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DorobekINSIDER: Assessing transparency and open government

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Last weekend, open government advocates gathered in Washington, DC for the second Transparency Camp — an un-conference, which is one of these events where bright people come together and decide what they want to talk about. Read the Twitter feed from that event by checking out #tcamp2010 — and even the Washington Post wrote a story about the event this year.

I could only be there on the second day, but there were great folks with great ideas…

I have been fascinated by the Obama administration’s transparency and open government initiative. Among previous posts:

The DorobekInsider transparency, openness and data.gov reader [May 22, 2009]

DorobekInsider: The first draft from the Open Government and Innovations conference [July 21, 2009]

DorobekINSIDER: On NewsChannel 8 talking government openness and transparency — the liner notes [February 25, 2010]

Signal magazine column: Why Transparency Matters [May 2009]

Signal magazine column: Contract Transparency Poised to Open Up [September 2009]

And O’Reilly media has just published a book Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice. I’ve just started it, but… the early parts of the book are well worth reading.

And this coming week will be a big week for the open government as the Office of Management and Budget and agencies will issue their open government plans.

There were several interesting aspects that came out of transparency camp.

* Most agencies get transparency: Most of the employees I know get transparency and open government. They understand why it matters and how it can help. In theory, they get that one of the powerful parts of transparency is the acknowledgment that more wisdom exists outside any organization than it does inside an organization. That being said, there is a difference between theory and practice. At Transparency Camp 2010, there were a number of staffers from Capitol Hill, which, by and large, is horrible at transparency. And some of the Hill staffers even suggested that if bills are created in a more open framework, well, that’s what staffers do. And the argument is that they know more then… well, those people out there.

Even still, the theory of transparency is one of those ideas that goes against the grain. It’s akin to the Mike Causey example that he uses for investing: When a car starts sliding on ice, you’re supposed to turn into the slide. It just doesn’t feel natural. In many ways, transparency is unnatural.

Furthermore…

* Transparency and open government still isn’t fully defined: As I said last year, transparency continues something akin to a Rorschach test — everybody sees transparency very differently. Each person has very different ways of defining what transparency means and how it can be implemented. A lot of that is good at this point — it is important to note that we are still very early in this and everybody is still learning. But it will be interesting to see how it actually gets implemented.

* Transparency and open government moves a lot of cheese around… and I’ll take a simple example: Freedom of Information Act Requests. It has always seemed to me that this is a process that is just made for openness and transparency. Why can’t all FOIA requests be posted in a public fashion… and agency responses be posted online. One reason: We journalists don’t want others knowing what we are working on.

* Open government and transparency needs to help government operate better: If this is going to take hold — if this is going to be real, I continue to believe that it needs to help agencies do their jobs better.

* Open government and transparency aren’t just a bludgeon: In many ways, Recovery.gov is the poster child for transparency and open government. In fact, Earl Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board told Federal News Radio that the transparency of the site actually has helped the Recovery Board operate more effectively. But it has been difficult at times. We remember the stories about the recovery dollars that were listed in phantom congressional districts. And everybody went nuts. The fact is that incorrect data was probably always there. We just didn’t know it before. Now we know — and it has been fixed. In fact, that is the power of open government, transparency and collaboration. Yet too often we use it as a bludgeon.

The fact is, this is new — and there are going to be mistakes.

But there are real opportunities out there. One of my favorites is the Better Buy Project. This is an innovative initiative by GSA, the National Academy of Public Administration’s Collaboration Project, and the Industry Advisory Council. And the goal is to build a better acquisition process by tapping the wisdom of the crowds, something I had discussed last year. They are actually trying it. The Better Buy Project started in the GovLoop Acquisition 2.0 community, then evolved to a way of having people suggest ideas (hear GSA’s Mary Davie talk about it on Federal News Radio) … and it is now a wiki where you can actually help GSA build a better contract both for Data.gov and for the replacement of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service’s mainframe computers. More on this later this week, but… it is such a remarkable way of seeking people’s ideas.

We’ll be talking to the folks at GSA who are leading this project later this week. You can also read more on the Better Buy blog.

There are many examples and ideas how transparency and open government can help agencies do their jobs better. It is fun to watch!

DorobekInsider: Did the President all-but mention GSA administrator nominee Johnson at the State of the Union?

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Most of probably watched the State of the Union address last night — President Obama’s first State of the Union address.

Over all, there wasn’t much for feds specifically — he called for the end of the Defense Department’s gays in the military bad…

State of the Union 2010

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

But the President did say this:

What frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day.  We can’t wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side -– a belief that if you lose, I win.  Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can.  The confirmation of — (applause) — I’m speaking to both parties now.  The confirmation of well-qualified public servants shouldn’t be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual senators.

Was he specifically talking about Martha Johnson’s nomination to be the administrator of the General Services Administration? Who knows. We told you earlier that the Johnson nomination — and the other held nominations — were expected to come to a cloture vote soon after the vote on Ben Bernake’s nomination for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, but I’m hearing that the cloture vote might not actually happen until next month.

