De-risking custom technology projects


Paper by Robin Carnahan, Randy Hart, and Waldo Jaquith: “Only 13% of large government software projects are successful. State IT projects, in particular, are often challenged because states lack basic knowledge about modern software development, relying on outdated procurement processes.

State governments are increasingly reliant on modern software and hardware to deliver essential services to the public, and the success of any major policy initiative depends on the success of the underlying software infrastructure. Government agencies all confront similar challenges, facing budget and staffing constraints while struggling to modernize legacy technology systems that are out-of-date, inflexible, expensive, and ineffective. Government officials and agencies often rely on the same legacy processes that led to problems in the first place.

The public deserves a government that provides the same world-class technology they get from the commercial marketplace. Trust in government depends on it.

This handbook is designed for executives, budget specialists, legislators, and other “non-technical” decision-makers who fund or oversee state government technology projects. It can help you set these projects up for success by asking the right questions, identifying the right outcomes, and equally important, empowering you with a basic knowledge of the fundamental principles of modern software design.

This handbook also gives you the tools you need to start tackling related problems like:

  • The need to use, maintain, and modernize legacy systems simultaneously
  • Lock-in from legacy commercial arrangements
  • Siloed organizations and risk-averse cultures
  • Long budget cycles that don’t always match modern software design practices
  • Security threats
  • Hiring, staffing, and other resource constraints

This is written specifically for procurement of custom software, but it’s important to recognize that commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) is often custom and Software as a Service (SaaS) often requires custom code. Once any customization is made, the bulk of this advice in this handbook applies to these commercial offerings. (See “Beware the customized commercial software trap” for details.)

As government leaders, we must be good stewards of public money by demanding easy-to-use, cost-effective, sustainable digital tools for use by the public and civil servants. This handbook will help you do just that….(More)”

From City to Nation: Digital government in Argentina, 2015–2018


Paper by Tanya Filer, Antonio Weiss and Juan Cacace: “In 2015, voters in Argentina elected Mauricio Macri of the centre-right Propuesta Republicana (PRO) as their new President, following a tightly contested race. Macri inherited an office wrought with tensions: an unstable economy; a highly polarised population; and an increasing weariness towards the institutions of governance overall. In this context, his administration hoped to harness the possibilities of digital transformation to make citizens’ interactions with the State more efficient, more accountable, and ‘friendlier’.

Following a successful tenure in the City of Buenos Aires, where Macri had been Mayor, Minister Andrés Ibarra and a digital government team were charged with the project of national digital transformation, taking on projects from a single ‘whole-of-government’ portal to a mobile phone application designed to reduce the incidence of gender-based violence against women. Scaling up digitisation from the city to the national level was, by all accounts, a challenge. By 2018, Argentina had won global acclaim for its progress on key aspects of digital government, but also increasingly recognised the difficulties of digitisation at the national scale. It identified the need, as observed by the OECD, for an overarching strategic plan to manage the scale, diversity and politics of federal-level digital transformation. Based on interviews with key stakeholders, this case discusses the country’s digital modernisation agenda from 2015 to 2018, with a primary focus on service provision projects. It examines the challenges faced in terms of politics and technology, and the lessons that Argentina’s experience offers….(More)”

An open platform centric approach for scalable government service delivery to the poor: The Aadhaar case


Paper by Sandip Mukhopadhyay, Harry Bouwman and Mahadeo PrasadJaiswal: “The efficient delivery of government services to the poor, or Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP), faces many challenges. While a core problem is the lack of scalability, that could be solved by the rapid proliferation of platforms and associated ecosystems. Existing research involving platforms focus on modularity, openness, ecosystem leadership and governance, as well as on their impact on innovation, scale and agility. However, existing studies fail to explore the role of platform in scalable e-government services delivery on an empirical level. Based on an in-depth case study of the world’s largest biometric identity platform, used by millions of the poor in India, we develop a set of propositions connecting the attributes of a digital platform ecosystem to different indicators for the scalability of government service delivery. We found that modular architecture, combined with limited functionality in core modules, and open standards combined with controlled access and ecosystem governance enabled by keystone behaviour, have a positive impact on scalability. The research provides insights to policy-makers and government officials alike, particularly those in nations struggling to provide basic services to poor and marginalised. …(More)”.

