Year Ahead

Seizing the real open-gov opportunity

Ben Balter

Open-government efforts — whether open data or open source — are often a compelling avenue for agencies because of their cost-effectiveness and potential to produce higher-quality output compared to their closed counterparts. Today, however, agencies are realizing with increasing frequency that open government provides another, unparalleled advantage: collaboration.

Whereas past collaborative efforts in government were often costly and time-consuming, today, for the first time, technology is pushing us to the tipping point where it is becoming easier to work together than alone. This is true not only within an organization, but also across agencies and with the public.

Within an organization, collaborative efforts allow initiatives to be surfaced at initial phase gates and receive early feedback, diminishing the potential for duplication of effort and ensuring that, once public, the effort has a higher likelihood of success.

Across government, the types of challenges agencies typically face — with regard to their internal workflows and in delivering services to the public — often do not change from agency to agency. A Freedom of Information Act request is a FOIA request requiring the same response regardless of the agency to which it is submitted.

As agencies solve common problems and begin to build shared solutions, CIOs can focus their budgets and efforts on yet-unsolved challenges rather than repeatedly reinventing the wheel.

Open collaboration with the public, meanwhile, can provide a direct avenue of customer feedback and reduce the administrative burden of identifying, developing, testing and delivering desired functionality. With thousands of eyes, even the toughest of bugs is shallow, and with the right community, the fix is often but a pull request away.

For federal IT, 2013 was defined by a marked shift from a proprietary-first mentality to open source for purchases and in-house development. If that trend continues, 2014 will be the year in which we see silos of efforts breaking down and a collaboration-first mindset beginning to emerge.

About the Author

Ben Balter is GitHub's government evangelist and a former Presidential Innovation Fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @BenBalter.

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