Other quotes from the State of the Union address:

* A proposal to make college more affordable — particularly for those who select public service:

To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans.  (Applause.)  Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants.  (Applause.)  And let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years –- and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.

* Earmark transparency on Capitol Hill

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform… You’ve trimmed some of this spending, you’ve embraced some meaningful change.  But restoring the public trust demands more.  For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online.  Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single Web site before there’s a vote, so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

Some people tweeted that lawmakers could do that on the Library of Congress’s Thomas Web site.

* Gays in the military

We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution:  the notion that we’re all created equal; that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.     We must continually renew this promise.  My administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination.  We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate.  This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.   It’s the right thing to do.

WP’s Federal Eye blogger Ed O’Keefe has more.

See the entire speech here… or read the full transcript here.

Of course, I’m also watching the State of the Union 2.0 aspects where the White House is seeking questions on YouTube — and he will address them later.

Written by cdorobek

January 28, 2010 at 2:58 PM

DorobekInsider: Government 2.0 from down under — the final report of the Government 2.0 Task Force

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We told you about this when it was formed and we have been watching it’s evolution — well, yesterday, Australia’s Government 2.0 Task Force published its final report, Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0.

I final report is posted below and I’m literally going to read it as soon as I finish this post, but…

Some key points from the findings (emphasis is mine, not the task force):

  • Government 2.0 or the use of the new collaborative tools and approaches of Web 2.0 offers an unprecedented opportunity to achieve more open, accountable, responsive and efficient government.
  • Though it involves new technology, Government 2.0 is really about a new approach to organising and governing. It will draw people into a closer and more collaborative relationship with their government. Australia has an opportunity to resume its leadership in seizing these opportunities and capturing the resulting social and economic benefits.
  • Leadership, and policy and governance changes are needed to shift public sector culture and practice to make government information more accessible and usable, make government more consultative, participatory and transparent, build a culture of online innovation within Government, and to promote collaboration across agencies.
  • Government pervades some of the most important aspects of our lives. Government 2.0 can harness the wealth of local and expert knowledge, ideas and enthusiasm of Australians to improve schools, hospitals, workplaces, to enrich our democracy and to improve its own policies, regulation and service delivery.
  • Government 2.0 is a key means for renewing the public sector; offering new tools for public servants to engage and respond to the community; empower the enthusiastic, share ideas and further develop their expertise through networks of knowledge with fellow professionals and others. Together, public servants and interested communities can work to address complex policy and service delivery challenges.
  • Information collected by or for the public sector — is a national resource which should be managed for public purposes. That means that we should reverse the current presumption that it is secret unless there are good reasons for release and presume instead that it should be freely available for anyone to use and transform unless there are compelling privacy, confidentially or security considerations.
  • Government 2.0 will not be easy for it directly challenges some aspects of established policy and practice within government. Yet the changes to culture, practice and policy we envisage will ultimately advance the traditions of modern democratic government. Hence, there is a requirement for co-ordinated leadership, policy and culture change.
  • Government 2.0 is central to the delivery of government reforms like promoting innovation; and making our public service the world’s best.

You can download a copy of the report as a PDF or Word document from here… I have also posted it below.

As I say, I’m going to read the full report next. I’d also love to hear your thoughts about the findings.

View this document on Scribd

Written by cdorobek

December 23, 2009 at 5:22 AM

DorobekInsider: The Better Buy Project — the liner notes

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I have mentioned that I will be moderating a panel on Wednesday morning talking about the Better Buy Project, which is an innovative collaborative platform for improving the government procurement process. Find more at betterbuyproject.com. There is more information on the ACT/IAC Web site here.

Here are the details:

We are pleased to announce the next IAC Executive Session featuring The BetterBuy Project on December 16th, 2009 from 9:00am – 10:30am at The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), 900 7th Street, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20001.

The BetterBuy Project, a collaborative initiative between the General Services Administration (GSA), the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) and the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA), has become front page news and has captured the attention of both government and industry acquisition professionals. The initiative is focused on collecting ideas that will make the federal acquisition process more open, transparent and participatory through the implementation of collaborative processes and collaborative technology.

Come and learn more about this dynamic project and how it could change – for the better – the way the government buys products and services.

BetterBuy Panelists:

  • Chris Dorobek, Managing Editor of FederalNewsRadio.com and Co- Anchor of the afternoon Federal News Radio program (Moderator)
  • Mary Davie, Assistant Commissioner of GSA’s Office of Assisted Acquisition Services
  • Peter Tuttle, Senior Procurement Policy Analyst with Distributed Solutions, Inc.
  • Chris Hamm, Operations Director of GSA’s Federal Systems Integration and Management Center (FEDSIM)
  • Esther Burgess, SVP and Deputy COO of Vistronix, Inc.
  • Lena Trudeau, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA)

On Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, we spoke with Davie about the Better Buy Project. Hear that conversation here.