Study finds that a GPS outage would cost $1 billion per day


Eric Berger at Ars Technica: “….one of the most comprehensive studies on the subject has assessed the value of this GPS technology to the US economy and examined what effect a 30-day outage would have—whether it’s due to a severe space weather event or “nefarious activity by a bad actor.” The study was sponsored by the US government’s National Institutes of Standards and Technology and performed by a North Carolina-based research organization named RTI International.

Economic effect

As part of the analysis, researchers spoke to more than 200 experts in the use of GPS technology for various services, from agriculture to the positioning of offshore drilling rigs to location services for delivery drivers. (If they’d spoken to me, I’d have said the value of using GPS to navigate Los Angeles freeways and side streets was incalculable). The study covered a period from 1984, when the nascent GPS network was first opened to commercial use, through 2017. It found that GPS has generated an estimated $1.4 trillion in economic benefits during that time period.

The researchers found that the largest benefit, valued at $685.9 billion, came in the “telecommunications” category,  including improved reliability and bandwidth utilization for wireless networks. Telematics (efficiency gains, cost reductions, and environmental benefits through improved vehicle dispatch and navigation) ranked as the second most valuable category at $325 billion. Location-based services on smartphones was third, valued at $215 billion.

Notably, the value of GPS technology to the US economy is growing. According to the study, 90 percent of the technology’s financial impact has come since just 2010, or just 20 percent of the study period. Some sectors of the economy are only beginning to realize the value of GPS technology, or are identifying new uses for it, the report says, indicating that its value as a platform for innovation will continue to grow.

Outage impact

In the case of some adverse event leading to a widespread outage, the study estimates that the loss of GPS service would have a $1 billion per-day impact, although the authors acknowledge this is at best a rough estimate. It would likely be higher during the planting season of April and May, when farmers are highly reliant on GPS technology for information about their fields.

To assess the effect of an outage, the study looked at several different variables. Among them was “precision timing” that enables a number of wireless services, including the synchronization of traffic between carrier networks, wireless handoff between base stations, and billing management. Moreover, higher levels of precision timing enable higher bandwidth and provide access to more devices. (For example, the implementation of 4G LTE technology would have been impossible without GPS technology)….(More)”

The trouble with informed consent in smart cities


Blog Post by Emilie Scott: “…Lilian Edwards, a U.K.-based academic in internet law, points out that public spaces like smart cities further dilutes the level of consent in the IoT: “While consumers may at least have theoretically had a chance to read the privacy policy of their Nest thermostat before signing the contract, they will have no such opportunity in any real sense when their data is collected by the smart road or smart tram they go to work on, or as they pass the smart dustbin.”

If citizens have expectations that their interactions in smart cities will resemble the technological interactions they have become familiar with, they will likely be sadly misinformed about the level of control they will have over what personal information they end up sharing.

The typical citizen understands that “choosing convenience” when you engage with technology can correspond to a decrease in their level of personal privacy. On at least some level, this is intended to be a choice. Most users may not choose to carefully read a privacy policy on a smartphone application or a website; however, if that policy is well-written and compliant, the user can exercise a right to decide whether they consent to the terms and wish to engage with the company.

The right to choose what personal information you exchange for services is lost in the smart city.

Theoretically, the smart city can bypass this right because municipal government services are subject to provincial public-sector privacy legislation, which can ultimately entail informing citizens their personal information is being collected by way of a notice.

However, the assumption that smart city projects are solely controlled by the public sector is questionable and verges on problematic. Most smart-city projects in Canada are run via public-private partnerships as municipal governments lack both the budget and the expertise to implement the technology system. Private companies can have leading roles in designing, building, financing, operating and maintaining smart-city projects. In the process, they can also have a large degree of control over the data that is created and used.

In some countries, these partnerships can even result in an unprecedented level of privatization. For example, Cisco Systems debatably has a larger claim over Songdo’s development than the South Korean government. Smart-city public-private partnership can have complex implications for data control even when both partners are highly engaged. Trapeze, a private-sector company in transportation software, cautions the public sector on the unintended transfer of data control when electing private providers to operate data systems in a partnership….

When the typical citizen enters a smart city, they will not know 1.) what personal information is being collected, nor will they know 2.) who is collecting it. The former is an established requirement of informed consent, and the later has debatably never been an issue until the development of smart cities.

While similar privacy issues are playing out in smart cities all around the world, Canada must take steps to determine how its own specific privacy legal structure is going to play a role in responding to these privacy issues in our own emerging smart-city projects….(More)”.

