A Phase Zero for Open Data in Government

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As government agencies work to meet President Obama’s deadline for open data plans (set in the “Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies Subject: Transparency and Open Government”:http://politechbot.com/docs/obama/memorandum.open.government.012109.txt), they need to factor in time for a phase zero to build capacity and creativity within their operations so their teams take ownership over their data and the process of opening it up.

The story of “phase zero” goes something like this. The mattress company “Simmons”:http://www.simmons.com/ wanted a hot new bed to sell, so they went to the best design firm in the world, “IDEO”:http://www.ideo.com/, to come up with the concept. The first meetings between the two teams were brilliant with creative energy on both sides. Then IDEO went off to work on the prototype. A couple months later they came back to Simmons and showed off the prototype in a big, classic IDEO pitch. The response from Simmons? Eh. They knew it was good, but Simmons had no ownership over it. Now IDEO conducts a “phase zero” with its clients and embeds folks from their team into the client’s team before the project even officially begins. Why? To help teach the client to think more creatively in the context of what they do and to give them a sense of ownership over their designs.

Some agencies like USAID are already doing something like a “phase zero”. The “Global Development Commons”:http://www.globaldevelopmentcommons.net has been in operation for more than six months already, working to lay the cultural underpinnings within the agency, which will lead to higher buy-in internally and ultimately lead to more open data.

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