At the end of the first session of the Academy’s Coaching Program on Citizen Science, Francois Grey recommended that all participants read Tim Berners-Lee’s Information Management: A Proposal, the foundational document of the World Wide Web. When asked why, he noted there was real value in seeing the future through the eyes of someone who is about to make it. That struck a chord. All the teams on line with Francois at the time had enrolled in his program with precisely that aspiration.
Their interest in Citizen Science — that is, in tapping the skill and energy of citizens to take measurements and make observations that, in aggregate, create important data sets for scientific research — represent a major extension of our ability to carry out important, organized research efforts at scale.
Virtually all applicants to the Academy’s new Coaching Programs have had precisely the same aspiration. They are pioneers and want hands-on guidance from the pioneers a little bit further up ahead. We have received applications in more than 60 cities in more than 20 countries. Although we do not yet have the capacity to coach them all, we have been forcibly struck by the consistency of their passion to make a difference no matter what the focus of their projects — from humanitarian relief in refugee camps to designing effective civic innovation labs in modern cities to making effective use of FOIA-accessible materials.
Indeed, beginning to work online with the teams we have been able to accept has been an exhilarating experience. As Clay Johnson, Chairman of the Department of Better Technology, expressed during the first session of the Tech Procurement Projects coaching program he leads, there is few things as motivating, professionally and personally, as exchanging ideas and experiences with people who care every bit as strongly as you do about the issues you most care about – especially when you roll up sleeves together, doing the hard work trying to make things better.
It is still early days, but these programs have already begun to provide great learning moments – intense, practical conversations. That is what participants told us, for example, about the discussion on FOIA reform between Miriam Nisbet, former Director of the Office of Government Information Services, and Nate Jones, the National Security Archive’s FOIA Coordinator during the Freedom of Information coaching program. And about the discussion between NYC Councilman Ben Kallos and Arnaud Sahuguet on using the GovLab’s Problem Solving Canvas as a guide to doing real project work.
Coming Up Next
The Lab Design, the Humanitarian Innovation, and the Leveraging Crowds coaching programs will launch in the next couple weeks. Through them, we hope to accelerate projects ranging from the NASA Data Analytics Lab (focused on using data to rapidly create innovation analytic solutions) to community-based emergency medical responses. Can’t wait to witness the impact all these initiatives will have on their respective fields and communities!
Still open for applications!
- Data Analytics for Change, led by the Chief Analytics Officer of New York City, Amen Ra Mashariki, for those focused on how to design, implement, and evaluate analytics projects so that they consistently deliver measurable, scalable results.
- Open Source Technology Practices For Civic Engagement Projects, led by the Mozilla’s co-creator, Brian Behlendorf, designed to help projects that leverage open source technology to reshape how government procures, develops, and supports the application of civic technology to public problems.
- Open Contracting Projects, led by the Executive Director of the Open Contracting Partnership, Gavin Hayman, designed for those with projects focusing on fully realizing the promise of open contracting on all stages and contract types.
- Citizen Engagement Projects, led by GovLab founder, Beth Noveck and Team Lead at the Digital Engagement Unit of the World Bank, Tiago Peixoto, designed to help the leaders of such efforts to make them more focused and more actionable.
- Open Data Data-Driven Decisions for All, led by GovLab co-founder, Stefaan Verhulst and GovLab Chief Technology Officer, Arnaud Sahuguet, designed for individuals and small organizations (including SMEs) eager to develop open data data-driven decisions.
I am fortunate enough not only to help out with the GovLab Academy but also to coordinate the Demos for Democracy GovLab project. As part of these demos we had a conversation with Jeff Atwood, co-creator of Discourse, a community building and discussion online platform. Jeff is also the co-creator of the Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange model. Since the demo, I haven’t stopped reflecting on how much knowledge is generated through these Question and Answer platforms. However, their success is less about the product itself (no one is storing and organizing the content for further dissemination, etc) than the interaction of the people who visit these communities. What matters is that there is always someone willing to teach and someone willing to learn, often just for the sake of it. Clay Shirky puts it well in this conference about: Love, Internet Style.
For me, the GovLab Academy embodies that philosophy. And so, besides wanting to share the great news about all that is happening, I want to express my hope that we all continue to take this leap together, to never stop experimenting and caring about figuring out ways to connect with each other, to share our ideas, and to ultimately improve people’s lives.