Canvas for Government

My first encounter with Canvas Business Model was at an internship at a Social Business Lab before finishing law school. I have worked for the public sector my whole academic life, so I was having a relatively normal crisis about my professional future. The public sector was slow and comfy, the private sector was about getting things done. I temporarilly enrolled in that army.

While sharing tereré in a very informal environment we created a Canvas for one of the projects we were working for. I had no idea what the hell was I doing but I went along. Value, costumer, partnerships, revenue, these guys were way ahead of the public sector´s modus workandi. They were actually thinking thoroughly and collectively about their future creation, leaving no place for improvisations (at least in this phase). As soon as the meeting was over, you received a summary, the things you should do, the things others were supposed to do, get it done, meet again, email again and keep going. Maybe this way of working was a customary and logical thing to do, but public service and their obsession with formal empty notes definitely did not look like that at all.

In the public sector you have no idea who is making the decision. You are a soldier. Probably the one who has to make the decision delegates it to another person, the person conceives something alone, then someone approves it, then someone above them has to approve it again. Then you get a bunch of signatures, then a year passes by, and you now have the budget to start planning. Then you realize you need a consultant, then elections come, then you get a raise and go somewhere else. And…In loving memory of your unexecuted idea. R.I.P.

I won´t get tired of repeating how bureaucracy inhibits innovation in the public sector. This is an undeniable reality Not being a pessimist however, got me this far (Medium? Hahvahd? DPI 662?). Writing about this, gets you thinking that before getting to the fancy start up tools, you have to overcome the most basic limitations in governments; public service´s way of working and thinking.

Enough catharsis. Let me shift to glass half full.

Not everything is lost in government. Several public offices are producing great services. This makes you wonder who are these outsiders, and how are they making these decisions. Are they an independent agency? are they using Canvas? Maybe, or maybe not.

I decided to take an example of my favorite government portal in Paraguay: http://informacionpublica.paraguay.gov.py/portal/#!/buscar_informacion#busqueda. (Since it´s still in its beta phase my observations may be useful as customer feedback).

We were supposed to pick a customer segment for the value proposition. I decided to choose THE PRESS as the customer segment who will ultimately use this government portal.

JOB:

So basically the press is trying to: Discover news, do job well and responsibly, have reliable and accurate facts, verify facts or claims, have an extra channel that provides information, serve as watchdogs, connect the dots/facts/info that citizens don´t, advance career, become a reference in their jobs, ignite public discussions, discover truth/possible crimes, and overall make government accountable.

PAINS:

They are normally annoyed by the bureaucracy to access information, delivery of unreadable /closed PDF formats, slow delivery, restrictions to access information, government forcing you to justify why you want the information and demanding identification to access it.

GAINS:

They are looking for a portal that is easy to use, with readable open data, free access, fast access, centralized, and a portal that already has some information that you can use, instead of asking for it.

Three main problems I encountered with the service:

1. Too many required fields:

The FOI Law requires the person to identify him or herself, their place of residence, and the precise description of the information they want to access. The portal on the other hand requires: identification, residence, gender, nationality, date of birth, title of your request, institution, and a small description of the information. (Way more than what the law requires in the first place.)

In my opinion, the press, citizens, or any users should not be required to identify themselves for countless reasons: they could be in the middle of investigating something, they can jeopardize it, they can risk retaliation etc. Nevertheless, the law do requires some sort of identification (I believe this can be challenged), and the government office decided to enhance the requirements ruining the overall experience. This slows down the process and can even discourage requests. Anonymity should be part of the FOI larger policy.

2. Unreadable formats.

The law gives the petitioner an option to choose the support in which the information will be delivered. But the portal only asks how you want the information to be delivered: email, phone, paper.

In reality, the information you end up receiving is a digitalized copy of the physical paper. A PDF hell. The information is there, but the data is not re-usable. You basically have to create your own data to make it useful.

This slows down the job of the Press. A local newspaper for example was forced to develop their own portal to look for public servants tied to nepotism. They used the information provided by the government (in pdf formats), probably passed it to excel, then developed their own search engine (http://www.abc.com.py/especiales/acceso-a-la-informacion-publica/consultar/) and then started to cross reference information between government offices. By doing this, they started to receive anonymous reports from every corner of the country. Consequently, tons of nepotism cases were unfolded in a matter of days.

The bottom-line is: Governments should not be focusing in DIGITALIZING stuff. That is just another way to save space and make a filing system in the cloud. What they should be doing instead is providing data, data that is usable, for the press in this case, and for citizens in general.

Speaking of which… Clap Clap for Obama who made an executive order about this:

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/79/d3/6c/79d36c87c8dcb704ccc07921d8987ee1.jpg
“Government information shall be managed as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness, and, wherever possible and legally permissible, to ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable. In making this the new default state, executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall ensure that they safeguard individual privacy, confidentiality, and national security.” Executive Order 13642

3.They are not analyzing curiosity:

The portal makes all the information requested available to the public, and all the processes are transparent. You know when the office receives a request, the information requested, and even the denial of it. So governments know exactly what type of information people are requiring. The portal gives you access to a list of all the information requested through them and you can even easily access the document they delivered to the person.

Yes you read it right. They make A LIST.

This means they know what is exactly what users are requiring, and they are not doing anything about it. And no, the list does not count. The rest of the world is talking about the importance of what the users are telling you. The Sunlight Foundation calls this “Collecting FOI metrics”, which helps governments to identify frequently requested pieces of information. This is turn, serves as the #1 indicator as to whether the government is providing information that the public desires effectively.

Based on these collections, the government should recognize and provide the information everybody wants to know. The media already proved to them, that people want to know who works for the government, their salaries, and even their resumes. By just skimming through the portal, you can quickly notice they also want to know the budget of their local schools, where police stations are located, and even bus schedules. Recognizing these simple “curiosities” will save users time (15 working days) and will work towards the ultimate goal of the service; igniting an open democracy.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Giovanna Parini’s story.