Harvard Kennedy School professor Steve Kelman wrote about the Better Buy Project in his FCW.com blog The Lectern under the headline, Better Buy: Crowdsourcing at work in acquisition forum:

The basic idea behind the Better Buy project is so-called “crowdsourcing.” The Better Buy Web site invites people to propose ideas for improving the procurement process. Others are then invited to vote on which ideas they like best — each computer from which a person votes is allowed a total of up to 20 votes, of which up to three may be allocated to a given proposal. People may also post comments about the proposals.

Read more from Kelman here.

Some details of what has happened so far:

  • 88 unique ideas submitted
  • 223 voters
  • 761 votes cast

At the forum, we’re going to talk about how this came about and how difficult it was… and what has worked well and what can be improved.

I love this project because it is a group of people talking in the GovLoop Acquisition 2.0 community who decided to make something happen — and they are trying it. I think there will be many lessons learned.

If you have thoughts, I hope you will share your ideas.

Some FAQ information from the Better Buy Project:

Why the Federal Acquisition Process?

On his first day in office, President Obama challenged leaders in government to “use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector.” The acquisition process represents one of the most important areas of collaboration between government and the private sector.

Unfortunately, it is also among the most complex and least transparent. The Better Buy Project is an experiment dedicated to the belief that there’s a lot of room for improvement in the way government buys products and services. We’re testing this hypothesis by asking for your ideas on how to make acquisition process more open, transparent and collaborative.

The best part of this project is that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) GSA would really like to adopt some of your best ideas. Promising ideas will be selected by GSA to be piloted on an upcoming acquisition, where lessons learned will be captured for future implementation. But that really depends on us, and the ideas we’re able to produce.

What Topics Are At Issue?

This project is concerned primarily with the pre-contract-award stages of the acquisition process—the activities that take place before the government “signs on the dotted line” to buy a product or service. Those areas are:

  • Market Research and Requirements Definition Phase—Includes publicizing agency needs and requirements, and refining them based on further input and research about current capabilities.
  • Pre-Solicitation Phase—Includes web-based research, discussions with other federal agencies, meetings and open discussion forums with the private sector to discuss potential solutions, and requests for information soliciting input and ideas. The requirements are also further refined at this stage in the process.
  • Solicitation Phase—Includes the government notifying the private sector of the requirement through various channels such as E-Buy and FedBizOpps, holding open forums to discuss the requirement and answer questions (e.g., Industry Days), a review of the solicitation by interested companies, the written exchange between government and the private sector of questions, answers and clarifications on government requirements, and proposal submissions.

The ultimate goal is to improve how government learns about and chooses what it buys—in other words, to make government a more informed, more effective consumer.

What Kind of Feedback Are You Looking For?

We are looking for ideas to make federal acquisition more open, transparent, and collaborative. What does that mean?

  • Open—Raise awareness of upcoming needs government is trying to fulfill, in order to assemble a pool of qualified providers who can compete on specific requirements.
  • Transparent—Give the public and interested parties timely data on upcoming and ongoing buying activities, with the goal of promoting fair and high-quality competitions.
  • Collaborative—Find ways for the government to engage in more ‘open’ conversations with the private sector on topics such as best practices, emerging technologies and innovations, and market conditions.

We believe that making the process more open, transparent and collaborative will make government more likely to end up with the right item at the right price.

Written by cdorobek

December 15, 2009 at 1:42 PM

DorobekInsider: Another GovDelivery/GovLoop hiring coup: Andrew Krzmarzick — and passes 20K members

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The federal government is losing another of its rising stars — but only the larger goal of public service.

Earlier, we told you that GovLoop — the burgeoning online government-focused collaboration platform that describes itself as the Facebook for feds — was purchased by Scott Burn’s GovDelivery. The announcement got a lot of coverage — including Federal News Radio 1500 AM got the first opportunity to talk to GovLoop founder Steve Ressler and GovDelivery founder, president and CEO Burns.

On Monday, GovDelivery‘s GovLoop will announce another hiring coup: Andrew Krzmarzick will join GovLoop, the FederalNewsRadio.com’s DorobekInsider has learned.

Krzmarzick

Krzmarzick

Krzmarzick will be charged with encouraging outreach, partnership, and engagement to help the community grow and bring even greater value to members.

In addition to that news, GovLoop officially passed the 20,000 member milestone in it’s continued rapid growth in just more than a year.

Krzmarzick is one of the leaders in the “Gov 2.0” community. He will leave his post as senior project coordinator at the Graduate School — formerly known as the Graduate School USDA. Ressler and Krzmarzick are good friends — but he has also proven to be a powerful advocate for public service.

We had Krzmarzick on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief earlier this year talking about iampublicservice.org, which crowdsourced a book highlight the work done by feds. He and Ressler also appeared on Federal News Radio’s FedTalk program.

