j.j. toothman

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Thoughts from the 2010 Gov 2.0 Summit

I wasn’t at last week’s Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C., but I’ve spoken with a few people that were, read many a blog post, and watched a few talks on YouTube which have sparked a few thoughts. 

By the way…as is becoming typical of Gov 2.0 conferences and events, Alex Howard has put together the best summary

How tech companies can figure out ways to work with government

One of things I’ve noticed about technology companies big and small is that figuring out how to get involved in the Gov 2.0 movement is a challenge.  There’s a reason massive enterprise companies like Microsoft have dedicated government services divisions within their companies.  And I’ve started to notice that even smaller, boutique service providers are creating dedicated teams to focus on opportunities with government.  Why is this?  Because figuring out how government operates is ridiculously difficult.  I work within a federal government agency.  Have done so for close to 8 years now.  Eight years in and I can tell you that I’m still not quite sure how government functions.  Every day I learn something new (and for me that’s part of the appeal of working in government), but if you were to corner me and ask me point blank “How does government function?”1 , I’d probably take a deep breath then start spouting off stuff about the Constitution  just so that I don’t start ranting about how bureaucracy and paper processes tend to ruin my day.

But a discussion with Emma Antunes shined some new light on what the O’Reilly Gov 2.0 events are really about.  And that is connecting industry with govenment in manner so that industry can figure out how to actually participate effectively.  But to do just that, government needs to do more to explain how exactly it gets stuff done.  And explaining that isn’t easy.  But a presentation by Beth Noveck (video embed is below) is the best explanation of what government does that I’ve seen since Schoolhouse Rock.


The culture challenge of Gov 2.0 is getting more attention

When I talk to people at Gov 2.0 concepts, I make it clear that achieving progress in increasing government transparency and using technology to create change within government has little do to with software engineering, designing data dashboards, and building web applications.  The biggest issue is the culture of government.  And that issue is starting to see more sunlight. 

Steve Radick echoes this sentiment 

Managing change in the government is HARD, much harder than in the private sector. Leadership and, consequently, leadership priorities are constantly changing as administrations change. Because of this, employees suffer from change fatigue (if you don’t like how your department was reorganized, wait a year and it’ll change again), middle managers don’t invest in the change themselves, and leaders all too often push forward with their own agendas and goals, current organizational culture be damned. It’s no wonder we’re still talking about how the best way to create Government 2.0 – we’ve been way too focused on the easy part of this, the technology.

And Andrew McAfee offered a great post that balanced optimism for the Gov 2.0 movement with honest awareness of the reality that bureaucracy may squash it all.

There now exists a fantastic set of digital tools to make government data and services available, and to make the work of the state more open, transparent, and participative. The idea of ‘government as platform‘ that Tim has been so eloquent about is not a pipe dream; it’s feasible right now, and is only going to get easier to realize thanks to relentless technology improvement and innovation.

There are people out there, both inside and outside the federal workforce, who have both the will and the chops needed to do battle with bureaucracy. I got to listen to a bunch of them at the Summit, and came away deeply grateful for them. There are some true public servants out there, and we’re lucky to have them.

But wow, are they fighting an uphill battle.

Yes, it is an uphill battle.  But it’s a battle that must be played out.

  1. To be honest, Schoolhouse Rock does as good a job as answering this question as anything else I know 

Reflecting on the NASA IT Summit

I spent all of last week at the Gaylord National Resort Conference Center outside of Washington, DC with fellow NASA technologists and NASA I.T. partners.  I can give you a full play-by-play, but Alex Howard already did a commendable job of that.  I strongly suggest you read his post for a solid overview.  What I prefer to do here is give you some of my reflecting on thoughts on this event.

First and foremost…it was a great event.  Despite the lack of available wi-fi (but awful wi-fi is pretty much a given at most tech conferences these days).  Bringing together NASA tech community and thought leaders to the same building for 3 days of sharing ideas and thoughts was an idea that was way overdue for NASA.  One of the things I’ve been most pleased about NASA since returning this past April is the sense of community that is now in place.  It certainly wasn’t there before.

From a conference programming perspective, everyone who saw Vint Cerf’s presentation will tell you that his talk was easily the best hour of the week.  You can see the video below. 


Vint led off the second day of the conference and after hearing about his ideas about interplanetary network design, my favorite conversation piece for that day was “should this guy be working for NASA?”

I’ll leave you with a Wordle cloud of my conference notes from the week.  I typically jot things down in my iPhone note apps over the course of a conference, and its fun to take those notes, convert them to a Wordle cloud and reflect back upon the themes that were circulating about.  I’m extremely prominence that the word Open had over the course of the summit.

Wordle cloud of IT Summit notes

Reflecting on the Gov 2.0 Expo

I’m way late on this post.  The meme has completely moved on in the blogosphere and I’m basically posting this just to have the notes and thoughts tucked away in the chronology of my blog stream.

I was hesitant to attend the Gov 2.0 Expo.  And only decided to go two weeks before the conference.  What I had head that the previous Gov 2.0 conference organized by O’Reilly was that it was a steady stream of technologists asking repeatedly for government agencies to simply open up their data and make it available in a machine readable format. 

But is that really so simple? After attending a session by Sandro Hawke introducing linked data, my thinking is that this process is going to take some time.  Regardless of how Tim Berners-Lee tries to simplify the idea using a bag of potato chips (see video below).


Yes, I did thoroughly enjoy that talk.  Which makes sense as I’m someone who started out on web building and engineering web sites and applications.  But engineers, software developers, and web architects are not the ones who need to have the message of Government 2.0 smashed into their heads.  Why is this?  It’s simple.  The biggest challenges facing Government 2.0 have very little to do with technology.

The technology is there.  Every technologist and youthful member of “the connected age” knows that.  Even advanced concepts as linked data and microformats simply need time to become part of the general fabric that wraps how software engineers go about doing things.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at how web standards evolved.  Ten years ago, almost every web site was a table based design.  CSS eventually took hold, browsers matured, and the web standards message has succeeded.

No, making Government 2.0 happen is not about throwing more technology at the problem.  The biggest issues revolve around culture, process, and governance.  Thus, the best sessions and discussions at Gov 2.0 Expo were the ones that shined light on tactics and case studies that fought those issues head on.  Like Carolyn Lawson’s presentation “Navigating the Maze.” 

Cloud Computing Obsessed

The buzz around cloud computing in the Gov 2.0 arena is at a fever pitch.  And I’m happy to say that the discussion around cloud computing has matured.  The value add such technology can provide is now understood.  The “convince me” phase is over.  So please Google, Amazon, and Microsoft stop pitching us and focus on getting it to work for us.  Get that stuff FISMA compliant ASAP!

I’ll be back

One thing that became clear to me is that the Gov 2.0 movement is still growing and a ways to before it tips.  Given that, events that aggregate various memes such as Open Government, cloud computing, and enterprise 2.0 are critical to evolving the thought patterns of government agency leaders.  Looking forward to the next expo. 

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