Government – The Ultimate Experiment in Open Source?

GitHub is the world's largest social coding service. "Think of GitHub as Facebok but instead of sharing pictures of your kids or what you had for lunch, you share software code," said Ben Balter. 

Balter is the Government Evangelist for GitHub. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that GitHub at its most basic level tracks who made a change to a code and when.

"When software developers collaborate, if a comma is out of place it can make the entire code fail. You have to be very specific and very careful that changes are tracked and when changes are proposed that they are integrated properly," said Balter. 

GitHub is:

  • A version control platform and also a social network
  • All about growing communities around a shared challenge

"Think about the typical challenges an agency faces, they usually are not unique to one agency in particular. For example learning how to blog is a challenge for each agency. Yet all to often across government we keep re-inventing the wheel time and time again," said Balter. 

Surge in open source

"The reason we are seeing this surge in open gov is because it is cheaper. If one agency makes a system to process travel benefits right now another agency is going to come and long and remake that same system. So if we can share code with one another, we can do more with less. Right now with technology it is easier to work together than in silos," said Balter. 

GitHub acts like a Wiki

"GitHub is built under the same philosophy as a wiki. Anyone can propose a change. But in the GitHub we have a pool request model. That means we have a structured comment section. But instead of a member of the public having direct access to edit the underlying source code, the proposed change is moderated. The original creator can either reject or approve of the edit. In the meantime the entire community can have a discussion in the comment section about the proposed change," said Balter. 

3 platforms for open gov:

  1. Open Source
  2. Open Data
  3. Open Policy

"When you start treating data as a code it is not just a matter of putting together an excel spreadsheet and posting it online. You start to think of ways to build a community around the data," said Balter. 

Why is open gov revolutionary?

"We don't realize on a daily basis how much of what we do is actually powered by government data sets. GPS, weather data and broadbrand access are all powered by open government data sets," said Balter. 

The cultural pitfalls of open gov?

"Technology is the easy part of open gov. The revolution in government is the culture of having fun with data. The idea of making data open and collaborative. The idea that we can work across sectors to solve big problems instead of taking a patchwork approach," said Balter. 

Gov as open source

"I've always said that government is the largest and longest running open source project," said Balter. "The government' s mission is to fix things individuals couldn't handle on their own."

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