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Hollywood Fusion: Gov 2.0 Camp LA

BY Sarah Granger | Monday, February 8 2010

My trip to Gov 2.0 Camp LA commenced with a comedy of errors: lost luggage, a flooded hotel room and flooded streets due to the rains. After a night of little sleep, I arrived at the BlankSpaces co-working location to the company of like-minded people from diverse professional backgrounds but all joining the search for using technology and innovation to improve government. In camp style, we each used the 3 word model to describe why we were there. I thought the focus really centered around engaging new paradigms since people from government, major corporations, start-ups, film industry and media were all together to learn and share ideas.

While there was no shortage of technical expertise present, most of the concepts discussed spoke to a high level of education and interest in the Gov 2.0 space, with sessions ranging from how to properly define gov 2.0 to specific tactics to use in social media within government. The biggest takeaways from the event: focus on people, build replicable solutions, and engage in expansive, multi-pronged outreach and public awareness campaigns.

We're still in the early stages of a massive effort to reform government on a fundamental level using modern technology tools, so for those involved in this movement, the weekend served as a reminder that we can't build everything yesterday, and even though change in government typically moves at a snail's pace, we can still make real change in a reasonable amount of time if we stick with it and apply smart principles.

The morning keynote (for lack of a better word - it was a hybrid conference/unconference/camp, for the record) presentation came from Cory Ondrejka, co-founder of Second Life speaking on "Agile or Dead: Accelerating Change and Institutional Incompetence." Ondrejka put together some impressive research on what the U.S. Navy was able to do as an innovator in the 1800's collecting data for nautical purposes. Ondrejka's point: institutional change is hard and "there's no description that captures how hard it really is." Another takeaway: "when you're driving institutional change, you're requiring people to be fearless." That's what the Navy did; that's what government organizations and their partners must do now.

Ondrejka also warned against some of the processes that have failed in the past for government: "don't let people go spend $2Million building the wrong thing because you'll end up using it." "Fail fast, cheap, quick," principles that work well in tech start-ups, don't necessarily fit well in government. What does work? Developing standards, openness and a culture of sharing. On open source, Ondrejka noted he's more interested in the pragmatic debate than the "religious." "In many cases, open source software can be pragmatic." His example: "electronic voting machines clearly need to be open source because every time they've been closed source, huge flaws have been discovered."

Moving on from the Personal Democracy Forum style keynote, the next session took the shape of a panel, more in the Gov 2.0 Expo style. Panelists included Antonio Oftellie, researcher at the Leadership for a Networked World, a Harvard JFK School of Government, Lewis Shepherd, Director of Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments, and Adrian Farley, Chief Deputy CIO of California. As each Gov 2.0 Camp LA session lasted approximately an hour, a lot of material was discussed, but I tried to capture main points from each. In this case, we had three panelists from different sectors providing insight from their point-of-view, which proved a good model.

Oftellie gave a fairly lengthy presentation, but what I liked most from his talk was the sense that the change in technology will lead to a change in the way we work on a massive scale, thus altering the culture of what is valued in terms of productivity, equity and transparency. Just taking a moment to soak this in for anyone involved in Gov 2.0 projects could in itself be a part of developing the paradigm shift we need. Oftellie also talked about developing a Gov 2.0 roadmap and what that might look like.

Shepherd took an approach in favor of private sector involvement - one fairly prevalent in the weekend discussions - and how the private sector can help solve problems. He also provided a devil's advocate perspective on the whole crowd sourcing concept as a result of some failed experiments in that area within government, asking the question "is it really implicit that the crowd is wise?"

Farley's appearance couldn't have been more timely. Earlier that day, California's CTO, P.K. Agarwal responded to calls for more innovation in California IT with a TechCrunch guest post initiating a "challenge" for Californians to submit their ideas to his office. Farley's thoughts on Gov 2.0, as a result, focused on bringing more people into the discussion. "We're looking for the best ideas, no matter where they come from."

As a Tinseltown treat, writer-producer Bill Grundfest joined Gov 2.0 Camp LA founder and lead organizer, Alan Silberberg in a conversation where they essentially interviewed each other about the nature of Gov 2.0, its definition, reaching the audience, and translating it to people on the "outside." One of the biggest reasons Silberberg opted to bring the emerging government conversation to Los Angeles in this forum was to infuse some of the creative minds of Hollywood into the mix. Grundfest, a former stand-up comic and Golden Globe winner for writing the widely acclaimed TV show "Mad About You" did not disappoint.

Christina Gagnier, CEO of REALPOLITECH, already featured Grundfest in her article at The Huffington Post, but what we can't replicate in print is the tremendous energy and enthusiasm Grundfest brought to the discussion. As his expertise includes regularly thinking about how to reach massive audiences, he's become an acute listener. His sense after digesting the Gov 2.0 space both in preparation for the event and in learning about some of the people was that there's no clear definition of Gov 2.0 and that it needs to be all about the audience. "People want to be heard!"

And Grundfest reminded us "this is a revolution." "Ultimately you're going to find pushback from sources that are not inside or outside." He referred to campaign finance reform as part of Gov 2.0 and recommended producing a "pilot." "Go off on your own time and make a mock-up, a home page for the web-based solution that you want to give the clients of your agency so you can show them what it'll look like, what the problem is, what the tone is, and what the solution is." Of course many agencies are doing just that. Finally, he was asked how he would define Gov 2.0. Grundfest replied without hesitation: "Make it about people." And finally "Gov 2.0 is online government that will solve your problems - faster, better, cheaper." (For more on this, see Alex Howard's post on the language of Gov 2.0.)

And that was just what we discussed before lunch on the first day.

More from Gov 2.0 Camp LA coming soon.