Hey guys, welcome back! This week’s seminar was amazing: we had a guest speaker, David Eaves! For those who don’t know him, he is a public policy entrepreneur, open government activist and negotiation expert. He is retained by several governments to advise on open government and open data. Today, David shared with us his opinions on the government use of data and technology to be more efficient. This idea of government using technology had never actually passed through my head, as in Brazil, the technological advances in the government are very little.
A first interesting question that one of my classmates asked David, was about his views on the digital government under the two American candidates: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. He said the digital government was not mentioned a lot by both candidates, as they focused more on other issues, but that he found it hard to find republicans in the technology space. He also remarked that he sees very little change on Hillary’s side, and that Obama did really like the USDS people and understood the impact of technology, but he thinks Hillary does not put a lot of importance on this technological side (at least at the moment)!
He also discussed his view of what is civic technology, a “narrower” view as he said: companies that are either trying to help the government deliver services more effectively, or companies that are trying to help governance. What I found really interested was the way he described and explained the technological path the government is heading into. Before, as he said, people thought of technology in the government as the “IT” group. Their job was to make sure the phone and computer were on your desk, that they wore working, that the server was working, etc. You had a director of IT, not a CTO. These directors, would then report to a CFO. The problem was, the CFO only cared about money and keeping costs low, he didn’t actually care about the technological side of things.
Nowadays, however, there is a change. Boston started doing interested things with data, for example. These same IT guys, were now asked to do data analytics – an explosion of expectations taking place in IT. The IT, however, lacked the skills to do this. The director of IT, for example, was not grown to be a CIO of IT, not grown to think about the “strategic things”, he was just trained to do his simple “IT guy job”. This is why, David explained, we see the explosion of chief data officers – people with right skill set and level of seniority to interact with the executive about the issues. This is the great change that is starting to happen.
We also asked him about which government agencies were actually “doing it right”. According to him, the Government Digital Service in the UK was an extremely good effort for a long time, but now they are getting dismantled ( 🙁 tears!). USDS is “unknown” at this point – has done some good work but they still haven’t solidified themselves, and New York on the data analytic space is doing well, but not so well in the technological space. What really effective governments are thinking about is how to store data to a server as an API, that anyone can plug into their applications. They are trying to standardize services across the many applications on their platform. The question in mind is: if there is some information that is so common, why should we rebuild it every time? Having everything in one database would be more efficient and save us time.
I would like to finish off by mentioning a rather, “exciting”, but also scary part of our discussion today. We discussed the power of the US government to intercept your information, what you say and what you do. According to David, the US government is able to intercept the Macbook you order in the US, add hardware to get all your information, and you wouldn’t even notice it. He also talked about how they would “overlook” people with 3 degrees of separation from “dangerous” people. It turns out, all of us are 3rd degrees of separation from Bruce Schneier, as we have contact to David Eaves and Professor Waldo – some great news to end my blog post with!