A peek inside the first CTOs toolkit
Assistant to the President and Chief Technology Officer, Author, Entrepreneur
The CTO reports directly to the president & influences policy across the presidential review cycle.
While some early open government experiments failed, pockets of innovation thrived overall.
Lesson: Open Government with Aneesh Choprah
Step #2 Toolkit: A peek inside the first CTOs toolkit
There were three things I would say. First, we were blessed with a president who was deep on these issues and cared, so he had a very clear agenda. That was step number one. Step number two, I had a bit of a playbook coming out of my time in Virginia as to how we did things at the state level that might have applicability. And third, we had a great transition team and external voices who had their opinions that weighed in and prioritized the things that they wanted to see done, so if you combine those three activities, you don't feel like you're starting from scratch, truly blank slate. You've got a bit of a lift.
I will say more generally speaking, having the air cover from the President of the United States, made this position all the easier to execute against because it was very instant, the level of importance people saw that he placed in it. What I mean by that is in Washington being named the Assistant to the President means that you essentially report directly to the president and that's a decision the president makes to the dozen, two dozen advisers who take on that role.
By asking me to serve as an Assistant to the President carried immediate weight inside the beltway. People understood that that meant there were opportunities for me to influence policy all across the presidential review cycle and that just gave it a lot more heft. I didn't have to convince people that this was something important to the president. He made that clear on day one and this was really about execution on his vision.
So when I was asked by the president to take on this assignment, we were mostly implementing that vision over the first two and a half years. We would try to experiment with opening up more data and welcoming public input. For example, in the first few weeks after my Senate confirmation, we invited the public to help us define what open government meant, what the policies are that they looked for, and some of those experiments were sort of failures.
We had, in that example, more people were commenting about marijuana and Area 51 and conspiracy theory and saying that's what open government means, so it wasn't like a slam dunk that it was delivering value on day one, but we were getting somewhere. We were seeing real pockets of innovation flourish, and then we'd experiment in another agency with another idea around issuing a challenge or a prize and finding some serendipitous story of a young, unexpected talent rising among the rest to say here's the way I’d tackled this issue and really making a material impact.
So I saw all these case studies take hold and I began writing the implications of what we were seeing. A lot of what I was doing was providing air cover and issuing a call to action to the various agencies of government and to the private sector, but the specifics of how and what they would do together was really left to their creativity. So right before I left the White House, the president said I want to understand if there is a way to institutionalize some of these ideas to ensure that there's continuity so that this new role has longevity. That led me to think more succinctly about the specific techniques that worked, what didn't work, and that gave me the confidence and the inspiration to write, effectively, a toolkit for policy makers. President honored that and covered that on the White House site and I thought it was good enough to tell a bigger story and that led me to write the book.