Gov 3.0

Fall 2013

Government 3.0: Solving Public Problems with Technology


Instructor: Professor Beth Simone Noveck,, @bethnoveck

Sherpas: Mehan Jayasuriya,, @mehan_j

                 Luis Daniel,, @luisdaniel12

Meeting Time: Wednesdays, 9:30am - 12pm

First Class: September 4th

Location: ITP 721 Broadway, Room 447/50

Class blog:

Short Description: A weekly seminar that helps you to develop the mindset and skillset for leveraging the power of institutions and networks to design and implement effective solutions to public interest challenges. You will develop a project and a plan for its implementation, including a long and short description, a presentation deck, a persuasive video and project blog.

Suggest corrections or changes to this syllabus: send a pull request to this GitHub repo or email Mehan.


The first years of the 21st century have been characterized by seemingly intractable global challenges. Huge, complex problems, from climate change to global inequality, threaten the stability of our economies, the health of the planet and the human race itself. We have looked to traditional societal institutions to tackle these problems, and we have been frustrated by their inability to act effectively and legitimately. People are increasingly angry about political systems where every day is Election Day, campaigning has a higher priority than problem-solving, and political expediency seems to take precedence over the public interest. As a result, trust in existing institutions is at an all-time low.

To solve today’s complex problems, from climate change to economic inequality, we will need innovation in the very design of our democratic institutions. In our current model of government, an elite group of elected and appointed leaders is supposed to solve critical problems largely on their own, without significantly engaging the insights, experience, and brainpower of the people they represent. Moreover, our systems of government have failed to use the new tools and technologies that have been successfully applied in other arenas including the private sector. Consider:

  • Technology has lowered the cost and ease of communication, yet we still have an 18th century model of representative democracy where participation is limited to occasional voting and affords few opportunities for people to participate in governing.
  • Technology enables diverse experts with different skills and experience to work together, across a distance, yet we still have a 19th century model of centralized and professional bureaucracy.
  • Research demonstrates that people can and will collaborate in purposeful groups on- and off-line, yet we still have a political culture dominated by entrenched parties and deep pockets that treats a talented public as outsiders and impedes collaboration.
  • The private sector is increasingly embracing data-driven experimentation and collaboration with customers and suppliers, yet our governing institutions are still bounded by legal rules and policies that prohibit rapid experimentation.

Groundbreaking technological advances, together with new social science research on collaboration, have inspired many to reexamine how we make decisions and solve problems. For example, the U.S. and UK governments have released open data for public use leading to path-breaking new tools; the U.S. federal government has used prizes and challenges to spur innovative approaches to solving problems; and 1500 cities around the world have instituted participatory budgeting to give citizens direct control over some public funds to limit corruption and improve how we govern.

This shift from top-down, closed government to decentralized, open and smarter governance may become a major social innovation in the 21st century. Yet we still know very little about what works when, why, and under what conditions.



Gov 3.0 is aimed at those who want to develop a specific social good project for which they want to build the skills to move it closer to implementation.  The course targets the "purpose driven learner" -- the person with a topic about which they are passionate -- who wants to expand her toolkit for social change. Group projects are strongly encouraged.

The syllabus is designed to expose you to a new skill and have you teach yourself how to apply it to the topic you are passionate about. We have the daunting task of teaching ourselves something about technology and something about law & policy and how to combine them effectively to translate good ideas into implementable action.


You will develop a project and a plan for its implementation, including a long and short description, a slide deck, a persuasive video and project blog.


Intellectual curiosity and a willingness to experiment are essential for this course. No formal technology training are assumed or required but an interest in and willingness to play with new tools will be.


All readings will be freely available on the open web or distributed during class. For additional reading on the topics of the course, there are four books I recommend acquiring: Beth Noveck, Wiki Government (2009) which is also freely available from the library as an eBook Wiki Government Electronic Version; Steven Johnson, Future Perfect (2012); Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2010); Cass Sunstein Nudge (2013); and Laurel Ruma, ed., Open Government (2010) (link) (freely available online).


