Opening up government data using standardized interfaces
Last Thursday San Francisco City Hall hosted the event, Open APIs for government. Participants gathered to hear speakers discuss some techniques for exposing government data to developers and the benefits to citizens of doing so.
Much of the focus was on Open 311, a standardized web interface to access existing 311 services. San Francisco recently launched just such an interface. Open apis are one tool that support government goals of becoming more transparent and participatory. By offering these open interfaces to traditionally siloed data, governments open the door for others to create services that leverage the apis. A couple examples on display included seeclickfix.com and CitySourced .
There were a number of interesting points made at the event but one that I found particularly interesting was from Mitch Kapor. Kapor founded Lotus Development Corporation and designed Lotus 1-2-3, the app that helped make the personal computer ubiquitous in the business world. Kapor reminded those developing services based on government interfaces not to lose sight of the ultimate user– the citizen. It is important to understand what will make a difference and ultimately be useful to the end-user, not just what the designer of the software thinks is useful.
This perspective of keeping a user-centric or citizen-centric view when developing government services and information is something we have chatted about on this blog. As governments strive to become open, the challenge is to shift focus from a system-centric view of services and rather offer interactions that are citizen-centric. Part of being citizen-centric entails ensuring services and information channels are easy and intuitive to use. It also means using ubiquitous technology that ensures broad citizen access. A couple examples that we’ve highlighted here that demonstrate this approach include the French government’s DirectGouv and Poland’s e-Declarations tax filing RIA .
This is an exciting time for government; there is an unprecedented opportunity to improve transparency by leveraging technologies already broadly in use by individuals and to induce participation through intuitive interactions.