Gary Chapman

Hearing via Twitter that my friend Gary Chapman of the LBJ School has died. News of his death was posted by Isadora Vail of the Austin American Statesman. No details yet. I had just emailed Gary today asking for his support in putting together an Austin Wikileaks Summit. [Update: Statesman article by Vail reporting that Gary died of an apparent heart attack.]

Gary was a visionary thinker, always exploring the edge of emerging technologies… and he was a fine guy and a good friend. I interviewed him for the Austin Chronicle in 1999. [Link]

I think that a lot of people in the technology policy community feel there’s a kind of vacuum with respect to crafting a vision for why the United States should invest in science and technology in the future. That’s seen as a liability in forming consensus about what we should be investing in, but also an opportunity for helping craft a new vision.

The last organizing principle of technology policy was the Cold War, and that lasted for 50 years. But that’s pretty much over, and now we need a new organizing principle. It’s not clear what that’s going to be. There’s been a de facto consensus around global economic competitiveness, but that doesn’t really seem to have the same kind of glue that the Cold War rationale had. So I think there’s still work to be done on crafting the vision, and I think there’s certain pieces that have to go into it:

(1) Sustainability, that is, its relationship to the natural environment and our ability to build an economic system that doesn’t deplete the earth’s resources.

(2) Global commerce that is not solely competitive, but cooperative in nature as well.

(3) Social justice and equity issues, so that we don’t end up with technology policy that just favors the wealthy. That would have to take into account vast disparities in education and literacy and access to economic resources.

(4) A technology policy that’s democratic, and that offers the opportunity for people who are not scientific and technological experts to help craft it.

All government is local 2.0: manor.govfresh

Manor, a small town in Texas a few miles from Austin, has become an unlikely star player in the new world of “Government 2.0.” This week Manor and GovFresh, an organization that provides news and information about technology innovation in government, joined forces to host a conference on “big ideas for local America.” The conference highlighted the work Manor, nearby DeLeon, and other small governments in the U.S. are doing to incorporate social media and open data approaches to provide better information and services to citizens, and to engage them more effectively. This is part of an open government trend that’s been brewing since the 1990s, but is catching fire with pervasive Internet adoption and digital convergence.

When Obama was President-Elect, Gary Chapman at the LBJ School in Austin spoke to a local community media summit and told how the Obama Transition Team had been working with the LBJ School on government transparency, with Open Government as the new administrations highest priority. Beth Noveck, Assistant to the White House CTO, was in Manor affirming that priority – the Obama Administration is providing leadership from the top.

In the last 5 years or so, as we’ve seen an acceleration of digital convergence and increasingly pervasive use of smart digital devices to access all sorts of information, we’ve seen a disruptive democratization of knowledge and information and demand for all sorts of data to be opened up via application programming interfaces. The world’s information is increasingly sorted, sifted, and combined in various useful and creative ways. This is transforming the worlds of journalism, healthcare, energy, and law as well as politics and government. The Manor gathering was an acknowledgement and update. Janet Gilmore of the Texas Department of Information Resources noted that there’s an open data movement within governments – and governments have all sorts of data sets they can expose – about weather, wildlife, real estate, income flows, resource locations, etc.

There’s also a huge potential for government at all levels to use social media to engage citizens – not just to get the word out about what government is doing, but listening to citizen input on what government should be doing. The message I heard in Manor is that people don’t want to talk about doing cool and innovative stuff with emerging technologies, they want to stop talking and start doing. And there’s so many easy ways to start doing: WordPress sites, 311 systems, Facebook and Twitter presences, QR codes, mobile applications… a list as long as crowdsourced minds can make it. Manor is soliciting ideas and conceiving new ways to incorporate technologies via its Labs, in partnership with Stanford Univeresity’s Peace Dot Program and others.

There are many challenges to opening up government, not the least of which is culture. Someone at the Manor gathering commented that “the technology is easy, but the people are hard.” That speaks to all sorts of challenges – training and adoption, privacy issues, culture change, apathy, control. But we’re on kind of a roll here, and picking up momentum and energy.

On January 28th and 29th, there will be a Texas Government 2.0 Barcamp at the Eastview Campus of Austin Community College. Watch this space for more information.

Media wants to be public

I just posted the following on Facebook, in a comment to Gary Chapman, who’s been discussing Facebook privacy…

I’ve always assumed there’s low expectation of privacy on systems like Facebook. While Facebook can do better if they’re clueful, really care, and realize how privacy issues can bite them in the ass – I think there’s also a general difficulty balancing the desire for privacy with the desire to have something called “social media.” Stewart Brand said “information wants to be free,” in this context we might say “media wants to be public.” He also said “information wants to be expensive” because it’s valuable. I suppose the new world of media wants privacy controls, because for so many that control is valuable. We’ll have to sort this out, there’s no going back.