Open Government

Featured in Popular Mechanics: How to Make NASA Cool Again

  Photo Courtesy of Philip Friedman

I am honored to be featured in the the August 2014 issue of Popular Mechanics. This issue has a series about "How to Make Anything". NASA's work in prizes, challenges and crowdsourcing is featured in a piece entitled: "How to Make NASA Cool Again".

Here's the text:

"At some point between the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the end of the manned shuttle program in 2011, NASA became uncool. Once regarded as the wild geniuses leading us bravely into the future, the agency earned a reputation as insular, wasteful, and out of touch.

Naturally, they're looking to change that perception. The agency recently expanded its use of challenges and crowdsourcing to include more opportunities for regular Joes (citizen scientists, if you can bear the term) to submit their ideas. In 2012, it also hired Jenn Gustetic, a vivacious woman with an aerospace engineering degree and a master's in technology policy from MIT, to engage the public as the first-ever Challenges and Prizes program executive.

In this role, Gustetic, 32, uses her brains, charm, and wicked networking skills to increase grassroots participation in NASA's far-ranging mission. In the process, she's breaking down the wall that once separated a massive bureaucracy from the people it was supposed to serve. "It's my role to engage the public and put together nontraditional alliances to solve tough technology problems," she says. "NASA is opening itself up. We're inviting the public to be a meaningful participant in our business, our projects. This wasn't the way things were done, but it's the norm now."

One little problem Gustetic is helping to solve is the threat of an asteroid impact, which NASA has deemed worthy of intensive study as part of a larger initiative that includes not only redirecting space rocks but also sending humans to study them. The Asteroid Data Hunter contest, which wrapped in August, offered awards of up to $35,000 to individuals who advance the development of algorithms to identify asteroids in imagery from ground-based telescopes.

Another of Gustetic's responsibilities is to rally teams for NASA's International Space Apps Challenge. This year, more than 8,000 people in 95 cities took part in the third annual two-day hackathon to develop tech related to deep-space exploration, manned missions, rovers and more. "It was a historic collaboration between a government and the public," says Mike Caprio, cofounder of Space Apps NYC, the main stage of this year's event. Teams of technologists of every stripe, from computer programmers to physicists, arrived at universities and labs all over the world to compete. After a long weekend, a few left with impressive CV fodder. The rest left impressed with their host."

Championing Change in Gov: Why Can’t Government be Both Functional and Beautiful?

It’s not impossible. Government CAN BE both functional and beautiful. Today the White House hosted a Champions of Change event in Washington DC highlighting thirteen local government innovators that are doing just that.  According to Gov Tech, these champions have “worked to build a better future for their citizens, create jobs in their community, and ensure more efficient and effective government by making information and public data more accessible”. The folks highlighted today understand that true local innovation—changing the paradigm of the citizen’s relationship with its government—is not just as simple as creating “an app for that”.

Figure 1: Some Features of Transformative Local Innovations

When citizen engagement, crowdsourcing, and design thinking are also considered in the innovation process, truly transformative approaches to local government emerge that are changing the way we can think about what’s possible in governing. An app might be the mechanism, but how to build in engagement and design are lessons that many government agencies are still learning. When governments do this however, innovation efforts result in citizens who find more value from, participate in, and contribute to their community’s well being. According to Doug Matthews from Austin, Texas, almost as important as the function of a tool/product is the beauty of that function. The innovators highlighted today understand that well-designed government innovations should be many things, not just functional:

  • Innovative
  • A useful product
  • Aesthetic
  • An understandable product
  • Unobtrusive
  • Honest (don’t make promises you can’t keep)
  • Long lasting
  • Thorough
  • Environmentally friendly
  • As little design as possible (focus on only the essential elements)

Seeing Design Thinking in action in local communities around the US is incredibly gratifying. Design Thinking in and of itself has become a movement over the last several years spearheaded by the likes of the Stanford Design School and design firm IDEO (Disclaimer: Last year I kicked off a Design Thinking DC Meetup Group with a friend and colleague, Stephanie Rowe, to get this conversation going in DC). But when COMBINED with the other tactics we’re seeing these local governments use—Design Thinking becomes a force multiplier for real, honest to goodness impact in people’s lives.

As an example of the types of local innovations described by the champions, we turn to Boston, Massachusetts. Many cities have been collecting complaints and service requests through 311 programs for years. In recent years, inspired by the DC government’s pioneering efforts in open data (shout out to @kachok), many cities started opening up that data through open311 platforms. However, 311 data is only ONE source of data for what is truly happening in a city. Nigel Jacob and Chris Osgood from Boston, Massachusetts are pursuing ways to augment 311 data with other sources of data about the city—that comes from the palm of your hand.

Street Bump is a new app that turns mobile phone accelerometer data into a pothole service request to the local government. An accelerometer collects A LOT of data. So to identify when the vast amounts of data collected by the device indicated there was a “pothole”, Boston partnered with Innocentive to run a prize competition for an algorithm. Equipped with lots of potential data and an algorithm to analyze that data, Boston leveraged Design Thinking principles, working with IDEO, to design an app that would create an experience to enable data sharing with the government. Boston, using mobile phone technology that residents have already invested in, is experimenting with crowdsourcing additional data to compliment the 311 data set to better address service needs in the city.

It’s important to understand their process here: they did NOT go straight to an app. They made sure they had the data sources, the algorithm, the design and the public experience pieces figured out before they developed the tech.

Many other examples of this approach in action were highlighted today at the White House event as well. As Todd Park, the US CTO, said, “We’re not seeing one bright light; today demonstrates there is a constellation of bright lights. This is a movement. It’s extremely exciting.”

What other examples do you know of where government is being transformed—at any level—to be more functional AND beautiful through better design, use of IT, and citizen engagement?

As always please feel free to reach out in the comments section or to @jenngustetic to discuss further. Thanks for reading!



Government as a Catalyst: Prizes for Tech Innovation


At this year’s South by South West Interactive (SXSWi) conference, I’m pleased to be moderating a panel on the role of government and prizes in stimulating technology innovation and providing public services. Federal agencies have recently been given the authority by Congress to sponsor competitions for individuals, groups, and companies to develop new ideas and technology innovations for a chance to win potentially lucrative prizes. These competitions can range from new mobile outreach technologies to web-based data analytics tools to even vehicle-to-vehicle communications; the government is looking for breakthrough technologies from the minds of the most creative and forward thinking Americans.

The panel will highlight some of the coolest prizes for technology development that the government has been involved in to date, including the DOT’s Connected Vehicle Challenge, the VA’s industry competition and blue button projects, and NASA’s centennial challenges. Additionally we will explore what role the government should be playing in these activities moving forward by looking at some prizes where the government did not have a role.

Here’s a sneak preview about what you’ll hear if you come spend an hour with us. We believe prizes matter for many reasons, but we’ll focus on four during the session:

  1. They work. How can we be so sure? You’ll hear about a series of prizes from NASA, VA, and DOT that demonstrate the value of government sponsored prizes.
  2. They complement other innovation methods. There are many ways to stimulate technology development and many actors are involved in doing so. It doesn’t happen very often however that government gets a BRAND NEW way to stimulate innovation—and prizes are just that. Prizes are a new way for government to stimulate technology development that compliments other, traditional methods for innovation. We’ll give some interesting examples of where prizes work with other innovation methods in government to create some really cool results.
  3. They're becoming a way of doing business. If government is spending money and doing business this way, entrepreneurs and industry alike should be paying attention. Imagine a world where as much money flows through an organization through prizes as it does through contracts. Now that’s big business.
  4. They're exposing different roles for Government. Government does not always need to have a role for prizes to work however. The question no longer is CAN government have a role, but SHOULD they. The private sector is increasingly involved in activities that affect the public good and people WANT to get engaged in the public good. We believe this may create room for the public sector to disengage or interesting public-private partnerships to form. We’ll talk about some instances where this is happening.

Our impressive lineup of panelists includes Chris Gerty from NASA (@gerty), Mari Kuraishi from Global Giving (@mashenka), Michael O'Neill from the U.S. Veteran's Administration (@mdoneill), James Pol from the US Department of Transportation (@polgmu), and me as your humble moderator (@jenngustetic). The panel is on Tuesday March 13 at 11AM at the AT&T Conference Hotel—if you can join us, let us know through Plancast. Alternatively, we’ll also be tweeting and you can follow our session at #SXTechPrize live during the session.

Have questions for the panelists? Let me know and I’ll make sure to ask them for you if you send in advance.

Hope to see you there!


(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.


Can the US Government Use Open Innovation to Save $1 Billion?

“Now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.” President Obama, January 26, 2011

The budget crunch is currently consuming all parts of government. CFOs and other executives are searching for ways to deliver their mission at reduced budgets—to do “more with less”. Many programs and services are required by law to exist, so budget cuts aren’t as easy as they may seem; the government will still need to provide a level of service and degree of public value to meet their statutory responsibilities despite less money to do so. Thus the need for innovation—both static (doing what we do today better) and dynamic (doing completely new things that didn’t exist before)—is of paramount importance. This post will explore how the forthcoming Open Innovation Strategy from the White House may (or may not) help focus the power of innovation on the budget woes of the United States to realize enormous budget savings and increase public value.

From Open Government to Open Innovation…

As I wrote last year, “Open Government is not dead (sorry Vivek). Open Government initiatives are only part of what is required to cultivate an innovative agency culture. They are an important part of a much larger innovation ecosystem, but only one part nonetheless. To cultivate a culture of innovation, the broader picture of what “innovation” means to the Federal Government is critical to understand.” Thus, especially in this budget environment, it’s refreshing to see the conversation about open government being reframed to “open innovation” at the White House.

On Friday, June 10th, CTO Aneesh Chopra and CIO Vivek Kundra as well as other Administration officials, hosted an Open Innovation / Champions of Change event at the White House where, among other things, they previewed the President’s forthcoming Open Innovation Strategy. There were many interesting takeaways from the event but this post will focus on “previewing” Open Innovation and what this new strategy might mean in this era of reduced budgets. (For additional press coverage see White House Honors Unsung Open Data App Developers from Government Technology).

In his opening remarks, Aneesh described the White House’s soon to be released Open Innovation Strategy as integrating the principles of open government and innovation work previously done by the administration. In short,

Strategy for American Innovation + The Open Government Directive = Open Innovation

He outlined the following principles of Open Innovation:

  • “Innovation should help the government spend money smarter
  • Innovation should improve customer service and get the government to where the people are
  • Innovation should be integrated in delivering new and old products and services
  • Innovation isn’t just about the outcomes, it’s about the process”

Furthermore, he identified four key policy levers for open innovation and some examples where they are already working in government:

  • Democratize government data: For example, the USPTO has partnered with Google at no-cost to provide access to a 3+ terabyte patent database, encouraging reuse of data. This database is indexed on a clean tech marketplace to a taxonomy of 246 clean tech categories, facilitating capital investment. This green technology initiative, based on government data, connects investors to relevant IP.
  • Encourage market transparency: For example, HHS has created a catalogue of public and private insurance plans that includes denial and pricing information to help people make better choices about their insurance ( This site provides transparency on price, measures on denials, and “surcharges” to ensure robust competition.
  • Cultivate innovation ecosystem: One example is the DARPA “crowd designed” combat support vehicle. The winner was awarded a contract and the first was slated to be produced in June. Another interesting example occurred last year when a White House rep attended a “gaming” conference and brought a gaming company’s attention to some of the government’s open data. As a result, a new version of an EA snowboarding game will include mountains that are built from NASA’s mountain topography dataset. (Cool!)
  • Create capacity for innovation: For example, VA’s “blue button” is now being replicated by Aetna and Walgreens. The government set an example/best practice that the private sector is adopting. What’s neat about blue button is that it’s spurred an autonomous co-creation environment – one that unlocks new kinds of public value for NOT ONLY veterans, but now for society as a whole.

