Feb 15, 2009

Enabling Collaboration: A Voice in A Sea of Equals

School of fish. Under creative commons license. (Photo jon hansonA national treasure is something that we all own, like the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty. Government is steward of these treasures in order to preserve and make them available for all Americans for generations to come.

So, too, should government treat data, as facilitators to making data available to all Americans.

That's the second recommendation of the Collaboration Project report, “Enabling Collaboration: Three Priorities for New Administration:” to treat data as a national asset by enabling new data management models to permit mass collaboration (like this google hurricane tracking mashup) and to relate data to decision making by
  • Ensuring data interoperability so that information flows seamlessly within and among agencies, and between government and citizens.
  • Redefining the concept of authenticity to balance government’s role as an authoritative source with an environment that does not inherently distinguish “government data”.
  • Recognizing the importance of knowledge management, and the potential of collaborative tools to revolutionize government’s ability to accrue institutional memory and withstand constant transition.
The paper continues knocking down silos and walls. This time it's the silos that have agencies rewarded for owning data and keeping it in proprietary systems and the wall between "official government information" and the rest of the world.

One of the more interesting aspects of this recommendation is turning the importance of government as a source on it's head. The authors assert that government information is no more reliable than other information.
In other words, authority never has equated to authenticity. Web 2.0 and collaborative platforms like Wikipedia are simply making that fact clearer and quicker than ever before. Government, when engaging the large communities that characterize the interactive Web, may have to accept a role as another voice in a sea of equals. [emphasis mine]

Thinking like this frees data and projects. It places dot-gov within the greater data and information ecosystem--with all the checks and balances, muss and muddle--of the crowd(s).

The challenge behind this idea is how do we square it with laws and regulations that state that government IS different? That there are different standards of privacy, accessibility, notice, record keeping, etc., in the federal space? Some of us have been in meetings discussing the challenges of mixing government and private rules and mores--from the fraught discussions of access to 3rd party applications using persistent cookies to questions about whether comments on an agency Facebook page is a government record.

To be continued....

[Also, in case you missed it, here is recommendation #1]

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