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  • Translator: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Morton Bast

  • So when the White House was built

  • in the early 19th century, it was an open house.

  • Neighbors came and went. Under President Adams,

  • a local dentist happened by.

  • He wanted to shake the President's hand.

  • The President dismissed the Secretary of State,

  • whom he was conferring with, and asked the dentist

  • if he would remove a tooth.

  • Later, in the 1850s, under President Pierce,

  • he was known to have remarked

  • probably the only thing he's known for

  • when a neighbor passed by and said, "I'd love to see

  • the beautiful house," and Pierce said to him,

  • "Why my dear sir, of course you may come in.

  • This isn't my house. It is the people's house."

  • Well, when I got to the White House in the beginning

  • of 2009, at the start of the Obama Administration,

  • the White House was anything but open.

  • Bomb blast curtains covered my windows.

  • We were running Windows 2000.

  • Social media were blocked at the firewall.

  • We didn't have a blog, let alone a dozen twitter accounts

  • like we have today.

  • I came in to become the head of Open Government,

  • to take the values and the practices of transparency,

  • participation and collaboration, and instill them

  • into the way that we work, to open up government,

  • to work with people.

  • Now one of the things that we know

  • is that companies are very good at getting people to work

  • together in teams and in networks to make

  • very complex products, like cars and computers,

  • and the more complex the products are a society creates,

  • the more successful the society is over time.

  • Companies make goods, but governments,

  • they make public goods. They work on the cure for cancer

  • and educating our children and making roads,

  • but we don't have institutions that are particularly good

  • at this kind of complexity. We don't have institutions

  • that are good at bringing our talents to bear,

  • at working with us in this kind of open and collaborative way.

  • So when we wanted to create our Open Government policy,

  • what did we do? We wanted, naturally, to ask public sector

  • employees how we should open up government.

  • Turns out that had never been done before.

  • We wanted to ask members of the public to help us

  • come up with a policy, not after the fact, commenting

  • on a rule after it's written, the way is typically the case,

  • but in advance. There was no legal precedent,

  • no cultural precedent, no technical way of doing this.

  • In fact, many people told us it was illegal.

  • Here's the crux of the obstacle.

  • Governments exist to channel the flow of two things,

  • really, values and expertise to and from government

  • and to and from citizens to the end of making decisions.

  • But the way that our institutions are designed,

  • in our rather 18th-century, centralized model,

  • is to channel the flow of values through voting,

  • once every four years, once every two years, at best,

  • once a year. This is a rather anemic and thin way, in this

  • era of social media, for us to actually express our values.

  • Today we have technology that lets us express ourselves

  • a great deal, perhaps a little too much.

  • Then in the 19th century, we layer on

  • the concept of bureaucracy and the administrative state

  • to help us govern complex and large societies.

  • But we've centralized these bureaucracies.

  • We've entrenched them. And we know that

  • the smartest person always works for someone else.

  • We need to only look around this room to know that

  • expertise and intelligence is widely distributed in society,

  • and not limited simply to our institutions.

  • Scientists have been studying in recent years

  • the phenomenon that they often describe as flow,

  • that the design of our systems, whether natural or social,

  • channel the flow of whatever runs through them.

  • So a river is designed to channel the flow of water,

  • and the lightning bolt that comes out of a cloud channels

  • the flow of electricity, and a leaf is designed to channel

  • the flow of nutrients to the tree,

  • sometimes even having to route around an obstacle,

  • but to get that nutrition flowing.

  • The same can be said for our social systems, for our

  • systems of government, where, at the very least,

  • flow offers us a helpful metaphor for understanding

  • what the problem is, what's really broken,

  • and the urgent need that we have, that we all feel today,

  • to redesign the flow of our institutions.

  • We live in a Cambrian era of big data, of social networks,

  • and we have this opportunity to redesign these institutions

  • that are actually quite recent.

  • Think about it: What other business do you know,

  • what other sector of the economy, and especially one

  • as big as the public sector, that doesn't seek to reinvent

  • its business model on a regular basis?

  • Sure, we invest plenty in innovation. We invest

  • in broadband and science education and science grants,

  • but we invest far too little in reinventing and redesigning

  • the institutions that we have.

  • Now, it's very easy to complain, of course, about

  • partisan politics and entrenched bureaucracy, and we love

  • to complain about government. It's a perennial pastime,

  • especially around election time, but

  • the world is complex. We soon will have 10 billion people,

  • many of whom will lack basic resources.

  • So complain as we might, what actually can replace

  • what we have today?

  • What comes the day after the Arab Spring?

  • Well, one attractive alternative that obviously presents itself

  • to us is that of networks. Right? Networks

  • like Facebook and Twitter. They're lean. They're mean.

  • You've got 3,000 employees at Facebook

  • governing 900 million inhabitants.

  • We might even call them citizens, because they've recently

  • risen up to fight against legislative incursion,

  • and the citizens of these networks work together

  • to serve each other in great ways.

  • But private communities, private, corporate,

  • privatizing communities, are not bottom-up democracies.

  • They cannot replace government.

  • Friending someone on Facebook is not complex enough

  • to do the hard work of you and I collaborating

  • with each other and doing the hard work of governance.

  • But social media do teach us something.

  • Why is Twitter so successful? Because it opens up its platform.

