This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation

The topic of disruptive innovation in the civic arena and public sector has been approached from different vantage points but is still being developed into a holistic concept.  Some basic ideas though are beginning to develop.  Beginning with the premise that paradigm level ideas are needed to address the challenges that communities are facing rather than simple changes around the edges, argues that we need innovations that go beyond sustaining the systems as they now exist to attain a tipping point for fundamental change. Thus the argument to move from sustaining innovations to disruptive innovations. Next, a recognition that complex systems consisting of dynamic components can transform through adaptive momentum created through changes in the configuration of the system.  This is hypothesized to be a rationale behind the momentum of disruptive innovation in a complex economic system.  Community advocates, therefore, have something to strive for beyond the current state of affairs.  The still to be established theory is that such a process could be created or designed through direct deliberative democratic means.  Disruptive innovation in the civic arena and public sector then becomes democratic directed disruptive design. 

Last month this blog took a step back to reassess a statement made about Code for America. What Code for America brought to the community advocacy table was a, 'there's an app for that' set of solutions and did not reach a level of disruptive innovation. This was part of the assertion that what Code for America was creating were instead sustaining innovations - important, beneficial innovations that had an impact but still sustaining innovations. That assertion is still maintained yet there was also a realization that such a perspective does not go far enough and that Code for America has the potential to contribute far more. 

My evolving perspective on Code for America is that they are developing a set of principles upon which to organize and manage change beyond the technical gadgets. 

A point of clarification needs to be made regarding Code for America and that is that it is not seen as a monolithic organization but rather as a movement.  It is not a matter of setting new general policy but of influencing the direction of that movement. Moving from sustaining to disruptive innovation is not a matter of stopping sustaining innovation but creating conditions needed for disruptive innovation. 

This perspective came about because of two books, the first, from some time past, Gardens of Democracy, was created outside of Code for America and the second, more recent, Beyond Transparency, from within.

Gardens of Democracy was considered in the same previous post.  Before getting to Beyond Transparency though, we need to get to basic transparency or the establishment of open data. That discussion was covered by a Code of America panel Open Data - Getting Started, as a sort of prerequisite to Beyond Transparency, consisting of Jack Madans (host) Government Partnerships Manager Code for America @jackmadans, Burt Lum Executive Director Hawaii Open Data @Bytemarks, Laura Meixell 2013 Fellow, Louisville Team Code for America @lauratypes and Laurenellen McCann (then) National Policy Manager Sunlight Foundation @elle_mccannThe discussion, at one level, reinforced the perspective that Code for America was, for the most part, a source of sustaining innovation.  On another level, it helped to plant the seeds for innovation applied through what can be termed disruptive design. 

The fundamental question under discussion by the Open Data - Getting Started panel was how to get communities to adopt and establish open data policies and practices.   

Code for America or its adherents on the panel seemed to be looking for high-level stakeholders, those with existing political influence, to whom to make a persuasive argument. The process the panel seemed to be suggesting was to first start at city hall then move to the community by working with experts and community hackers in establishing a legal and practical basis for open data.

This meant finding champions(those supporting open data). First within the political leadership of the institution, be it city hall or higher institutions of power. The initial change for moving to a more open data platform can come more easily if implemented first through higher levels of government.  The problem is that only four states so far, Hawaii, New York, Utah and New Hampshire have comprehensive open data laws. 

It was seen as being better and easier then to get city hall politicians to pass their own open data resolutions by working with those supporting such an initiative rather than fighting with those who were against it. This recognizes a natural tendency of both humans and institutions to resist change if it is based on language forcing acceptance or that makes anybody to do something different, especially those who already hold power.

Once the data is to officially be made open by the politicians or as part of that process of making it open, one needs to find champions within the different departments of the city hall administration to demonstrate the benefits of open data both to them and to the public. It is at this point then, according to some participating in the Open Data - Getting Started discussion, that a collaborative environment is created and that moving out to work with the community becomes viable. 

This is still at the level of sustaining innovation though with no fundamental changes being made and with limited potential for any if left at this level.  It is hoped that the effort to establish open data can be completed with minimal opposition because it will be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle once accomplished. This approach though has some recognized limitations.

One problem is that even if there is political acceptance by one city hall administration, any change to a new administration could be a step backward. If established by public administration opened data may be limited and merely regulatory in nature.  Chicago’s approach to defining public data as being that which they have on their online portal system is one possible public sector tautology that limits the potential of open data. 

What if instead the community or community advocates outside of city hall were the first to work with hackers and then or even concurrently worked with champions within the administration and political leadership to establish open data as a platform to see the changes that they wanted legally sanctioned? a disruptive innovation strategy or a disruptive design strategy could combine different approaches, that of internal implementation through appeal to innovation and that of external implementation to avoid disruption.  This would mean recognizing open data as a right rather than as a privilege to be allowed.

The Sunlight Foundation sees open data as a right and advocates, among other means, establishing open data through right to know laws, one basis of the right-to-know argument for moving to open data is that citizens paid for the creation of the data so they should have access to it. 

The Sunlight Foundation has resources on local open data policies based on a new major initiative focusing on local government transparency through Google’s $2.1 million grant for Sunlight to expand their mission to open government data.  The Sunlight Foundation also has suggestions on how to implement an open data policy, how to make data public and on deciding what data should be public

A community doing this on its own, without open assistance from city hall, could potentially work their own way through this process, with some outside help, such as the Sunlight Foundation, along perhaps with unofficial inside help, but that would depend upon how entrenched the city hall was and how siloedwere the administration’s departments.  It would be an uphill fight though.

This is where we have to appreciate the usefulness and practicality of the approach advocated by the Open Data - Getting Started panel if made part of a larger effort.  Regardless of the approach, the establishment of an open data platform cannot just be a change to the political and legal structure of the institution, it must also be made separately as an administrative change or organizational transformation of the institution.  A move to open data needs to incorporate not only city hall politicians but administration department managers as well. First, by helping the department meet its own goals than helping the department find better goals. Whether implemented through the front door or the back door, there are different messages needed for policymakers and department administrators.

Moving to open data can be more though than a means of providing an online community-based infrastructure allowing for future innovation. The establishment of an open data platform could help move an institution from a system of centralized, complicated-oriented, mechanistic control system to a more open complex adaptive system.  Establishing an open data platform allows for a broader consideration of wicked issues from a community-wide perspective rather than just those selected for political motivations or implemented to meet self-serving political goals.  Expanding beyond that narrow perspective could require implementation through a process of disruptive innovation.  

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