Open Government Initiative Blog

  • ExpertNet Wiki: An Update

    Earlier this month, the White House Open Government Initiative and General Services Administration requested your input in helping us to design an effective public engagement tool that will make it simple for public officials to pose questions that you can share your expertise in ways that are timely, relevant and informative for policymaking.  Here's a detailed description (what technologists call a "use case") of the online process in hopes of getting specific suggestions in response:

    First, public officials use ExpertNet to pose questions to the public about any topic we're working on -- from creating new jobs to preventing homelessness among Veterans or developing next-gen transportation systems. A simple, online "wizard" will help them make their questions clear. There's an active discussion on the ExpertNet wiki about how to design constraints into questions to improve the quality of responses. One user, GovLoop, writes  "it is really hard to write great questions. In survey research, a lot of time and effort is spent on the question formation." Another user, AngieChock, points to the Delphi Approach of posing questions to encourage an interchange of views. Check out "Defining the Topic and Asking Questions" for more.  

    Second, we want to make sure that the questions reach people with the greatest expertise or enthusiasm for a topic.  We imagine distributing questions to professional, online communities; user MDickey1 suggests simply using RSS feeds. Mixtmedia, another wiki user, also adds that better distribution of news about public participation opportunities will attract citizens serving their democracy, entrepreneurs wishing to impress government and others with their marketable know how. Check out Distributing Questions to Professional Networks for more about whether to enable people to rate and rank one another's submissions - in the way we now rate movies or books. Check out Facilitating Structured Responses for more.

    Finally, we know that no system will work unless public officials participate actively and explain how the agency uses public's ideas. For example, David Stern1 offers a detailed design  for a feedback template. Check out "Synthesizing Public Input and Returning Feedback" for more.

    What We Want to Hear More Of

    Submissions that have been helpful include those that offer suggestions or solutions to queries or offer a new way of thinking about an aspect of the platform.  We are eager to hear about specific examples of tools that will achieve goals outlined here (or something different and why that's preferable).  We'd like specific examples of people using such practices, what works well, and what doesn't.  We want prototypes, wireframes, and designs.  Our goal is to implement a new system for citizen participation as quickly and cost effectively as possible.

    Expertise Understood Broadly

    We chose "ExpertNet" as the working title (we have a page where you can suggest an alternative) because we believe that everyone has expertise, experience and enthusiasm which, if shared in manageable ways, will help us make smarter decisions together.  We aren't just looking for participation from people with the highest professional qualifications. We want to make sure that everyone who is interested and has something relevant and useful to share has an opportunity to participate. This is a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" and we have the technology to collaborate on solving the major issues that confront us.

    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer

    Shelley Metzenbaum is Associate Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for Performance and Personnel Management

  • Holiday Season Merrimack Making

    On December 8th, along with Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Shikhar Ghosh, I hosted my second “Entrepreneurs’ Town Hall” to hear first hand about the challenges and opportunities confronting founders on “Main Street” (read about the first Town Hall here, or check out the video).  Nearly 100 entrepreneurs from the Merrimack Valley area in northern Massachusetts participated as we gathered to celebrate the launch of an exciting new philanthropic initiative—the Merrimack Valley Sandbox, an effort designed to foster an innovation ecosystem through the region’s leading universities and community colleges.

    Endowed with a $5M grant from famed entrepreneur Desh Deshpande (who also serves as Co-Chair of the National Council for Innovation & Entrepreneurship), the Sandbox will provide leadership training, seed funding and capacity-building support to organizations and individuals in the region.

    We will post video from the town hall soon, but here are a few highlights:

    Clean Tech Entrepreneurs Commercialize Federal Research:  I heard from Peter Vandermeulen, CEO of the local startup 7AC Technologies, who shared his favorable experience working with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab. Although it took nearly a year to finalize, Peter was pleased to have had the opportunity to commercialize technology that he posits could cut in half the use of energy for heating and cooling of buildings. His advice on how we might improve our commercialization efforts was to evaluate the process of determining when an exclusive license might be granted to “kick-start” an entrepreneurial venture. I’ve taken that message back to our team for consideration.