Here is the note Krzmarzick sent to friends:

Guess what? I’ve got a new gig!

Mr. GovLoop himself (aka Steve Ressler) has asked me to join his team as the GovLoop Community Manager (Read: “Wingman”)!

So what does that mean? It means I’ve resigned from the Graduate School and will dedicate myself full-time to making GovLoop THE place where people in and around government can connect and achieve new levels of awesomeness (that’s in my contract, by the way – to use this word at least once in every conversation) beginning October 19.

Seriously, I am going to be Steve’s lead in growing and engaging members, listening to and learning about your needs and honoring and highlighting the great work you do every day. As a former priest wanna-be, I see myself as a cross between a pastor and an evangelist for GovLoop, someone whose role is to serve the public servants. I want to make your life easier by linking you to the information and people who have the answers to your questions and solutions to your challenges.

I can’t wait to get started.

Krzmarzick can be found on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn

Here is his bio from his blog

Andrew Krzmarzick, PMP, is a leading thinker, trainer, and trailblazer on the four generations, social media and telework. As a Senior Project Coordinator at the Graduate School, Andrew designs and delivers high-impact, hands-on training, including courses titled “Focusing the Power of Four Generations,” “Wikis and Webcasts and iPods, Oh My!” and “Telework: A Manager’s Perspective.”

Andrew has facilitated workshops and presented at numerous government agencies and conferences, including ASTD’s International Conference, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) Annual Conference, the Advanced Learning Institute’s “Social Media for Government”, the Telework Exchange’s “Telework in a Box” series, and the Training Officers Consortium (TOC) Annual Institute. In order to share presentation content and disseminate best practices, he bookmarks articles and information at Delicious, posts his presentations at SlideShare and engages in thought leadership here at the GenerationShift blog. Andrew is also the co-creator of IAmPublicService.org, a website and ebook project dedicated to improving the perception of public service and attracting the next generation of government talent. He is a Community Leader at GovLoop.com and a member of the Executive Board of Young Government Leaders. His work and insight has been featured in the Washington Post, Public Manager and Government Executive magazines, the FEDManager E-Report, and on Federal News Radio.

In addition to training and speaking, Andrew has produced hundreds of winning proposals and other promotional content over the past ten years to earn over $100 million for non-profit organizations, Federal, state and local government, health departments, school districts and educational institutions. In 2008 alone, Andrew helped organizations across the United State to capture over $12 million in grant awards in support of their vital missions.

Andrew earned his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute and a Master’s Certificate in Project Management from Villanova University. He also has a MA in Theology from The Catholic University of America and a BA in Philosophy from Iowa State University.

Written by cdorobek

October 18, 2009 at 9:06 PM

DorobekInsider: Intel on the gov 2.0 front lines – and a new report assessing A-Space

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Editor’s note: This item is re-posted from earlier this week. Unfortunately, for some reason, the item has just disappeared. Federal News Radio’s tech team is working on it, but… it is one of my favorite posts — so I am just re-posting it.

When the history of government 2.0 is written, the intelligence community will get several chapters. In fact, I’m finishing up a pre-publish copy Harvard Business School Prof. Andrew McAfee‘s wonderful book Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges (set for November release – although there is an active effort to move up the publication date). Anyway, in McAfee’s book, Intellipedia ends up being one of his four enterprise 2.0 case studies — right up there with a case from Google.

First off, a definition for people who don’t know what Intellipedia — or even a wiki — is. Wikis are Web sites designed for collaboration where groups can come together to collect and edit data. Of course, the best known wiki is the enormously successful Wikipedia, the free, online encyclopedia that taps into the wisdom of crowds. Intellipedia started out as a Wikipedia-like wiki for the intelligence community. And Intellipedia has evolved into a suite of Web. 20 tools for the intelligence community — the Intellipedia wiki, which uses the free, Wikimedia software; a photo sharing tool akin to Flickr; a social bookmarking tool akin to Delicious (my Delicious bookmarks)… and on and on…

In so many ways, this remarkable suite of tools has been at the cutting edge of the transformation of how government uses information. Not only is Intellipedia significantly ahead of most government agencies — therefore they are often requested for speaking posts — but I would argue that the intelligence community is well ahead of many private sector organizations.

And one cannot discount the challenges facing the intelligence community. One just has to go back and read the 9/11 Commission’s final report as a reminder, as McAfee recounts in his book: The 9/11 Commission’s “conclusions can be summarized using two phrases that became popular during the investigations: even though the system was blinking red before 9/11, no one could connect the dots.” (If you either have never read the 9/11 Commission’s report or it has been awhile, it is a remarkable piece of work — almost chilling… and a surprisingly readable narative of what happened. And owners of the Amazon Kindle, you can get it for only 99-cents.)

