Technology and Trust: The Challenge of 21st Century Government
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My talk at the 2013 Social Innovation Summit. Democracies get their strength from the people’s trust. When the interactions that people have with government are so divorced from how they live their ...

My talk at the 2013 Social Innovation Summit. Democracies get their strength from the people’s trust. When the interactions that people have with government are so divorced from how they live their lives, or are hard and unpleasant, what does that do to the trust that underlies our democracies? At Code for America, we try to restore trust in government by building interfaces to essential government services that are simple, beautiful, and easy to use.

We take four approaches: 1) we work directly with government officials (at the local level) to create the capacity inside government to build innovative solutions to hard problems; 2) we build communities of technologists and citizens who want to lend their skills to help build their governments; 3) we build tools that make citizen interactions with government easier, simpler, and more elegant, so that the experience of government is positive and breeds trust. 4) We incubate and accelerate civic startups to create new
economic models for those tools.

Don’t stop believing that government can work, and can be a force for good

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Technology and Trust: The Challenge of 21st Century Government Presentation Transcript

  • 1. Technology and Trust: The Challenge of 21st Century Government Tim O’Reilly @timoreilly Social Innovation Summit November 20, 2013 codeforamerica.org @codeforamerica Wednesday, November 20, 13 When you see the title of this talk, Technology and Trust, you perhaps think of Edward Snowden and the ongoing scandal of NSA spying on the American people and our allies. But I’m actually here to talk about something that is perhaps even more fundamental. And it starts here...
  • 2. Wednesday, November 20, 13 How many of you are old enough to remember a time when you had to physically walk into a bank and talk to another human being in order to get cash? I remember…. And that memory seems quaint to all of us because we know how much personal finance has been revolutionized over the last 25 years because of digital, networked technology.
  • 3. Wednesday, November 20, 13 Leave Bitcoin to the side for a moment, I’m still amazed that I can take a picture of a check with my phone and the money will show up in my account a few hours later. The same digital, networked technologies, it seems obvious to say, have revolutionized almost every aspect of our lives. Not just banking but everything from education to how we interact with our friends.
  • 4. Wednesday, November 20, 13 But there’s one place where that revolution has largely not yet taken place: in government. This is the Department of Motor Vehicles, which in the US is a symbol of bureaucracy. Just about everyone has to go at some point in their lives and almost no one has a good experience.
  • 5. 91% of Americans own a cellphone 67% use Facebook, 33% have a tablet... Why is this how we engage with government? Wednesday, November 20, 13 And this is a microcosm of the problem we try to address at Code for America--when the tools are available for people to connect with anyone in the world and access every piece of information one could ever want, why do we make it so hard to access government?
  • 6. 6 Wednesday, November 20, 13 Even  when  government  tries  to  do  digital,  we  get  messes  like  healthcare.gov. It  doesn’t  have  to  be  that  way.    But  when  the  government  does  end  up  building  technology  that  doesn’t  work  and  costs  way  too  much,  not  only  do  ci=zens  get  gypped,   but  it  breaks  our  trust  in  government.
  • 7. 7 Wednesday, November 20, 13 Democracies get their strength from the people’s trust. When the interactions that people have with government are so divorced from how they live their lives, or are hard and unpleasant, what is that doing to the trust that underlies our democracies? Obviously, the decline of trust in government has to do with a lot of other factors besides technology, but the way government is so out of step with ordinary life certainly is symptomatic of the deeper problem.
  • 8. 8 Wednesday, November 20, 13 There  are  lots  of  people  doing  great  work  in  government,  and  we  see  alterna=ves  star=ng  to  appear  to  the broken  way  that  government  acquires  and  deploys  technology.    In  the  last  couple  of  years,  the  UK’s   Government  Digital  Service  has  replaced  something  like  1700  bad  government  web  sites  with  one  that   has  more  usage  than  all  1700  combined  had  before.  The  service  has  had  ci=zen  sa=sfac=on go  through  the  roof,  and  has  won  plaudits  from  everyone.
  • 9. 9 Wednesday, November 20, 13 In  the  US,  the  Consumer  Financial  Protec?on  Bureau  has  similarly  built  simple,  effec?ve  interfaces  to  government,  in plain  language,  that  gets  results.
