The Gov 2.0 Showdown

It was the event we had been waiting for. From the West: Silicon Valley. From the East: the Beltway Bandits. Dueling for a new frontier: Government 2.0. Here are my thoughts on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Gov 2.0 Showdown Expo Showcase & Summit.

The Good

If there’s one word that isn’t typically associated with government, it’s the word innovation. Which is unfortunate, because some of the best innovations we have today are the result of government pursuits and investments, such as GPS. While leaders like Vivek Kundra are changing this antiquated image of government, the problems that we face as a country are not ones that will be solved and addressed by a single person or organization, so when someone like Tim O’Reilly rolls into town and wants to get in the game, it’s good for us all. The fact is, government isn’t relegated to just those appointed to a position nor is it confined to district lines. At a time when our world economy is volatile and facing downward, making times tough for more and more folks, we need creative solutions to do more with less, and this is where technology presents a great opportunity. Relying on the same players and same molds of thinking can only ensure that government performs and delivers in a same ol’ same ol’ kind of way.

The Expo Showcase did a fantastic job highlighting some great innovations and efforts across the country, from the City of Santa Cruz’s feedback portal that’s using the power of citizen input to tackle the City’s fiscal problems to a collaborative effort by two Senior Fellows at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs to use Virtual Worlds to understand Islam to engender greater diplomacy. These are the types of initiatives that need to be promoted to provide greater awareness.

At the Summit, to hear from luminaries like Vint Cerf, who worked 7 years at DARPA, and Carl Malamud, who founded Public.Resource.Org, attendees were exposed to a wisdom that is gained from years of experience and dedication. We were also reminded that there are issues that are too ubiquitous not to have government participate. The need to have clean data will be as important as having clean air and water, and our digital identities will require the same level of protection and rights as our physical bodies. This is the future of government.

The Bad

First, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more time allotted for questions and answers, specifically during the Expo. I would’ve like to have seen less presentations and more conversations. The rapid-fire “Ignite-style” format of the Expo was fine but there was a need for in-depth conversation of the presentations. People want to hear the nuts and bolts – the challenges, the keys to success, the pitfalls to avoid, the nuggets of insight. Which brings me to my second point: the rapid-fire format might be more suited for the selection process, where the submissions are mandated to a 5-minute presentation that can then be voted for online before the Showcase. This would embody the essence of Gov 2.0, encouraging everyone to participate and have a voice.

Finally, the cost. There was lots of chatter about the cost of the event. While I won’t get into the nuances of pricing an event like this, I was told by an organizer that Tim O’Reilly feels so passionately about Gov 2.0, he would have done it for free. Sounds like a great idea to me. If the intent is to repeat the Showcase/Summit format next year, I would make the Expo Showcase a free, sponsor-subsidized, “first-to-register, first-to-attend” affair.

The Ugly

Last but not least, the diversity of presenters for the Summit left something to be desired. This was so much of a sticking point for me that I made the decision not to attend the Summit but after several conversations with some of the key organizers, including Tim himself, I was extended a complimentary pass to the Expo and Summit. To be fair to Tim and the O’Reilly and TechWeb staff, I have organized a conference (the 2008 WIRe/ICES Enterprise 2.0 conference) and I know first-hand how difficult and trying it is to orchestrate an event such as this, coordinating speakers with times and dates while achieving the desired content, discussion and outcome. However, I look at the Summit Program Committee and I see 8 white men and 1 white woman. The first day of the Summit featured 5 women out of 35 presenters (15%). Many have argued the benefits of heterogeneous ensembles, citing evidence of how homogeneous groups, like Wall Street and the American Automobile industry, can go astray. The fact is if government is the platform, the platform should represent its constituents and users. Diverse people offer diverse values. While I hear Tim’s argument that there are simply less women and minorities in leadership positions, we’ll be stuck in a perpetual chicken or the egg loop if a homogeneous group of decision-makers determines what constitutes a leader and who is qualified to be one. We can do better.

The final point I will make is that no matter what label it is given, government is undergoing an amazing transformation. I have spent my entire career in government and it’s truly an exciting time. Quibbling over the term Gov 2.0 doesn’t serve much of a purpose. I don’t see how vilifying or denigrating govies or contractors or technologists does anyone any good. There are people who work hard on all sides of the fence and openness and transparency does and will continue to show this.

0 thoughts on “The Gov 2.0 Showdown

  1. Amy – thank you so much for writing a piece about real change and real needs. So much has been focused on ego and territorialism.

