I originally shared this with readers of Fortune but wanted to share it here as well as it is a great example of how open government can be used to not just make government more effcient, but also to make the local economy more robust. I hope you find it helpful.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was not talking about Open Government data or job creation when he spoke of, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” in the Gettysburg Address. However, within the address he provided us with words of wisdom that we must look to once again, words that provide us a formula we can follow for job creation through the changes created by the move to Open Government.
I blogged, not long ago, that the return on investment (ROI) of open government data was job creation. This article came as a result of listening to Carolyn Lawson, Technology Services Governance Division, State of California, discuss the Apps for Californians contest that took place earlier in 2010. From this contest 5 winners were selected and 5 companies were created or extended. Jobs were created.
You may be asking yourself a few questions.
- What is open government data? Government agencies have data on budgets, transit systems, housing, education, and much, much, more. This data, minus anything that is privacy or legally restricted, is open government data.
- What are application contests like Apps for Californians? Government entities are opening up data and are looking to the private sector to leverage this data to create value-added applications. These contest reward offer incentives to the private sector to use this data in return for monetary rewards, marketing, and/or developer assistance.
- Is this a good use of taxpayer money? We'll explore that in this article and you can decide.
- An internal group that owned a lot of data was brought into the project. The team had a great deal of experience providing data to other teams in California government and they were brought on board in January, months ahead of the June deadline.
- They sought out partners in the private sector who had experience with managing data-focused communities. Unfortunately, with no money to offer there was little interest with the exception of ProgrammableWeb. Programmableweb went above and beyond in terms of providing the necessary infrastructure that Carolyn was looking for, of course, but they also provided guidance about the world of data and mash-ups and became a valued partner in the process.
- Outreach: A volunteer group of California webmasters was made aware of the project. This group, in existence since 2006, meets regularly to discuss software, train each other on new technologies, and to support each other through difficult projects. Members of this volunteer team worked overtime on multiple occasions to make the contest a reality.
- The focus of the contest was not what people could do for government; instead, it was for the people. The name, Apps for Californians reflected this very simple, yet important, change in focus. This focus was critical as California was unable to provide any monetary prizes. Instead, the developers participating were involved because the contest could provide economic value to the developers themselves.
- Marketing of capabilities: A couple of companies took the opportunity to build useful applications to demonstrate their ability to work with real data and to win additional business. Citizens and California Government won, the businesses invested little and clearly won as well.
- New businesses created: Seeing opportunities to create powerful new mash-ups some new businesses were formed. While the long-term value of these businesses is yet to be demonstrated jobs have been created already.
While the results from this one contest are promising, the full value is far from being achieved. In order to fully realize benefits from open data government must finally go “all in” and stop putting out mandates that lack economic goal-oriented focus. In California, as we discussed, these wins came as a result of a mandate to open up data, not to create jobs and not to reduce operating costs. If a true Open Government Office were established at the state level we could go far further. The office must:
- Have clear goals in terms of jobs created and operating costs reductions.
- Must be budgeted and staffed. Today's e-services office, which ran this, is not a formal organization. It is given mandates but not authority or budget.
- Establish strategic partnerships INSIDE and OUTSIDE of government. Partnering with the private sector, with Higher Education, and with other agencies to meet its goals will increase cooperation, collaboration, and bring all of us to a focus on what matters now: job creation.