  • 10. 10 Wednesday, November 20, 13 And that’s what we’re all about at Code for America. The organization was founded to change the culture inside government that supports bureaucracy, breeds disengagement with citizens, and makes it hard for government to come up with innovative solutions to longstanding problems--all using modern networked, digital technology and user-centered design principles. We take four approaches: 1) we work directly with government officials (at the local level) to create the capacity inside government to build innovative solutions to hard problems; 2) we build communities of technologists and citizens who want to lend their skills to help build their governments; 3) we build tools that make citizen interactions with government easier, simpler, and more elegant, so that the experience of government is positive and breeds trust. 4) We incubate and accelerate civic startups to create new economic models for those tools. In this, we’re influenced by the idea that government should act like a platform. Before the iPhone, phones had twenty or thirty applications; now they have millions. When governments open data, for example, private companies can deliver innovative services. (Eg GPS, weather, healthcare innovation)
  • 11. 11 Wednesday, November 20, 13 One big reason governments don’t innovate is because there is no benefit to taking risks on new approaches. The price of failure is too high. So we support cities in creating departments modeled on the Mayors Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston, which acts as a risk aggregator for city governments. These departments, which exist in some form in thirteen cities in the US and at least one city--Mexico City--outside the US, are specifically mandated with taking on the projects that other departments fear are too risky or experimental. If they work, those departments get the credit. If they don’t, New Urban Mechanics takes the blame. It turns out, when you give city officials permission to experiment they are really eager to try new things. So we place a premium on creating spaces that empower them to experiment (and I’ll tell you a story about one of their tools in a moment).
  • 12. 12 Wednesday, November 20, 13 We’ve  worked  with  25  ci=es  so  far.    We’ve  worked  on  problems  ranging  from  blight  in  New  Orleans  and  Detroit,  to  beOer  management  of  alterna=ves  to  incarcera=on  in  NYC,  status  repor=ng  on  311  requests  in  Chicago,  access  to  public  records  in  Oakland,   business  permiSng  in  Santa  Cruz,  and  access  to  social  services  in  San  Mateo  and  San  Francisco.
  • 13. Wednesday, November 20, 13 The second way we approach the government innovation problem is by building new avenues for citizens to participate. We started in 2011 with one program, our fellowship, which remains our flagship program. This year we have 27 fellows… We recruit talented coders, designers, and urbanists to do user research and build applications that serve real citizen needs. But the output of the fellowship isn’t really the applications. It’s culture change in government, and a change in what people think is possible.
  • 14. 14 Wednesday, November 20, 13 Our  fellows  do  write  code  and  build  apps,  and  open  up  public  data  for  re-­‐use,  but  what  they  mainly  do  is  help  ci=es  learn  how  to  approach  government  IT with  a  different  mindset. A  lot  of  our  work  is  informed  by  the  UK’s  Government  Digital  Service  Design  Principles.
  • 15. 15 Wednesday, November 20, 13 The  first  of  these  is  to  start  with  needs  -­‐  user  needs,  not  government  needs.    This  is  so  cri?cal.
  • 16. Wednesday, November 20, 13 For  example,  we  worked  with  Honolulu  last  year  on  rethinking  their  website.    With  only  three  fellows,  we  couldn’t  take  on  the  task  of  rebuilding  the  en?re  website.  So  what  they  did  instead  was   build  a  site  that  beTer  conformed  to  the  way  people  look  for  informa?on.  They’re  usually  looking  for  quick  answers  or  steps  for  ac?on  they  need  to  take  and  a  site  that  looks  like  this  is  really   frustra?ng  to  navigate.    How  oVen  have  you  come  to  a government  website  like  this,  full  of  press  releases  (mee?ng  government  needs,  not  ci?zen  needs).
  • 17. Wednesday, November 20, 13 So  they  built  Honolulu  Answers,  a  super-­‐simple  and  elegant  search  interface  that  allows  ci?zens  to  enter  keywords  or  ques?ons  and  get  quick  answers.
  • 18. 18 Wednesday, November 20, 13 They applied another one of the GDS design principles, to design with data. They mined the visitor logs of the existing site and the city’s call center to find out what people are really looking for, instead of what government departments want to say about themselves. And one of the things that they found was that driver’s license information was one of the top searches. (In Hawaii, the city manages this for the state.)
  • 19. 19 Wednesday, November 20, 13 Take  a  look  at  the  city’s  exis=ng  start  page  of  driver’s  license  informa=on,  complete  with  such  “need  to  know”  informa=on  as  the fact  that  the  driver’s  licensing  sta=ons  have  a  new  statewide  computer/camera  licensing  system!  We  even  have  a  link  to  a  picture  of   a  driver’s  license.    But  the  informa=on  about  how  to  get  one  is  hard  to  find. This  is  the  kind  of  thing  that  breaks  trust  with  government.