  • It opens up the API to allow hundreds of thousands

  • of new applications to be built on top of it, so that we can

  • read and process information in new and exciting ways.

  • We need to think about how to open up the API

  • of government, and the way that we're going to do that,

  • the next great superpower is going to be the one

  • who can successfully combine the hierarchy of institution --

  • because we have to maintain those public values,

  • we have to coordinate the flow -- but with the diversity

  • and the pulsating life and the chaos and the excitement

  • of networks, all of us working together to build

  • these new innovations on top of our institutions,

  • to engage in the practice of governance.

  • We have a precedent for this. Good old Henry II here,

  • in the 12th century, invented the jury.

  • Powerful, practical, palpable model for handing power

  • from government to citizens.

  • Today we have the opportunity, and we have

  • the imperative, to create thousands of new ways

  • of interconnecting between networks and institutions,

  • thousands of new kinds of juries: the citizen jury,

  • the Carrotmob, the hackathon, we are just beginning

  • to invent the models by which we can cocreate

  • the process of governance.

  • Now, we don't fully have a picture of what this will look like

  • yet, but we're seeing pockets of evolution

  • emerging all around us -- maybe not even evolution,

  • I'd even start to call it a revolution -- in the way that we govern.

  • Some of it's very high-tech,

  • and some of it is extremely low-tech,

  • such as the project that MKSS is running in Rajasthan,

  • India, where they take the spending data of the state

  • and paint it on 100,000 village walls,

  • and then invite the villagers to come and comment

  • who is on the government payroll, who's actually died,

  • what are the bridges that have been built to nowhere,

  • and to work together through civic engagement to save

  • real money and participate and have access to that budget.

  • But it's not just about policing government.

  • It's also about creating government.

  • Spacehive in the U.K. is engaging in crowd-funding,

  • getting you and me to raise the money to build

  • the goalposts and the park benches that will actually

  • allow us to deliver better services in our communities.

  • No one is better at this activity of actually getting us

  • to engage in delivering services,

  • sometimes where none exist, than Ushahidi.

  • Created after the post-election riots in Kenya in 2008,

  • this crisis-mapping website and community is actually able

  • to crowdsource and target the delivery of

  • better rescue services to people trapped under the rubble,

  • whether it's after the earthquakes in Haiti,

  • or more recently in Italy.

  • And the Red Cross too is training volunteers and Twitter

  • is certifying them, not simply to supplement existing

  • government institutions, but in many cases, to replace them.

  • Now what we're seeing lots of examples of, obviously,

  • is the opening up of government data,

  • not enough examples of this yet, but we're starting

  • to see this practice of people creating and generating

  • innovative applications on top of government data.

  • There's so many examples I could have picked, and I

  • selected this one of Jon Bon Jovi. Some of you

  • may or may not know that he runs a soup kitchen

  • in New Jersey, where he caters to and serves the homeless

  • and particularly homeless veterans.

  • In February, he approached the White House, and said,

  • "I would like to fund a prize to create scalable national

  • applications, apps, that will help not only the homeless

  • but those who deliver services [to] them to do so better."

  • February 2012 to June of 2012,

  • the finalists are announced in the competition.

  • Can you imagine, in the bureaucratic world of yesteryear,

  • getting anything done in a four-month period of time?

  • You can barely fill out the forms in that amount of time,

  • let alone generate real, palpable innovations

  • that improve people's lives.

  • And I want to be clear to mention that this open government

  • revolution is not about privatizing government,

  • because in many cases what it can do when we have

  • the will to do so is to deliver more progressive

  • and better policy than the regulations and the legislative

  • and litigation-oriented strategies

  • by which we make policy today.

  • In the State of Texas, they regulate 515 professions,

  • from well-driller to florist.

  • Now, you can carry a gun into a church in Dallas,

  • but do not make a flower arrangement without a license,

  • because that will land you in jail.

  • So what is Texas doing? They're asking you and me,

  • using online policy wikis, to help not simply get rid of

  • burdensome regulations that impede entrepreneurship,

  • but to replace those regulations with more innovative

  • alternatives, sometimes using transparency in the creation

  • of new iPhone apps that will allows us

  • both to protect consumers and the public

  • and to encourage economic development.

  • That is a nice sideline of open government.

  • It's not only the benefits that we've talked about with regard

  • to development. It's the economic benefits and the

  • job creation that's coming from this open innovation work.

  • Sberbank, the largest and oldest bank in Russia,

  • largely owned by the Russian government,

  • has started practicing crowdsourcing, engaging

  • its employees and citizens in the public in developing innovations.

  • Last year they saved a billion dollars, 30 billion rubles,

  • from open innovation, and they're pushing radically

  • the extension of crowdsourcing, not only from banking,

  • but into the public sector.

  • And we see lots of examples of these innovators using

  • open government data, not simply to make apps,

  • but then to make companies and to hire people

  • to build them working with the government.

  • So a lot of these innovations are local.

  • In San Ramon, California, they published an iPhone app

  • in which they allow you or me to say we are certified

  • CPR-trained, and then when someone has a heart attack,

  • a notification goes out so that you

  • can rush over to the person over here and deliver CPR.

  • The victim who receives bystander CPR

  • is more than twice as likely to survive.

  • "There is a hero in all of us," is their slogan.

  • But it's not limited to the local.

  • British Columbia, Canada, is publishing a catalogue

  • of all the ways that its residents