    The O’Reilly team is not an invading conqueror but neither are we a welcoming committee. As the money is flowing out into someone’s hands I would be happy if more of it was in the hands of small business, entrepreneurs, and outsiders. Diversity in government work is best too (imo).

    I would also second your motion to slow things down. Both the expo and summit were rapid fire. I learned a lot but felt overwhelmed.

    My recommendation would be to have a second smaller room where the presenters can sit and have an intimate conversation.

    Some of the stories bored the hell out of me (follow the money?) while others were infinitely fascinating (broadband for america). I would not want to sit and listen to questions about following the money. But I would like to hear more of Julius Genachowski, Eugene, Andy Mcdougal, etc.

  2. Thanks for summing up the good, the bad and the ugly so eloquently. This could apply also to the Open Government and Innovations (OGI) conference held earlier this year and perhaps other conferences held before and after. Hopefully we will find a way to improve all future conferences not just gov2.0 conferences.

  3. Re: “The rapid-fire “Ignite-style” format of the Expo was fine but there was a need for in-depth conversation of the presentations.”

    In each of the five categories, the five Ignite presentations were followed by a 30 min panel that included questions from a moderator, from Twitter, and from the audience via microphone.

    Furthermore, most speakers attended the entire day and so were available to chat.

    Sometime before next May when the Gov 2.0 Expo takes place, please let Laurel and I know how to elegantly incorporate more opportunies for “conversation of the presentations.” Thank you.

  4. Thanks for capturing this, I think you make some real good points.

    I have mixed thoughts on how this went. I am really glad Tim and his crew came to DC. And, although I could not make it to the expo, I’m hoping to make it to the full expo in May, I can see that serves a good cause.

    But in the end, individual decision-makers and doers in and out of government are the ones really making change happen. And we will all decide on who our individual heroes and champions are.

    As for me, a hero has always been Dick O’Neill. He has served sensitive government missions for an entire career and after a full career established a great mechanism for facilitating a flow of great ideas among academia, industry and government. It was great watching his leadership of this whole engagement.

    Bob

  5. Hi,
    a great post and interesting to see that you are discovering the same things in terms of good, bad and ugly.
    I’ve been on the Gov20Camp in Berlin/Germany and leaved the camp with the same thoughts.

  6. Bob – I’m so glad u commented that. I looked up Dick and thought to myself “who is this guy”?

    I mean he had an impressive resume but why co-hosting…

    I guess its good the more career folks that can get involved the better.

  7. Dick O’Neill was the perfect “government” person to host the Gov 2.0 Summit. I was very happy when that worked out. I cannot say enough about him or the Highlands Forum he runs.

  8. @Mark – I have my facts straight. I did my research, having attended both the Showcase & the Summit and speaking to others who attended both. I don’t need a Dr. in front of my name in order to make an observation or have an opinion. I felt the Showcase moderated panels were insufficient for any in-depth exploration of the exemplary initiatives highlighted that day. But I do thank you for your as-always congeniality and generosity of thought.

  9. Amy: Sorry, no, you don’t. Aaron didn’t write a word about the Expo Showcase, so you can’t say the idea was from him. You say that the panels “seemed” less than 30 min but if you did research before writing you could have easily looked up the schedule http://www.gov2expo.com/gov2expo2009/public/schedule/grid and seen that they were. In fact, we ran a little over the allotted time. (We could have made them an hour each, but then the event would have ended around 9pm, so that criticism is unreasonable. And would 40 min been sigificantly better than 30?) Finally, the point of the (hint) “Showcase” was not to have an “in depth exploration” of topics – it was to showcase them. In depth exploration of topics is not for a Showcase, nor a high-level Summit, so that is a critique that is completely off-topic. Perhaps it will be part of the Expo in May, and perhaps it’s better left to other groups with more detailed, specific, drilled-down interests, and perhaps it’s part of other great events like CongressCamp happening this weekend. Events cannot be one stop shops where everyone is pleased about every nuance.

  10. To backup Mark (when does that happen?!) I did not speak on the expo. In fact, I only attended on Wed at the Summit.

    I did not sit in on all the sessions (too many, made me angry) but the handful that I did were lacking in interaction. I also feel like the speaker lineup was a bit, shall we say, cliché. I’m one voice, but I do feel like I represent a significant portion of people who attended. This is not positioning. Its just true.