  • 20. Wednesday, November 20, 13 And  get  back  plain  language  answers  that  direct  a  user  toward  ac?on. The  site  itself  was  easy  enough  to  build.  But  the  team  was  faced  with  the  challenge  of  how  to  populate  all  the  content.  It  would  have  taken  the  three  of  them  a  very  long  ?me,  especially   considering  none  of  them  were  from  Honolulu.   So  they  did  something  that’s  actually  preTy  radical  when  you  think  about  how  government  is  used  to  working.
  • 21. Wednesday, November 20, 13 They  asked  ci?zens  to  write  the  content.   You  may  have  heard  of  a  hackathon.  Well,  they  held  a  writeathon
  • 22. Wednesday, November 20, 13 Where  members  of  the  community  picked  from  among  the  most  popular  topics  and  ques?ons  and  wrote  the  answers  to  them. Over  the  course  of  a  Saturday  aVernoon  they  had  created  almost  all  of  the  content  for  the  site. But  more  importantly  than  that,  they  created  a  new  way  for  ci=zens  to  par=cipate  in—to  build—their  government.
  • 23. Wednesday, November 20, 13 I  think  that’s  a  great  story  in  itself,  but  it  doesn’t  end  there. In  June,  on  the  Na=onal  Day  of  Civic  Hacking,  in  Oakland  (where  I  live)  we  held  our  own  writeathon  for  Oakland  Answers.  The  Code  for  America  Oakland  team  took  the  code  base  from  Honolulu  Answers  and  redeployed  it.
  • 24. Wednesday, November 20, 13 I  got  into  the  act,  along  with  other  Oakland  ci?zens,  including  Code  for  America  founder  Jen  Pahlka,  Brigade  Director  Catherine  Bracy,  (who  worked  with  me  on  this  slide  deck),  and  who  authored  the  answer  shown  here.   By  taking  our  small  acts  and  s?tching  them  together  with  the  thousands  of  other  small  acts  of  par?cipa?on  we’re  enabling  through  civic  hacking  we  think  we  can  re-­‐energize  ci?zenship  and   restore  trust  in  our  governments.
  • 25. “Interfaces to government can be simple, beautiful, and easy to use.” Scott Silverman, 2011 Fellow Wednesday, November 20, 13 There’s  another  key  idea  that  drives  our  work:  INTERFACES  to  government  can  be  simple,  beau=ful  and  easy  to  use. These  interfaces  will  emerge  because  we  the  people  offered  input  into  the  design  and  the  result  is  something  relevant.  
  • 26. Wednesday, November 20, 13 Our work in Boston in 2011, our first year, was unexpectedly driven in a new direction by a piece of investigative reporting by the Boston Globe about the nightmarish school choice system in Boston.
  • 27. 27 Wednesday, November 20, 13 Parents  were  struggling  with  a  28  page  brochure,  well  meaning  and  full  of  informa=on,  but  that,  in  the  end,  didn’t  tell  them  which  schools  their  children  were  eligible   for.
  • 28. BOSTON Discover Oct 2013 Nov Public Schools Dec Jan 2014 Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Registration Today English umn sion Account 11 2 1 9 3 4 8 7 6 5 12 Elizabeth GRADE 3 Choice order + Add a child Getting there School hours Surround Care Your Fit School Start Time 7:30 am 8:30 am 1 Eliot K-8 3.2 mi 7:30– 2:30 2 Margarita Muñiz Academy 5.6 mi 8:30– 3:30 Before school 3 Edwards Middle School 5.6 mi 9:30– 4:30 Before school Before school After school 9:30 am Surround Care Before School After School Grades Early Learning Center Wednesday, November 20, 13 10 28 K-5 K-8 7:30– 2:30 6-8 1.6 mi In  two  months,  one  of  the  Code  for  America  Fellows  built  a  simple,  modern  web  app  that  lets  parents  explore  the  school  system,   4 Mission Hill K-8 6-12 including  such  factors  as  the  reputa=on  of  each  school,  the  distance  from  your  home,  and  the  likelihood  of  your  children  geSng  in. 7-12 (Exam Schools) Before school After school 9-12 Rogers Middle The  City  of  Boston  told  us  that  if  they  were  to  go  through  tradi=onal  channel  to  procure  such  a  site  it  would  have  taken  the  city  more  than  school probably  two,  and  approximately  two  million  dollars.     a  year,   9:30– 4:30 10.6 mi After 5 School Enrollment That’s  obviously  a  huge  win. Small Medium Large 6 Ohrenberger School 6 mi 9:30– 4:30 7 Perry K-8 8.2 mi 7:30– 2:30 Uniform Policy Yes Before school Before school After school
  • 29. “DiscoverBPS changed the way we relate to parents.” Superintendent Carol Johnson 29 Wednesday, November 20, 13 But  the  real  win  is  described  in  this  quote  from  Boston  School  Superintendent  Carol  Johnson That’s  ul?mately  what  we  want  to  hear,  that  as  a  result  of  our  work,  we’ve  changed  the  rela?onship  between  government  and  ci?zens.