The goal was to create tools that enable dot connecting — that make data visable and more usable. The goal is share data — and, by extension, knowledge — across the traditional and very well established boundaries in the intelligence community.

In Intellipedia team has recently posted a video that describes what this is all about much better then I could.

So out of the mistakes of 9/11… and out of the 9/11 Commission report… developed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is supposed to bring the myriad of intelligence organizations.

There were undoubetedly the organizational and systemic changes, but what also started happening was — to put it simply — stuff. Among the stuff were these tools — and they developed both with some top-down help, but they also evolved organically.

As I mentioned, Intellipedia is way ahead of just about everybody else. So they are fascinating to watch develop because they are facing issues that most organizations will face in the coming years.

Last year, GCN’s Joab Jackson wrote a much discussed story provocatively titled Intellipedia suffers midlife crisis. And Intellipedia is at an interesting place at its evolution. (When the GCN story can out, I thought the headline was preposterous — after all, these tools have been around for a few years. My sense is the baby is barely walking. Yet the headline was more provocative then accurate — but it ended up spurring a very good discussion around standardization. The question at the heart of the argument is: Should these tools eventually be required use within organisations?)

One of the tools is A-Space. The more formal definition of A-Space is “a common collaborative workspace for all analysts from the USIC. That is accessible from common workstations and provides unprecedented access to interagency databases, a capability to search classified and unclassified sources simultaneously, web-based messaging, and collaboration tools.” Think of it more as a Facebook for the intel community. (Read more about A-Space in FCWInformation Week… even CNN… and a post from Lewis Shepherd, who was chief of the innovation directorate of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and is now with Microsoft.

It is a fascinating way of trying to share information.

The Defense Intelligence Agency recently commissioned a study assessing A-Space. The study, conducted by Nancy Dixon, a knowledge management expert, has recently been completed and the report is fascinating. Dixon blogs the conclusions and links to the full report [PDF]. I have also posted it below.

In short, A-Space shows real promise.

I’ll just provide bullet items of her conclusions, because you can read more detail about them for yourself in her report, but… I will quote the top one:

  • A-Space Creates a Collaborative Culture that Serves as a Model for Collaboration

The most significant feature of A-Space is the open, collaborative, and appreciative culture that is developing. Through the on-line interaction, counterparts in agencies are coming to know each other as valued colleagues. The willingness to help others on A-Space is evident everywhere. The informality of the language and the friendly banter create the feel of a comfortable conversation among peers. There is a growing sense of trust that makes it acceptable to offer to one’s thinking even when it is not completely formed. As A-Space numbers grow, it has the potential to make the interagency collaboration that is so needed, a reality. It is this culture of trust along with the functionality of A-Space and the classification level, which supports the analytic benefits that are accruing through analysts’ interaction on A-Space, and could be a model of collaboration for any occupational skill in any venue.

The others:

  • A-Space Classification Level Provides Access to Long Obscured Documents
  • A-Space Functionality Promotes Networking Across Organizational Boundaries
  • A-Space Enhances Users Situational Awareness
  • A-Space Allows Users to Augment their Ability to Interpret Information
  • Analysts use A-Space to Test Ideas and Theories Early in the Knowledge Creation
  • Process

Also be sure to read the challenges… and the recommendations. It is a fascinating study.

View this document on Scribd

Written by cdorobek

July 22, 2009 at 6:41 PM

DorobekInsider: The first draft from the Open Government and Innovations conference

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They say that journalism is the first draft of history. Well, with the transparency and openness out there these days, my guess is that most journalism is actually the second draft of history… with Tweets being the first draft. That being said, I mentioned earlier that this morning that I was 1105 Government Information Group’s Open Government and Innovation conference. And, as I do at these conferences, I post my notes in a public way (with the caveat that these are only notes).

The 1105 team had two screens featuring tweets for the event — what a great way to share thoughts in real time. And the use of the #ogi hashtag showed up on Twitter today.

There was a lot of good stuff in the morning sessions — I had to get back to Federal News Radio to do the radio show. But I wanted to post some initial thoughts as soon as possible… and hopefully there will be additional analysis to come…

* Dave Wennergren, deputy CIO at the Defense Department

Wennergren [bio in PDF] is one of the CIO rock stars — a real leader in the government IT community for his vision, intelligence, passion, and vision. And Wennergren has been one of the leaders in having the government experiment with collaborative technologies. And he gave a rousing introduction to the conference this morning. (I’ll post the audio when I have more time.)

Some bullet points from Wennergren’s speech:

* “Relentlessly sharing is what the world is going to be all about”
* Self-inflicted denial of service attack: There is a real need to balance security and collaborative technologies. Security is absolutely essential, but if security becomes too strict, it ends up becoming a “self-inflicted denial of service attack.”
* On transparency: He said that in some ways, transparency ends up being management by embarrassment. Of course, it can also be management by showing off the best and the brightest.
* Book mentioned: The book that was the first meeting of the Federal News Radio Book ClubThe SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey.
* Book mentioned: Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems by Barry Johnson

Still to come… bullet points on Obama CTO Aneesh Chopra’s presentation this morning… and publisher Tim O’Reilly, the creator of the term Web 2.0.