These experiments demonstrate the open innovation has REAL potential to create public value. Thus, I’m excited for the open innovation strategy to be released in the coming months—it is a necessary next step in the evolution of open government. However, what’s NOT been articulated as clearly as it needs to be is HOW open innovation will help government spend money smarter and better partner to deliver services during a time of reduced budgets. That’s where some of the other discussion at the event comes in…

Saving money through innovation…

To me, the potential for this new strategy was articulated best by Bruce Brown, Chief Technology Officer, Proctor and Gamble (P&G), a panel member later in the event. Bruce told a concrete story about how P&G’s investment in innovation has saved P&G billions, increased shareholder value, and increased revenues. Bruce spoke about how the culture of P&G had always developed everything “inside” but there was recognition at the top that an insular approach would not maintain an innovative edge in an increasingly competitive market. So in 2003 they created the “connect and develop” open innovation program with a goal of 50% of ALL innovations having an external consultation component. This was a radical shift for their culture.

However, the shift towards looking outside seriously impacted their bottom line. For projects with an external component, shareholder value has generally doubled to tripled as compared to projects that don’t have an external component. But this new commitment did cost them some upfront investment. The shift required fundamental changes to the way the company operates, including IT systems, incentive schemes, etc. Additionally, they created an $85M corporate innovation fund to invest in new innovations. However, P&G has realized some concrete savings through these investments in innovation; through looking outside their walls for new ideas (in licensing) P&G partnered with Los Alamos labs to license reliability engineering technology,which has saved them $1B over the last few years. That’s not pocket change. This example demonstrates that open innovation can save real money.

Achieving public value through innovation…

So how can government learn from P&G’s approach to innovation and address its immediate (and long term) need to “do more with less”? If P&G’s ultimate metric is shareholder value to determine the benefit of their innovation program, how should government work to tie innovation programs to public value, the ultimate metric for government? The Center for Technology in Government at the University of Albany has been thinking through how to tie public value to open government programs. Do you think their logic could also apply to open innovation programs?

As most of us would agree, innovation isn’t only about releasing data—it’s about doing existing things better, inventing completely new high value services that make others obsolete and fundamentally rethinking how the government works with partners to provide public value. Thus, this event also got me and some colleagues (including the always brilliant Dan Morgan @dsmorgan77) thinking about how different open innovation really is from other public value optimization frameworks. Because, at the end of the day, open innovation is about producing more public value at lower cost to the government, right?

For example, take Bill Eggers and Steven Goldsmith’s book Governing by Network and Deloitte’s recent report on Creating Public Value by Releasing the Power of Cross Boundary Collaboration.Co-creation, collaboration, and leveraging networks are not new concepts—they’ve been studied extensively for years. Thus when reflecting on the forthcoming open innovation strategy, a few fundamental questions occur to me:

  • Could open innovation just be as a new buzz word for more effective co-delivery and co-creation?
  • Or is open innovation itself in fact a new way to co-create and collaborate to create public value?
  • What makes open innovation different from the co-creation, if at all?

I hope to do a much more in-depth analysis of these differences once the strategy is released in full, soon.

Some new trends are likely coming…

What open innovation will force us all to think about is new ways for government to do business. Combined with reduced budgets that won’t support large pilot projects, the tactics we see the government using to provide services and value might shift significantly. For example, we could see several structural changes to the way the government partners:

  • We could see a rise in Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) for service provision. These could both be no-cost partnerships (like the USPTO partnership highlighted above) or 30-year concession contracts for infrastructure construction (see this former posting of mine on infrastructure development PPPs)
  • We could see a rise in the use of loans and leveraging instead of or in addition to grants. This may change delivery structures. A guaranteed loan isn’t the same as a grant. Loans are largely re-paid; grants aren’t.

Regardless of the structural changes, we will be forced to do more with less. Several agencies have already shown that public value can be achieved through open innovation and P&G has shown that it’s also an effective tool for budget savings. The basic question whose answer remains to be seen is: how will government leverage open innovation as part of its toolbox to create public value?

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.

ROI on US “Campaign to Cut Waste” from the UK Experience

This story summarizes some twitter conversations that relate to several US Executive Orders on Customer Service and website consolidation. There are a lot of orders being released, but it's unclear what the ROI on the responses to those orders will be. This story brings that discussion together in one place. Read the complete Storify log for more details. [View the story "ROI on US \"Campaign to Cut Waste\" from the UK Experience" on Storify]

Happy One Year Anniversary! A Year of Progress in Open Government

Though it’s being overshadowed by the budget discussions this week, it’s important to note (and celebrate!) that today (April 7th) is the one year anniversary of Agency Open Government Plans. Just one year ago, almost 30 plans were released from cabinet-level and independent Agencies that detailed how they would become more:

  • Transparent in their work;
  • Participatory in seeking the ideas and expertise of citizens; and
  • Collaborative in how they use new technology and processes for developing government policies.

The traditional gift for a one year marriage anniversary is paper. Ironically, that pretty well captures a lot of the effort that has happened behind the scenes at agencies for the last year. Countless hours have been spent developing government-wide and Agency-specific policies, guidance and plans—critical foundational documents to support Open Government goals. This is the work that is not as often celebrated in the press or on blogs, but its importance cannot be overstated. This work is setting the stage for an even more exciting year two.

But significant progress has been made in one year and there’s a lot to celebrate. So to honor the one year anniversary of Open Gov, I’ve listed a few examples of what the Federal Open Government community has accomplished to date in a remarkably short period of time.

There are likely many more worthy examples so please add your comments to this posting to build to the body of examples. As always, feel free to reach out to me at @jenngustetic to extend the conversation.


In the last year we launched programs that reach citizens where they are to make government data more accessible…

Blue Button: According to the White House Innovation’s Gallery, previously “veterans could not download their personal information and share it with others – even doctors. VA has developed and installed a new feature – the Blue Button – on its online personal health portal, My HeatheVet. Veterans who have identity verified access to My HeatheVet can click a “Blue Button” on the website to download their health information to their own home computer or portable memory device. They can share that information with other providers, caregivers, or family members safely, securely, and privately. Of the 1.1 million users of My HealtheVet, more than 233,000 Veterans have upgraded (identity-verified) access to data from their VA medical record via Blue Button. During the first two months following Blue Button’s launch on August 28, 2010 about 100,000 Veterans asked to view their personal health data using the Blue Button and more than 150,000 PHRs were downloaded.” This is a great example of how a big part of transparency is making government data accessible and usable for the general public.

Community Health Data Initiative:“The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) holds vast amounts of data that could help improve health including but not limited tosmoking rates, obesity rates, rates of potentially avoidable hospitalizations, determinants of health such aslocal access to healthy food), hospital quality, nursing home quality, and much more. The question faced by HHS: how best to unleash the power of this data to help improve health? HHS is supplying to the public – free of charge and without intellectual property constraint — a growing array of online, easily accessible, downloadable health data. Simultaneously and very importantly, HHS is also proactively marketing the availability of this data to innovators from the worlds of technology, business, media, academia, public health, and health care. These groups are using the data to power a growing array of applications that benefit the public.” (via theWhite House Innovations Gallery) The result? New community health maps and dashboards, health data integrated with web search — like hospital satisfaction scores on Bing, health care provider finders, educational games, and powerful new analytical tools for clinical providers, journalists, and community leaders, and much more. Government data is directly reaching citizens like never before.

In the last year we brought people together to build the body of knowledge around transparency issues at the…. International Open Government Data Conference: The Program Managment Office put together the first ever International Open Government Data Conference from November 15-17, 2010. The event brought together representatives from many Federal agencies and leaders from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Brazil, and Australia, focusing on the real, practical issues governments are facing while highlighting the innovations surrounding open data. Attendees were exposed to a wide array of perspectives, Dan Morgan noted that the conference represented a bit of a shift in the conversation: concentrating less on the act of opening data and narrowing in on why opening data is important.

NASA Open Source Summit: On March 29 & 30, NASA hosted its first Open Source Summit at Ames Research Center in Mountain View California where engineers and policy makers across NASA and respected members of the open source community came together to discuss the challenges with the existing open source policy framework, and propose modifications that would make it easier for NASA to develop, release, and use open source software. But why is this conference a big deal? As eloquently stated to me by one of my colleagues, Dan Morgan, “it’s the law. Open Source Software is a required alternative that should be considered, but government is taking a different view about why these days. Counting on the Open Source Software community for patches and updates at speed keeps government naturally updated and keeps the procurement cycle out of the way. Plus, government’s giving back – the White House is contributing to the Drupal code base.” This summit brought together some important minds to think about how to do this more effectively in Government.

In the last year we pushed the limits of our own comfort zones to be more transparent and availble to the public….

The HUDdle Blog: To quote HUD, “To better learn from you and share the thoughts and ideas that shape our mission, we’ve launched our new official blog, The HUDdle. Not only can you use it to find out the latest news, but you can contribute and register your own opinions in our comment section. Most recently we’ve launched a Spanish language translation of the blog to provide even more accessibility for the Hispanic community.” This two way blog is a pretty big deal for HUD—they haven’t often been thought of as the more open and innovative agency, but this new way of engaging with the public and stakeholders demonstrates their commitment to integrate these principles into the way they do business. (Disclaimer: the HUD Open Gov Initiative a Phase One Consulting Group client) Participation In the last year we created platforms that make public participation in policy making, planning, and rulemaking more feasible and effective….

Federal Register 2.0: This is a big step towards helping the government and citizens work together better on policy making. “The new Federal Register website has a clear layout and Web 2.0 tools to help users find what they need. Users can check timelines for the entire history of rulemaking actions and set up RSS feeds on any topic or search term. Readers can easily connect with to submit their comments on regulatory actions and read other public comments and supporting material. The site was built at minimal cost in just three months by using open source software and through collaboration with non-profit organizations, universities, and the open government community. The open source programming code is available for reuse by all.” (White House Innovations Gallery)

DOT’s Regulation Room: Regulation Room is a groundbreaking effort to bring the public into the rulemaking process in a more effective and useful way. It is an innovative pilot program between the Department of Transportation and researchers from Cornell University’s Cornell e-Rulemaking Initiative (CeRI) that allows the general public to comment on and discuss federal proposed rules through a transparent and intuitive online social platform. (Disclaimer: the DOT Open Gov Initiative a Phase One Consulting Group client) A great paper was recently published by Cornell that describes in more detail the impact of this type of collaboration on rulemaking.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Open for Suggestions: As a new Agency, CFPB has been open from the start. One the day they launched their new website they engaged in an “open for suggestions” campaign that received citizen feedback through tweets, online forms, and other mechanisms, and they committed to responding within hours. What’s more, they take transparency seriously and have posted Elizabeth Warren’s calendar since day one, posted all their letters to and from Congress, and consistently deliver messages that articulate their commitment to transparency (exampleexampleexample). I’m excited to see what the coming years will have in store for them. In the last year we reached nontraditional groups through new means…

Social Security 101: On Thursday, March 10, 2011, SSA hosted an interactive broadcast for young adults titled “Social Security 101: What’s in it for me?” The webinar targeted college students and young workers around the country and focused on Social Security issues of special importance to them – disability and survivors insurance, financial principles of the program, how workers and their families qualify for coverage, and steps to plan and save for their financial future. The webinar also included a live Q&A session. Over 60 colleges/universities participated. Viewers even tuned in from foreign countries! Promotion of the webinar occurred largely through viral social media, generating more than 500,000 impressions through Twitter alone.


