Opening Up Government Through Technology

There's a huge buzz and movement about opening up government. There are three phrases that are used frequently in relation to openness in government but each mean something a bit different.[Tweet "The focus on openness is changing the way IT is designed, developed, and implemented. #GovEventsBlog"]

  1. Open Government - This is a core tenant of our democracy, the belief that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight. While this has always been a practice of government (via the Freedom of Information Act), with the move to digital records the way people want to receive and the way the government can share information has changed dramatically.
  2. Open Data - This is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone. Much of the information the government holds should be open data, but giving people the access they require has been a stumbling block to open government.
  3. Open Source - This is the technical piece of the "open" puzzle. Open Source is software for which the code is made freely available and may be used and changed. Open Source solutions allow people to not only get at the data but also work with that data in new ways.

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Adding Code-A-Thons to the Event Mix

Code-a-thons and hack-a-thons have moved out of the basements of Silicon Valley and into ballrooms across the country. These events are usually one or two day intensive sessions where software developers work in teams to develop a technology solution to a stated challenge.

Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted one as part of their efforts around the national opioid crisis. The Opioid Symposium and Code-a-Thon allowed HHS to educate attendees on their five-part strategy for combatting opioid abuse. The event posed three challenge questions to programmers from private industry, academia, and government. From there, the 50 teams began designing solutions for the next 24 hours. Winners in each of the three tracks were selected the following day.[Tweet "New #GovEventsblog article: Adding Code-A-Thons to the Event Mix"]

While this in-person event was specific to a single government agency, the federal government as a whole has been hosting virtual code-a-thons since the launch of challenge.gov in 2010. This site allows federal agencies to submit a problem that needs a technical solution. Prize money is offered, and a time frame is given for the development of working code. Both individuals and companies are eligible to participate in solving complex, mission-centric problems. Continue reading

Becoming Agile with Government Technology Solutions

Agile is an iterative approach to software delivery, building solutions from the onset of a project rather than trying to deliver it near the end. The use of this methodology is built on the need for flexibility and adaptation to changing requirements. It is a response to the reality of building modern technology solutions, software, and processes. As nothing stays static in today's business climate, the way systems are developed had to change.[Tweet "Becoming Agile with Government Technology Solutions. #GovEventsBlog"]

Agile is a departure from the traditional waterfall development practice defined by linear and sequential order. A solution in a waterfall project cannot move forward until the previous step is completed. Once that step is complete, there is no going back to fix or change it - even if business needs require a change. In contrast, Agile-led projects are focused on delivery of smaller pieces of the solution with the understanding that failure is ok and an inevitable part of the process. Since all of the pieces of an application are not as dependent on one another, failure in one area will not break the whole system as it would in a waterfall process.

The adoption of Agile in government has been slow but steady. There are both cultural and procedural barriers to wide adoption of Agile. Procurements must be written differently to enable an Agile approach, and people working on the projects have to be willing to shift their thinking and workflows to accommodate the Agile process. Agencies, tired of long development cycles that result in technology that is out of date by the time it launches, have begun trying out Agile approaches and finding great success. Localities can quickly roll out digital solutions to citizens, systems become more secure, and agencies can meet cloud migration mandates and goals.[Tweet "Agencies tired of long development cycles, have begun trying #Agile approaches with great success. #GovEventsBlog"] Continue reading