DorobekInsider: Attending the Open Government conference Tuesday morning

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On Tuesday morning, I am attending 1105 Government Information Group’s Open Government conference. I don’t know if the event ended up being profitable, but… they have put together a very good line-up.

(NOTE: 1105 asked if I would record calls that went out to 1105’s list — you may have received one. I should note that I didn’t get paid for doing it. I did it because I think the conversation is valuable and I hope they get a good turn out.)

I will only be there for the morning so I can get back to Federal News Radio 1500 AM and work on the Daily Debrief. That being said, I want to see Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra, who will be joining us later this month for the Federal News Radio Book Club on July 31 discussing Payback: Reaping the Rewards of Innovation. I also am very much looking forward to seeing Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, the person credited with creating the term Web 2.0. O’Reilly Media, of course, is also sponsoring the Gov 2.0 Summit in September, which I hear has a really stellar line-up.

I also want to stay the session titled Web 2.0 & National Security. As I have said as recently as today talking about Intellipedia and A-Space, this is a fascinating area — and, in many ways, the intelligence community is way ahead of everybody else. So… I look forward to the panel. (Two of the panelists, Mark Drapeau and Linton Wells, both of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University, have written a paper looking at Web 2.0 and national security. You can read that paper hereHear Drapeau talk about it here.)

As I usually do, I will be posting my raw notes from Tuesday morning’s sessions. You can read them here as I am taking them — assuming I have Internet connection, of course.

On the top of my notes, I post this editor’s note:

EDITOR’S NOTE: These are notes. They are provided for informational purposes but should NOT be seen as a verbatim transcript of the event. That is not the intent. The idea is that information is power — and that information is more powerful when it is shared. That being said, it also requires people assess the information that they receive. Raw, unanalyzed information is probably less accurate then information that has been prepared, edited and assessed in some formal way. All of that being said, I believe that information is power — and therefore I am sharing it.

It is sometimes interesting to me how people will sometimes don’t fully assess information. Raw information at times can be more accurate, but generally, it gets better as we think, ponder and analyze. So… take the notes for what they are worth — they are my notes. And I’ll try and post my thoughts about the sessions as soon as I can… and I can’t wait to compare notes with others… and we hope that it all furthers the discussion.

I will be tweeting about the session too using #oig. I look forward to following others at the conference.

Written by cdorobek

July 21, 2009 at 12:09 AM

DorobekInsider: Intel on the government 2.0 front lines – and a new report assessing A-Space

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When the history of government 2.0 is written, the intelligence community will get several chapters. In fact, I’m finishing up a pre-publish copy Harvard Business School Prof. Andrew McAfee‘s wonderful book Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges (set for November release – although there is an active effort to move up the publication date). Anyway, in McAfee’s book, Intellipedia ends up being one of his four enterprise 2.0 case studies — right up there with a case from Google.

First off, a definition for people who don’t know what Intellipedia — or even a wiki — is. Wikis are Web sites designed for collaboration where groups can come together to collect and edit data. Of course, the best known wiki is the enormously successful Wikipedia, the free, online encyclopedia that taps into the wisdom of crowds. Intellipedia started out as a Wikipedia-like wiki for the intelligence community. And Intellipedia has evolved into a suite of Web. 20 tools for the intelligence community — the Intellipedia wiki, which uses the free, Wikimedia software; a photo sharing tool akin to Flickr; a social bookmarking tool akin to Delicious (my Delicious bookmarks)… and on and on…

In so many ways, this remarkable suite of tools has been at the cutting edge of the transformation of how government uses information. Not only is Intellipedia significantly ahead of most government agencies — therefore they are often requested for speaking posts — but I would argue that the intelligence community is well ahead of many private sector organizations.

And one cannot discount the challenges facing the intelligence community. One just has to go back and read the 9/11 Commission’s final report as a reminder, as McAfee recounts in his book: The 9/11 Commission’s “conclusions can be summarized using two phrases that became popular during the investigations: even though the system was blinking red before 9/11, no one could connect the dots.” (If you either have never read the 9/11 Commission’s report or it has been awhile, it is a remarkable piece of work — almost chilling… and a surprisingly readable narative of what happened. And owners of the Amazon Kindle, you can get it for only 99-cents.)

The goal was to create tools that enable dot connecting — that make data visable and more usable. The goal is share data — and, by extension, knowledge — across the traditional and very well established boundaries in the intelligence community.

In Intellipedia team has recently posted a video that describes what this is all about much better then I could.

So out of the mistakes of 9/11… and out of the 9/11 Commission report… developed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is supposed to bring the myriad of intelligence organizations.

