Gov2.0: D.C. Helps Other Governments Learn to Open Up

BY Chris Amico  September 8, 2010 at 1:32 PM EDT

Among Gov2.0 advocates, Washington, D.C., is one of the major cities to watch for its efforts to provide open data to citizens and software developers as part of its civic services.

It was one of the first cities to run a civic apps contest, Apps for Democracy. A catalog of its municipal data is online. Open-source code from the Office of the Chief Technology Officer is on GitHub, a social network for developers.

But Washington isn’t doing remarkably different things from other cities with its approach to information sharing, said Bryan Sivak, D.C.’s chief technology officer. Most cities, in fact, have similar needs.

“Any information we have as a government, as a jurisdiction, is going to be interesting to someone out there,” he said. Some datasets are more valuable to provide to the public, namely service requests (potholes, etc.) and crime reports, he said, but permitting and licensing data plus geographic information are also extremely useful for certain people.

Governments across the country are in the same boat in terms of data-sharing challenges, Sivak said.

“The crazy thing is that we’re all working on the exact same stuff,” he said.

Rather than fight these challenges alone, tech leaders in D.C. and other cities and states are officially launching a joint project Wednesday called CivicCommons.com.

The site is a mix of code sharing, documentation, best practices, legal framework and opportunities for collaboration built into what Sivak calls “the civic stack.”

The idea is that local governments across the country will be able to draw on the collective knowledge of its users to eventually create a “civic stack of technology,” as he puts it, to help tackle their data-sharing challenges and better serve the public in a cost-effective manner.

“The costs associated with all these things are much higher than they should be,” Sivak said.

Sivak describes more of the thinking behind CivicCommons.com in a conversation with Hari Sreenivasan:

Hari Sreenivasan and Crispin Lopez contributed to this report.