Everything you need will be linked to from this syllabus. We do not use Google Classes or Blackboard. Updates will be circulated via class listserv.


#gov30 is the class hashtag


  • Flipped Classroom: This is a flipped class. Lectures will be done by video before class, leaving class time for hands on training and discussion.
  • In Class: Students will attend and participate actively. Because lectures will be online and watched prior to class, class time will be used for conversations, demonstrations, and design problems. Attendance at all classes, given our limited time together, is mandatory: if you must be absent, let me know in advance.
  • Presenting Early and Often: During the course of the term, we will work together to develop an approach to tackling the problem you are passionate about. We want to learn to develop projects that are high impact and yet practical to implement and to avoid inventing or reinventing wheels. Hence you will be asked to develop your “solution” very early and constantly refine it throughout the semester through iterative presentations.
  • Speakers: We will have cool and interesting visitors through the semester to enliven our discussions and offer additional coaching and mentoring.


  • Project Plan (40%)
  • Long Description
  • Two Page Memo
  • Presentation Deck
  • Video
  • Project Blog (40%)
  • Informed, Class Participation (20%)

All your work will be iterative. We will repeatedly design, present, revise, enabling you to finish the course with vetted writing samples. I expect that you will tweet, live blog and/or blog out of class. Postings are not letter graded. You will submit one posting to me in the first half of the semester, which I will edit and you will revise and republish before the end of the semester.[c]


September 4 - CLASS 1 - The Crisis of Governance and the Potential for New Technology

  • Introduction: Through collection, computation and visualization of large-scale data sets, we might be able to make better-informed decisions. We could use new methods for generating ideas from more people in response to wicked challenges. New insights from social and behavioral research are teaching us how to use tools like prizes, games, challenges and “nudges” to create incentives for engagement. We are developing social machines – collaboration platforms – for organizing work at a distance that could translate into ways to get all hands on deck to undertake action together. Advances in technology – as well as social scientific insights about how to make use of the tools now available –are helping us to re-imagine how we govern in the 21st century.  
  • Reading: Readings: Scott Adams, What If Government Were More Like an iPod? WSJ, Nov. 5, 2011 (link); Joi Ito, An Open-Source Society, Innovating By the Seat of Our Pants, New York Times (link);
  • Watching: Video: Clay Shirky, How the Internet will (One Day) Transform Government? (VIDEO); Beth Noveck, Demand a More Open Source Government (VIDEO);  David Cameron (VIDEO); Tim O’Reilly, Government as a Platform (2010) (VIDEO); Jen Pahlka, Coding a Better Government (VIDEO)
  • Skill Share: Defining Your Problem
  • In Class: The case of Peer to Patent; Phase I - Define your problem, articulate why it matters, establish the metrics
  • After Class: 
  • Write and send me one page about “your compelling problem” - We’ll use these to help you find potential collaborators.

September 11 - CLASS 2 - Institutional Innovation and the Open Government Movement: Three Modalities of Innovation

  • Introduction: In this class, we discuss the recent history of the open government movement and three modes of open governance: 1) Smarter Governance: Getting Knowledge In; 2) Open Data Governance: Pushing Data Out; 3) Devolved Governance: Sharing Responsibility  
  • Reading: Noveck, Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger and Citizens More Powerful, Chapters 2, 4 and 8. (E-BOOK); Tiago Peixoto, “Open Government, Feedback Loops, and Semantic Extravaganza,” DemocracySpot, July 17, 2013 (link); Tom Steinberg, “What should we do about the naming deficit / surplus,” mySociety Blog, April 9, 2013 (link); The GovLab, “Open Government – What’s in a Name?” The GovLab Blog, August 5, 2013 (link); Beth Noveck, “Defining Open Government,” Cairns Blog, April 14, 2011 (link). Check out these key texts: President Obama, Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government (link); OMB Open Government Directive (link); Open Government Declaration of the Open Government Partnership (link); Rakesh Rajani, Open Government is Human Government (link); Prime Minister David Cameron, Letter to Government Departments on Opening Up Data, May 31, 2010 (link).
  • Watching: Video: Andrew Rasiej, Founder of Personal Democracy Media, Chairman of NY Tech Meetup (AUDIO); Carl Malamud, Founder of Public (VIDEO)
  • Video: Jeremy Weinstein, Professor, Stanford University; National Security Council (2009 - 2011). (VIDEO) (pw: enjoy)
  • Skill Share: More on Defining Your Problem, GitHub and Tumblr tutorials
  • In Class: Writing the Killer One Page Memo
  • After Class: Together with your project team, put together a first draft of a memo about the definition of the problem you want to work on and how you would measure the success of any solution.

