Fantasy Policy League: How to Connect the Data with the Passion

It’s late Monday evening, so I’m focusing on what many government innovation professionals and millions of Americans alike are sweating over – Fantasy Football statistics and trash talking with colleagues on Twitter.

Tonight Matt Miszewski was the pilgrim who walked into this unholy land, he being a Packers fan, and me needing the Bears’ Jay Cutler to deliver enough points to fend off my weekly match up with Mr. Govloop Steve Ressler. There’s not just pride on the line, there’s a trial of one’s talents at promoting interests, working numbers and the system. There’s what was once spectator sport that included engagement from the least of its public – me and my once pedestrian knowledge of football data – and is now a well understood, well beloved system that I now feel ownership over.

It reminds me of a recent thought-provoking post from Matt, Building a Movement: Will #gov20 and #opengov die? He cites some well discussed issues in Open Government and the many state, local and national innovation competitions: has Gov 2.0 been misinterpreted as mere “cool tools” that are more hype than impact? He also cites some of the hype itself that may now be looking itself in the mirror.

The question arose: what if govies and the public alike could feel the ownership and passion over government data that many do over fantasy football statistics? After all, sports ultimately are just spectator while public policy, trends and development have true impact on all of our daily lives, impacts that through Open Government Initiatives now can be influenced. They aren’t just numbers, they are housing programs, diplomatic efforts, the way we travel, and how we protect our critical resources.

It comes down to context and accessibility. A government agency can release all the data it wants, but if the spirit of it is to be realized paths must be created for stakeholders to put it in context, understand it, and then eventually contextualize it within their personal needs.

A well designed Open Government dashboard will allow users to track policy initiatives, understand the numbers and factors that influence them. It would cultivate the passion from users that already exists about the issues that affect them, cognizant that to tap into the crowd’s consciousness it must meet them where they are and not just dump scanned pages like Congressional legislation released on the sly late one Friday night.

I would go so far as to say that Open Government should inspire and inform policy red zone celebrations as well as some trash talk. This will in turn inspire, cultivate and inevitably strengthen policy initiatives, it will embed urgency into Challenge.gov, and perspective into Data.gov.

I bounced these ideas off my friend John, a great guy though a Cowboys fan, and he said, “If you’re going to talk about football stats you better have your facts straight, because that’s what America cares about – the numbers.”

Gov 2.0 and Open Gov aren’t going die, because we will find new ways to take data that extra yard and translate it into initiatives that let users get their facts straight, and consequently feel pride of ownership, confidence in something they can meaningfully participate in. Despite the Bears winning tonight, I fell to Mr. Govloop in my match up by a mere point because of the data. But obstacles are part of the innovative process, and because I can work the numbers I will regroup my interests and bring the pain to Technosailor next week.

When govies and the public feel this way about Open Government data, we will have created something great.

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Gov 2.0 Radio

Wow, how awesome would it be if we could get folks as engaged with open gov as with fantasy football! I really think that Gov 2.0/open gov needs a good dose of game mechanics. Make it fun, engaging and valuable. What if you had leader boards for the folks who found the most errors in a data set, or who got the most responses to a comment on legislation, stuff like that?

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Justin Herman

Perhaps most errors wouldn’t be appreciated, but certainly maps of what initiatives face at each development turn, what obstacles programs are facing, how funding is matching up with need – these are all found in the numbers, but unless we bridge the divide then for many the numbers will never tell the story.

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Stephen Peteritas

I really like your metaphor here my only question is harnessing that passion and how easy it will be. If gov2.0 could replicate the success of Fantasy sports in terms of engagement (imagining myself watching cspan cursing at the TV) that would be amazing.

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Justin Herman

Thanks Stephen – while its of course hopeful thinking that people could become as passionate as they do about Fantasy Football, and certainly we wouldn’t want them being as belligerent, what we can do is learn lessons from how complex data can be presented in a manner that is readily accessible and understandable.

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Stephen Peteritas

Yeah the whole data part is crucial but I think the caring / emotional investment is the part that makes fantasy sports what it is. That’s the page I think government needs to take out of the playbook the most. Yes you need the data to get people involved but then you need another something to get their blood to boil (good or bad) a little bit.

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Matt Miszewski

I think you can make parts of it that cool, but it will take some focus. But, most of all it will take a different orientation. And a new style of communication.

When we stop orienting ourselves as just IT folks, we also stop gaining the baggage that comes along with that. When our efforts are instead rooted in policy objectives, and popular ones, we can win. Doing what we do so that we can educate our kids, keep our streets safe, protect the environment, grow our economy, then we get attention for all the right reasons.

And presentation is more than half the battle. Remember the ipod was really just a hard drive. Cool UI, yes, but basically just a harddrive. Infographics is one route in building out the right dashboards. Simplicity in the face of devastatingly difficul problems is a must. My grandma should be able to read these publications and get it instantly, not have to wade through spreadsheets.

We have made the discussion unpopular (too much IT) and difficult (ever read the federal register).

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Victoria A. Runkle

This is a significant discussion. It is not just IT folks, but all government employees. We need to think about how information is presented that makes sense to our customers. I had a manager today who wanted the information displayed for her purposes, but the question: what did the city pay to do this major function was lost on them. Their database had to be correct. That conflicted with the transparency. Caring about the presentation to the public — that is a passion… it will catch on.

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Justin Herman

Thank you Matt and Victoria – as we appear to agree, the approach of Open Gov must take in to consideration that it is people in government providing opportunities to learn and participate to people who need them. Too often we dehumanize the process, and in this process we miss the intrinsic link that makes data valuable – the story behind the numbers.

You can quote me on this: masterpiece portraits are still painted today… as data visualizations.

Shoot, that will now be my next blog post, so don’t anyone go running away with that before I can come up with a clever headline.

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