It’s our turn: tech tools for government

I’m working on a piece of legislation, and we need your help. It’s something that will help us all make Oregon, and the rest of the world, a better and more prosperous place to live. Please add your name to the page linked above, and please also consider pitching in to develop the bill!

In recent years, I’ve been amazed by all the exciting new ways of developing idea that are emerging new technology. I spend way too much of my time writing and editing articles on Wikipedia; I read blogs, and ask questions in the comments; and obviously, I’ve taken a crack at keeping my own blog. I check in on what my friends are saying on Twitter.com a couple times a day; I listen to talk radio shows, and call in or email when it seems like they’re missing something. And pretty often, I meet and get to physically shake hands with someone that I’ve known for months or years, and worked with extensively.

But at the same time, I’ve been pretty disappointed by how little government seems to take advantage of these kinds of tools for innovation, policy development, disseminating information, and generally keeping people up to date with what’s going on in their world and how they can change it. There are some rays of hope, but by and large, government approach to the Internet is still struggling to catch up to 1995.

This January, with a fresh crop of legislators heading to Salem, we have a chance to work for a kind of change that will help us all stay better-informed about what our government is doing, and about how to influence it in our areas of passion and expertise. The Obama supporters among us may be shouting “Yes We Did,” but I believe that “Yes We Can” remains the better phrase. We may have succeeded in electing a president who will be more open to innovative ideas, but our job of supplying those ideas — and developing the same kinds of conditions on a local level — is just beginning.

The bill I’m working on — and hope you will help us work on — will address at least four areas:

Public domain

The law should assert unequivocally that works of state government are in the public domain, and are not subject to copyright protection by the agencies that produce them. Readers of this blog may recognize this concept, as it ties in with what we accomplished with the Oregon Legislative Counsel Committee last spring.

Spending

The public has a right to know how government money is being spent. This bill should establish a web site that discloses contracts entered into by state agencies (like the federal USAspending.gov).

There is precedent for this on a federal level (Obama/Coburn act, 2006), and in several states.

Economic development

Many policies and programs are adopted in the interest of economic development. However, there is rarely public evaluation of these programs and their efficacy. This bill should establish guidelines and procedures for evaluating economic development spending, and how effectively they achieve their desired results.

See Senate Bill 518 of 2007, introduced by Senator Vicki Walker, but not passed.

An envorinment for innovation

There are many public- and private-sector organizations (nonprofits, universities, Internet-based communities, neighborhood associations) that aim to work in the public interest. To the degree that government initiatives are available for scrutiny, these organizations may lend their own innovative approaches to the process. But when it’s difficult to discern what government is doing, this sort of innovation is stifled.

This bill should aim to establish an environment conducive to innovation.

In drafting this bill, we hope to model the sort of collaborative, open process that it seeks to enable. We have lots of smart and dedicated people committed to getting this done; but there are a lot of details to sort out, and strategic decisions to be made.

Where do you fit in? Come add your name to the page, and if you like, leave a note about what aspect you want to work on!

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2 Responses to “It’s our turn: tech tools for government”

  1. Pete, I’m happy to say that my boss takes advantage of most of the fun web tools to stay transparent in a wire tapped world. :) I know he’s only a county guy, but he’s pretty great!

  2. Oh, absolutely — I think Commissioner Cogen (and his talented staff of modern-day superheroes) has shown a lot of leadership in this area. Actually, there are a number of elected officials who really seem to “get it” and are pushing for a new way to communicate with citizens.

    But I think these legal changes are still important, each in their own way. Partly because attitudes alone can’t change what’s legal; and partly because the inertia of “how things have always been done” at bureaus and agencies often determines what’s available on the web, much more than elected officials.

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