Additional resources:

September 18 - CLASS 3 - Smarter Governance: Getting Better Expertise In: Big and Small Data


  • Introduction: In this class, we explore how data can help to produce social change by learning about the tools and techniques of big data, predictive analytics, and small data. We will examine examples of how big data and small data are changing governance at the local and national level and talk about the impact of data on our project designs.
  • Reading: James Manyika et al., “Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity,” The McKinsey Global Institute, May-2011 (link); David Robinson, Harlan Yu, William Zeller, and Edward W. Felten, “Government Data and the Invisible Hand,” Yale Journal of Law & Technology, vol. 11, p. 160, 2009 (link); Richard H. Thaler, “Show Us the Data: It’s Ours After All,” New York Times, April 23, 2011 (link); Esther Dyson, The Quantified Community (link); Reinventing Society in the Wake of Big Data (link);Beth Noveck and Daniel Goroff, Liberating Non-Profit Data (link); “The Promise of Urban Informatics,” Center for Urban Science and Progress, May 30, 2013 (link); Deborah    Estrin,    Professor    of    Computer    Science,    Cornell    NYC    Tech, “small    data,    where    n=me” (link)
  • Watching: Video: Sandy Pentland, (VIDEO); Steven Koonin Interview, CUSP, NYU (AUDIO); Deborah Estrin, Small Data, Big Health Changes (TEDMED VIDEO)
  • Skill Share: Defining Your Problem: The Lit Review & Scanning the Field
  • In Class: Lit Review training with NYU library staff and Joel Gurin; Understanding what else is out there; articulating differentiators
  • After Class: Do first draft of project deck

September 25 - CLASS 4 - Smarter Governance: Getting Better Expertise In: Expert Discovery

  • Introduction: In this session, we shift from talking about how better data can improve decision making to explore how to leverage human intelligence to solve problems. Techniques such as citation networks, reputation scores, recommender systems and disciplines such as network science, Web science and computer science are teaching us how to pinpoint who knows what, making it possible to imagine eliciting expertise that is relevant to and useful for decision making. We explore three strategies for leveraging collective intelligence: 1) expert discovery; 2) expert matching; 3) crowdsourcing
  • Reading: Noveck Book Chapter Handout (TBD)
  • Watching: Vivoweb conference presentation (TBD)
  • Skills Share: Scoping Solutions - Use Cases and Mockups
  • In Class - Writing a letter to an expert in your field.
  • After Class - Write a second draft of your letter; send the second draft of your letter as well as the second draft of your memo or slidedeck to Beth and Mehan.

October 2 - CLASS 5 - Smarter Governance: Getting Better Expertise In: Crowdsourcing Ideas and Crowdsourcing Tasks