    Open Government Fuels Entrepreneurship:  One of the highlights of my trip was hearing from Conor White-Sullivan, CEO of Localocracy. A graduate of UMass-Amherst, this charismatic entrepreneur talked about his startup’s recent partnership with the Boston Globe to link open government platforms with local media. His idea is a new model of civic engagement—one in which identified members of the community express their views and invite public participation on key issues facing the neighborhood, came to him during a 1-credit course in school, he said.  His approach was, of course, music to my ears, as it has been a high Obama Administration priority to step up efforts to leverage technology for citizen participation. His request was to simplify access to voter registration data, as that is the “fuel” for his identity system. I’ve tasked our open government team to conduct due diligence on this matter.

    Importance of SBIR as a Vehicle for Early Stage Capital:  Several entrepreneurs at the forum spoke of the advantages of the Small Business Investment Research program as a source of capital at the stage of business maturation when it is difficult to gain access to capital. Thaddeus Fulford-Jones, CEO of Locately, spoke of the ease with which he won a National Science Foundation SBIR grant within 5-6 months of applying. But it was a story told by Robert Goldberg—a Partner at Neumitra—that commanded my most immediate attention.

    Robert expressed concern that his primary information source on SBIR grant opportunities, SBIR.gov, was down for maintenance with a message alerting visitors that it would be months before the site could be re-launched. This was unfortunate as it meant he had to sift through each Federal agency’s solicitations page to learn of opportunities.

    Thanks to the leadership of NSF’s new Director, Dr. Subra Suresh, and his terrific team, including Tom Peterson, Kesh Narayanan, and Cheryl Albus, the site went live last week.

    I was encouraged by the degree to which our Nation’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the Merrimack Valley—a great reminder that innovation flourishes in all corners of our country if we nurture the right components of the ecosystem—and I am keen to address the myriad concerns that emerged throughout the discussion. In that spirit, I wish to extend my deepest thanks to the Deshpande Foundation, which helped arrange for our town hall, and to the entrepreneurs and ecosystem partners who participated. Happy holidays to all, and here is to an innovative and entrepreneurial New Year!

    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer

  • Congress Grants Broad Prize Authority to All Federal Agencies

    The America COMPETES Act passed by Congress today provides all agencies with broad authority to conduct prize competitions as called for by President Obama in his 2009 Strategy for American Innovation.  By giving agencies a simple and clear legal path, the America COMPETES Act will make it dramatically easier for agencies to use prizes and challenges to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their core missions.

    In a world of widely dispersed knowledge, prizes and challenges are an essential tool for every agency’s toolkit.  As the co-founder of Sun Microsystems Bill Joy once famously said, “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” This fact calls for a fundamental shift in the way an institution solves problems. Prizes and challenges are part of the solution. 

    A recent McKinsey report found that the private sector and a new generation of philanthropists are embracing prizes. Catalyzed by new crowd sourcing technologies, investments in prize competitions have increased significantly in recent years.  According to the study, more than 60 prizes of at least $100,000 each made their debuts from 2000 to 2007, representing almost $250 million in new prize money. 

    As the Wall Street Journal recently concluded, “These prizes have proliferated because they actually work.”  Specifically, well-designed prizes allow the sponsor to dramatically increase the number and diversity of minds tackling a tough problem, to articulate a bold goal without having to predict the team or approach that is most likely to succeed, and to only pay for results.

    Despites these benefits, the public sector have been slow to reap the benefits of open innovation strategies. The Obama Administration is committed to change that.

    On his very first day in office, the President set out new principles for the way government works. Recognizing that the problems of the 21st century are too great to be solved by government alone, he called for an “all hands on deck” approach that taps the “distributed intelligence” of the Nation.

