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5 Lessons from Gov 2.0

How the Open Government Directive has shaped states and localities.

Although government 2.0 has been around since Bill Eggers’ 2005 book Government 2.0, the term truly took over in 2008. After President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, his first memorandum in office was the Open Government Directive with its three pillars of creating a more transparent, participatory and collaborative government. This framework quickly spread from federal government down to state and local government and across the nation.

So fast-forward five years and let’s ask what have we learned.

1. It’s about mission problems. At the beginning of gov 2.0, a lot of the initiatives and reported case studies were flashy, citizen-facing initiatives focused on crowdsourcing a new project or senior leaders using social media to engage with the public and share their message. While important, I’m excited to see the push in the last few years to use these approaches and ways of thinking to solve deeper problems — whether it is truly transforming the way we deliver health care or building software or helping with criminal justice decisions or reforming procurement.

2. It’s about sustainability. In the beginning of gov 2.0, many efforts were focused on quick wins such as launching a social media channel or highlighting an app created at a hackathon. However, we quickly discovered that sustainability is key and new solutions came about. Hackathons evolved so now the prize often is a one-year contract to grow and sustain the winning app. Code for America launched the Brigade to focus on growing and improving a key set of open source apps so folks don’t reinvent the wheel. And internal open government initiatives went from being side projects to receiving dedicated budget and resources for sustainability.

3. It’s about human capital. This movement is not just about technology — it’s mostly about people and new ways of thinking. Thus, agencies have taken new human capital approaches to these problems. Many cities have created chief digital officers, data officers and innovation officers — all roles that didn’t exist five years ago. Other cities, including Philadelphia and Boston, have set up a Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, as well as new programs like San Francisco’s Mayor’s Innovation Fellowship.

4. It’s not static. Five years ago, smartphones were used by only a small percentage of folks and today’s popular tablets hadn’t even been released. Now, nearly half of the U.S. population has a smartphone and more than 30 percent of people have a tablet, according to a recent Pew Internet study. Agencies have deployed mobile apps and optimized websites for citizens, while introducing tablets for various workflow functions ranging from permitting to city council meetings. For those heavily engaged with government 2.0 in the beginning, 2013 is radically different as the tools, form factors and potential have changed every year.

5. It’s more than open data.
Of the Obama Open Government Directive’s three goals, transparency and open data have definitely gotten the most follow up, with a recent Open Data Initiative launched at the White House and open data initiatives taking root at the state and local levels. The open data movement has evolved greatly from simply putting a few data sets out there. Now the key is making that data usable via application programming interfaces so it can be quickly used in apps. There’s also been a big push to release important, high-quality data whether it is Medicare reimbursement rates or procurement information — important data that can drive real solutions.

Overall, a lot of progress has been made in five years. Besides the items above, it’s a cultural and mindset shift that we are seeing grow throughout government each year. Individuals and agencies are focusing on how to make important systemic change with new technology and approaches to improve government.

As Bill Gates said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” I’m excited to see what comes next.

Image from Shutterstock.

Steve Ressler is a serial gov tech entrepreneur and investor. He has held leadership roles at companies including Callyo, GovDelivery/Granicus and GovLoop.