  • Introduction: In this class, we look at the emerging technologies for collaboration and participation. We focus on the different typologies of crowdsourcing, including crowdsourcing ideas, tasks, data, and funding and discuss what kinds of problems lend themselves to such solutions.
  • Reading: Alex Howard, How Governments Deal With Social Media (August 9, 2011) (link); Ines Mergel, Crowdsourced Ideas Make Participating in Government Cool Again, PA Times, American Society for Public Administration, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 4, 6, 2011 (link); Tanja Aitamurto, Leiponen Aija, Richard Tee, “The Promise of Idea Crowdsourcing – Benefits, Contexts, Limitations,” [White Paper] June 2011 (link); Robert Hoskins, “Crowdfunding Press Center Releases the First Global 100 Crowdfunding Web Site Index,” Crowdfunding PR, Social Media & Marketing Campaigns, June 12, 2013 (link); Kyle Sandler, “UK Startup: Spacehive Brings Civic Crowdfunding Across the Pond,” Nibletz, November 29, 2012 (link).
  • Watching: Noveck (VIDEO TBD); Optional Videos - Alexander Howard, O’Reilly Media (VIDEO) (VIDEO 2) ; Brandon Kessler, Challenge Post (VIDEO); Joel Spolsky, Stack Exchange (VIDEO)
  • Skills Share: Scoping Solutions - Pretotyping and Creating Strategies for Out of the Box Solutions
  • In Class: Francois Grey , NYU ITP on Citizen Science (TBD); Expanding your toolkit discussion
  • After Class: Alberto Savoia, Pretotyping (VIDEO); Pretotype your idea

October 9 - CLASS 6 - Incentives to Participate: Lessons from the Social Sciences; Prize-Backed and Grand Challenges

  • Introduction: In both the private and public sectors, the use of prizes and contests to spur innovation is on the rise. These types of initiatives largely fall into one of two categories: prizes and grand challenges. As budgets tighten and information and communication technologies continue to advance, leveraging the expertise of the public through contests and challenges is becoming more attractive to government agencies. While there are differences between the two techniques, both shift the locus of innovation from inside a government agency to the public, while creating motivation beyond basic market incentives.
  • Reading: Darren Brabham, Moving the Crowd at iStockPhoto (link); Tom Kalil and Cristin Dorgelo, “Identifying Steps Forward in Use of Prizes to Spur Innovation,” White House Blog: Office of Science and Technology Policy, April 10, 2012 (link) OSTP Memo on Prizes and Challenges, Department of Health and Human Services (link); “‘And the winner is…’ Capturing the promise of philanthropic prizes,” McKinsey & Company, July 2009 (link)
  • Watching: Video: Tom Kalil (link) and Cristin Dorgelo (VIDEO: Collaborative Innovation)
  • Skills Share: From Idea to Implementation
  • In Class - Lecture from Rudi Borrmann, Buenos Aires city government
  • After Class - Design your test cases; refine your presentation

October 16 CLASS 7 - Devolved Governance: Participatory Budgeting

  • Introduction: In this class, we examine one of the most advanced and widespread examples of institutions devolving power over a traditional government function to citizens: participatory budgeting. Practiced now in 1500+ communities, we will look at what it is, why it works, and how devolved governance differs from privatization.
  • Information: Participatory Budgeting Project (link); “The Experience of the Participative Budget in Porto Alegre Brazil,” UNESCO MOST Best Practices for Human Settlements (link); Daniel Altschuler, “Participatory Budgeting in the United States: What Is Its Role?” Nonprofit Quarterly, April 18, 2013 (link).
  • In class - Lecture from Hollie Russon Gilman, Harvard Kennedy School of Government
  • After Class - Identifying potential partners and collaborators; Write up launch strategy.

October 23 - CLASS 8 - Open Data Governance: Behavioral Insights and Smart Disclosure

  • Introduction: In this class, we look at the ways in which data are being used as an alternative regulatory strategy to improve consumer decision making and consumer protection. We explore what’s working and where this approach falls short.
  • Information: Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, from the Office of Management and Budget, September 8, 2011 (link); Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Introduction and Chapters 5, 8, 10, 17); Cass Sunstein, Simpler (Introduction and Chapter 4); “Smart Disclosure and Consumer Decision Making: Report of the Task Force on Smart Disclosure,” National Science and Technology Council,, May 2013 (link); “Better Choices: Better Deals – Consumers Powering Growth,” UK Cabinet Office & Department for Business Innovation and Skills, April 13, 2012 (link); Richard H. Thaler and Will Tucker, “Smarter Information, Smarter Consumers,” Harvard Business Review, January-February 2013 (link). Optional: Datta, Saugato and Sendhil Mullainathan. “Behavioral Design: A New Approach to Development Policy.” Center for Global Development Policy Paper 016, November 2012 (link).
  • Skills Share: From Idea to Implementation
  • In Class - Guest Speaker: Joel Gurin
  • After Class: Project check-in meeting. Luis and Mehan will schedule a half-hour meeting with each group. Please come prepared to discuss any progress you have made, any challenges you foresee and any areas where you need advice or help.
  • After Class - Inspiration Intermission  - Here we seek inspiration from innovators, whose creative yet simple projects are transforming governance for the 21st century. Go out an interview someone who inspires you.
  • Leif Perciveld, Don’t Flush Me; (AUDIO)
  • Peter Levin - Veterans Affairs, Blue Button (AUDIO)

