I’m a big fan of the cool site Channel 10 and its podcasts and blogs (“a place for enthusiasts with a passion for technology. Through a world-wide network of contributors, Channel 10 covers the latest news in music, mobility, photography, videography, gaming, and new PC hardware and software”).
So I was chuffed when the ubiquitous Jon Udell interviewed me a week ago for Channel 10 (“Lewis Shepherd discusses the Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments“).
Jon asked some really thoughtful, insightful questions – we wound up getting much deeper than planned into topics like Government 2.0 relationships between citizens and public data, and successful routes to innovation in government bureaucracies.
Channel 10 has posted the whole darn 46-minute conversation we had; my, I do prattle on. But they also have the full text at the link, so you can just skim for particular items of interest. Pretty wide-ranging topics touched on, including a couple from my government years (Intellipedia, touch-tables) and some more recent Microsoft technologies (Surface, PhotoSynth, PopFly, WorldWideTelescope, Live Translator and others).
Just a few snippets:
JU: Microsoft’s Institute for Advanced Technology in Government is a mysterious new organization that hasn’t been heard from much. Readers of magazines like Government Computer News may have seen some notices about it, and may have noted that former CIA Assistant Director Jim Simon is the founder… But not much else is known. So, what’s this all about?
LS: Well, I’d say a better word than mysterious would be quiet. And that’s because we’re new and small. The Institute was set up by Bill Gates and Craig Mundie in 2004. They decided that Microsoft should play a more strategic role in the eyes of government….
LS: We have visibility into the entirety of strategic and future-oriented work that Microsoft is doing. Not just strictly MSR, but also incubation, Live Labs, Office Labs, forward-thinking people in various product groups.
LS: What I see is a changing mindset about Microsoft, and the role it can play in government. It’s not just about are we on a Windows platform. It’s about what can I use, on my computer or mobile device, that’ll enable me to do things I couldn’t do before. If those are Microsoft things with a Windows label, that’s great. If they’re not, if they’re cool, funky, web-centric things like Popfly, that’s great too.
JU: Tell me if this fits into your charter. A big aspect of what I think of as Government 2.0 is the emerging availability of various sources of government data. There’s a growing consensus that data will be made available, and that’s happening, but in a way that reminds me of how things were, and mostly still are, on the scientific web. Yeah, there’s the data, go grab the gzipped tarball and have fun with it. As opposed to offering a service layer interposed between both applications and human being. I see an interesting possible role for Microsoft, and I see it as extension of something that’s happening in the relationship between MSR and the scientific community… One of the things I’m seeing Microsoft consistently doing in its partnerships with scientists is to provide both infrastructure and consulting expertise, to help people wrap their arms around large datasets and make them useful in ways they wouldn’t otherwise be.
I’m wondering if there isn’t scope for something analogous in the government space, as these datasets begin to be made available, but not necessarily in ways that enable citizens to ask and answer meaningful questions, or relate the raw information to policy.
LS: You’ve hit on something that’s really important, and yes, it’s an interest of ours. It’s very hard to do, but if you do it, the value is tremendous… When you think about large volumes of data being transmitted in both directions — from citizens to governments, and from governments to citizens — it really opens up the world. We haven’t figured out all the ways, but it’s fascinating to think about the diverse set of enterprise challenges that governments face, and about the technologies we have in the nooks and crannies of Microsoft that might be able to help.
JU: It sounds like you’re having fun snooping around finding them.
LS: I’m having a blast!
With any luck, an Obama or McCain administration will put some momentum into areas like Government 2.0 and extending a social-networking paradigm out to polity relationships. They’re each making the right noises right now.
These excerpts don’t do John’s great questions and the exchange which followed justice – get the full interview and podcast here).
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