Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First! Oh, wait...

I guess I was a little optimistic to believe that I could jump in on the day that launched and be one of the first bloggers dedicated to covering Obama's open government initiative. There were a lot of people waiting for a politician to come along and pledge to open up politics via technology, and they are all very excited to have a president leading the charge.

But if you are like me, and hadn't thought too much about technology-enabled open government before Obama came along, then it will be useful to catch up on the groups that have been pushing for this sort of initiative for a while. I'll cover the groups that I'm aware of over the next couple weeks, and if you know of any important websites that I'm missing, please leave a comment!
Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, a perennial favorite

The Sunlight Foundation was started in 2006 with the goal of "using the revolutionary power of the Internet to make information about Congress and the federal government more meaningfully accessible to citizens." They are essentially a think-tank, and have already created a number of exciting and innovative ways for citizens to interact with government via the web. For example, OpenCongress is a sort of Digg/Google News/Blog with a little bit of Hot-or-Not mixed in (letting you rate congress members, hopefully more on job performance than appearance).

It's worth browsing around Sunlight Foundation's project page and exploring some of what they've done. Undoubtedly, they have some ideas for what Obama should be doing, and some experience to know what works and what doesn't. I'm sure the Obama team will be looking at these projects for inspiration.

Also, be sure to check out Sunlight's open letter to the the Obama Administration. The various members of the Foundation provide a wide range of advice to the administration, some of the key points being:
  • Clarify its position on lobbyists working in the Obama White House and transition team. (Obama made some announcements about this today)
  • Make more government data widely available in standard formats so that citizens can do their own analysis and even create apps
  • Issue modern devices to White House employees to increase productivity
  • Update the Freedom of Information Act to bring it into the modern age (spend 5 minutes on the current site and you'll see how badly this is needed)
  • Improve transparency for the bailout - since who isn't interested to see how our $700B are being spent?
  • Encourage White House officers and other members of government to engage directly with the public via modern communication such as blogs, twitter, youtube, etc
  • Driving a resurgance in civic pride, including an online aspect. I agree that this will be critical, as any change effort is only as strong as the culture change that underlies it.
I'll continue to introduce other major contributors in this field and highlight how they may influence the Obama Administration's open government project.