October 30 - CLASS 9 - Devolved Governance: Peer Progressivism

  • Introduction: This week, we will continue our discussion of social and collaboration technologies by exploring how to apply online participation to the work of governance. We look at the opportunities and impediments to effective participation at a distance.
  • Information: Readings: Steven Berlin Johnson, Future Perfect (book); Laura Anthony, “Sam Ramon Fire Dept. launches app for CPR help,” ABC7 News, January 25, 2011 (link); Montana Cherney, “There’s a Hero in All of Us,” DesignWell, July 13, 2011 (link).
  • Media: Video: Steven Johnson, Author of Future Perfect (VIDEO), (VIDEO2)
  • Skills Share: From Idea to Implementation
  • In Class - Guest Speaker: John Paul Farmer
  • After Class - Whom do you have to persuade?

November 6 - CLASS 10 - Open Data Governance: Open Government Data

  • Introduction: Governing produces a lot of data. Governments generate, collect and compile vast amounts of digitized data continually through activities such as collecting vital statistics, administering the tax system, recording government operations activity, managing public infrastructure and natural resources, surveying and recording public and private lands, processing regulatory requirements and managing social service delivery. Add to this flood of new digital data the large stock of previously collected data – stored in warehouses and filing cabinets in non-digital forms and archaic computer systems – and the challenges of governing in a complex environment don’t seem to reside in a lack of data. Rather, the challenge seems to be how to convert data into usable information, and how to apply knowledge to the interpretation of that information. Over the last few years, in the U.S., the United Kingdom and a growing number of other countries, the drive to open up more government data has become a national priority. Not only federal agencies, but state and local governments too are releasing more data in open formats to make their operations more transparent, bring information on government services to the public, and fuel new data-driven businesses. In this class, we explore how institutions and networks are collaborating to solve problems using newly available open government data. We discuss what is open government data and how it might lead to innovative solutions.
  • Reading: GovLab Academy Resources on Open Gov Data (TBD); Also United States, Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, “Open Data Policy – Managing Information as an Asset,” May 9, 2013 (link); John P. Holdren, Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research,” February 22, 2013 (link); Open Government Data Working Group, “ Open Government Data Principles,”, 2008 (link).
  • Watching: GovLab Academy video on open gov data (TBD); Joel Gurin, Former Chair, White House Task Force on Smart Disclosure (WEB: Launch), (AUDIO), (Class Presentation)
  • In Class - Metrics revisted
  • After Class: What are the metrics for your project?

November 13 - CLASS 11 - Legal and Policy Impediments to Opening Governance

  • Introduction: In order to fully leverage modern technological capabilities to make governance more open, legal and policy challenges must be understood and addressed. Many institutions remain unsure of how new tools and more data will help them achieve their missions. When combined with doubts about the legal permissibility of consulting with outside experts, publishing data freely and online, or devolving power, law and policy can contribute to a resistance to institutional innovation. As a result, collaborative platforms are often used merely as tools for broadcasting messages to the public, rather than for their full potential of co-creating solutions. In particular, significant American legislation and regulation developed before the current era of network technologies is a significant constraint on governing institutions’ ability to leverage citizen-engagement in the digital age. In this session, we survey some of the legal, policy and cultural barriers to innovations in governance.
  • Reading: GovLab Memo (TBD); Further reading on legal and policy barriers to opening governance: Jeffrey D. Zients, “Guidance on the Use of Challenges and Prizes to Promote Open Government,” Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, March 8 2010 (link); Vivek Kundra and Michael Fitzpatrick, “Enhancing Online Citizen Participation Through Policy,” Open Government Initiative, The White House, June 19, 2013 (link); “Implications of Recent Web Technologies for NARA Web Guidance,” National Archives (link); Leighninger, Matt. “Model Ordinance for Public Participation.” Deliberative Democracy Consortium, October 7, 2013 (link); America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act of 2007 or America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69) (link); and America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358) (link).
  • Skills Share: From Idea to Implementation
  • In Class: Navigating the legal landscape
  • After Class: What laws, regulations or policies harm or help your project? What has to change?