    I want to see G2S take an approach of NOT knowing all there is to know about next-gen government. I’d like to see real leaders iin government – real ones… Who do shit – to stand up and explain to the outside the beltway aces, who are fantastic in their own worlds but may be lacking in insight here – how this movement evolves as a productive movement.

    Thanks for the link, Amy.

    Also, as a sidenotem Go Ravens.

  11. Aaron: I agree with a lot of what you wrote about Summit. That doesn’t mean I think the Summit should change a lot, but I think that the Expo in May will incorporate many of those features you talk about. The two events will serve different purposes and audiences. On a side note, it is very hard to get “government decision makers who really do shit” to sit at a conference for two full days, and I think that was reflected in the Summit audience (we also were unable to comp tickets to certain govies because of their rules) and the fact that many gov’t speakers did not stay to mingle, while many private sector ones did (I must’ve accidentally bumped into Vint Cerf three times). Gov leaders often seem to only have time to do work, and not to learn how to do their work better. An ongoing struggle. Thanks, Mark

  12. Mark: I’ve spoken at dozens of events, many of which are multiple days. People who speak often do not attend for the whole event because, as you note, we’re busy. It’s not hard to get the real people in for an hour to speak on a panel.

    In fact, this is why Q&A is so important… most of these people leave shortly after a session ends so it is the essential time when attendees can talk to the speakers.

    Not that it’s ideal, but it’s generally a realistic expectation.

  13. Hi Mark and Aaron,
    Actually, regarding speakers staying around after their speaking times, I find that the big difference is whether they’ve traveled to be there. Hold a conf near where I live and I pop in to speak and then leave. I have a lot to do in that place. Hold a conf where I can do business, like NYC, and I speak, hang for maybe a meal after, and leave for meetings. Hold it somewhere else and I notice others, myself included, are willing to hang around.

    So.. expecting any speakers to hang around in a place they live/work or can do business in, like WDC, is unrealistic. No one is going to do so, except the people who can do neither (in your case, geeks from SV will hang for a while..).

    Also, I looked at both expo and summit schedules, and Amy and Aaron are right: having 5 speakers and two moderators address something panel-style for 25 to 35 min after 5 min lightening talks is going to be superficial. You can either go deep, with one person, or go long on time for in depth results, or do the short thing with limited results. But much of what I heard back from people who attended was that both events were superficial (I couldn’t attend myself because I couldn’t justify it against my work schedule, though I believe the topic really matters).

    Mark:
    Rather than get agro on Amy for suggesting deeper addressing of the issues covered, or suggest that the topics and depth should wait for other events, why not figure out how to go deeper? Or explain what you are doing better? Maybe it’s a marketing problem?

    Instead of tasking Amy or any of us with how to go deeper, and be more substantive, you should be doing that as part of throwing your conf. Or, change the marketing. Say: we’re doing a brief summary of everything there is to know.. breadth not depth. Set our expectations. Ether way, at least we’ll know what you intend.

    But the marketing of the Summit and Expo (since they were right next to each other, thrown in tandem, they were pretty intertwined from an outsider’s perspective) led me to believe it was far more in depth than it appears actually happened.

    If your attending users agree, you have a marketing problem or a product problem. Just fix it and stop attacking the users. Usability, usability, usab….

    Also it’s too important a topic to assume that having a non-diverse value set cover Gov20 is okay. By definition, you should have a wide variety of value-sets showing them off your topics, whether you go wide and shallow, or deep on the topics. That is one area where wide/breadth is a must.

    mary

  14. Mary: Thanks for your thoughts. This is not about me “tasking” people to do things I should be doing. This is about people choosing to be part of a community, or sitting on the sidelines and nitpicking.

    In the way of an example, here’s an alternative review of the Gov 2.0 events this past week: http://briandrake.wordpress.com/2009/09/13/inspiring-the-intra-government-2-0-movement/ The writer (1) actually attended the events so he knows what he’s talking about (2) didn’t have a negative, linkbait title (3) had some reasonable postitive and negative comments (4) is actually DOING something about it – he’s already planning a complimentary event with three other people (who all attended most of the three days) in order to drill down into a subset of topics in a different atmosphere. This is smart, commendable, and a model for others.

  15. So clearly a good thing about Amy and Mark is neither fear expressing their views. Brian Drake’s piece is good too. I’m trying to think of some value add I can write from my perspective to put on my blog.

  16. Mary, Thanks for your feedback.

    Mark, Thanks to you & the members of the Showcase committee. You all did a fantastic job. I would be more than happy to be a part of planning and partipating in next year’s events.

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