Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gov 2.0

I opened up my browser this morning and what did I see??? Unicef won a Gov 2.0 award for RapidSMS! The Unicef Story,Gov2.0

What is Gov2.0? A buzz word. Database fetishism. I read a blog post this morning on Quinn said - and one of the points was the lack of imagination in database driven websites/communities. The net is a dialogue and database driven systems are just online versions of old media catalogs. I think this is correct. But the web is not only a dialogue but a cybernetic dialogue/a feedback loop. I think these databases become useful when they are analyzed to provide targeted feedback - a cybernetic system. For example to analyze the data quality in the malnutrition system to better understand which health centers need more training. Communicate and then use the communication to improve the system. I also think that transparency of gov data is fantastic. Perhaps we should not call this Gov2.0, but call it Society2.0. I think we should strive for transparency in all our social systems political, economic, medical.

But should Gov2.0 be more than online catalogs. I dont know- I dont know if for a large country like the US - if we really need public referendums on all issues (This does not really work for California). However, in this age of military-industrial-finacial-government complex, I think that government 'online catalogs' are necessary in maintaining an educated populus. For example,I have a partially working program called congresscal that puts all legislation before congress on a shared google calendar. Perhaps I should enable it so you can subscribe to the calendar and only show those bills related to certain issues - and see which congress people are supporting them etc - but still there is not a feedback loop.

I dont know how the Gov2.0 feedback loop will work or will look. I think it will necessitate a new form of interaction -lest we collapse into mob rule, or technocrat rule,or wacko fringe rule (oh - we just had 8 years of that) Looking at RapidSMS in Malawi, I see Gov2.0 as being able to target resources (malnutrition resources, vitamins, suppliments), immediately to children in need. It is not really about improving the democratic process. Rather it is about government services - streamlining the channels of communication between the governement and the people who need government services.

I wonder if legislation on farm subsidies could be automated to tie into agricultural economic, and world crop yields. Should legislation itself be changed, is it obselete. Do we only need human legislators for gray areas like cloning human? Could most legislation be automated ?

Kudos to RapidSMS it is a fantastic system. I am in Malawi right now, where I have rewritten a version of the software to conform to the new python/django rapidsms framework. (The old version was written in ruby). I am 90% done, and I am very happy with the outcome. I will post some screenshots later. I wish performance was better. I have backpopulated the system with data from 2003 and as a result the database queries are quite slow especially when calculating stats. (I think my love affair with the django orm ended with aggregation) I think I may cache stats or store calc'd stats in a db table. Really I would like to consider generating the data in flat files and storing it in the cloud (s3). If these sorts of issues are cropping up now, then they will only persist - so we need to create a robust solution.

So anyway, Gov2.0! Yes there are many ways that RapidSMS can solve problems in places with wide cellphone penetration and low internet penetration. All sorts of problems. Remote data collection with real-time feedback,tracking distribution of medicine, food, vitamins, receiving feedback on the quality of goods and services, crisis management,etc... I also think that the the simplicity of SMS is perfectly suited to these sorts of problems, sometimes a limited feature set is a blessing in disguise.

I am waiting for my MoH training session. Today I am training the MoH, tomorrow I will make the final changes to the system, and wednesday I will go into the field for our first training session.

There is so much more we could do. If you are delivering a great innovative product (like the RapidSMS nutrition package) it always generates more pathways and more ideas.

This afternoon I will be reviewing integrating the database system with epipen (I think this is an R system) or another epidemological system to track data quality and provide feedback on those health centers that need more training, as well as to track seasonal trends for malnutrition. Data analysis is powerful stuff !

I have been watching lots of Hitchcock the past few nights, I think vertigo is the best Hitch - vertigo and charade! The worst is the movie with paul newman and julie andrews about cold war espionage.

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