In the last year we laid we the groundwork for the Federal Government’s use of prizes and competitions to stimulate innovation and solve tough problems….

America COMPETES Act: Passage of the America COMPETES Act: Why is the passage of a law important? It’s definitely not as “cool” as a flashy new technology solution or high-gloss event, but this event will be a major enabler for Open Gov moving forward. First of all it will enable more agencies to have a strong argument for conducting prizes than ever before and furthermore it demonstrates that Congress is not a staunch opponent of prizes, but instead will permit them. There has been growing support from the executive branch towards prizes, but this demonstration of support from the legislative branch is huge and will result in many more prizes in the years to come. By my count, as of today, there are nearly 100 challenges listed on This is a huge surge from the launch date for on September 7, 2010. is a storefront for all government challenges and has two primary benefits: (1) makes it easy for federal agencies to launch challenges and (2) makes it easier for the public to find challenges that interest them; support, share and discuss those that are important to them with friends; and solve them. Like contractors benefit from listing services like FedBizOps to identify opportunities, innovators around the world will benefit from the storefront aspects of

NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) Initiative: According to the NASA website, “NASA and Harvard University have established the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL), which will enable software developers to compete with each other to create the best computer code for NASA systems. The NTL provides an online virtual facility for NASA researchers with a computational or complex data processing challenge to “order” a solution, just like they would order laboratory tests or supplies.” This initiative builds upon the successes of the NASA topcoder challenges that were kicked off in 2009. The success story here is that the success of a pilot project in 2009 has opened the door to make this type of democratized procurement a part of the way NASA does business.

In the last year we experimented with opening up the grantmaking process to stimulate and leverage private investment and innovation….

Department of Education’s Open Grantmaking Approach: This is truly a one-of-a kind groundbreaking effort in grantmaking. It attempted to create an ecosystem around education grant applications to compliment the limited amount of funding the Department of Education could provide. By creating a space for philanthropists to find unfunded applications they might want to fund or provide the matching funds to, visualizing the data about where grant applications were coming from, and providing a forum for challenges to identify new ideas that could have merit for funding, Ed truly opened our eyes to a new way of doing something the Federal Government has been doing for years. (for more details on this, see a previous jennovation blog posting)

In the last year we shifted a paradigm in how we react and partner in emergencies….

Social Crisis Response: This year we saw the convergence of social media and crisis response and leaders at the highest levels of our government embracing this trend – with people like @CraigAtFEMA leading the way. Just today, the Department of Home Security announced they would be sending terror and alerts via Facebook and Twitter. Why? Because we’re looking seriously at the application of these tools to enable our government to be effective in resource allocation – a conversation that is frequently missed. We’re also seeing amazing new apps like that move beyond visualization and 311-type interfaces and has created a new group of citizen first-responders that could saves lives. It perfectly blends social and tech and has real life or death consequences.

I think this tells a pretty great story for Open Gov for the last year—and I continue to be very excited for what the future holds for this initiative. In closing, I want to thank Mike Rupert (@rupertmike), Dan Morgan (@dsmorgan77), and Jerad Speigel (@jspeigel1) for all collaborating on this posting in celebration of the one year anniversary of Agency Open Gov Plans.

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.

Happy Holidays Open Gov: Making Prizes More Attractive to and Possible for the Federal Government

Prizes and competitions provide one way to stimulate innovation and tap “solver communities” that may not have been leveraged previously when considering some of our nation’s grand challenges. As I wrote this past summer, there have historically been several hurdles to Federal agencies conducting prizes and competitions, including explicit authorization by Congress to do so. It’s hard enough for agencies to design and operate an effective prize and competition, but without a universal, permitting legal framework the upfront procedural work can be so burdensome that they are often never even explored as possible options. This upfront procedural burden has been one of the largest roadblocks for prizes and competitions up until this point. On December 21, 2010 Congress moved forward with a crucial piece of the puzzle to drive forward the President’s Innovation Agenda and the principles of Open Government. On this day, they passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 with a series of provisions that will empower public sector use of prizes and challenges to spur innovation. The Prize Competitions section of the Act, which starts on page 17, provides Federal agencies across the Executive Branch with explicit authority to conduct prize competitions. The prize authority provision draws heavily from S. 3530, the Reward Innovation in America Act of 2010, introduced by Senators Pryor and Warner in June 2010 and it builds upon the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 (15 U.S.C. 3701 et seq).

The impact of this legislation cannot be overstated; this is a HUGE win for Open Government and Government-supported innovation in the United States. Whereas recently prizes and competitions were largely ignored in common government vernacular, now not only has the White House supported their use through guidance issued this summer but also the legislative branch has demonstrated their support by passing the America COMPETES Act. Arguments against the viability and legality of these tactics to enhance problem solving and collaboration are now much more difficult. Happy holidays to Open Government practitioners throughout the US!

This Act significantly advances agencies’ abilities to use prizes and competitions by granting and/or expanding several key exemptions, provisions, and authorities. I’ve summarized some of the provisions below, in relative order of importance (in my opinion). At a glance, this Act:

1. Grants several authorities:

  • Expands general prize authority to EACH agency head
  • Expands gift authority for prizes and competitions

2. Institutionalizes various incentives and disincentives for participation:

  • Prohibits the US Government from acquiring intellectual property rights (incentive)
  • Limits eligibility for prize winners to US incorporated entities or US citizens/permanent residents (disincentive to some)
  • Transfers risk of participation to participants (disincentive to some)

3. Eases the procedural burden of conducting prizes:

  • Exempts Judging Panels from the Federal Advisory Committee Act

4. Specifies several procedural requirements for leveraging prizes:

  • Specifies prize publication requirements:
  • Clarifies limitations on the availability and amount of funding for prizes

It’s important to note that this Law does not prevent agencies from seeking broader prize authorities through the normal legislative process. So if any of the terms outlined above are severely restricting for agencies, they can lobby their committees to get more appropriate authorities expanded. This broad prize authority isn’t the same as all-encompassing prize authority. It can only go further in the future, and it does not limit the existing authorities that are already out there.

I believe in the coming years we will see the need emerge for a senior prize executive within agencies similar to the senior procurement executive and grants management office roles. Procurement and grant making are subject to management controls to ensure competition is fair and laws are followed. As prizes are another tool to leverage non-governmental expertise for service provision and problem solving, I expect to see conversations about centralizing prize management discipline within agencies to surface in the near future.

The rest of this blog posting describes in detail the key features of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 outlined above and my thoughts on the possible impact of those provisions. As always, please feel free to reach out to me at @jenngustetic at any time during this series to continue to conversation. Happy reading and happy holidays to all!


Granting Several Authorities

Expands general prize authority to EACH agency head: Sec 24(b) states that “Each head of an agency, or the heads of multiple agencies in cooperation, may carry out a program to award prizes competitively to stimulate innovation that has the potential to advance the mission of the respective agency.” Before this, some agencies had the authority to conduct prizes and competitions. However many others did not. Having the explicit authority to award prizes is a crucial first step in paving the way for agencies to consider these methods as viable options for problem solving and stimulating innovation.

This is an enhancement from the Senate version of this bill that was passed this summer. That version stated: “each head of an agency may carry out a program to award prizes competitively to stimulate innovation that has the potential to advance the mission of the respective agency.” The final version of the Act allows agencies to cooperate in carrying out prizes together, increasing the opportunities for interagency collaboration in problem solving: a huge improvement.

As Vivek Kundra, the Federal CIO earlier stated “the real value lies at the intersection of multiple data sets.” Likewise, many of our Nation’s grand challenges lie at the intersection of multiple agency missions. Many partnerships benefit from such coordinated efforts, such as the Sustainable Communities Partnership among HUD-DOT-EPA. But even with coordinated grant awards, our ability to stimulate innovation in this sector is limited by the statutory authorities that each Agency has. This new kind of authority has potential to further break down those barriers to interagency collaboration in problem solving.

Expands gift authority for prizes and competitions: Sec 24(m)(1) states that “support for a prize competition under this section, including financial support for the design and administration of a prize or funds for a monetary prize purse, may consist of Federal appropriated funds and funds provided by the private sector for such cash prizes. The head of an agency may accept funds from other Federal agencies to support such competitions.” Up until this point, if a non-governmental organization was paying for anything at all (financial or in-kind) agencies would have to pay close attention to their gift authority. In most cases, a legal consultation and partnership agreements are required that detail the agency’s authorities for accepting gifts. In other cases, the Federal government is prohibited from receiving gifts. This “expanded gift authority”, for the use of prizes and competitions, will significantly assist agencies in identifying the funds to support the prize “purse” and well as operational expenses, making prizes a more viable option still.

Institutionalizing Various Incentives and Disincentives for Participation

Prohibits the US Government from acquiring intellectual property rights: Sec 24 (k) states that “the Federal Government may not gain an interest in intellectual property developed by a participant in a competition without the written consent of the participant. [However], the Federal Government may negotiate a license for the use of intellectual property developed by a participant for a competition.” To many, protection of intellectual property (IP) is a fundamental principle for encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation. It’s important that an inventor can retain “ownership” over their submission for many reasons; without the ability to retain ownership over an idea, individuals may have less incentive to create new ideas. Thus to IP protection advocates, without this provision prize participants might not invest as heavily in the competitions because there would be no guarantee that they could recoup their investment in the end. Thus, to IP protection advocates this is a very important incentive that was included in the legislation.

What would have been to consequence of allowing the government to acquire IP rights, you might ask? With the IP rights (which may be acquired through written consent according to this Act) the government could leverage new discoveries to further the entire national interest, rather than the segment that they can afford to buy as a product or license. This is the policy stance that China as a nation has taken. This has impacted Chinese companies significantly. They are experts at reengineering existing processes and product development lifecycles to create more efficient and low cost versions of a product. But they are not nearly as good at inventing new products because of their lack of IP protection. There is little incentive for companies and individuals to invest in new products if they are unable to recoup that investment when new innovations become available for all companies to produce in the national interest.

