Second generation of Gov2.0 initiatives rise in the Rockies

The Gov2.0 ecosystem is growing. Efforts that began in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Toronto are beginning to take root in smaller, municipal governments across the US and Canada. There is a second generation of “government-as-a-platform” adopters, who are the products of unconferences, bar camps, and GovLoop. Sean Hudson and his group, CSC Labs, hopes to build on some of the best Gov2.0 practices and improve government transparency across his home state of Colorado.

Late in the summer of 2009, Arvada, Colorado unveiled an open data website with about fifty data sets from city departments like Parks & Rec, Planning & Zoning, and Transportation. Arvada OpenData provides access to data, maps and third-party applications through a searchable data catalog, organized by categories and tags. But now the city is working strategically to make government more accountable, transparent and collaborative through a group known as Colorado Smart Communities.

Colorado Smart Communities, also known as CSC Labs, is a group of public and private sector professionals who are looking to move beyond the low-hanging fruit of government data. They are working to chart a course for every level of Colorado government as communications and collaboration tools become more pervasive in everyday life. In an interview with CivSource, CSC Labs founder Sean Hudson spoke about the group’s origins and laid out the group’s plans for 2010.

According to Mr. Hudson, Arvada has a history of organizing other government IT leaders and deploying emerging technology in the public sector. The city had already launched a small open data catalogue, but it wasn’t until President Obama announced his administration’s open data initiative in late December that Mr. Hudson had an “aha” moment, and could start pointing to other people that this movement was not just a flash in the pan.

In January, Mr. Hudson went to Chicago for City Camp where he saw the broad spectrum of talent and ideas feeding the Gov2.0 movement.

A screenshot from the CSC homepage

“That was a really great conference,” he said. “It was a place everybody could meet – journalists, concerned citizens, programmers, hackers, elected officials, vendors – to attain a level of very functional and useful government transparency through technology and open data.”

“I was getting really excited about what I was going to take back home,” he said.

Armed with concepts outlined by the likes of Tim O’Reilly and real-life anecdotes such as Apps for Democracy, Mr. Hudson began work to build a coalition of Front Range cities dedicated to embracing Gov2.0.

“Out of that was born Colorado Smart Communities,” he said, and he sent out objectives to four or five Front Range cities, including the Boulder County, Lakewood, Denver and Westminster. So far, CSC Labs has about 70 members who are mostly active government employees who are doing a lot of work on the side. But the group also is comprised of GIS professionals, IT people, and a few lawyers helping with legal aspects of their ideas.

The group is making strides, despite resistance from people who do not understand open data’s relevance. “It’s hard for some [officials] to wrap their heads around because there’s not a lot of people implementing things other than some of the bigger cities,” Hudson said. So they are pointing people to places like DC, Portland, and San Francisco, showing other cities and state-level officials what’s possible. The challenge, he says, is getting the right balance between high-level buy-in and avoiding too much bureaucracy.

Last week Mr. Hudson, Arvada IT Director Michele Hovet and Brian Gryth, from WC3, presented their vision for CSC Labs to the Colorado Government Association of Information Technology at the Annual CGAIT Conference in Grand Junction, Colorado. There, Mr. Hudson and company said the group would be a central point of reference and support for other cities and towns across Colorado who are interested in Gov2.0 practices through tool kits and best practice guidance.

According to the group’s website, next week CSC Labs is hosting an Open Data Discussion with Steve Ardire to discuss how city government could leverage Citizen DAN – a free, open source framework for aggregating different indicator data – to engage more citizens in policy decisions.

And on June 12, 2010, CSC Labs will be participating in Rocky Mountain Gov2.0 Camp, to help spread ideas started in Arvada, Jefferson County, and other places to points across the state. A major undertaking for the group and for cities in the metro-Denver area is setting up a statewide data catalogue, which can be derived from city, county and state-level data. The group is currently looking towards CKAN, which is a registry of open data and content packages that make open content and data easy to find, share and reuse in ways that are machine automatable, so Colorado communities do not have to create their own data catalogues.

“We can do this, and it won’t be long until we have to do it,” Mr. Hudson said of making data available for citizens to use. “I want to do it because it’s the right thing, not because we’re forced to do it.”

To register for Rocky Mountain Gov2.0 Camp, click here.

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