Big Man” tasked with monitoring spending for the US recovery bill. The article talks about both recovery.org (a government run site) and Stimulus Watch (a private site).
As you can see from the images below, the difference in level of detail and speed of posting is staggering. Which one would you want to visit to get the details on spending? This really hammers home what others like Visible Government and David Eaves have been saying: open the data to the people and be amazed at what the people will build. For you. For free.
US Government Stimulus Package reporting site
And by contrast, a private site from Stimulus Watch