Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

#newschallenge on Open Gov: an opportunity for massive reinvention

Feb. 8, 2013, 2:53 p.m., Posted by John Bracken

Photo credit: Flickr user gingerbeardman

Since we announced the News Challenge on Open Gov last week, the most common question I’ve heard is whether governments can apply. The answer is yes.

The challenge launches Tuesday, Feb. 12 with an “inspiration” phase aimed at identifying needs, opportunities and success stories in open government. The contest will open for submissions on Feb. 19.

We want to hear from the people who live these challenges day in and day out - particularly during the inspiration phase where people will be proposing problems to solve.

Here’s how Palo Alto CIO Jonathan Reichental described his city’s recent “lean approach” to IT projects last month:

“We're living through an era of massive reinvention. The community helped to identify broken links and missing pages. In effect, we crowdsourced testing by engaging actual users in the process....The public sector faces significant challenges that call for new approaches across the spectrum of services that government provides. A lean approach to IT projects won't be the only thing we do differently, but I'm betting it will be an asset to us in the months ahead.”

On Twitter, Kristian Kalsing asked whether “governments attract the right personality types for #LeanStartup.” I agree with Jen Pahlka’s reply -- many government employees adopt a lean government approach, but it can be a frustrating experience. One friend says when he gets frustrated he reminds himself that he’s just doing a brief “tour” in government.  

Kalsing’s point stands - the prototypical career government employee has not been recruited or trained with a “lean startup”/rapid iteration approach. But Pahlka is right, too. There are an increasing number of people being drawn into government service from entrepreneurial or tech worlds (Pahlka’s Code for America has been a major part of that movement). But perhaps even more important to the spread of Open Gov principles is the potential role of career employees, people we outsiders might derisively refer to as bureaucrats, committed to providing better and more efficient services.

Working in government can be an incredibly frustrating experience, especially for those who enter it from the tech startup world. (After a few months in a D.C. government job, one friend, a New England liberal, reported that arguments to shrink government grew on him every day.)

Our goal with the News Challenge is neither to shrink government nor to make government work less frustrating, but rather to surface ideas that improve the way citizens engage with their government. We expect that some of those proposals will be about “massively reinventing” the way government works; others will be more modest ideas about refining the relationship between citizens and the state, or between citizens and other citizens.

Starting next week, we’ll be hitting the road to talk about the challenge and hear people’s ideas first hand.  Here’s a partial list of the places we’ll be over the next few weeks. If you’d like to participate, please contact Chris at cksopher@knightfoundation.org.

February 13 - San Diego, Ca.
February 15 - Los Angeles, Ca.
February 13- Washington, D.C.
February 14 - Macon, Ga.
February 15 - Los Angeles
February 21 - Lexington, Ky.
February 26 -  Chicago, Il.
March 10- Austin, Tx.

Be sure to check out our updated FAQ. We’ll also be taking questions related to the challenge during virtual offices hours at 3 p.m. ET on Wed, Feb. 20.

By John Bracken, director/journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation