You can’t keep a good Minnesota activist down! Saturday’s Capitol Code, initiated by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, drew a public-spirited crowd of open government enthusiasts who braved the slipperiest streets in the hemisphere to share ideas, tools and apps. The free and open event at Uptown Cocoa was well organized by state staffers and Bill Bushey of OpenTC’s. The buzz of the worker bees at Uptown CoCo offered a lively take on the information chain at work as data and ideas flowed to and from policy makers, data producers, app developers and the public.
It was a chance to view close up, then reflect upon, the real-time evolution of the two disparate forces: 1) the two-way interaction between the government and the governed and 2) the marriage between information (the content) and communications (the exchange). Putting these two forces together, it is clear that the challenge du jour is to create conditions that support the constant and mutually supportive role of information and communication technology to effectively achieve the shared goal to serve the public good of a democratic people.
The parallel paths of governance and technology are restructuring the world order as we the people blink in awe. Till now the public has watched the inextricable growth of the information and communications industries. Policy makers and the massive structures of implementation they have shaped have struggled breathlessly to keep apace while citizens are lost in a sea of acronyms – technical and bureaucratic.
For the corporate world, it’s match between producer and consumer is as obvious as it is profitable. Unfettered by the intrusion of the vox populi, the unbridled power of wealth swoops in to consummate the marriage made in heaven. Policy makers concerned about the public good and hamstrung by the slow-moving wheels of government, may find the relationship more problematic.
Tough as it may be, it’s time for the people to get a grip on our unalienable rights and our responsibility to defend those rights. It’s time to butt in. Accepting the fact that our forefathers got it right about our democratic government being based on an informed people, we need to keep an eye on how that information flows. We need to care about how the information resource on which we depend – as individuals and as a nation — is first produced, then made accessible to the voting public in a format that is useful and usable. That means everything from how the research agenda is determined to the format of the message to the free flow of information to the preservation of the public record.
We need to tend to the sources of information and to the channels of communication. Above all, we need to hold accountable those charged with establishing and enforcing policy, the elected representatives of the people at every level of government.
The bad news – it’s complicated – obviously, we need to understand the tool. What’s more, we need to know something about the responsibilities and the power flow among the levels of government. We also need to be paying attention.
The good news, we don’t all need to understand the intricacies. There are squadrons of good government organizations that tend to the mechanics.
What we need to do is to keep a critical eye on the process and the watchdogs, including the media, and to hold the system as a whole accountable. Though nobody said it was easy, the burgeoning crop of hackers who participated in this weekend’s Capitol Code can attest to the fact that it can be a lot of fun!