Limits eligibility for prize winners to US incorporated entities or US citizens/permanent residents: Sec 24 (g) (3) requires that to be eligible to win a prize under this section, “in the case of a private entity, [an entity] shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, and in the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, [an individual] shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States”. This provision may have a cooling effect on the total innovation possible as a result of this Act. By limiting the solver community to only US incorporated entities or US citizens/permanent residents, agencies may not be able to select, in all cases, the best solution for a particular problem. This provision arguably limits competition. Some might say that with Buy America provisions gaining ever-increasing attention, this small bit of protectionism doesn’t hurt us. And even though the intent of this provision seems to be to reward Americans for their creativity, others might say that it may also result in less optimal solutions than if more competition had been allowed. This is a politically divisive issue.

Also, by limiting eligibility to win a prize, this Act raises questions about whether or not non-US citizens will legally be able to participate in commenting and discussion functions for idea focused challenges even if they don’t win the final prize. The Act lists several explicit prize types that are allowable including point solution, exposition, and participation (see this McKinsey report for more types). Exposition prizes in particular could be very difficult to manage in practice given the eligibility limitation in the Act. Exposition prizes are typically focused on identifying and highlighting good ideas—which is also commonly known as “ideation”. Ideation often involves on-line voting and commenting (see these examples: HUD’s Ideas In Action,Department of Education’s Open Innovation Portal, and the EPA’s Open Government Ideascale page, for example). If non-US citizens cannot win a prize, then they may have less incentive to comment on and enrich ideas. Furthermore, agency legal shops may interpret this Act to mean that non-US citizens should not even be permitted to vote and comment to draw a bright line around participation and award eligibility. However, this policy position presents a complicated technical issue as agencies will need to control and authenticate users who are participating on-line. That’s no small feat.

Transfers risk of participation to participants: Sec 24 (i)(1)(b) states that “registered participants shall be required to agree to assume any and all risks and waive claims against the Federal Government and its related entities, except in the case of willful misconduct [and for misuse of intellectual property, trade secrets or confidential information], for any injury, death, damage, or loss of property, revenue, or profits, whether direct, indirect, or consequential, arising from their participation in a competition, whether the injury, death, damage, or loss arises through negligence or otherwise.” (emphasis added) The effect of this is rather large. As stated in one of my previous blog posts, one of the key structural issues to consider when setting up a partnership between the public and private sectors is the degree of risk shared by each partner. Usually, in PPPs, risk sharing can be negotiated based on which party is more able to bear various risk types (financial, legal, political, safety, etc…) and there is often a price associated with those risks for the private partner in the form of insurance. If risks are unevenly allocated the private partner may not be able to bear the cost of all those risks and thus chose to not participate.

This Act pre-determines, to a certain extent, the risk sharing profile for prizes; most of the risk will be borne by participants—not the government. There are pros and cons to having participants bear the majority of risk, especially for technical experiments (like for the NASA centennial prizes) where (1) there is a vast degree of uncertainty in the safety of new technologies and (2) the cost to bear the risk could be prohibitive for participants. The one exception to this risk allocation however serves to protect participants from misuse of their IP during the course of the competition (in addition to protection from willful misconduct). The risk for mishandling IP, trade secrets and confidential information is borne by the Government according to the Act. The bottom line is that with no flexibility in how to allocate risk sharing, this provision may deter a lot of possible solvers from participating in prizes and competitions. However, the ability to retain all IP rights offset some of the potential chilling effects of having participants assume all risk

Eases the Procedural Burden of Conducting Prizes

Exempts Judging Panels from the Federal Advisory Committee Act: Sec 24(k)(4) states that “the Federal Advisory Committee Act (5 U.S.C. App.) shall not apply to any committee, board, commission, panel, task force, or similar entity, created solely for the purpose of judging prize competitions under this section”. FACA applies when an advisory committee is established or utilized by one or more agencies, in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations for the President or one or more agencies or officers of the Federal Government. This law requires advisory committees to follow a rigorous process for selection and meetings. Exempting judging panels could significantly relieve many of the procedural burdens currently associated with selecting prize winners through panels of expert judges.

Specifies Several Procedural Requirements for Leveraging Prizes

Specifies prize publication requirements: Sec 24 (f) requires that for each prize competition, the head of an agency shall publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing the prize subject, rules, process, amount, and evaluation criteria. Posting on alone DOES NOT meet this requirement. The law now requires that prizes be posted alongside other notifications to the public in the Federal Register.

Clarifies limitations on the availability and amount of funding for prizes: Sec 24(m)(2) states that “notwithstanding any other provision of law, funds appropriated for prize awards under this section shall remain available until expended.” This is what is known in the Federal government as “no-year money”. This is important because expiration of funds will not influence the deadlines for prizes and competitions. Some, like the centennial prizes may need to be active for years in order to find a winner, and “1 year or 2 year” funds that have been appropriated with an “expiration date” can make those open ended deadlines impossible. This provision adds flexibility to prize deadlines based on the nature of the problem the prize is attempting to address.

Sec 24(m)(4) states that “no prize competition under this section may offer a prize in an amount greater than $50,000,000 unless 30 days have elapsed after written notice has been transmitted to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Science and Technology of the House of Representatives. [Furthermore], no prize competition under this section may result in the award of more than $1,000,000 in cash prizes without the approval of the head of an agency.” Agency heads must approve all prizes in excess of $1M and Congress must approve all prizes in excess of $50M. To me, this indicates Congress’ recognition that large prizes to address grand challenges are encouraged and supported. Recent trends towards “small money” apps and video contests are of course permitted as a result of the legislation, but the Act opens the door for much more strategic investments in large scale prizes.

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.

Open Government is Not Dead: The Conversation is Just Maturing…

This installment was inspired by the recent Open Government Community Summit held at NASA on October 13, 2010 and many recent blog postings discussing variations on the death, sophomore slump and/or decline of Gov 2.0 and Open Gov (including “Sophomore slump for Open Government?”, comment thread of “What Gov 2.0 Needs Now”, “Will Gov 2.0 and Open Gov Die?”). Over the last year my colleagues and I at POCG have been striving to contextualize the Open Government Initiative within a broader innovation vision. This presentation from the Summit introduced some of our thinking to the attendees. This blog posting shares the same thinking. Bottom line: Open Government is not dead. However, Open Government initiatives are only part of what is required to cultivate an innovative agency culture. They are an important part of a much larger innovation ecosystem, but only one part nonetheless. To cultivate a culture of innovation, the broader picture of what “innovation” means to the Federal Government is critical to understand.

True innovation powered by good ideas is a tricky thing. Before you continue reading, I highly recommend you take five minutes to watch this great video “Where good ideas come from” for a walk through one depiction of the evolution of great ideas over history. What Gov 2.0 champions, Open Government Senior Accountable Officials, and the feds and consultants that support them have been trying to do over the last year, under the direction of the Open Government Directive, is complicated and incredibly difficult. Over the last couple years agencies have been experimenting with apps contests, data release and visualization, social media, and other Open Gov related efforts. These are huge efforts within themselves given the technology, policy and cultural barriers to implementation that exist. But to create the lasting change that will truly revolutionize government performance, many of those individuals have realized that establishing a culture of innovation that has permanence, is institutionalized, and directly improves mission delivery is paramount. It’s creating that culture of innovation that seems impossible but is one of the most important outcomes of all this recent Open Gov and Gov 2.0 activity. The jury remains out on how the variety of initiatives we’ve already undertaken will support a culture of innovation.

As Dan Morgan (@dsmorgan77), an Open Gov Associate at POCG, would say “Government can create new spaces where ideas can collide, ecosystems can form, and innovation can be nurtured. It can do this in benevolent fashion, such as with prizes and competitions. It can do this with open data either actively (Community Health Data Initiative) or passively (simply releasing data on It can use these tools internally (DOT’s IdeaHub, etc.) as well as externally (Unemployment Insurance reforms) to improve data quality, drive better data-driven decision making in formulating policy, achieve program performance targets, and ultimately deliver improved outcomes.” But this requires a fundamentally new way of thinking about how the government does business, across the board. It requires a culture of innovation throughout the business—not just in Open Government offices.

Does this vision seem a bit broader than the mandates in the Open Government Directive? It is. This vision is discussed in the President’s Strategy for American Innovation. If you haven’t read that document in full yet, I highly recommend you do. Figure 1 below displays some of the tactics that are mentioned in this Strategy to drive innovation. Within the context of the Strategy, Open Government is a critical enabler in accomplishing all of the key outcomes. Within this context, an Open Government can transform, accelerate, and increase the value of the outcomes of innovations. Open Government is only one enabler for innovation.

Figure 1: Sample Tactics for Promoting American Innovation
So what does this mean to the heroes out there that are struggling to advance the principles of Open Government every day? It means they are not alone. It means there are other tactics that are likely being employed at their agencies that share a common vision for innovation. It means that there is a larger context within which Open Government principles lie. Obviously, some of the puzzle pieces shown in Figure 1 overlap in theory and in practice. Table 1 below highlights some examples where Agencies are taking significant steps towards creating an innovative culture leveraging some of these tactics. Many of these efforts might be unknown in the current Open Gov context because of how we’ve framed the discussion around Open Government and Innovation.


Table 1: Examples of Agency Innovation Efforts (full disclosure: DOT is a client)
So for all you Open Gov practitioners, advocates, and heroes out there, what does this re-framing mean to you? It should help you further your objectives with new tools in your tool belt.
  • Identify other innovation leaders in you agency. Bring those innovation leaders to cross-agency events and get them familiar with the Open Government Initiative. Become familiar with their programs and goals. You can be each other’s greatest allies.
  • If your managers are resistant to Open Gov, try broadening the conversation to one of Innovation. It’s hard to argue with pursuing innovation to improve mission performance.
  • Leverage Open Gov initiatives and pilots as success stories for innovation.
I’ve blogged before on many of the other puzzle pieces (including prizes and competitons,partnerships for sustainabilitypartnerships to create secondary markets to fill funding gaps, andpartnerships to develop infrastructure) and will make an effort to focus on some of the others in future blog postings. What are some other great examples of Agency innovation that are benefiting from the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration that you know of? What do you think about elevating the conversation from one of furthering “open government” to furthering “innovation”? What are the unintended consequences of such a scoping?
As always, please feel free to reach out to me on twitter at @jenngustetic at any time during this series to continue to conversation.
(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.

Suburban Sprawl and Sustainable Communities: Enhancing Mission and Public Value through Open Government and Partnerships

For the last year, I’ve been blogging about the three pillars of the Open Government Initiative—transparency, participation and collaboration. Each pillar points at the same theme: the Government cannot provide the best value with taxpayer dollars on its own. External partners are crucial to ensure value is maximized. Furthermore, Open Government in itself is not the mission of any Federal, state or local government; however its principles do help agencies achieve their particular missions more effectively. In practice, aligning these principles with existing programs and practices can be incredibly complex. In this week’s blog posting, I will describe one complex mission area and how Open Government principles may advance its provision. Complex Mission Provision: Encouraging Livable and Sustainable Communities  This year, leveraging Open Government principles, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) openly collected public feedback on their draft strategic plans (HUD used uservoice whereas DOT used ideascale). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also collected public feedback on their draft strategic plan during June and July of this year. HUD, DOT and EPA share one common strategic goal: to encourage livable and sustainable communities.

Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck distill the issues surrounding sustainable communities phenomenally in their book “Suburban Sprawl: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream”. In this book they describe how throughout the last century many government policies and professional standards have contributed to sprawling communities in America with underperforming schools, pollution, traffic and congestion, crime and unaffordable housing. But what defines “suburban sprawl” and how does this urban development model create communities that differ from traditional communities?Table 1, below, describes the differences between traditional communities and those developed as a result of suburban sprawl.

Table 1: Dominant Characteristics of the Two Models of Urban Growth

The clumping of land-use types in sprawling communities is partially a result of Federal policies after the Second World War, including the terms of FHA and VA loans that encouraged the construction of new homes and not the renovation of existing homes, the interstate highway program, and the neglect of mass transit [1]. On top of these Federal programs and policies, the planning profession worsened the physical separation of the aspects of daily life through zoning laws which require housing types, commercial and civic buildings to be separated.

But why should these differences matter to each of us and why is “livability” an important strategic goal for HUD, EPA and DOT?
  • Our streets are less safe both for pedestrians and drivers, and we spend way more time commuting, extending our work-day [2]
  • Homes are less affordable, and cars take away resources for buying a home for many people [3]
  • Federal, state and municipal funds can’t keep pace with new growth at acceptable levels of taxation [4]
  • If you’re one of the 80 Million Americans unable to drive, you have serious accessibility issues [5]
How to Improve through Openness and Partnerships
Given the coordination challenges across the Federal, state and municipal governments regarding livability issues, the need to engage experts in problem solving, and the responsibility of each citizen to advocate for their community, the livability mission area is ripe for more effective use of Open Government principles. In particular there are several ways that each level of government could “open up” and better coordinate community planning.
Municipal level: Local planning should be done with public participation [6]. This can include developing community master plans, monitoring compliance with guidelines, advisory committees and ongoing feedback and ideation.
Regional level: The US largely lacks regional government. Coordination between municipalities for regional planning is largely based on loose partnerships. This is not necessarily a problem if effective public-private partnerships amongst municipal and state governments and appropriate private partners can be formed and sustained to address regional issues. Regional planning and partnerships should be incentivized.
State level: At this level, interrelated issues begin to become siloed. In the words of Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck , “[if state DOT’s] wish to play a role in the creation of healthy communities, [they] must come to view transportation policy as an integral component of a regional land use plan, not just as an autonomous problem with a financial solution”. [7] Transparency with spending data, participation in the planning process, and collaboration between state agencies with different missions are crucial to expose areas for improvement.
Federal level: There are many complex issues at this level, including:
  • Determining how Federal funds trickle down through grant programs to fund state and municipal government’s development funds. Without coordination and engagement with other Agencies, the public, and experts on policy choices about what to do with Federal funds, these grant programs can work against each other rather than complimenting one other.
  • Determining how to address the decline of the Highway Trust Fund and the lack of money to adequately fund sustainable transportation. The Federal government should be prioritizing developing innovative approaches to transportation financing (in addition to FHWA and FTA’s efforts), including how to best leverage private capital and expertise through non-traditional means. This could be an area ripe for prizes and competitions.
  • Leveraging household, workforce, transportation, and labor data to inform decisions about place-based policy making (CTPP has a lot of great information here).
In general, government policies often exist to correct some sort of perceived market failure or need. Open Government can help by providing the government with more complete information on what market failures exist and what needs the proposed policies may fill (or hinder). Livability is an example where embracing Open Government principles at ALL levels of Government could help improve policy choices and each American citizen’s quality of life.
Are you aware of any examples of where transparency, participation and collaboration at the municipal, regional, state or Federal level is happening currently to address livability? What’s working? What’s not working?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and as always, please feel free to reach out to me  at any time during this series to continue to conversation. Also, if you’re interested in more discussion about this subject, I encourage you to register for the GOVgreen Conference & Expo ( ), Nov. 9-10 at the Washington, DC Convention Center.
[1] Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck. Suburban Sprawl: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. North Point Press. New York, NY. © 2000. P 7-8. [2] Duany. P 119-125. [3] Duany, P 56. [4] Duany, P 7, 127-29. [5] Duany, P 115. [6] Duany, P 226. [7] Duany. P 231.
(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.

Congress Simplifying a Process? Making Prizes more attractive to the Federal Government…

Prizes and competitions provide one way to stimulate innovation and tap “solver communities” that may not have been leveraged previously when considering some of our nation’s grand challenges (see my blog posting from the White House/ Case Foundation event on prizes and competitions in April where I discuss this assertion in more detail). Building on their work to drive the use of prizes and competitions in government, the White House Office and Science Technology Policy’s (OSTP) Tom Kalil and Robynn Sturm recently described a significant step towards enabling innovation through these methods on the OSTP blog. In this posting, they describe how during the week of July 19, “the Senate Commerce Committee approved the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 with a provision that could further empower public sector use of prizes and challenges to spur innovation. The Prize Competitions section of the Committee bill would provide Federal Agencies across the Executive Branch with explicit authority to conduct prize competitions. The prize authority provision draws heavily from S. 3530, the Reward Innovation in America Act of 2010, introduced by Senators Pryor and Warner in June.” The impact of this legislation would be huge for conducting prizes and competitions government-wide. As I blogged last month, both on my featured jennovation series on Govloop and the Phase One Consulting Group Transformation in the Federal Sector Blog, there are several hurdles to federal Agencies conducting prizes and competitions, including explicit authorization by Congress to do so. The Pryor/Warner language would advance Agencies’ ability to use these innovative problem solving methods by granting and/or expanding several key exemptions and authorities, including:

  • General prize authority to EACH Agency head: Sec 24(b) states that “each head of an agency may carry out a program to award prizes competitively to stimulate innovation that has the potential to advance the mission of the respective agency.” Right now, some Agencies have the authority to conduct prizes and competitions. However many others do not. Having the explicit authority to award prizes is a crucial first step in paving the way for Agencies to consider these methods as viable options for problem solving and stimulating innovation.
  • Exemption from the Federal Advisory Committee Act for Judging: Sec 24(k)(4) states that “the Federal Advisory Committee Act (5 U.S.C. App.) shall not apply to any committee, board, commission, panel, task force, or similar entity, created solely for the purpose of judging prize competitions under this section.” FACA applies when an advisory committee is established or utilized by one or more Agencies, in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations for the President or one or more Agencies or officers of the Federal government. This law requires advisory committees to follow a rigorous process for selection and meetings. Exempting judging panels will significantly relieve many of the procedural burdens currently associated with selecting prize winners through panels of expert judges.
  • Gift authority for prizes and competitions: Sec 24(m)(1) states that “support for a prize competition under this section, including financial support for the design and administration of a prize or funds for a monetary prize purse, may consist of Federal appropriated funds and funds provided by the private sector for such cash prizes. The head of an agency may accept funds from other Federal agencies to support such competitions.” Currently, if a non-governmental organization is paying for anything at all (financial or in-kind) agencies have to pay close attention to their gift authority. In most cases, a legal consultation and partnership agreement is required that details the Agency’s authorities for accepting gifts. In other cases, the federal government is prohibited from receiving gifts. This expanded gift authority, for the use of prizes and competitions, will significantly assist agencies in identifying the funds to support the prize “purse” and well as operational expenses, making prizes a more viable option still.

In the coming months I’ll be keeping a close eye on the progress of this legislation through the Senate. It’s hard enough to design and operate an effective prize and competition, but without a permitting legal framework the upfront procedural work can be so burdensome that they are never explored as viable options. This upfront procedural burden is one of the largest roadblocks for prizes and competitions. Thus, this legislation is a crucial piece of the puzzle to drive forward the President’s Innovation Agenda and the principles of Open Government.

Are there any other barriers to the use of prizes and competitions that you’ve seen torn down recently? Perhaps the promise of the portal to market and support the operation of prizes once they are identified?

As always, please feel free to reach out to me at any time during this series to continue to conversation.


(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.

Mind the Gap: How Innovative Partnerships Can Help Fill the Funding Gap

In my introductory posting in the “jennovation” series for Govloop and Phase One Consulting Group’s Transformation in the Federal Sector Blog, I introduced you to an innovative platform known as the Department of Education’s Innovation Portal. This week I want to describe a little more about how that portal, in combination and the i3 Foundation Registry, demonstrates how government 2.0 technologies can help to create secondary markets to fill funding gaps. This is making a bit of a jump from my last posting, where I focused on Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in infrastructure development. However, both examples, whether it be building a road through a PPP or funding innovative education solutions, demonstrate how in many instances private capital must supplement federal funding to solve the grand challenges of our time.

The Department of Education was appropriated $650M through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program to “provide competitive grants that expand the implementation of, and investment in, innovative and evidence-based practices, programs and strategies that significantly:

  • improve K-12 achievement and close achievement gaps;
  • decrease dropout rates;
  • increase high school graduation rates; and
  • improve teacher and school leader effectiveness.

[The funds are intended] to accelerate the creation of an education sector that supports the rapid development and adoption of effective solutions.” [1]

Instead of disbursing the funds through an entirely traditional grant program, the Department of Education has leveraged the principles of Open Government in several innovative ways to pilot “open grant making”. Their approach has opened up the entire process of grant making to make federal funding demand more visible, to encourage a more transparent award process, and to create a secondary market for unfunded applications. They are piloting how to do this through several innovative websites that provide different functions:

  • Data Visualization: The portal visualizes important information about the grant applications (no awards have been made yet): location of applications, amount requested, summaries of the projects, and the ability to filter by priority area and project type (development, validation and scale-up). This is a relatively novel way of displaying pre-award grant information. Currently USASpending and theFederal Assistance Award Data System display award information but not pre-award information. Why is this important? It’s hard for us to do the research to know who applied for funds but didn’t receive them in a systemic way. allows the public to understand trends in applications for federal funds, not just the awards,and thus get a better view at the demand for federal funds in this issue area.
  • Ideation and Challenges: The open innovation portal provides a second crucial functionality to education’s innovation agenda. This portal allows anyone to post challenges on education issues (once they are moderated). In addition, this portal acts as a gathering place for the education community to submit ideas about how to improve our nation’s education system. This platform will plug once that new government-wide challenges portal is launched in August. This portal allows new issue areas to be identified and collaborated on in a transparent fashion.
  • Secondary Market for Education Solutions: The i3 Foundation Registry, in my mind, is the REALLY cool part of this innovation triad. Typically grant programs receive applications, review and score those applications, and then award funds based on the scoring of the applications and the total amount of funding available. There are usually quite a few applications that score relatively well but can’t be funded due to insufficient funds. It’s not a revolutionary concept that federal funds are often not able to meet the demand for funding in many fields. What makes the foundation registry so cool is that it allows foundations that would be likely to fund innovative solutions in this issue area to find grant applications that weren’t successful in receiving federal funds. This site creates a secondary market for innovative education solutions.

