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Gov 2.0 Summit: Project Envisions Shared Government Technology

Civic Commons aims to bring federal, state and local IT operations and services together by sharing applications and IT resources.

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A new project from the Washington CTO's office is aimed at allowing government agencies at the federal, state and local level to share applications to facilitate more IT collaboration across governments.

Civic Commons -- also sponsored by two nonprofits, Code for America and OpenPlans -- initially will work with governments to identify, document and relicense technology they current use so it can be shared with other government agencies. The project then plans to create a repository of shared applications and list them in a directory that other governments can find and use as they wish. Government agencies also can contribute additional applications as they develop them.

Washington Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak said the idea sprung from conversations with local governments, which all seemed to be trying to tackle the same problems. "We consistently heard exactly the same thing - we're all working on the same projects," said Sivak, who introduced the project Tuesday at the Gov 2.0 Summit, produced by O'Reilly Media and UBM TechWeb, at the Grand Hyatt in Washington. "Some might be ahead and some might be behind, but at the end of the day, we're all doing the same stuff."

He said pooling resources seemed to be a more efficient way to solve current IT issues facing government agencies rather than having each one work in a silo to do so.

Civic Commons already has some big-name backers. U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra has pledged to donate the Federal IT Dashboard to the project, and the Obama administration is firmly behind the project, Sivak said.

More than a dozen government agencies - including the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York - also will share their open technology with Civic Commons. For example, San Francisco, along with Washington, takes part in the Open311 project, which provides an open API for online information services in different cities.

Additionally, the New York State Senate plans to contribute its Open Legislation application and API to Civic Commons.

In addition to allowing governments to collaborate more closely, Civic Commons also aims to create a network of developers and code contributors to foster innovation as new applications are created for the project.

"Really we want to not just be one party building resources for open civic code, but we want to help build a sustainable ecosystem around this important issue," said Nick Grossman, director of OpenPlans, one of the nonprofits sponsoring Civic Commons.

Sivak said that while he expects open source technology to be a big part of Civic Commons, it is not exclusively an open-source project. "Open source is not the full panacea," he said.

He added that the project goes beyond merely contributing code that government agencies can share and use. Civic Commons expects also to provide other resources for applications shared in the repository.

"We also need documentation, business analysis, ROI calculators, user experiences, legal expertise" and more, Sivak said.

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