A forthcoming book, "Democratizing Data," by e-government guru W. David Stephenson probably provides some inside knowledge of President Obama's future tech agenda. That's because the book's former co-author is none other than newly appointed Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra.
A draft of the book's first chapter calls for a transformation in worldwide communication by "democratizing data," or taking "a handful of new [online] tools, none of them radically innovative by themselves but revolutionary when combined," and making it "simple for organizations to make valuable information available to those who need it, when and where they need it, to improve their decision making and actions . . . while simultaneously protecting security and privacy."
According to the draft, the potential benefits of this new attitude toward data include:
â€¢ Rebuilding confidence in government and business
"Government agencies and corporations alike must rebuild public confidence after widespread revelations of shoddy management, lack of oversight, and imprudent investments that brought the global economy to the brink of disaster in 2008-9. . . . Instead of demeaning, 'trust us' platitudes, they can take a 'don't trust us, track us' approach that will require releasing large amounts of data and inviting unfettered scrutiny by watchdogs, the media, and the public," the chapter reads.
â€¢ Establishing a "digital public square" - a term popularized last fall by then D.C. Chief Technology Officer Kundra, right before Obama tapped him to become the first-ever U.S. CIO.
Kundra encouraged D.C. agencies to post existing government data - like daily updates on juvenile arrests -- in a variety of web formats to allow citizens to combine these statistics with their own data collections and create new online services, or "mashups." One such service Stephenson cites is stumblesafely, an online map created by D.C. residents to help young Washingtonians navigate the D.C. bar scene without running into crime scenes.
"The organization that perhaps epitomizes the use of democratized data better than any other at the time of this book's publication is the District of Columbia's Office of the Chief Technology Officer," Stephenson writes. "Kundra, incidentally, was originally to be co-author of this book, but his new responsibilities required that he recuse himself. However, because of several long Saturday discussions of the democratizing data philosophy and a project I did for him on the future of transparency in his prior job, his thinking is a powerful influence throughout the book."
Under Kundra, Stephenson notes, the CTO's office pioneered numerous innovations, such as:
â€¢ Publishing a wide range of real-time data streams to invite public scrutiny and allow mashups.
â€¢ Bringing accountability to IT program management by treating projects as a portfolio of stocks, with each project a company, the project's schedule and financial status represented by market reports, and customer satisfaction measured as market reaction.
The innovations that Kundra architected while serving the DC government may offer "valuable clues to the kinds of changes he will spread throughout government," Stephenson writes.
In an interview with Nextgov, Stephenson said he plans to time the book's release with the rollout of Kundra's tech overhaul. "As impressive as the 270 data feeds from the District are, that's chicken feed compared to what data.gov can do," he said, referring to Kundra's plans to build a government site that will distribute all federal information that is not private or a threat to national security.
By freeing such data, the government could improve its own public service initiatives, including safeguarding the food supply. Stephenson's book calls this "smart regulation."
"Just think about the pistachio issue of today. If you were able to have this kind of real-time service . . . you could integrate" the flow of food "from the [regulated] producer to the public," Stephenson said.