Open Government

with Aneesh Chopra

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Public Private

What makes good public/private partnerships

Aneesh Chopra

Assistant to the President and Chief Technology Officer, Author, Entrepreneur

Lessons Learned

Public/private partnerships are about frictionless participation.

The best idea should win because its outcome matters the most.

You can be an entrepreneur by day & an open data innovator by night.

Instagram cofounder Mike Kreiger’s early work included open data innovation.


Lesson: Open Government with Aneesh Choprah

Step #7 Public Private: What makes good public/private partnerships

To me, public-private partnerships are largely about frictionless participation. So today if you wanted to sell your idea to government, it's an $80 billion buyer. You would have to go through any number of hoops to get your story told, to get in the front audience, to learn how to read the RFP (requests for proposals) written in some foreign language that you can't understand, government procurement speak, and it's a very unsatisfying experience. Despite the fact that both sides of the aisle have tried to open up more small business women-owned, minorities-owned companies to participate but the numbers show a long way to go for improvement.

Alternatively, in a more innovative state these interfaces are open and the best ideas win because their outcomes matter. We had a competition to replace scheduling system in the Veterans Affairs Department, which has been in the news of late because we have done such a terrible job serving our veterans on the ground getting access to the doctors and nurses and facilities they need. So that's the terrible model.

If we look a little forward at what an innovative state might do on this model, you take a look for example what we did with the VA scheduling competition. The VA has had a bit of difficult time helping veterans get the appointments they need in a timely manner to access doctors and hospitals. Nine, ten years ago, the government looked to modernize the way people schedule appointments. And it was about a $130 million later, nine years later, we saw no line of working code, none, and the team over at the VA said we need to cancel this project. We're not getting anywhere.

But rather than try the same model, they said let's try a public-private partnership. Let's take the raw code base that is the software language that drives the software system for Veteran Services and let's put that into an open source custodial agent. Let’s then publish interfaces so that anyone with a scheduling package could just plug it right in whether you’re a startup, a big corporation, or somewhere in between, and long as you can successfully execute a scheduling of an appointment, you could qualify for a million dollar prize.

As you would expect three contestants shined. A large cooperation led by Hewlett Packard, a big company that knew the VA, was successful in getting this project done. Perhaps expected, a startup that we had not heard of, MedRed, that had formed a team and put their best foot forward and were successful. And a hospital in California called Oroville Hospital and it separately adopted the VA system maybe decade or so earlier and on its own had built the scheduling module for their own doctors, saw the competition, and said, “We built this. Why don't you just use ours?” and you have a microcosm what's possible in an innovative state and a better public-private model, that if you simply published the interfaces, all of these stakeholders can compete, and this case win a million dollars each just to do the right thing.

So nine years and a $130 million, no line of working code, in contrast to three million dollar winners in less than a year with a very, very fast prototyping and open interfaces and that's the difference between public-private model that works and one that doesn't.

The bipartisan commitment to public service has been on the agenda. We've got existing programs that largely talk of reducing your loans or providing you an onramp to professional life, and I think that's a very celebrated part of our social fabric and only going to get better with time. I think a lot of this has to do with exposing people to careers that they may not look at themselves in mirror and say I want to be in government. That's for the three, four million government workers, 1% of the population; it's not for me. Well, by opening up interfaces that doing a lot of what we’ve talked about today, one can be entrepreneur by a day, and still find themselves to be an open innovator by night.

I was honored to welcome Mike Kreiger to the First Lady’s Box for the State of the Union in 2012. Mike is famously the co-founder of Instagram, had a particular good year in 2012, but did you know that his origins were as an entrepreneur in open government. Mike actually responded to a called action by the San Francisco mayor. I believe it was Gavin Newsom’s term and looked to take crime data and make it more accessible for people to live safer lives.

Having had the experience building iPhone app on crime data, Mike was able to take that prototype to his co-founder and say I have the technical chops to build what became Instagram, and so his day job is to make a lots of money in the Internet economy. Yet, he too found himself to be an open government, open data innovator and I think that's the spirit and the potential for all of us.

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