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

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“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.

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  • Greg, just getting to your exciting news! I especially appreciate it when you said, “Even more interesting things could happen on the inside with the right cluster of talents, points of view, and critical mass.” I agree that we are reaching critical mass, and all these technologies mean that we are reaching each other. There is alot of work to do, and now is the time.

  • Andrew Greenhill

    Greg: I’m interested in your point about people on the inside and the outside working together. I’m on the inside of a large city government, and I’m very interested in designing Gov 2.0 programs and projects. But I need outside help and expertise. Please email me if you’re interested: andrewgreenhill1@gmail.com

  • Tom Hurst

    Congrats on your 3 year run Greg. There are lots of people in government and just around the country who want what you want. If you’re looking for people in government to help, consider getting on GovLoop. Should you decide to do so, drop me a line.

  • Carmela Aquino

    I had the chance to hear you speak a few months ago and thought the work that you were doing with Sunlight was great and significant. Congratulations on your decision and all the work you’ve done. Looking forward to hearing about what you’ll do next!

  • Kristin

    Good for you! Thoughtful post (as was Matthew’s). Seems like rich territory in the area of impact/ROI – not just program targets and measures (either a department or ARRA writ large). We have many ways to count (and make those numbers transparent), but far fewer ways to discern whether any of it matters (noise vs. signal).

  • Greg, congrats on all the awesome things that you’ve been able to help get accomplished at Sunlight. I’m confident that you’ll continue to do big things in your future roles working on the inside.

  • If only you guys at USA could bring to the world an automated electronic govern, which would extensively use information technology techniques to overwhelm human power (and corruption) off of the societal government and ruling. If you could do real crowd sourcing with transparency, you should be able to setup an informational system that would: i) gather information by social media means ii) map-reduce all the data input from society iii) return ordered sets of potential items to be voted upon by society by mobile social technology. Direct Democracy for all, giving the power BACK to the PEOPLE! Information is as fast as it can be, singularity is NEAR! GOGOGO!