Plenty has been written about state governments in the past: bureaucracy, slow-moving, high-dollar technology projects that don’t fulfill their missions. Many of these things have been true; but, not enough has been written about how state governments are really changing to meet the demands of the 21st century. Change is difficult and sometimes slow; but, it is real. Skeptical? Let me give a good example from right here in my home state of Indiana.
Recently, I was asked to be a speaker at The National Association of Legislative Information Technology (NALIT) Professional Development Seminar (PDS). It was definitely an honor, especially since it was the keynote address and I would co-present with Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency technology head, Geoff DePriest. Truth be told, though, I went into this thinking that it would be a “run of the mill” government tech conference. I was in for a surprise!
In talking with Geoff regarding the direction and focus of the event, I was first surprised at his focus on serving the public. I thought that typically technology staff were very focused on their internal clients: state staff and legislators. While he did speak to that, he was also of the strong belief in transparency and making information available to the public in a user-friendly way.
He also was interested in me talking about my experience with citizen engagement in the process. My background is that, in my free time, I run an all-volunteer civic tech group called, Open Indy Brigade. We have been involved with several hackathons focused on regular citizens using open data from state and city governments. Geoff and his group were a big part of one of the hackathons in early 2016. The larger goal that both he and I share is to take ideas from a hackathon and create a full app for the public to use. He was still thinking about it months after the hackathon.
Not only was Geoff still thinking about leveraging the hackathon to do something more permanent, he shared with me that his group had an internal hackathon to jump-start efforts to create a more user-friendly way of presenting the legislative information. This forward thinking and 21st century approach to technology is definitely not often highlighted in the media. Further evidence of the quality and agility of Geoff’s group, he pointed to the conference app that all the guests were using to navigate the various sessions. He said that his group created it in their spare time!
As a final surprise, someone from the Texas delegation had the same goal of creating a sustainable app beyond a hackathon and had tried a couple different approaches. So this was not just isolated to Indiana. I came away from that experience with a completely new view. State governments still have many challenges, but there are some who are using techniques from start-ups and Silicon Valley to drive innovation and improvements.
For my part, the Open Indy Brigade will continue to reach out to people like Geoff at all levels of government to bring engaged citizens to help solve real problems. Involving real citizens to improve technology in government is really possible and will create better solutions in the long-run. I’m grateful to be a part of it.