In the 16th Century, Niccolo Machiavelli famously wrote his discourse on the challenges faced by innovators:
“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order…”
This weekend I will be attending Transparency Camp in Washington DC, and as I prepare for my presentations, I can’t help but notice that a lot of the talk of “Government 2.0” misses the point when speaking about the value of the tools being used. I’ve read hour long presentations on why twitter is awesome for government (it is awesome, I get it, but that is beside the point) and I’ve seen far-too-long powerpoints on how to broadcast using these new tools. STOP!
You’re missing the point!
The value of these new tools is that these new tools step out of the way, cut the static and let us get to the data; that is, the data is fast becoming disintermediated from the source. For years, data has been available in silos from many government organizations; data, in these silos, has very little value. The true value of data comes not from collecting it, but analyzing it to create intelligence. The true value of these new tools, like twitter, is that you do not need to use twitter.com to access twitter’s data; twitter, through their API, gives anyone access to anything said by any one of their members.
There is value in being the hub at the center of millions of conversations
If you watch all of the data go by, you can grab the bits that you care about to create the whole picture; mash twitter feeds together with the oscars or american idol and you start to get a good picture of who is paying attention and what they are thinking. The value of these tools is that now we can create that same type of intelligence around government applications. Government data has always been (for the most part) a matter of public record. The emergence of APIs connected to this data means that now we can mash up congressional voting records together with lobbyist donations. What will we see? How will this change things? It has been said that the barrier to entry for true participatory democracy is an inability for the populous to possess adequate knowledge necessary to make informed decisions. Watch closely; the sun is setting on that world.
People of the world, prepare to be educated!
The intelligence created out of these easy to access data sources is going to be the catalyst for the next great shift in governance. Many government agencies are going to resist, and the most frustrating factor that they are going to find is that the people are able to go on whether government agencies are involved or not. API’s and data access have created a reformer that is billions of people strong. Those in the ivory towers can resist, but clearly, they are outnumbered.
So what is the point? What is the value of these tools? The point is, these new tools, APIs for every data set, are going to put knowledge in the hands of the many. And at the end of the day, the many have the power of the vote, they decide your fate. If everyone in America watches your voting record flex in tandem with your lobbyist donations, well, I would wager a bet that you won’t last long in this new order of things.