You may have heard of, a non-profit that connects people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty (see how kiva works). “Kiva empowers individuals to lend to an entrepreneur across the globe. By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending.” [2] On this site, anyone can donate to an entrepreneur a world away that might just need $200 to start their business. Lenders are paid back in full 98.78% of the time [2]. Often time, the entrepreneur just needs some start-up capital that doesn’t have prohibitive interest rates. Kiva allows multiple lenders to combine their resources to fund one entrepreneur. Some quick stats:

  • Total value of all loans made through Kiva: $150,250,250
  • Number of Kiva Users who have funded a loan: 468,971 [2]

Kiva created a way for lenders to find projects they’d be likely to fund through the power of the internet. The i3 foundation registry has done something very similar, albeit for projects that require much more funding. By displaying the grant applications that could not be funded, foundations that would be likely to fund these types of projects are able to find possible investment opportunities.Partnerships will be possible that would likely never have been possible before. Foundations are able to identify projects that might not have been on their radar before.

The i3 grant program is a pilot in innovative and open grant making—sharing more information throughout the grant process to leverage secondary markets to fill the funding gap between the federal supply of funds and the demand for funding.

This concept has recently had me thinking a lot about other critical issue areas where this model might work:

  • Health research
  • Transportation solutions
  • Sustainable community development
  • Energy research

The challenge in many of these problem areas however is who would constitute to secondary market. At least in transportation, many of the interested parties would largely be for-profit entities, not non-profit foundations like in education. So I turn the question around on you: In what other major issue areas for the U.S. government could open grant making principles be leveraged? What would the challenges be? Where could possible funders be better connected with those innovative solution providers out there?

As always, please feel free to reach out at any time during this series to continue to conversation.




(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.

Innovative Partnerships: There’s More than One Way to Build a Road

In the last posting for my featured Govloop series and Phase One Consulting Group’s “Transformation in the Federal Sector” blog, otherwise known as “jennovation”, I highlighted the major motivations for public-private partnerships. In the discussion resulting from that posting, it was clear that there was some confusion about what forms public-private partnerships can take. Are contracts and partnerships one in the same? Are grants a form of partnership? Furthermore, and more importantly, are all forms of partnership equally supported and scrutinized by the Government? There are many different forms that public-private partnerships can take. Figure 1 displays some of the partnership structures that are common depending on the degree of private and public sector involvement they require.

Figure 1: Types of Partnerships based on the Degree of Public and Private Involvement [1]

However, there isn’t a “one size fits all” partnership structure for similar service provisions. To illustrate that point, let’s look at two similar road construction projects that used very different partnership structures to provide a new transportation option for the public: The Dulles Toll Road Extension in Virginia and the I-595 Express in Florida.

Dulles Toll Road Extension (Virginia)

Now known as the “Dulles Greenway”, this road construction project kicked off in the late 1980’s, when a group of private developers proposed that a 14-mile road extension be built starting at the airport and ending in Leesburg, VA. When first proposed, the Commonwealth of Virginia did not authorize private roads to be built. So the coalition’s first stop was Richmond, where they worked with lawmakers to pass the Virginia Highway Corporation Act of 1988 that authorized private roads in Virginia.

In 1990, the $200 million project became the first private, for-profit toll road authorized in Virginia since 1816. But this was only after the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) submitted a competing proposal for what a VDOT built, owned, and operated road would cost. One of the largest arguments for the public road was the projected toll costs over the 30 year life of the project. However after independent financial analysis scrutinized both proposals, it was found that the toll required to maintain the road would exceed $3.50 per car for BOTH options. However, the private option could be built much quicker. [2]

Readers from the DC area, ever wonder why the toll on that road is so “high”? Well folks, it’s largely because that road never would have been built without those tolls paying back the upfront construction costs and ongoing maintenance expenses. In this partnership, the tolls you pay, go back into the pockets of the private developers that paid to build the road.

In the end a road was built that required significant public oversight, but that was largely privately developed. The road opened for traffic in 1984 and is currently owned and operated by a private group known as the Toll Road Investors Partnership II. This example of road construction and maintenance was much more towards that bottom end of the spectrum—private involvement—in Figure 1.

I-595 Express (Central/South Florida)

Let’s fast forward nearly two decades. This roadway improvement project, including the construction of several express toll lanes, began in 2009 and is expected to be completed in the spring of 2014. The road construction project is being implemented as a public-private partnership between the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and a private concessionaire—the I-595 Express, LLC (ACS Infrastructure Development)—to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the roadway for a 35-year agreement term. This is particular type of concession contract, one of the partnership types listed in Figure 1. With this concession contract, the FDOT has more control over the roadway than VDOT does with the Dulles Greenway. Among its partnership responsibilities FDOT will: provide management oversight of the contract; install, test, operate and maintain all tolling equipment for the express lanes; set the toll rates; and retain the toll revenue.

But if the private company is not retaining the toll revenue, how are they profiting from this partnership? What’s particularly interesting about this road construction project is that it is the first U.S. application of availability payments to a transportation project. Meaning…

  • “I-595 Express, LLC will receive no compensation from FDOT until the facility is fully operational. Upon FDOT’s final acceptance of the project construction, I-595 Express, LLC will be eligible to receive a series of annual lump sum final acceptance payments, including potential incentive bonuses for completing a series of interim milestones (related to major construction activities) within established contractual deadlines.”
  • “Performance-based availability payments will be made monthly during the operating period of the project. A maximum availability payment of $65.9 million (in 2009 dollars) begins in 2014 and escalates annually. If quality and performance requirements stipulated in the contract as well as availability of the roadways to traffic are not met, then the availability payments will be subject to downward adjustment in accordance with the contract.” [3]

In this case, oversight of construction and operations are much stricter—as would be expected with a partnership that has MORE public involvement on the partnership spectrum. However, in both cases:

  • road improvement projects are completed;
  • private partners are crucial for financing the construction and operation; and
  • private companies profit off of publicly used infrastructure.

Ultimately the end result would not have been possible without public and private sector involvement. Neither could have done it completely alone—though there were many options for HOW they could partner.

Hopefully these examples show that although the most common partnership arrangement are contracts and grants, that there are several other partnership “vehicles” that government’s have to produce public value. These options might just not be on their radar. As always, please feel free to reach out to me at any time during this series to continue to conversation.


[1] Gustetic, Jennifer. A Framework for Understanding and Designing Partnerships in Emergency Preparedness and Response. Cambridge, MA: MIT Libraries, 2007. [2] Gomez-Ibanez, Jose A; Meyer, John R. The Dulles Toll Road Extension. Kennedy School of Government Case Program. 1995. [3] AASHTO Center for Excellence in Project Finance. I-595 Corridor Roadway Improvements.

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.

Don’t Go it Alone: Why Public-Private Partnerships Make Sense

Welcome to the second posting of my featured Govloop blog series—Jennovation—coming to you every other Monday. This series contains my musings on innovation, Open Government (Open Gov) and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). Let me start by saying, I was rather surprised by the comments on my first posting. While Gov 2.0, Open Gov and innovation have been hot topics recently, the majority of the comments on my first posting (both on Govloopand Phase One Consulting Group’s blog) focused on PPPs and the potential for partnerships. I am a HUGE PPP nerd/fanatic, so the fact the readers latched onto that topic and are asking for more information on that subject made me very, very excited. So, for the next few postings I’ll focus on PPPs with a pinch of Open Gov and innovation thrown in. Several comments from the community inspired this posting in particular, including the following one made by the International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management (ICGFM):

“There is a lot of concern about the impact of PPPs on government risk. (Notion that the government is on the hook for PPPs should there be failures.) It also tends to move expenditures off the balance sheet to give the illusion of fiscal discipline. And, there is the opportunity for PPPs to be used for short term budget balancing at the expense of future commitments. There have been some disappointing results in the UK. There is no question that the private sector has demonstrated certain efficiencies. These potential advantages must be weighed against risks.”

I couldn’t agree more that no partnership should be entered into without first weighing the benefits, costs, and risks. In my research [1], there are typically eight factors that drive the desire to partner or privatize:

  1. Resources
  2. Information
  3. Productivity
  4. Legitimacy
  5. Cost-reduction
  6. Risk-sharing
  7. Introduction of competition
  8. Accountability

Thus in theory, sharing of risk is one of the reasons partnerships emerge in the first place. Many services may not ever be provided if it weren’t for partnerships—since the risks would be too large for any one party to bear by themselves. In fact, one expertise of the private sector is to calculate how much risk should cost. Risks in large project or service partnerships can include completion risk, performance risk, market risk, economic risk, political risk, equity risks, and force majeure. “By partnering with the private sector, the Government is able to relieve the burden of carrying all those risks and shed some to the private sector who may be able to bear them more effectively. For example, the private sector is often more apt at bearing some forms of performance risk since their profit is directly tied to performance metrics.” [1]

The public sector and the private sector are driven by very different things. A partnership should leverage existing incentive structures to ensure that goals are uniformly pursued by all parties and that conflicting incentives don’t jeopardize results, as pointed out by the ICGFM. Fiscal discipline is often MORE of a motivator for the private sector than the government. “Whereas a private firm generally prospers by satisfying paying customers, a monopolistic public agency can prosper even if the customer remains unsatisfied. When a private company performs poorly, it tends to go out of business; when a public agency performs poorly, it often gets a bigger budget. Paradoxically, the budget can grow even as customer dissatisfaction grows; in this respect a rising crime rate is good for a police department, a housing shortage is good for a housing agency, and an epidemic is good for a health department.” [2]

Bottom line: Partnerships are complex and should not be entered into lightly. This goes for large-scale infrastructure development projects, event focused partnerships, and partnerships that focus on providing a specific service for periods of time.

Open Government and innovation focused partnerships are no different. Apps contests? Prizes to address our grand challenges? Enhanced collaboration to achieve Open Gov objectives? ANY partnership that is entered into by the federal government should be carefully considered. In addition to figuring out the motivators of each partner so the right risk sharing structure can be set up, the following questions are also crucially important for any Government agency to consider. (Beware: if you don’t have a best friend in your legal shop and you’re interested in setting up some partnerships, now’s the time to bake cookies for the 9th floor…)

  1. Will the partnership require any resources (financial or human capital) to operate? If so, who’s contributing the resources? If a non-governmental organization is paying for anything at all (financial or in-kind) agencies will have to pay close attention to their gift authority. Can the agency accept gifts? Under what terms? Consult your legal counsel…
  2. How does the partnership further the agencies mission? Appropriated resources (property, staff, and dollars) must further the mission of the agency.
  3. How will the Government support to partnership from an advertising standpoint? There are VERY strict laws on what agencies and government employees can do with regards to endorsements and advertising. Consult your legal counsel…
  4. What will be produced through the partnership? Who owns it when the partnership is completed? Negotiating intellectual property splits up front is critical to ensure each partner is getting what they expect out of the partnership. Consult your legal counsel…
  5. What is the background of the potential partners? Are there any potential ethical, lobbying, or perception issues with particular partners? Consult your legal counsel…
  6. Did you give other potential partners a chance to join the partnership? “Sole-sourcing” a partnership is often possible, but can jeopardize the legitimacy of the partnership, so allowing the breadth of possible partners to compete for the chance to participate is optimal. This area, in particular, is a space where new Gov 2.0 technologies have allowed partnership opportunities to become more open and have allowed more potential partners to step forward.

Partnerships have the potential to add a TON of value, but they require a decent amount of homework to do right.

