Posts about transparency

WWGD? brought to life

There’s little I love more these days than seeing people bring the precepts of What Would Google Do? into their realms. I just hope I’m right and don’t lead them astray.

Here‘s a post by Arild Nybø Førde, a Norwegian entrepreneur who wonders whether he’s better off being transparent about his business idea, weighing the input he’d get against the risk of someone taking is idea:

Why keep secrets?”, Jarvis asks, and he rephrases: “Why keep more secrets than you have to?” The most common answer is of course that we don’t want our potential competitors to steal the ideas. That would also be my answer.

But is the risk of being lifted for ideas greater than the risk of failing by not being transparent? If asked myself this question, and after some consideration my answer is “No”. . . .

OK, so having great ideas is not my biggest challenge right now. It’s the ability to evaluate them, and then realize them, which will be my greatest struggle in the months and years to come.

So, how can being transparent help the ability to realize the ideas? . . .

Right now I’m alone with my ideas. I don’t have any employees yet. . . .

Therefore, I guess, the best way to get my ideas analyzed and criticized, is to let them out in the open. And what is more open than the World Wide Web?

In addition to getting feedback to my ideas, through blogs and social media, laying them out publically will also kick my butt. As long as I write in my blog, or state in an interview, that I’m going to do this and that, I make a commitment to my readers. . . . And if I don’t fulfill my commitments, I can’t be trusted, and my business will fail.

That’s why I’ll risk it. From now on I’ll be transparent and reveal more and more of my strategy in this blog.

And then there’s this exec, writing under the name Oz, talking about how cable should be run today:

If I were running the cable company I would do pricing and product offering differently. Transparency and simplification will be a core objective. Reducing the barrier to taking on new clients/customer will be at the fore of every decision and Internet copy that is produced. Borrowing from Jeff Jarvis in What Would Google Do? Simplify or die. This should be a pillar of running any business in the age of the web. Firms should no longer seek to profit from cordoning off a section of the market hoping that the black box of disinformation which they have built will not be found out and exposed.

I am sure some analysts will be quick to suggest that this disinformation that I speak of is a cash cow. Meaning that this firms make money from their ability to coax new clients into paying more than they usually should. To me, this is an old world way of thinking, information wants to and will be free, any business model built on erecting barriers to information will eventually fail. This idea may have served the firms well in the past but with many more firms, channels and platforms competing for my attention, it is a strategy headed for disaster.
Competition will blindside these firms. Any firm with a good enough service that chooses to be transparent and simple will win. I would be the first to line up at their door.

PS: This applies to all firms in all industries.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a reporter-friend who can’t advise companies because he’s a reporter; he can only soak in, and not bounce back. But I said that I’ve learned so much talking with companies – in person or on this blog – to learn their problems and their opportunities as they try to reinvent themselves – as the good ones are – for our new reality. It gives me the chance to test my ideas and observations against their reality and there’s nothing more valuable than that. As Arild said above, transparency and interaction are what enable analysis, criticism, challenges, and improvements.

The start of transparent government

The announcement of Data.gov marks an important shift in government, opening up our data to us and enabling collaboration and creation with government.

Jake Brewer of the Sunlight Foundation also announces a contest to create apps atop the API.

I believe that in the future ecosystem of news, transparent government data will play a key part. It will enable us to have millions of watchdogs on government’s action.

I also hope that this openness starts to shift the conversation around government from get-the-bastards to collaboration and creation.

Brewer says:

New federal CIO Vivek Kundra and the Obama Administration have officially launched Data.gov, which is the first-ever catalog of federal data being made freely (and easily) available to citizens.

Now, it’s unlikely the description of Data.gov will send chills down the spine of anyone who doesn’t speak Ruby or Python or MYSQL, and if you visit the site, it’s unlikely you’ll be struck or know to be impressed by what’s there. But if you step back and take a minute to understand what you’re looking at, you’ll realize we’ve just taken an unprecedented first step into the Era of Big Open Government.

When information and process become free and participatory, markets get created (think about weather data), more people engage more deeply with their government (see: Obama’s online townhall), and ultimately, people care more about what their government does and how it serves them. …it’s nearly impossible for people to know more about what’s going on and care less.

Transparency is at the heart of destroying apathy.

The key with this new data, though, is that we do something with it. While opening up data is a beautiful thing in its own right, what will make this release truly great is when citizens actually take the information and create new, brilliant applications.

That’s why Sunlight Labs in partnership with Google, O’Reilly Media, and Craig Newmark of Craig’s List has simultaneously launched a contest with $25,000 in awards to incentivize the creation of said brilliance.

Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge

The bigger MP scandal story

I don’t think the U.K. scandal around MPs skimming tax dollars through their expenses has been getting nearly enough coverage here in the U.S. That’s not just because it is already causing political upheaval over there. It is also because this storm will surely lead to greater transparency and oversight of legislative expenses and actions there — and we will have a lot to learn about how to force the same to happen here.

I believe that in the new ecosystem of news that will replace the old singular, centralized companies and products, government transparency will have to play a big part. We, the people, will demand that the actions and information of government be searchable and linkable. When that happens, there will be millions more watchful eyes on government, finding stories that journalists of many stripes can then report.

The MP scandal in Britain is opening up a crack in the wall around Parliament, a start in an inexorable trend toward transparency, and is causing a profound discussion about changing government. If we – in media and blogs – were paying more attention to it over here, I believe – well, hope – that it would spark more discussion we must have about transparency and remake government.

I think it would also cause a journalistic discussion about how the Telegraph has made a mark with this story and how data is (are) news.

Minister of digital engagement

Tom Watson, the blogging and tweeting Member of Parliament, passes along, via Twitter, a job posting for a director of digital engagement in the U.K. government. Specs include:

• Develop a strategy and implementation plan for extending digital engagement across Government
• Work with communication, policy and delivery officials in Government departments to embed digital engagement in the day to day working of Government
• Work with Directors of Communication to ensure that digital media are included in the reporting of reaction to Government policy and initiatives
• Work closely with web teams to ensure that digital communications are making the most effective and efficient use of hardware and software
• Act as head of profession for civil servants working on digital engagement
• Ensure that digital engagement is always a leading part of Government consultation
• Introduce new techniques and software for digital engagement, such as ‘jams’ into Government
• Convene an expert advisory group made up of the leading experts on digital engagement to provide advice to Ministers and act as a sounding-board for the Government’s digital engagement strategy . . .

You will have a small budget, but two key purposes of the job are to assist Government in making effective use of current digital spend, which runs into many millions, and to enable departments to save significant sums on their engagement activities through switching from expensive face to face and postal methods to cheaper digital techniques. You will be accountable for leading Government’s new focus on digital engagement, which is central to Government priorities and with significant risk of reputational damage if this does not happen or Government gets it wrong. . . .

You will be required to exercise influence across departments with Ministers and senior officials to drive forward the future of digital engagement. This will require Government and individual departments to change the way they do business – from consulting citizens to collaborating with them on the development of policy and how public services are delivered to them. It will involve supporting Ministers and senior officials in entering conversations in which Government does not control the message or the dialogue. . . .

Within two years the use of world class digital engagement techniques should be embedded in the normal work of Government

Campaign by the internet, govern by the internet

The Guardian’s Comment is Free asked me to write a post about the new White House blog. I’m about to get on a plane so I’m crossposting it here before that link goes up…..

Two years ago, when I interviewed the then-head of David Cameron’s Webcameron, I asked whether—when and if he assumed office as Prime Minister—he would continue making his videos. “If it suddenly stopped,” the aide replied, “that would be seen as a very cynical move . . . You can’t stop communicating.”

Campaign by the internet, govern by the internet.

Now that Barack Obama is in the White House, he must continue to use and spread the tools of the internet and transparency that he so brilliantly plied to win the office or else it would make his promises of change empty.

We see the barest beginnings of his digital administration at the White House Blog. (Ah, how that link warms the heart of a blogger. Too bad that the president and vice-president of Iran beat the president of the birthplace of blogging to the platform. Oh, well, progress is progress.)

Dave Winer, one of the fathers of blogging, complained on Twitter and his blog that the presidential blog is weak tea. But I think 24 hours is too soon to judge a revolution.

The presidential blogmaster, Macon Phillips, promises communication, transparency, and participation and we’ll see how well he and his boss live up to their broad goals. Before taking office, they asked the public to suggest policy and action at Change.gov–as Starbucks and Dell do (it’s all the rage)–but, sadly, they took that down when they took office and linked instead to the new blog, where we can watch and read his inaugural address.

A new age of government openness, and collaboration with the citizenry won’t be made on one blog or Twitter or RSS feed or YouTube stage. It will be made by issuing and instilling a new ethic of transparency in government.

I argue that we should abolish the Freedom of Information Act and instead make transparency the default for government’s business, which should occur digitally and in the open, so citizens may search, link, comment on, and analyze it. Rather than our asking the government to release our information, the government should ask our permission not to.

And the President should also instill an ethic of listening in the agencies of his administration. Some collaboration may occur at the White House site. But the real voice of the people is already out here, on the internet, in blogs, on YouTube, all around us. All you have to do is search for it and listen. That will be a new age in government.