Emergency Management

Since 9/11, billions of federal dollars have been spent to fix the public safety communications interoperability problem, most of it on hardware. Although there has been much progress, frustrations continue.

A common refrain years ago was that agency or jurisdiction A couldn’t communicate with agency or jurisdiction B. For the most part, “couldn’t” has been made obsolete, because technology upgrades allow for communication. But the willingness may still be lacking — or there may be a language (codes) barrier. It’s now becoming common knowledge that the interoperability problem is a people problem. Only continued communication among agencies and jurisdictions in the form of exercises, roundtables, etc., that lead to collaboration will solve the problem in most places.

In 10 years, will we still write about interoperability as we do today — that it’s something that’s desired but still must be attained? Or will agencies and local governments move outside their comfort zones and take advantage of the technology that’s readily available, opening the dialog with their neighbors and making interoperability yesterday’s news? We hope it’s the latter. — Jim McKay

Education Technology

Over the past year, school districts and universities nationwide switched to hosted applications, beefed up their wireless infrastructure and experimented with digital content.

For e-mail and documents, institutions moved to Google Apps for Education. In April, Oregon was the first state to sign an agreement with Google that its school districts could take advantage of, with Iowa and Colorado following suit in June. In the California State University system, more than half of the campuses switched to Google’s hosted service, along with major research universities. While some campuses tested Microsoft Live@edu, they made up a small minority.

On the wireless front, more school districts provided wireless access and mobile devices to educators and students. A smaller but growing number of districts allow students to access the wireless network with their own technology.

In the classroom, educators increasingly gave students assignments to blog, talk with classes nationwide and search for learning resources via online applications. These tools let students get excited about learning and use their book smarts in the real world.

As content moved online and became interactive, California led the way in affordable digital learning initiatives. On the K-12 level, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger continued his free digital textbook initiative, and a pilot project with iPad apps in four districts is testing the impact of interactive digital content on student learning. At the college level, the university systems provided open source content and other digital material. Texas also is working on a portal for educators and students that combines professional development, portfolios, digital content, e-books and online courses.

These tools allow students to communicate, interact and engage with the knowledge they’re learning — and that’s what education is all about. — Tanya Roscorla

Chief Information Officers

In early 2009 when President Barack Obama created the federal CIO and CTO positions — and then filled the new posts with former Washington, D.C. CTO Vivek Kundra and former Virginia CTO Aneesh Chopra, respectively — states and localities had new hope that their opinions would be heard and their ideas shared by the federal government. The belief was that putting Kundra and Chopra in charge of the administration’s technology agenda would spur collaboration across all levels of government.

Two years later, that initial optimism developed into real-world results, although much work remains to ensure that the cooperation doesn’t fizzle. In some cases, the federal government has led by example, such as its push to make government data public by publishing it online — an approach many states and localities quickly expanded upon.

Other times, the federal government cribbed ideas that started in local government, such as apps development contests for citizens.

Sharing was one motivator for the Gang of Seven, an informal group of big-city CIOs who pool resources and ideas for application development, such as for 311 customer service systems. In July, a new consortium of CIOs at public transit agencies was started with the intent of sharing IT best practices. And a few states are in discussions to share Medicaid management information systems.

CIOs’ prevailing thought in 2010 was why build alone when you can build together? For the first time in a while, state and local CIOs say the federal government wants to work with them. The challenge for 2011 will be pushing collaboration forward despite continued budget pressures and the large number of CIOs who’ll leave after new governors take office.

There’s no shortage of projects that must be addressed. Broadband infrastructure, public safety radio, smart grid and intelligent transportation are all ripe for cooperative approaches. The trick will be actually doing it. — Matt Williams

Web 2.0

Governments have come a long way since RSS feeds and internal wikis. Throughout the year, Government Technology featured jurisdictions that pioneered or expanded the scope of Web 2.0 technologies in the public sector. For example, Boston’s revamped website lets residents sign up for text or e-mail alerts in case their car gets towed, and Miami-Dade County, Fla., created an online foreclosure auction site.

Web 2.0 also continued to make its mark on politics. During the 2010 gubernatorial elections, citizens all over the U.S. could “like,” “friend” and “follow” government hopefuls by using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

In an effort to reach out to the voting public, electoral candidates posted updates, videos and links to campaign information on social media sites. Receiving snippets of the campaigns was a perfect solution for anyone wanting daily doses of election coverage or looking to kill time on a smartphone.

But Tweeters and Facebookers risked following fake accounts, especially if the account was supposedly for a high-profile political figure. Outgoing California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a slew of social media imposters making it difficult to determine which tweets and Facebook posts really belonged to him. Although some legal action is being taken to prevent social media fraud, most states don’t have a comprehensive social media policy.

This year, Maryland led the way on social media regulations. As of Aug. 3, the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review passed a law requiring political candidates in Maryland to provide an “authority line,” declaration of approval and the name of their campaign treasurer for their social media sites.

At the local level, mayors used social media to connect with their communities. For instance, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett used Twitter to update citizens on the city’s weight loss total for This City is Going on a Diet, an effort to help Oklahoma City residents collectively lose 1 million pounds.

Meanwhile, Wichita, Kan., Mayor Carl Brewer used Facebook to encourage residents to give feedback to the City Council on specific issues. And in July, New York City sought to hire a chief digital officer — a job born from the Web’s evolution — with social media and Web 2.0 expertise to communicate with citizens online.

But while many social media activities increased, 2010 also saw the end of one of the Web 2.0 era’s signature initiatives: Washington D.C.’s Apps for Democracy contest.

District CTO Bryan Sivak ended the contest — conceived by former district CTO Vivek Kundra — citing concerns over the sustainability and relevance of the resulting applications. Still, Apps for Democracy served as an inspiration for many jurisdictions, like San Francisco and Portland, Ore., hoping to engage citizen developers to use government data in innovative ways.

Web 2.0 technologies broadened two-way communication between government and citizens, and improved transparency — another heavily discussed topic in 2010. The full benefits of Web 2.0 are yet to be realized, but already there’s talk of Web 3.0. Much like Web 2.0 before it, many are uncertain what this new iteration will entail, but no doubt 2011 will be a year many endeavor to find out.

—    Karen Stewartson and Sarah Rich