Pioneering a brighter future in California and beyond v 1.3
We're a coalition of Code for America brigades, journalists, local activists, reform groups, and public officials committed to the cause of modernizing how California government operates so the state can lead the world into a more free and open future.
This is a living document! Please feel free to create an Issue (less technical) OR submit a Pull Request (more technical) to suggest improvements to the principles. If you're not familiar with GitHub please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
Please consider the history of why California government exists the way it does and previous reform efforts prior to proposing a new idea. Learning the lesson of Chesterton's Fence will enable us to pioneer the genuinely new.
Public Technology Principles
“You need to have a public sector commensurate with the vitality and creativity of private life here. Look at the universities, the hospitals, our doctors! Look at the vitality of our literary culture, our painters!” – Kevin Starr, Former State Librarian of California
From the world's largest port to the nation's first freeways to pioneering aqueducts, California's history has been defined by visionary public works. The digital revolution has transformed countless industries, yet by and large a time traveler from the 50’s would find the operational practices of California government strangely familiar.
Nothing equal to the development over a century ago of professional water utilities or universal public schooling — institutions that implemented nearly ubiquitous access to clean water and essentially eradicated illiteracy in America — has been developed for the digital era. California can and should lead the world in building the great public works of our era -- public technology that tackles our big challenges as a state.
This stems from a belief that California’s open, inclusive values are more important than ever in today’s tribalistic, nationalist times and that California is ideally poised to pioneer digitally native government operations. The following principles are intended to serve as a set of aspirational goals that articulate the promise of public technology and help accelerate the modernization of how California government operates.
A Brighter Future
- California should aim to lead the world in ensuring the transformative potential of the digital revolution benefits everyone and that its government reflects the state’s “pioneering spirit.”
- Public data created by Californians should be stewarded by skilled public technologists and align with the open, inclusive values of this state that welcomes people from around the world to pursue their dreams.
- California’s education system should reflect the ubiquity of information and realities of our new economy that highlight the need for lifelong learning. Every California student should have the opportunity for a real world apprenticeship in their profession or area of interest while in public schools.
- Every Californian should have access to high speed internet to learn skills and succeed in the rapidly evolving job market. The state should support digital literacy training for all Californians of all ages and continue to improve the connection between online offerings and in person ongoing education programs at Community Colleges.
- Californians should have the opportunity to provide official public comment on government business virtually, at a time and place of their convenience, and upvote other comments similar to reddit.
- Californians should encounter a seamless user experience when interacting with their government commensurate with the expectation of a modern consumer web application. Digital resources and information should be inclusive, accessible, and useable by the general public.
- Californians may only be required once to submit and/or update their name, address or other basic information to any California state agency or local government. This already exists in countries like Estonia, and California should strive to lead in this area.
- Access to sensitive public data should be streamlined for academic research and shared using industry best practices in ethical and secure computational social science. Metadata detailing how and what public data is collected should be made widely available.
- All University of California, California State and Community College research should strive to make their work reproducible and lead the world in open scientific practices.
- All of California’s state and local government programs should clearly articulate the intended goals of their public services and use data to measure results achieved.
- Every state agency and local government in California should make their public data open and machine readable by default. That should include the dollars spent on legacy information technology systems (at the level of detail of StackShare.io unless there is a compelling reason otherwise) and data detailing all public procurement.
- California should prioritize standardizing datasets critical to basic public services -- such as Consolidated Annual Financial Reports ("CAFRs") and parcel level zoning information -- across government agencies to enable collaboration and interoperability across California and around the world.
- This effort to modernize California government should focus on a future its people deserve and have the courage to consolidate obsolete institutions that frustrate progress (for example California’s two duplicative state water agencies).
In implementing these principles, California's public sector should to strive to embody the "pioneering spirit" that has made this state great. The following strategies aim to provide a creative, comprehensive approach to improve how government operates in California and beyond:
- California should launch a Civic Technology Corps in the spirit of the Community Conservation Corps (CCC) and California Conservation Corps. The Corps can be built around existing fellowships such as CfA community fellows, TfA Fellows, Fuse Corps Fellows, Civic Spark Fellows, Americorps Fellows, Coro Fellows, Gen 2 Gen Fellows and others. The Governors office could convene a California Civic Technology summit inviting these fellows and support coordinating actions so fellows can be internal civic champions for great public technology.
- The California Department of Technology should open a new digital office in Oakland to make modern design and information technology practices the new normal in California government. This strategy was more fully articulated in a letter from Code for America Founder Jennifer Palkha to the next Governor. That effort should build from the UK Digital Service, US Digital Service, 18F and numerous other units at cities and countries around the globe.
- California should formalize a nonprofit Applied Research arm of the California Government Operations agency to serve as an independent utility stewarding public data across local municipalities and accelerate the implementation of these principles. That effort should build from leading global examples like the UK’s Administrative Data Research Network, the New Zealand Integrated Data Services, and the numerous Data Collaboratives catalogued by NYU Gov Lab. See here for the latest to map data collaboratives across California.
- All California state and local governments should open their doors to new talent with skills in agile software development, data science and other important digital skills. That should include support for training public servants on these new tools and California government managers should actually be able to terminate non-performing personnel.
- From start to finish, new government digital service and data science projects should strive to include the community in planning, design, implementation and ongoing maintenance wherever possible. That community involvement should build from existing efforts such as those led by local Code for America brigades and others.
- Regional and local governments should be incentivized to collaborate and jointly procure technology and services to implement these principles. By aggregating demand and developing standards to meet common needs, California governments can save money while deploying better public technology. In addition, the state of California should create an "opportunity fund" to invest in best in class public technology and those moneys could come from a new "no-lose lottery" that incentivizes Californians to save for the future.
- California should have the courage to "burn the wagons" and lead the world boldly into the future. To avoid being trapped by past accidents of history, California should undertake a comprehensive review examining how to modernize obsolete and consolidate duplicative government agencies like California's two state water agencies. The results of that review should have be placed unmodified for an up or down vote.