As the first Senior Fellow of the National Association of Counties (NACo), I had the privilege to be part of their recently concluded five-day Legislative Conference in Washington, DC.
It was also an opportunity for me to introduce to the counties the Rural Imperative of the Intelligent Community Forum. Since I blogged about the need for a new connected countryside a couple of weeks ago, ICF announced my new role, which you can read about at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/02/prweb11614027.htm. There’s also a brief video that I did at http://youtu.be/d0fD6rguvwQ.
For three days, there was a special focus on technology and more interesting presentations than I can summarize here. Sometime next week, you will be able to see video of Saturday’s Innovation and Technology Summit at NACo.org.
Here are some of my observations:
- The VP of the Maui Economic Development described their strategy. I cheered when she said that, notwithstanding the traditional incentives and approaches of economic development, the most important thing is to “grow your own”. She went on to describe how they are focused on workforce development and all kinds of creative, only-in-Hawaii learning opportunities. But much of that targeted children. In an economy where adults need to keep refreshing their skills and knowledge until well past what you used to be retirement age, adults also need access to learning opportunities.
- The Directors of the Health and Human Services Departments of both Montgomery County, Maryland and San Diego County, California both focused on outcomes. This too is an important step forward beyond the usual output measures that have dominated performance data in government. Montgomery County also puts as much emphasis on social return on investment as on pure financial return on investment.
- One other part of the San Diego presentation caught my attention: that counties need to lead the “higher levels” of government. In the face of Federal government dysfunction for the last several years, most local and state governments have taken the approach of go ahead without waiting for the Feds to take action. So we’ve seen much more innovation at the sub-national level than at the national level. Now it seems that some sub-national governments are actively upending the pyramid of power and hoping to guide the Federal government to a more innovative posture.
- There was a keynote speech by a White House staffer on open data and much discussion of open data on various panels. Rich Leadbeater of ESRI rightly pointed out that “open data is not an end in itself. It’s what you do with it.” This is a refreshing attitude since too many governments seem to spend a lot of time congratulating themselves for making the data available on the Internet and leaving things at that.
- Some governments have encouraged private companies to develop apps with this data. Curiously, those governments have not usually embedded the apps into their own systems so these companies are left on their own to get citizens to know about them. Worse, too many government think that asking private companies to create these apps absolves them of their own responsibility. The reality is that not all the applications that are needed or can be developed with open data will generate the revenue a private company seeks, but those apps are still useful for the public too have. The only way they will be created is if the government does the development itself or pays for the app to be developed. Considering that the costs of software development have gone down considerably over the past decade, this is not something that can easily be dismissed as out of budget.
In my end-of-day review and commentary on the sessions, I offered my reaction to the data being put out on the web – “TMI, TLK”. Too much information, too little knowledge. Governments should recognize that they and their constituents have to start working together to make sense of all that data and use it to make improvements in policies and programs.