November 20 - CLASS 12 - In Class Project Pitch Dress Rehearsals


November 27 - CLASS 13 - Skills Share Intensives

  • Introduction: This week, we focus on developing additional skills useful to developing your designs; persuading people to implement your proposals; and measuring their effectiveness. Members of the class can opt for an extended seminar, which will replace both pre- and in-class time this week. Topics might include: data visualization, using kickstarter to raise funds; intellectual property licensing; designing a killer infographic, budgeting your proposal.

December 4 - CLASS 14 - In-Class Skillshare


    Track A (Room 15):
  • (9:30 - 10:30) Visual Design with Kareem
Track B (Room 50):
  • (9:30 - 9:45) How to write a grant proposal with Celia
  • (9:45 - 9:55) Walkthrough of an NIH grant application with Rosanna
  • (9:55 - 10:10) FOIA/FIOL request primer with Nikki
  • (10:10 - 10:30) How to conduct an effective business SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, & Threat) Analysis with Abbey

[ 15 minute break ]

10:45am - 12pm

Track A: App Autopsy with Arnaud Sahuguet (Room 50)
Students will pick 2-3 of their favorite apps and will participate in a group exercise to dissect the design of these apps and brainstorm ways they could be even better. Dr. Arnaud Sahuguet is currently a Product Manager for in New York. For the last two years, he has been working on mobile micro-donations, child protection (in collaboration with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) and civic innovation.

Track B: Data Scraping with Brian Abelson (Room 15)
[NOTE: This track will be fairly technical and while programming knowledge isn't a requirement, please come prepared to follow along with code examples, etc.]
In this workshop, you'll learn the basics of data scraping, a technique that is used to extract data that exists in a human-readable format (i.e. on the web) and restructure it in a machine-readable format suitable for analysis and visualization. Brian Abelson is a statistician, hacker, journalist, and data artist. He's currently a Data Scientist at Enigma and a Tow Fellow at Columbia University. Before that he spent a year at the New York Times as a Mozilla-Knight OpenNews Fellow where he prototyped new metrics for measuring engagement with online media. Brian graduated in 2012 from Columbia University with a M.S. in Applied Statistics.

December 11 - CLASS 15 - Guest lecture: Jonathan Viventi

Jonathan Viventi joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as an Assistant Professor. Previously, he was a Kirschstein-NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in the Institute for Medicine and Engineering. Dr. Viventi earned his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania and his M.Eng. and B.S.E. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University. Dr. Viventi's research applies innovations in flexible electronics, low power analog circuits, and machine learning to create new technology for interfacing with the brain at a much finer scale and with broader coverage than previously possible. He creates new tools for neuroscience research and technology to diagnose and treat neurological disorders, such as epilepsy. Using these tools, he collaborates with neuroscientists and clinicians to explore the fundamental properties of brain networks in both health and disease. His research program works closely with industry, including filing five patents and several licensing agreements. His work has also been featured as cover articles in Science Translational Medicine and Nature Materials, and has also appeared in Nature Neuroscience, the Journal of Neurophysiology, and Brain. Dr. Viventi has received several awards for his work, including the Mahoney Institute of Neurological Sciences / Neuroscience Graduate Group Flexner Award for Best Neuroscience Thesis at the University of Pennsylvania, Solomon R. Pollack Award for Best Thesis in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Nano/Bio-Interface Center Graduate Research Award for Best Graduate Research on Nanotechnology Applied to Biology at the University of Pennsylvania.