Though this posting was a bit more research and background info oriented, in future postings I will highlight some of the really cool PPPs from yesterday and today (per Andrew Krzmarzick’s suggestion). As always, please feel free to reach out to me at any time during this series to continue to conversation.

Happy almost 4th of July!


[1] Gustetic, Jennifer. A Framework for Understanding and Designing Partnerships in Emergency Preparedness and Response. Cambridge, MA: MIT Libraries, 2007.

[2] Savas, E.S. Privatization and Public Private Partnerships. New York, NY: Chatham House Publishers, 2000.

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.

Leveraging Innovation, Open Government, and Public-Private Partnerships to Create Public Value

Welcome to the first posting of the Jennovation blog series! As a featured blogger on Govloop, I will be posting every other Monday, beginning June 14, 2010, about my musings on innovation, Open Government (Open Gov) and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). But how to these three—seemingly loosely connected subject areas—relate enough to justify being lumped together? In my opinion, innovation, Open Gov and PPPs are some of the most effective means for the Government to maximize the public value it provides.

A great example of a government program that demonstrates embraces all three strategies is the Department of Education’s Open Innovation Portal. The Open Innovation Portal is self-described as “a collaborative community designed to identify, improve, and implement innovative solutions to educational challenges.”
How does it further Open Gov principles? This web-based portal embodies the principles of participation and collaboration by providing a gathering place for education stakeholders to participate in the problem solving process and identify opportunities to partner to create public value. The portal uses many web 2.0 functions, including allowing users to:
    • Rate solutions and fellow members (think Amazon or eBay).
    • Connect with other members (think Facebook or LinkedIn).
    • Post classifieds to seek or offer services (think Craigslist).
    • Earn points for participating (think loyalty programs).

How does it encourage and leverage PPPs? The Open Innovation Portal allows PPPs to assemble based on common ideas and needs to provide value to the education community. Through the ideation functionality, the best ideas float to the top, where they attract the attention of other innovators, potential funders, or contributors of in-kind resources.

How does it encourage innovation? The Portal allows members to post challenges relating to education, ask questions relating to challenges, contribute helpful comments on challenges, and rate other user’s ideas. The discussion helps innovators improve the quality of their ideas, for submission to other Portal challenges or external grant programs. “The Portal is itself an innovation in education.”

However, all government programs need not utilize components of all three strategies to create value—it’s just extremely cool and forward thinking when they do. Throughout this series I will strive to create a variety of postings that:

    • Inform readers of academic and practitioner research in innovation, Open Gov and PPPs;
    • Share my opinion on to how to most effectively drive these practices in the Federal Sector and overcome obstacles to their acceptance; and
    • Stimulate conversation by identifying hard situations/questions and providing an opportunity for crowd sourced solutions.

Also, as an innovation and Open Gov advocate, I believe in the value of ideation for identifying problems, issue areas and topics that might not be on my radar—but are on yours! In the spirit of acknowledging what I don’t know, I’d also like to ask you, the reader, to feel free to reach out to me, at any time during this series, and request a blog posting on a specific topic in these subject areas. I’ll do my best to work with you to identify interesting spins on the topic, research the topic fully, and share our collective thoughts in this series—even co-author if you’d like. To make this series as rich as possible, I’m committed to adhering to the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration in its creation.

To kick-off the series, I’ll ask a simple question: How do YOU define Innovation, Open Government and Public Private Partnerships? For this series, I am starting with the following definitions/scope. What do you think?

    • Innovation: “Fundamentally, innovation is the development of new products, services, and processes.” [1] Following Schumpeter, contributors to the scholarly literature on innovation typically distinguish between invention, an idea made manifest, and innovation, ideas applied successfully in practice. [2]
    • Open Government: “The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government. Transparency promotes accountability by providing the public with information about what the Government is doing. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the Federal Government, across levels of government, and between the Government and private institutions.” [3]
    • Public-Private Partnership: “A partnership is a collaboration among business, non-profit organizations and Government in which risks, resources and skills are shared in projects that benefit each partner as well as the community”. [4] Furthermore, Donahue and Zechauser define PPPs/Collaborative Governance as the “pursuit of authoritatively chosen public goals by means that include engaging the effort of, and sharing discretion with, producers outside the Government.” [5]

The goal of this blog series is to demonstrate how these methods can be used in combination to maximize the value that the Government provides to the citizen. Looking forward to discussing these exciting subjects with you!

[1] The White House’s “A Strategy for American Innovation: Driving Towards Sustainable Growth and Quality Jobs”, page 4. [2] Schumpeter, Joseph (1934). The Theory of Economic Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [3] The Open Government Directive [4] Osbourne, Stephen P., ed Public Private Partnership: Theory and Practice in International Perspective. London, UK: Routledge Advances in Management and Business Studies, 2000. P 11 [5] Donahue, John and Richard Zechauser, “Public Private collaboration” “Oxford Handbook of Public Policy. Ed. Robert Goodin, Michael Moran, and Martin Rein. UK: Oxford University Press, 2006. P 430

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog for a special featured Govloop series when I was an employee there.

Gov 2.0 Efforts are Selfish, and Rightly Should Be

Last week at a Gov 2.0 event sponsored by Fedscoop I had great conversations with several government 2.0 rockstars. But one conversation and one statement in particular really resonated with me. Gwynne Kostin from GSA, in her brilliance, said:

“Participation and collaboration are selfish activities. Most people don’t participate or collaborate without wanting to gain something in return.”

This isn’t a revolutionary concept in itself, but it does shed a different light on the types of initiatives that have largely been pursued in the spirit of openness. Even though the rhetoric in the Open Government community has been increasingly about tying new initiatives to strategic goals, much of the action has demonstrated a “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Often the things that are easy to do in transparency, participation and collaboration aren’t those things that have a discrete tie to the mission of the organization: standing up a twitter account, starting a blog, creating an iphone app, opening up ideation tools, etc… I’m not saying that these activities can’t be incredibly valuable, if done right. However, there are countless examples of services, products, and programs that demonstrate “what we CAN do” and not “what we SHOULD do”.

“What we should do” must be strategic, and provide value both for the provider (government) and the consumer (the public, stakeholder groups, academia, industry, etc…). People will only participate and collaborate if they can get something discrete and valuable out of the experience. Gwynne’s statement made me think that a large part of what we “should do” is not wholly reinvent the process for identifying how to effectively partner to solve business problems. Individuals and groups have been partnering forever to solve problems. Gov 2.0 just gives us some new methods for partnering that are more mobile, real-time and individualized.

This got me thinking about partnership theory, which was the subject of mymaster’s thesis. Mark Moore from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government has done significant writing since the 1990s about the key issues that should be considered by public managers before they commit themselves and their organizations to specific actions. The following issues constitute what is known as the “strategic triangle”:

  • “First, what is the important “public value (PV)” the organization is seeking to produce?
  • Second, what are the “sources of legitimacy and support (L&S)” that would be relied upon to authorize the organization to take action and provide the resources necessary to sustain the effort to create the value?
  • Third, what “operational capabilities (OC)” (including new investments and innovations) would the organization rely on (or have to develop) to deliver the desired results?”

Furthermore, PV, L&S and OC can be provided in various degrees by multiple people or groups. This is where partnership comes in. For example, if the OC is fully provided by the private sector, the partnership may likely be a contracting arrangement.

These are the SAME questions that we must ask when designing participation and collaboration initiatives through the Open Government Initiatives. But how is partnership in this sense selfish? It’s in its very definition. Without public value—the “so what” for the consumer—the action doesn’t have enough legs to stand on.

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog when I was an employee there.

Key Area to Consider in Open Government Planning: Legal

Importance of Legal Issues in Open Government Planning: There are a host of legal issues that all transparency, participation, and collaboration initiatives will face. These legal constraints have been enormous hurdles for Agencies in engaging the public in decision making. For example, one of the best known hurdles is the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). This Act prevents Agencies from asking more than 10 citizens the same question (regardless of if it’s voluntary) with uniform answers, unless Agencies go through a long process with the Office of Management and Budget to get approval of those questions. It is important for Agencies to understand the entire legal environment that will influence their Open Government initiatives from the start to manage downstream risks (i.e., so they don’t discover they are breaking the law down the line). The following is a list of some high level legal issues and the corresponding legislation that will impact Open Government planning efforts. This list is not comprehensive but it should give you an idea of the wide scope of legal issues that must be considered in Open Government planning.

  • Government Soliciting Feedback from Citizens: Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) 5 USC Section 3, Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) (44 U.S.C. Chapter 35)
  • Records Management: National Archives and Records Administration Act of 1984/ Federal Records Act
  • Security: Agency Statute, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, etc…
  • Content Liability, which includes defamation, harassment, copyright, trademark, and negligent misstatement/ fraud: Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996
  • Terms of Service: Anti-Deficiency Act
  • Privacy: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), E-Government Act of 2002, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and Privacy Act
  • Accessibility: Americans with Disabilities Act/ Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Rulemaking: Administrative Procedure Act (APA) of 1946
  • • Acquisition: Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)

This legislation must be considered as policies governing the use of various social media and other Gov 2.0 tools are developed for your Agency including: access, moderation, comment, advertising, records management, open format data, and employee use policies. During this activity, it could be useful for the Office of General Counsel to consider the questions highlighted here.

Linkages with the Open Government Directive: There are several requirements in the Open Government Directive that call specifically for legal understanding, including:

  • Open Gov plans must “include any proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to improve transparency, participation and collaboration”. Internal policies are developed based on an Agency’s enabling legislation and its legal requirements. Thus in order to establish robust policies, the legal environment must be fully understood. (page 10, Open Gov Directive)
  • Open Gov plans must “include innovative methods, such as prizes and competitions, to obtain ideas from and to increase collaboration with those in the private sector, non-profit, and academic communities” The FAR makes it very difficult for Agencies to issue prizes. However, the Open Gov Directive tasks Agencies, as well as OMB, to attempt to find innovative ways to issue prizes through competitions while operating within the law. (page 10, Open Gov Directive)
  • “Within 120 days, the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), in consultation with the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Federal Chief Technology Officer, will review existing OMB policies, such as Paperwork Reduction Act guidance and privacy guidance, to identify impediments to open government and to the use of new technologies and, where necessary, issue clarifying guidance and/or propose revisions to such policies, to promote greater openness in government.” (page 6, Open Gov Directive)

(Note: This is a part of a series that was originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog when I was an employee there.


Key Areas to Consider in Open Government Strategy and Planning

The release of the Open Government Directive on December 8, 2009 has prompted many Agencies to wrestle with what a comprehensive Open Government Plan for their Agency would look like. According to the Directive, Open Government Plans are due for each Agency in 120 days. (The Sunlight foundation provides a good high level summary of other requirements here.) The Directive then lays out about 22 detailed requirements for that plan, but gives little guidance to Agencies about how they should meet those requirements. Like a typical and appropriate policy, the Directive details the “what” but not the “how”. Thus, Agencies need to plan how they’ll be more transparent, participatory and collaborative in key areas, but they are on their own in figuring out how to do that. The Department of Transportation, recognizing that this requirement would inevitably be coming, started thinking about the “how” months ago. Through this preparation work, they developed, in partnership with Phase One Consulting Group, an Open Government methodology that captures all the key areas that Agencies should be concerned with when doing comprehensive open government planning. This methodology was introduced in a blog posting last month and at the first Open Government Directive Workshop series.

