Knowledge of Possibilities

Knowledge of Possibilities

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​Recently, I read a great blog post by Daniel Burrus which states “Give your customers the ability to do what they can’t currently do but would want to if they only knew it was possible.” The key here is knowledge of possibilities and knowledge which comes through experience and education. It’s an organization’s responsibility to educate their customers by showing the value for their products and services, so that the possibilities are known.  For this to happen, it’s important to know what will bring value to the customers; have a good understanding of customers’ needs.

Take, for instance, the OpenData initiatives going on internationally (UK, US, NZ) and nationally (Canada, Alberta, Edmonton).  Government departments throughout the world have opened the doors for innovation by moving forward with the Open Government  initiative, exposing government information on data portals. Governments are aiming for the IT community to use this data to engage citizens. There are thousands of datasets (collection of data in tabular format) released for citizens’ and IT community’s utilization.

David Eaves (an Open Government thought leader) recently wrote an article about the re-launch of OpenData portal by the Government of Canada (Data.gc.ca). He refers to the additional datasets in the following words:

“… a lot more data is likely going to get into that portal over the next 2-5 years. And a tsunami of data could end up in it over the next 10-25 years. Indeed, so much data, that I suspect a portal will no longer be a logical way to share it all.”

David Eaves further discusses this problem in terms of the procurement process government has to deal with:

“There is potentially a tremendous amount at stake in how government handles the procurement side of all this, because whether they realized it or not, it may have just completely shaken up the IT industry that serves it.”

In other words, the IT industry which makes up the majority of the innovators who would be using OpenData will be dealing with a tsunami of data. They will also deal with questions like where to invest? Which dataset should they consider? How much value can they get for their efforts?

Government is trying to attract two sets of users: IT community and Citizens. Government is facilitating the IT community to attract Citizens, but how would the IT community know what’s important to citizens? Without having that knowledge, it’s hard to build systems that can produce value to citizens. Is there a position for government to facilitate that communication? Government is looking into some high-value data, but it’s possible that government is making assumptions on what citizens need. This could result in a vast amount of wasted effort. What can the IT community do with the help of Government to get a good understanding of citizens’ needs? How can government let the IT community know of the possibilities with OpenData?

In the past, I’ve used a user engagement model to help clients understand how design can help sell the value of information.  I’ve extended that model (Fig. 1.0) to encompass OpenData portals in order to help think of a possible solution. The underlying message is that the IT community does need to invest in understanding citizens’ interest since citizens are their customers. However, government plays a vital role in facilitating that communication.

As shown in the above example, Mark plays the role of the IT community; drawing on the value built by citizens such as Bob. Mark realizes that he can now invest in expanding his understanding of citizens needs based on existing interest that is built. He can now leverage datasets and develop an app that others can use and from which they can benefit.   Given that the model above has seven levels (0-6), it’s the top most level (the contributive engagement level) where a developer/entrepreneur can better meet citizens’ needs and add additional value. This is where government comes in: to help achieve that level of engagement, government must establish communication, helping citizens progress through the first six levels.

We see this kind of engagement built into the current City of Edmonton portal, where data is telling a story to grab citizens’ interest. For example, maps of street construction project that will help notify citizens of traffic jams to avoid on their commute route. Based on that interest, value for data can be leveraged by the IT community to provide additional value.

For both the IT community and government to partner up and engage citizens, it’s important to follow five steps (which will be expanded further in later blog posts):

  • Get a good understanding of what citizens really need
  • Get citizens’ attention by telling stories through data
  • Sell the value of information
  • Let users share the value
  • Expand and add to that value

Government has faith that the IT community will leverage their knowledge of technology to use the OpenData to engage citizens. However, the government needs to facilitate the communication between the IT community and the citizens and let them know of the possibilities —possibilities that are unlimited in case of Open Government.

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