Yesterday I went to the White House and got a nice award from them. They have an award called “Champions of Change” that they give out to a few people every week. The White House describes it as “a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.” My group might be best summarized as open government technologists, although that’s rather too narrow for some of the interesting things that some of these folks are up to.
There was a reception at the W Hotel on Thursday night, followed by an all-morning event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is somehow considered part of “the White House” even though it is not, in fact, the White House, perhaps because it is next door, the two are connected by a tunnel, and many White House employees work there. Anyhow, about 75 people were at the event, and speakers included White House Director of New Media Macon Phillips, Deputy Assistant to the President Michael Strautmanis, US CIO Vivek Kundra, and Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein. The whole affair was arranged and MCd by US CTO Aneesh Chopra, who was previously Virginia’s Secretary of Technology under Governor Kaine.
We went from there to a smaller room, where it was just the dozen award winners and a few folks from the administration, all crowded around a meeting table. The idea was for each of us to take a few minutes to explain our work and provide some advice as to how the White House could improve transparency or openness to facilitate their work. For every person, Aneesh Chopra created an action item based on their remarks—some new API that an agency would create, some partnership with an agency that will further a national goal, etc. Inevitably, all of us found ways in which we could work with each other, too, whether sharing resources or actually teaming up to do something new—easily done with such an interesting bunch.
- It’s a major award.
I was left with the very clear impression that the administration wants to facilitate rapid innovation through public-private partnerships with individuals and businesses who want to capitalize on public data for public good. (Think of NOAA opening up weather data in the 1970s, or the Department of Defense opening up the GPS system in the 1990s. Huge industries have resulted from each of those steps, to enormous public benefit.) Government does a lot of things slowly, and sometimes the best way to overcome that is to facilitate having the private sector accomplish the same goals.
There’s nothing about this on the White House’s Champions of Change sub-site yet, but I’ll post a link when they’ve got it all up. That said, it won’t be very exciting for anybody reading this—a photo of me, video of me talking about my work, and a description of me. No news there. What will be more interesting is the information about all of the other winners—some of them are doing some really exciting work that deserves broader exposure.