Setting Foundations for the Creation of Public Value in Smart Cities


Book edited by Manuel Pedro Rodriguez Bolivar: ” This book seeks to contribute to prior research facing the discussion about public value creation in Smart Cities and the role of governments.  In the early 21st century, the rapid transition to a highly urbanized population has made societies and their governments around the world to be meeting unprecedented challenges regarding key themes such as sustainability, new governance models and the creation of networks.

Also, cities today face increasing challenges when it comes to providing advanced (digital) services to their constituency. The use of information and communication technologies (usually ICTs) and data is thought to rationalize and improve government and have the potential to transform governance and organizational issues. These questions link up to the ever-evolving concept of Smart Cities. In fact, the rise of the Smart City and Smart City thinking is a direct response to such challenges, as well as providing a means of integrating fast evolving technology into our living environment….(More)”.  

The Future of FOIA in an Open Government World: Implications of the Open Government Agenda for Freedom of Information Policy and Implementation


Paper by Daniel Berliner, Alex Ingrams and Suzanne J. Piotrowski: “July 4, 2016 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act of the United States. Freedom of Information (FOI) has become a vital element of the American political process, become recognized as a core value of democracy, and helped to inspire similar laws and movements around the world. FOI has always faced myriad challenges, including resistance, evasion, and poor implementation and enforcement. Yet the last decade has brought a change of a very different form to the evolution of FOI policy—the emergence of another approach to transparency that is in some ways similar to FOI, and in other ways distinct: open government. The open government agenda, driven by technological developments and motivated by a broader conception of transparency, today rivals, or by some measures, even eclipses FOI in terms of political attention and momentum. What have been the consequences of these trends? How does the advent of new technologies and new agendas shape the transparency landscape?

The political and policy contexts for FOI have fundamentally shifted due to the rise of the open government reform agenda. FOI was at one point the primary tool used to promote governance transparency. FOI is now just one good governance tool in an increasingly crowded field of transparency policy areas. Focus is increasingly shifting toward technology-enabled open data reforms. While many open government reformers see these as positive developments, many traditional FOI proponents have raised concerns. With a few notable exceptions, the academic literature has been silent on this issue. We offer a systematic framework for understanding the potential consequences—both positive and negative—of the open government agenda for FOI policy and implementation….(More)”.

Defining subnational open government: does local context influence policy and practice?


M. Chatwin, G. Arku and E. Cleave in Policy Sciences: “What is open government? The contemporary conceptualization of open government remains rooted in transparency and accountability, but it is embedded within the political economy of policy, where forces of globalization through supranational organizations strongly influence the creation and dispersion of policy across the globe. Recognizing the direct impact of subnational governments on residents, in 2016 the Open Government Partnership (OGP) launched the Subnational Pioneer’s Pilot Project with 15 participating government authorities globally. Each subnational participant submitted an action plan for opening their government information and processes in 2017. The uniformity of the OGP action plan provides a unique opportunity to assess the conception of open government at the subnational level globally. This paper uses a document analysis to examine how open government is conceptualized at the subnational level, including the salience of various components, and how local context can influence the development of action plans that are responsive to the realities of each participating jurisdiction. This paper assesses whether being a part of the political economy of policy homogenizes the action plans of 15 subnational governments or allows for local context to influence the design of commitments still aligned within a general theme….(More)”.

Ethical Dilemmas in Cyberspace


Paper by Martha Finnemore: “This essay steps back from the more detailed regulatory discussions in other contributions to this roundtable on “Competing Visions for Cyberspace” and highlights three broad issues that raise ethical concerns about our activity online. First, the commodification of people—their identities, their data, their privacy—that lies at the heart of business models of many of the largest information and communication technologies companies risks instrumentalizing human beings. Second, concentrations of wealth and market power online may be contributing to economic inequalities and other forms of domination. Third, long-standing tensions between the security of states and the human security of people in those states have not been at all resolved online and deserve attention….(More)”.

The role of Ombudsman Institutions in Open Government


Report by K.Zuegel, E. Cantera, and A. Bellantoni: “Ombudsman institutions (OIs) act as the guardians of citizens’ rights and as a mediator between citizens and the public administration. While the very existence of such institutions is rooted in the notion of open government, the role they can play in promoting openness throughout the public administration has not been adequately recognized or exploited. Based on a survey of 94 OIs, this report examines the role they play in open government policies and practices. It also provides recommendations on how, given their privileged contact with both people and governments, OIs can better promote transparency, integrity, accountability, and stakeholder participation; how their role in national open government strategies and initiatives can be strengthened; and how they can be at the heart of a truly open state….(More)”.