This blog series will devote individual blog postings to each of the “pie pieces” or key areas of Open Government planning. In each of the blog postings we will describe what each of the pie pieces mean, why they are critical to include in Open Government planning, and how they are tied to the requirements of the Open Government Directive.

  • Legal (to be posted 12/16/2009)
  • Strategic Planning (to be posted 12/18/2009)
  • Internal Directives (to be posted 12/21/2009)
  • Performance (to be posted 12/23/2009)
  • Security (to be posted 12/28/2009)
  • Infrastructure (to be posted 12/30/2009)
  • Tools (to be posted 1/4/2010)
  • Pilots/ Existing Programs (to be posted 1/6/2010)
  • Participatory Activities (to be posted 1/8/2010)
  • Agency Stakeholders (to be posted 1/11/2010)
  • Communication Channels (to be posted 1/13/2010)
  • Employee Readiness (to be posted 1/15/2010)

(Note: This is a part of a series that was originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog when I was an employee there.


E-gov Versus Open Gov: The Evolution of E-democracy

One of the first questions I asked myself when familiarizing myself with the Open Government initiative was: “How is the Obama Administration’s Open Government (Open Gov) initiative different from the Bush Administration’s E-government (E-gov) initiative?” There are many people who use the two terms interchangeably but this paper argues that although they are distinct initiatives in the United States, they are also part of the same E-democracy maturity continuum. Thus while they should not be handled totally separately, they should not be combined either. This blog post provides a high level summary of the findings and recommendations described in more detail in a corresponding white paper. The E-government efforts of the last decade and the new Open Government initiative share many similar goals and characteristics, the largest being that they both strive to make the Federal Government more transparent. However, they are not synonymous. They are different efforts that are overlapping phases in an incremental growth towards E-democracy. Open Gov can be seen as an evolution of E-gov. Open Gov would not be possible without the outcomes created by E-gov and the advances made in technology (including social media (a.k.a. Web 2.0 or Gov 2.0) and cloud computing), policy (including OMB attempts to amend the current legal/policy environment), and culture (an employee workforce more accustomed to transparency) over the last decade. E-gov was a first and crucial step towards E-democracy. However, the Open Gov initiative is not the end-state solution. It is the most recent maturation of the Federal Government’s growth towards E-democracy, but it is not the final step. There will likely be an initiative that follows Open Government as a new future Administration enters the White House and as tools grow and the culture of the Federal Government evolves.

Some key similarities and differences between the two initiatives are highlighted below. For more detail on each of the following assertions, please see this short E-Gov and Open Gov white paper.

  • The E-gov efforts are directly enabled by law, but the Open Gov initiative is not.
  • E-gov and Open Gov both produce significant advances in Federal transparency, but Open Gov should also produce more participation and collaboration mechanisms.
  • E-gov and Open Gov both are “unfunded mandates” and must be implemented with existing resources.
  • E-gov and Open Gov both rely heavily on web-enabled technology adoption, but many Open Government-related technologies (i.e. social media tools) are rapidly evolving.
  • E-gov has largely become a compliance exercise for the Chief Information Officer (CIO), but Open Gov expands the responsibility for openness outside the CIO organization.

OMB should strive to delay, for as long as possible, the point at which the momentum supporting Open Gov is converted to devoting staff time to a reporting compliance exercise. Some reporting is valuable and necessary to ensure broad milestones are met across the Federal Government. However, just how far Open Gov will take us towards E-democracy will be highly determined by how effectively culture changes as a result of this effort—not how frequently or well Agencies report. There are several opportunities to direct the Open Gov momentum onto the right track right now—and there is a narrow window. OMB should focus on the following opportunities to help avoid a compliancy fate:

  • Provide Agencies with tools and methodologies to implement the Open Government Directive in order to prevent an attitude of compliant reporting. The Department of Transportation has started developing such a best practice methodology.
  • Support and facilitate best practice sharing and shared services to ease Open Government adoption since most Open Government efforts are not funded.
  • Tie in Enterprise Architecture from the beginning of the effort in order to identify where cost savings through IT consolidation can be applied to new Open Gov efforts.
  • Re-evaluate how E-gov and Open Gov efforts and reporting should and could be combined to eliminate redundant reporting requirements on the Agencies.
  • Advocate for authorization and appropriation for a PMO for E-democracy efforts that encompass both E-gov and Open Gov.

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog when I was an employee there.

Open Government is Change Management… On Steroids

Giovanni Carnaroli, the associate CIO for IT policy oversight at the Department of Transportation, and Jenn Gustetic from Phase One Consulting Group presented at the Open Government: Strategies and Tactics from the Play Book event last week. For those of you that couldn’t make it, we are introducing our thoughts about how to approach Open Government to you on the blogosphere with this posting:

  • Open Government planning is about more than tools and technology. It is about the “trinity” of Technology, Policy and Culture.
  • Developing and using a comprehensive Open Government framework is possible and it can help you stay on track throughout the program lifecycle.
  • Engaging an interdisciplinary leadership and planning team from the beginning is crucial to tap into tacit knowledge and mitigate risks.

We feel that Open Government is ultimately about driving innovation through collaboration. We are heading towards that goal by getting the right people at the leadership table from the beginning and by following a framework that is focused, comprehensive and flexible in an attempt to avoid as many downstream issues as possible. We have incorporated the technology, policy and cultural elements that are essential to understand in any Open Government effort into a framework that will enable Agencies to meet their strategic objectives, mitigate risks, and improve performance through their Open Government Plan. This framework will help you answer two questions: “how should I approach managing the change required for a more Open Government?” and “who should I involve in Open Government?”

We hope that this framework will serve as the starting point for an Open Government best practice methodology (similar to FSAM), developed through a multi-agency effort.

How should I approach managing the change required for a more Open Government?

Bottom line, the Open Gov initiative represents a shift in the way we engage with the public and innovate. This is change management…on steroids.

And how do you traditionally manage change and business transformation? Through a pretty basic lifecycle management approach; assess, plan, implement, measure, and improve. But how do you assess your current state? How do you plan for your desired state? That’s where the “wheel” you see on the graphic below comes in. The wheel acknowledges that the technology, policy and culture components at your organization are all critical to understand before moving into planning. Some people see these areas as hurdles they must overcome, and others see them as resources. We see them each as unique and crucial areas for transformation throughout the Open Gov lifecycle.

POCG is proud to have supported DOT in the development of this framework

For technology, we suggest the critical areas include security, infrastructure, tools and current pilots and programs. For policy we suggest the areas are strategic planning, performance, legal and internal directives. And finally for culture we suggest the critical areas are employee readiness, communication channels, agency stakeholders, and those areas where the agency is already participating with the public, albeit not through Gov 2.0 tools. We will be releasing another blog series soon that will run through each of these areas in detail.

Note that each critical area and the corresponding activities in the five lifecycle phases can be thought of as a “cake slice”. There are distinct activities associated with the assess, plan, implement, measure, and improve phases of the each of the key areas that the appropriate office should be heavily involved in.

Who should be involved in Open Gov strategy and planning at your organization? On the framework graphic, there is a grey ring around the color wheel that contains various offices within the organization. This ring highlights what office tends to be the subject matter expert in each of these crucial areas. Walking around the circle, this framework shows that the chief information officer, project managers for key mission areas, public affairs, human resources, chief financial officer, general counsel, and policy development offices should all be engaged in the leadership and planning of an Open Gov effort. If you want more detail about what each of these offices tend to care about in the Open Gov space, check out the “Open Gov leadership team” blog series we released in October.

Bottom line: It’s important to involve folks from each of these critical areas at the beginning of the effort in order to tap into their tacit knowledge and ensure downstream challenges are mitigated.

Open Government strategy and planning is not about picking one tool and running with it. It is about fundamentally changing the way the Federal government interacts with citizens and its employees to reduce costs, improve decision making, mitigate risks, and stimulate innovation. That is a huge endeavor but this framework organizes the chaos and may enable you to more effectively tie agency strategic goals and performance targets to Open Government transformation efforts.

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog when I was an employee there.

Open Gov Partner Approach: Office of Human Resources (HR)

Motivations: The Office of Human Resources (HR) is responsible for managing the staffing function of the organization, administering employee benefits, evaluating performance of employees, assessing employee satisfaction, providing dispute resolution and mediation services, and driving towards a model workplace. HR shops value the consistent and fair treatment of all employees. They ensure employees are fulfilled, developed, and supported in their workplace, and that a safe and confidential space for employees to resolve disputes is provided. HR shops adhere to the needs of the employees and work alongside internal operations teams, so tend to have less interaction with the public than the other Open Gov involved offices, except for recruitment efforts. Thus, HR shops have a unique pulse on the nature of an organization’s workforce: their technological maturity, their adaptability, their satisfaction, and their skills sets. Open Gov Programs can ultimately help HR shops achieve better results. One Open Gov program that has reached HR and improved employee satisfaction, is the TSA Ideafactory. This internal tool creates a means for thousands of TSA employees to submit ideas for how to advance the organization and improve morale that are then rated and ranked by their peers, evaluated by TSA HQ, and implemented as appropriate. This tool has been wildly successful at TSA and many HR departments are interested in adopting this program (including DHS).

Social media also offers an opportunity for organizations to recruit differently than they have ever before. In addition to the popular job boards (monster, hotjobs, careerbuilder, indeed, etc.), several federal agencies are now posting open positions on twitter, facebook, craigslist, doostang, linkedin and many other networking or social sites—enabling a more diverse and larger population to be targeted for federal jobs.

Approach: Since HR shops understand employees needs uniquely, they require a seat at the Open Gov table. When creating an Open Gov strategy, HR shops will be particularly concerned with the following questions:

  • How can gov 2.0 tools create an organizational culture that empowers employees and allows them to better collaborate with one another?
  • Will employee codes of conduct need to be modified at all to account for social media use? How will use of social media be regulated?
  • Prior to implementation, what legal considerations are important to review? How will these rules and regulations be communicated to employees/users?
  • How will Open Gov programs affect employee satisfaction? How will satisfaction be measured?
  • How will Open Gov change the way we recruit new employees?
  • How “ready” are employees for new ways of collaborating and participating with web-based technologies? How do we encourage employees to use these tools and transform the culture?

Partner’s Bottom Line: HR shops may be an unexpected partner at the Open Gov table. However, their role is critical in transforming the culture of the organization. HR shops should keep in mind the following when participating in Open Gov efforts:

  • Catalyze culture change within the organization. Open Gov will only work if new habits are encouraged from the inside out, and the principles of transparency, collaboration and participation are institutionalized. Help other Open Gov partners determine the tools they have to institutionalize these principles.
  • Be open. There will be risks with any new Open Gov program and it will be difficult, to predict how employees will receive new programs. But risks should be managed, not be the impetus for the status quo.
  • Be realistic. Open Gov programs, like IdeaFactory can achieve significant internal value for organizations in terms of employee satisfaction and cultivating a culture of openness and collaboration. However, these changes are not felt overnight—be patient but realistic in goals for metrics.

(Note: This is a part of a series that was originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog when I was an employee there.