    In September 2009, in his Strategy for American Innovation, President Obama expanded on these principles to explicitly call on agencies to increase their use of prizes and challenges to solve tough problems. In March, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memorandum to all agency heads affirming the Administration’s commitment to this problem-solving approach and providing a policy and legal framework to guide agencies in using prizes to stimulate innovation to advance their core missions. And, in September 2010, the White House and the General Services Administration launched Challenge.gov, a one-stop shop where entrepreneurs, innovators, and citizen solvers can compete for prestige and prizes by providing novel solutions to tough national problems, large and small.

    As a result, 2010 has witnessed widespread government experimentation with prizes.  In its first 3 months, Challenge.gov featured 57 challenges from 27 agencies across the Executive Branch, generating novel solutions for childhood obesity, advanced vehicle technologies, financing for small businesses, Type One Diabetes, and many other national priorities.

    The prize authority in the America COMPETES Act will further unleash the public sector’s ability to leverage prizes and challenges to spur innovation.  Stay tuned to Challenge.gov for new developments in the New Year!

    In the meantime, you can read more about today’s passage of the America COMPETES Act on the OSTP blog and find the full text of the final bill here.

    Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Robynn Sturm is Advisor for Open Innovation to the Deputy Director

  • CTO Forum: Meeting Held to Discuss Opportunities for Collaboration

    Yesterday, I and a number of my colleagues engaged in the President’s Strategy for American Innovation had the pleasure of hosting a meeting with Chief Technology Officers from a dozen of the Nation’s most innovative technology firms.  Our intention was to explore collaboration opportunities that would foster more digital infrastructure investment, unleash a mobile broadband revolution, and encourage innovations in health, energy, and education powered by technology.

    We were particularly interested in feedback on how government might support such efforts acting as a convener—on open data, voluntary consensus standards, and prizes & challenges associated with R&D investment, for example.

    Participants included individuals engaged in the design and deployment of critical technology infrastructure that will serve as an important foundation for America’s long-term economic future. During our conversation, we surfaced a number of areas worthy of pursuit, including engagement in our recently announced Requests for Information on standards, the Networking & Information Technology R&D review published by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology, and the President’s Spectrum Initiative.

    The comments shared during this meeting will inform our ongoing efforts to execute on the President’s Innovation Strategy and I’m confident they will translate into tangible actions in the coming weeks and months.

    I would like to personally thank the incredibly busy and talented leaders who took the time to prepare and discuss these matters. Their commitment reinforced my faith in our ability to collaborate in the advancement of America’s technology-driven future.

    Technology CTO Roundtable Attendees:
    Vanu Bose, Vanu, Inc.
    John Donovan, AT&T
    Shaygan Kheradpir
    Dick Lynch, Verizon Communications
    Jeff Nick, EMC
    Roberto Padovani, Qualcomm
    Justin Rattner, Intel
    Geoff Roman, Motorola Mobility
    Pradeep Sindhu, Juniper Networks
    Scott Teissler, Turner Broadcasting
    Marcus Weldon, Alcatel-Lucent
    Tony Werner, Comcast
    Barry West, Coverage Company

  • Transparency for Global Development

    Today the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched Version 1.0 of the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, a new platform devoted to making it easier than ever for policymakers, civil society, and the public to understand U.S. investments and their impact around the globe. The Dashboard—the latest milestone in the Obama Administration’s commitment to create an unprecedented level of openness in Government—promises to advance U.S. goals for global development and broader prosperity by shining a light on how much foreign assistance is provided, for what purposes, and with what result. To find out more about it, check out today’s blog on the OSTP site.

  • Designing for Democracy

    On his first full day in office, the President signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, which directed Executive departments and agencies to “offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information.” President Obama is committed to tapping ideas from the American people to make government work smarter, better, and more efficiently. At its heart, open government is about changing the relationship between government and the American people.

    One vexing challenge to engaging Americans in governance has been finding new models and tools for the next generation of citizen consultation.  We want to take advantage of the latest technology to: 1) enable government officials to circulate notice of opportunities to participate in public consultations to members of the public with expertise on a topic; and 2) provide those citizen experts with a mechanism to provide useful, relevant, and manageable feedback to government officials.