  • 30. 30 Wednesday, November 20, 13 But  the  impact  of  what  we  do  needs  to  go  deeper  and  faster.    I  wrote  a  blog  post  about  this  recently  on  the  Code  for  America  site.
  • 31. “One  privilege  the  insured  and  well-­‐off  have  is   to  excuse  the  terrible  quality  of  services  the   government  rou=nely  delivers  to  the  poor.  Too   ohen,  the  press  ignores  —  or  simply  never   knows  —  the  pain  and  trouble  of  interfacing   with  government  bureaucracies  that  the  poor   struggle  with  daily.” Ezra  Klein,  Washington  Post 31 Wednesday, November 20, 13 It  was  fundamentally  a  reflec?on  on  this  quote  from  Ezra  Klein,  wri?ng  in  the  Washington  Post,  to  the  effect  that  all  the  furor  over the  failure  of  healthcare.gov  hides  a  far  deeper  problem.    He  wrote:
  • 32. 32 Wednesday, November 20, 13 That’s  why  I’m  par=cularly  proud  of  the  work  we  did  with  San  Francisco  this  year  to  build  a  system  that  uses  text  messages  to  remind  social  service  recipients  of  required  repor=ng  and  other  alerts,  to  make  sure  they  don’t  lose   their  services.    One  of  the  things  the  Fellows  learned  in  their  ini=al  month  of  user  research  was  how  ohen   CalFresh  (Food  Stamp)  recipients  didn’t  learn  that  their  benefits  hadn’t  been  renewed  un=l  they  tried  to  check  out  at  the  grocery.    We  built  a  similar  system  in  Louisville  KY to  remind  people  of  court  dates.    We  also  built  a  system  in  New  York  to  help  the  criminal  jus=ce  system  help  evaluate  candidates  for  alterna=ves  to  incarcera=on.
  • 33. Sadly, that’s not an uber-like timeframe. But at least knowing is a big help. 33 Wednesday, November 20, 13 And  a  system  called  TextMyBus  in  Detroit  that  lets  schoolkids  in  Detroit  know  when  buses  are  coming.    They  don’t  all  have  smartphones,  and  messaging  lets anyone  with  an  SMS-­‐enabled  phone  get  informa=on  about  when  the  next  bus  is  due.    This  photo  was  taken  in  summer,   but  our  fellows  no=ced  this  as  a  real  problem  last  winter. Some=mes  kids  were  wai=ng  in  the  dark,  in  freezing  weather,  for  half  an  hour,  to  get  to  school.  Knowing  when  the  bus  is  coming  really  maOers in  a  situa=on  like  that.    Of  course,  the  fact  that  the  bus  comes  only  every  half  an  hour  may  be  a  problem  of  another  sort.
  • 34. “The  legi=mate  object  of  government  is  to  do   for  the  people  what  needs  to  be  done,  but   which  they  cannot,  by  individual  effort,  do  at   all,  or  do  so  well,  for  themselves.” Abraham  Lincoln,  July  1,  1854 34 Wednesday, November 20, 13 I  want  to  end  with  this  reminder  from  Abraham  Lincoln.  Government  is  one  of  the  key  plaforms  for  improving  the  quality  of  our society.  Bringing  modern  technology  and  user  centered  design  to  government,  so  that  it  truly  serves  its  ci?zens,  is  one  of  the   great  opportuni?es  of  the  21st  century.    It  is  key  to  restoring  faith  in  government,  repairing  the  breach  between  government  and  its ci?zens,  and  delivering  the  services  that  will  make  our  society  more  just,  fair,  and  prosperous.
  • 35. How  You  Can  Help • Don’t  stop  believing  that  government  can  work,  and   can  be  a  force  for  good • 2015  Fellows  Applica=on  Deadline  July  31,  2014 • Get  your  city  involved  -­‐  codeforamerica.org/ci=es • Join  a  Brigade  near  you  -­‐  codeforamerica.org/brigade • Follow  @codeforamerica  for  news  and  progress • Donate  -­‐  codeforamerica.org/donate 35 Wednesday, November 20, 13 How  can  you  help?