Beta government – Vivek Kundra and Beth Noveck’s revolutionary ideas

Vivek Kundra

Photo: David Clow, Flickr, CC

The highlights from this weeks Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York – what I call the dream conference for politics, media and technology geeks – are many, but Vivek Kundra’s presentation is clearly among them. Kundra is president Barack Obama’s chief technology officer (no one has ever had that title in the White House adminstration), and he was one of two people who received standing ovation on PDF (the other was Michael Wesch, an amazing communicator. He is professor at Kansas State University and you can watch most of his presentation “The Machine is (Changing) Us: YouTube Culture and the Politics of Authenticity” here).

Kundra (and a smart woman, Beth Novak, more about her later) has brought some revolutionary ideas into the Obama administration. Again and again he stressed the need for government to be open and accessible. He has only been in office since March, but has had time to launch among other things, two impressive websites: data.gov (public datasets that people can use and build new applications with), recovery.gov (show how the recovery money is spent) and yesterday, he and director of new media, Macon Phillips, launched the IT dashboard. The IT dashboard shows how federal government spend money on IT investments and give users the ability to track investment over time.

Some spectacular failures in IT investments (Kundra said that US government spends about $70 billion a year on IT,  and he mentioned a 2008 report that concluded that $30 billion in IT programs were in trouble) are some of the reason why the IT dashboard has been created. Another are the guiding principles behind the Obama administration: Transparency. Accountability. Responsibility. Kundra encourage people to give feedback on the data and the investments.

– We are launching a platform that allow us to tap into the best thinking. We are changing the way we spend on technology, how we interact with people and how we govern, said Kundra.

In other words: Open source policy making, the complete opposite of Bush’ philosophy. As Jay Rosen, NY University professor put it in a comment to the Republican’s new media director, Todd Herrman: ” Opacity was on Bush’ agenda for 8 years”. Mother Jones has also written about Kundra’s presentation.

Is it still early to judge how well these efforts are working, something Sunlight Foundation (working to improve transparency in government) clearly will keep a close eye on, but I’ve never seen any more promising efforts to open up government and change policy making before.

If you are really interested in these topics, I highly recommend you to read Beth Noveck’s new book, “Wiki Government”, where she outline the future of government. Micah Sifry (one of the organizers of PDF) called the book “the bible if you are interested in open government”. I’ve started reading it, and it truly turns all traditional ideas of policy making upside down.

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