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Looking to Help "The Man", Turning in My Chief Evangelist Badge


“What we’ve learned from the Open House Project,” said Sunlight’s Greg Elin, “is that whenever we sit outside and build things, we learn that there are people inside who want to do the same thing.”

That's me, quoted in Matthew Burton's 2008 essay, Why I Help "The Man", and Why You Should, Too. I've been thinking a lot about that quote and Burton's argument. I've been thinking I might like to be one of those people, "inside", taking advantage of the good stuff happening "outside". That's why I'm blogging my decision to resign as Chief Evangelist and conclude three years of consultancy with the wonderfully productive Sunlight Foundation in order to explore ways to more directly help the government build great web sites and embrace Government 2.0.

It would not be right to talk transparency and not walk it. That's why I'm turning in my Chief Evangelist badge now, before I really start to look. (We all have badges at Sunlight. You can't see them because they're transparent.) Realistically, it might take a while to find my future role. During that time, I would not want anyone to think I was working at cross-purposes while looking, or worse, that Sunlight was disingenuous when it came to transparency.

But why look in the first place? Isn't it fabulous being a part of an organization like the Sunlight Foundation? You betcha! I get to working with great people, explore technology and travel around talking about it. It's just that, frankly, I relish starting things up and windows of opportunity. That's why it was so great to have been invited by Ellen Miller, Mike Klein, Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej to start figuring out data and "one-click disclosure" back in early 2006. That's why it was great to come to Washington, D.C. to start the "six-month experiment" of the Sunlight Mashup Labs. Considering how things evolved, how cool is that?

I suppose it is that relish for the start of new things that has been making me look seriously at working on the "inside". I love the tipping point period where things are still being defined but one has interesting ideas, assets and tools with which to work. Even before Barack Obama was elected President, government was approaching a transparency and technology tipping point. Seeing 70 Recovery-related federal, state, and local government web sites launch in less than 60 days might have been my own personal tipping point for making this change. Also, the Obama administration will soon publish initial thoughts on the Open Government Directive. Considering how things could evolve, how cool will that be?

There's too much actually happening and too much that still needs to be done to ignore the siren's call of working even closer to the source of government data than is currently possible in a non-partisan non-profit. Even more interesting things could happen on the inside with the right cluster of talents, points of view, and critical mass. Building that critical mass is where I see a special opportunity and hopefully many of my peers will see, too. Also, the rhetoric and trends indicates—at least to me—we will see more open and different collaboration between government and the public in way that makes working on the "inside" not so isolated from what is happening on the "outside". The blurring of "inside" and "outside" is what makes the Web "The Web". Everyone is connected to each other and to (mostly) the same resources by the same network. That network has a thing for openness. Instead of a revolving door through which only a few circulate between "inside" and "outside" positions of influence, perhaps we can create a portal where everyone participates more equitably.

So if anyone out there knows of special opportunities, do let me know as I'm only beginning my search. I'll be wrapping a few last projects during the month of May so I'm still reachable through the usual channels. I'll save a final sign off for later when this transition is complete and I can properly thank all the wonderful people of the greater Sunlight Foundation community.