Open Government: A Year Later, and How Do We Use It? — A Technologist's Viewpoint

Ask a friend or colleague: "What's the biggest single budget item in your monthly expenses?" You'll probably hear the answers that most of us give: mortgage, car payment, maybe a boat. For some, it's education, or even debt. The real answer, of course, is none of these. It's our taxes.

President Obama's very first executive order when he took office in 2009 was the Open Government Directive. The idea was to provide transparency, participation, and collaboration, powered by new processes and technology, for a wide variety of government data sources. The first rounds of action for each agency were due on Friday, January 22nd.

In the meantime, the U.K. has in some ways crafted an even larger vision that recently launched. The U.K. open government initiative already has about three times as much data available than the U.S. initiative.

Delib, a U.K.-based company focused on Open Government projects, put together a 14-minute documentary on the U.S. Open Government initiative.

"Open Gov the Movie" - from Delib from Delib on Vimeo.

From a user's perspective, there are a number of interesting new tools for accessing government information that was previously the domain of C-SPAN junkies and passionate civics readers. This year's State of the Union will be simulcast in a number of new media channels, including YouTube and even the iPhone. Users can participate and will have a chance to ask questions via Google Moderate (although these voting models for questions tend to make controversial topics take the bottom rung. You may remember the last time this was done, when President Obama had to dismiss a question on the legalization of marijuana.)

A few tools and reference points to start with:

The more interesting opportunity arises when we consider combining this data with internal company information. How can we use this data? Does this evolving transparency help companies as well as individuals? Does near-real-time access impact the supply chain?

As citizens, residents, and business people, we have a new question before us: "What will we do now that we have unprecedented access to information about our single biggest cost: government?"

- Ryder Daniels

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