An Open (Source) Government Revolution

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The idea of ‘Openness’ can quite be a very sensitive subject with most governments around the world, especially with ours here in South Africa. Some governments think being ‘open’ is about privatizing government, hence the nervousness. Others think that that being ‘open’ translates to having some kind of presence on social media sites like facebook or twitter. but in reality, it’s not.

Nonetheless, there are many characteristics to an open government. Perhaps the most fundamental one is that – an open government is expected to have at least some kind of API and hope that, the API would induce collaborative relationships between the government and its people — to create unique solutions that appeal to its citizens’ problems as well as their respective communities.

open government

I recently came across a very thought-provoking TED talk by Beth Noveck, the former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the white house, which emphasises the importance of an open-source government.

Beth Noveck argues that “We live in a Cambrian era of big data, social networks, and we have the opportunity to redesign these institutions…”

She further articulates, “… if we want to see the kinds of innovations, the exciting and hopeful innovations … if we want to see them adapted/adopted, if we want see them scale, if we want them to become the governance of tomorrow, then we must all participate. We must all get involved. We must open up our institutions … ”

Finally, she makes two very bold predictions about the open government revolution that we are hopefully going to be seeing developing:

The first phase of open government revolution is, delivering better information from the crowd, into the center.

The second phase is getting decision-making power out (to the people).

Last year, it was around this time when I published a post about the need for a government API in South Africa. It appeared that (at least) the provincial government had taken note. Whether or not something was done about it, it remains to be seen. But one thing remains certain, sooner rather than later, our government, both Nationally and Provincially will have to act swiftly in making APIs available to the public or face the embarrassment of being deemed incompetent by its own (digital) citizens that are keen to make a difference.

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