Phil Windley’s recent post on e-Government mashups is a great introduction to the topic of citizen-facing Web services. As refreshing as it is to see that progressives in Rhode Island and the District of Columbia are exposing government data to their citizens and opening themselves to the law of unintended consequences, this only scratches the surface of what is possible. As I’m sure Phil knows as a former state CIO, fully open citizen self-service is likely to only go so far. As cool as it is to mashup public highway, crime, and public entity data on a map for the world to see, enabling truly effective government is going to be, to a greater extent, dependent upon empowering government knowledge workers. Imagine if, as an example, a knowledge worker was able to pull together information from their state’s welfare, criminal justice, and revenue (i.e. tax) systems and mash these up in a way that enabled them to uncover hidden relationships between this data and serve the state’s citizens more effectively.
Behind the scenes, what state governments should be doing is exposing all of their data through services. Then, through the combination of public policy setting and comprehensive identity management frameworks (another thing Phil knows a thing or two about), they can filter through as much of that data as is possible and allowable to each of their discrete stakeholder groups. Those of us working on such monumental tasks recognize that this is truly much easier said than done. However, the rewards of pursuing this route clearly are worth the effort expended. Although I do have a working knowledge of other states’ activities in this area, I can say concretely that Pennsylvania has already begun reaping the rewards of pursuing this approach. Our state’s Justice Network (J-NET) system is allowing for the effective exchange of offender, court, and other criminal justice data between state systems and empowering the knowledge worker. This ranges from high level policy setters who can now integrate criminal justice information into their data analysis and policy setting right down to the police officer making a routine traffic stop who can now more comprehensively assess the situation using data available on his wireless device.
Phil has got it right when he says that the goal should be to “set the data free”, exposing ourselves to the law of unintended consequences. the thought of better informed citizens, empowered knowledge workers, and greater transparency cause those famous words to echo through my head – government of the people, by the people, for the people.