There were undoubetedly the organizational and systemic changes, but what also started happening was — to put it simply — stuff. Among the stuff were these tools — and they developed both with some top-down help, but they also evolved organically.

As I mentioned, Intellipedia is way ahead of just about everybody else. So they are fascinating to watch develop because they are facing issues that most organizations will face in the coming years.

Last year, GCN’s Joab Jackson wrote a much discussed story provocatively headlined Intellipedia suffers midlife crisis. When the GCN story can out, I thought the headline was preposterous — after all, these tools have been around for a few years. My sense is the baby is barely walking. Yet the headline was more provocative then accurate — but it ended up spurring a very good discussion around standardization. And Intellipedia is at an interesting place at its evolution. The question at the heart of the argument is: Should these tools eventually be required use within organizations?

One of the tools is A-Space. The more formal definition of A-Space is “a common collaborative workspace for all analysts from the [intelligence community]. That is accessible from common workstations and provides unprecedented access to interagency databases, a capability to search classified and unclassified sources simultaneously, web-based messaging, and collaboration tools.” Think of it more as a Facebook for the intel community. (Read more about A-Space in FCWInformation Week… even CNN… and a post from Lewis Shepherd, who was chief of the innovation directorate of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and is now with Microsoft.

It is a fascinating way of trying to share information.

The Defense Intelligence Agency recently commissioned a study assessing A-Space. The study, conducted by Nancy Dixon, a knowledge management expert, has recently been completed and the report is fascinating. Dixon blogs the conclusions and links to the full report [PDF]. I have also posted it below.

In short, A-Space shows real promise.

I’ll just provide bullet items of her conclusions, because you can read more detail about them for yourself in her report, but… I will quote the top one:

* A-Space Creates a Collaborative Culture that Serves as a Model for Collaboration

The most significant feature of A-Space is the open, collaborative, and appreciative culture that is developing. Through the on-line interaction, counterparts in agencies are coming to know each other as valued colleagues. The willingness to help others on A-Space is evident everywhere. The informality of the language and the friendly banter create the feel of a comfortable conversation among peers. There is a growing sense of trust that makes it acceptable to offer to one’s thinking even when it is not completely formed. As A-Space numbers grow, it has the potential to make the interagency collaboration that is so needed, a reality. It is this culture of trust along with the functionality of A-Space and the classification level, which supports the analytic benefits that are accruing through analysts’ interaction on A-Space, and could be a model of collaboration for any occupational skill in any venue.

The others:

* A-Space Classification Level Provides Access to Long Obscured Documents
* A-Space Functionality Promotes Networking Across Organizational Boundaries
* A-Space Enhances Users Situational Awareness
* A-Space Allows Users to Augment their Ability to Interpret Information
* Analysts use A-Space to Test Ideas and Theories Early in the Knowledge Creation Process

Also be sure to read the challenges… and the recommendations. It is a fascinating study.

We are working with DIA to get officials on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris. I’ll keep you posted.

View this document on Scribd

Written by cdorobek

July 20, 2009 at 6:32 AM

DorobekInsider: Recovery Board – and Recovery.gov vendor – get pressure on transparency

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It has been all of about one day since the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board — yes, the RAT Board — and Smartronix, the company that was just awarded a $9.5 million deal to (re)build Recovery.gov are catching a lot of heat… for lack of transparency, of all things.

The Web world has been atwitter with discussion about this — there is even an online petition started by Jim Gilliam, who created WhiteHouse2.org, NationalBuilder.com, and act.ly.

Here is an excerpt of what it says:

Smartronix is getting $9.5 million to redesign http://recovery.gov in 6 months. That’s $1.6 million a month. The contract could be worth up to $18 million over 5 years… We expect Smartronix to be transparent in how they spend money, and are calling on them to unprotect their twitter updates, and tweet regularly on where the money is going and the progress of the project.

Recovery.gov is all about transparency in spending the stimulus funds, so it’s only reasonable that the contractor building the site make that process transparent too.

On the face of it, $9.5 million seems like a lot of money to build a Web site. My sense is that this is exceedingly complex — and I keep saying over and over again, the recovery project is extremely unique — in its scope, in its size, in its speed, and in the level of transparency that the Obama administration is trying to bring to the project. Nothing like this has ever been done before — and it all needs to be done yesterday. So there is a lot of pressure coming from multiple saides.

While the Internet seems to be in virtual meltdown over the price tag — the contract could be worth more than $18 million if all of the options are exercised — there is some valuable discussion going on — and there are some steps that the Recovery Board can — and should — take.

First — the Recovery Board needs to talk about the contract, and they need to do that sooner rather then later. Nature doesn’t like a vacuum, and there is an information vacuum right now. They need to fill that void with answers. (Federal News Radio has invited them to talk about the award. I hope they will accept that offer. And, to be honest, we’ll take as much time as necessary because this is such an important issue. If you have questions you think the board should answer, post them here.)

