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$100B Should Build Some Shovel-Ready Online Infrastructure

BY Dave Witzel | Wednesday, April 1 2009

I was taken aback by email from devex on Monday that said "Buried in the $787 billion economic stimulus legislation ...is $286 million for technology upgrades at the U.S. Agency for International Development." I mean, USAID is the definition of "dinosaur". They'll never spend that much money well. But it was really driven home to me be by the article in Washington Technology which cut to the chase - "In a recently released study, research firm IDC estimates that the stimulus will generate more than $100.1 billion in technology spending during the next five years." I'm getting it. We're going to spend a lot of money on technology in the next few years. What do we do to make it worthwhile?

I really like the approach that Forum One is pitching - defining "shovel-ready" online, civic-infrastructure projects [disclaimer, though I no longer work there, I helped found Forum One, have great affection for the place, and have an ongoing financial interest. That said, this is still a good idea.] As Forum One CEO Chris Wolz explains, these initiatives will "enable governments, nonprofits, citizens and businesses to work together to solve important social problems." These are the modern equivalent of traditional infrastructure which has included "town halls, the highway system, and government R&D labs."

So far they've proposed five projects and are looking for ideas for five more. Here is the first batch:

The Global Development Commons which is at least a partial response to the "USAID is a dinosaur" problem. How can we accelerate and improve support for the 1.4 billion people living on less than a buck-and-a-quarter a day?

A News Portal for Global Health to engage global interest in much the way that Bill Gates great Ted talk (where he let mosquitoes go into the crowd) caught widespread attention.

Health Care Provider Data Feed but oriented to consumers. Do you know what your health insurance covers and who it will pay how much? Nuff sed.

Transparency for Special Education Services gets personal. Tim Shaw's 7-year-old daughter has autism and better special education is one of the key responses. Tim calls for tools to highlight successes and spread the data.

Global Energy Observatory will be "a platform for understanding, visualizing and analyzing global energy systems that will help the world accelerate the transition to cheap clean energy for all." This is a system that can be used by entrepreneurs as well as policymakers.

What is more infrastructure that would be money well spent?