Second — It is the Recovery Board’s job to talk about the contract, not the contractor, Smartronix. To be honest, I haven’t seen the contract nor the request for proposals, but my guess is communicating about it was not included in the specifications. And, frankly, it was the Recovery Board’s decision to use the GSA Alliant contract for this bid and to hire Smartronix. It is their project.

Third — We need to give the Recovery Board and Smarttronix some time to get all their pieces in line. This contract was just awarded. In the end, the two sides need to talk and get a game plan together so they don’t fill the information vacuum with bad information — bad information that, and let’s be honest here, we will only bludgon them with later.

I know it sounds contradictory to tell the Recovery Board to speak, and yet to take their time, but… we all know how important it is to communicate. The Recovery Board has a very difficult task — and it is important that they succeed. As you can tell, there are people who want to help. Tap into them — and the board can do that by just keeping them informed… and asking for help. Target all this energy in a more positive direction.

There are some other reasoned responses out there.

Clay Johnson of Sunlight Labs posted this on the Sunlight Labs blog:

I don’t think [the price tag is] the real problem here. The real problem is transparency. The real problem is that while many are outraged at the cost, you can’t presume that the government isn’t spending its money wisely unless you know both what Government is paying and what they’re paying for. We don’t know what they’re paying for, yet.

And Greg Elin, a open government advocate and the former chief evangelist for Sunlight Foundation, also posted this in the Sunlight Labs e-mail list:

The $9.5M is expensive, not unreasonable.
– It’s expensive to do business with government.
– Doing things on a rush adds a premium.
– People will be working round the clock, so expect overtime.
– Govt + Rush = Quadruple costs.

Other considerations:
– Design, build, test, and a launch a website in less than 3 months (Oct 10 is the key date). And don’t forget running lots of stuff by the lawyers.
– It’s a fixed-price bid so contractor over-estimates.
– Recovery Board looks like it has been following an enterprise-style, waterfall development process (much more costly than agile, iterative)
– Run at least a couple of teams on sub-projects to minimize risk.
– Recovery Board needs to coordinate information flowing in from 26 agencies, 50, states, hundreds of municipalities, and potentially tens of thousands of sub-contractors. Huge coordination overhead costs in this project.

Recovery.gov is not just a website:
– It is the first web site attached to an appropriations bill.
– It is a front-end glued onto a back-end still-being defined and of a breadth and depth of reporting that rivals the largest of government reporting projects.
– It is a website that must present data that has not yet been created.
– It needs/should be 508 compliant.
– The executive management on the Recovery Board are Inspector Generals (aka, ex-law enforcement and lawyers).

Oh, and just for reference, Twitter raised at least $20M from 2006 – 2008, a shorter period than the $18M being spent for 2009 – 2014 time frame of this project. And, like, how many features does twitter have?

On Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris Thursday, we spoke with Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller about the award. And we mentioned that there is a lot of risk here. And, frankly, there is little reward if Smartronix goes above and beyond. In fact, it is a fixed price, so there is no reward.

Along those lines, one other good post from the Sunlight Labs e-mail list from Steven Clift, executive director at e-democracy.org:

Perhaps they have $2 million for a whiz bang Apps4Recovery contest? ;-)

On that note, I wonder when Federal IT contractors will resource tech community participation? It might give some bids an advantage.

And related, what are the larger Federal IT contracts that have promised open source efficiencies/benefits? For example, if I had been involved in a Recovery.gov bid I would have thrown in use of the site or software by states since that appears to be the big hole in tracking the details of stimulus spending.

Note:
http://accountablerecovery.org/
http://www.propublica.org/special/chart-tracking-states-spending-trackers

Meanwhile, it’s important to remember that the goal is stimulus — and to provide transparency and accountability into that stimulus package.

It’s interesting because the Republican National Committee already has an ad out that references the $18 million contract.

As always, I don’t care about the politics of it. The goal is to help the government work better, so… I’ll continue working to get the Recovery Board on the air to answer some of these questions.

Finally, I wonder if this issue might spur greater transparency in the task order process. TechPresident refered to the bidding for the Recovery.gov contract a “closed bidding.” That seems unfair. And that seems overly conspiritorial. They used an established process. That being said, that process needs to be changed.

There is all sorts of buisness that goes through multiple award contracts — so called MACs — including this one. These multiple award contracts include everything from the GSA schedule contracts to governmentwide acquisition contracts such as GSA’s Alliant, which the Recovery Board used for this procurement. There are all sorts of reasons one would use those contracts — one is speed. But it wasn’t “closed.” There are 59 companies on Alliant alone.

That being said, there isn’t much transparency in these multiple award contracts. In the end, vendors who win these contracts only “win” a hunting license. They then have to compete for task orders under those contracts — and there is almost no transparency in that process. The task orders are generally not posted publicly. And often, you don’t even hear about the awards. If somebody wanted to be angry about something, that seems like a good place to start.