Filmed on Thursday March 4, 02010

Beth Noveck

Transparent Government

Head of President Obama's Open Government Initiative and deputy chief technology officer for open government, Beth Noveck wrote the book Wiki Government (2009) and created Peer-to-Patent, which is opening up and accelerating the patent review process. She is founder of the Democracy Design Workshop and is a professor at New York Law School.

President Obama's first executive action was the Open Government Memorandum calling for more transparent, participatory, and collaborative government. It is likely that one of the longest lasting effects of the current administration will be how much it changed the culture of Washington by opening government data and pioneering innovations in policymaking.

As the United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and leader of the President's Open Government Initiative in the White House, Beth Noveck is in the forefront of the Federal government's implementation of these changes. On leave as law professor at New York Law School and a visiting professor of communication at Stanford University, she lectures on intellectual property, innovation and technology law. She is also the Founder of the State of Play conferences.

Noveck is the author of Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful.


Noveck began with the example of patents, first devised in Renaissance Florence and Venice to protect techniques such as glass manufacture. In England, conferring a monopoly on a tool or technique became a prerogative of the king. In contemporary America, the process of getting a 20-year monopoly on your invention from the US Patent Office is mired in a morass of litigation costs, a huge backlog, insufficient reviewers with insufficient science education, and what Noveck calls "an outmoded conception of expertise."

Her revolutionary approach is to "reengineer institutions to bring in expertise from outside." Thus she developed Peer-to-Patent, which publishes patent applications to the Internet. The online community researches prior art, organizes the most excellent reviewers that emerge, and greatly accelerates and refines the patent review process. A pilot program proved the concept, and it is now being institutionalized at the Patent Office. Noveck describes the methodology as "focussed collaboration" and as a way to move power "downwards and outwards."

On President Obama's first day in office he signed a memorandum on Open Government, committing all the departments and agencies to "transparency, participation, and collaboration." They were asked to begin by identifying high-value datasets that could be put online in downloadable form immediately. The result was Data.gov, which went public in May 2009 and quickly had 64 million hits for its raw data files. An IT Dashboard of the government's information technology spending got 86 million hits. The White House made its visitor logs public.

Noveck said the government is replacing its reflex "there's a form for that" habits with "there's an app for that," and a panoply of cloud-based apps, including 165 social media platforms, are on offer at Apps.gov. Just within the Department of Defense, the entire department has adopted (Long Now co-founder) Danny Hillis's Aristotle software to link all military expertise; the Army field manuals are being wikified---collaboratively updated by soldiers in the field; and troops are encouraged to learn and use social media.

The formidable Code of Federal Regulations used to cost $17,000. Now the price is zero for the "e-CFR."

"Loved data lives longer," Noveck declared. She encourages citizens to "adopt a dataset," and to demand ever wider release of government data troves. (One audience member requested that all the aerial photographs ever made by the US Geological Survey be digitized and published.) The Obama administration is finding that the whole process of opening up government digitally doesn't have to wait for perfection. It can move ahead swiftly on the Internet standard of "rough consensus and running code."

PS. As a government employee, Noveck is not allowed to plug her book, Wiki Government. But I can.

More Seminars


SALT Summaries Book

$2.99 Also available as a paperback book

Condensed ideas about long-term thinking summarized by Stewart Brand
(with Kevin Kelly, Alexander Rose and Paul Saffo) and a foreword by Brian Eno.

Seminar Sponsors

David and Abby Rumsey • Kim Polese • The Kaphan Foundation • Garrett Gruener • Scorpio Rising Fund • Peter Baumann • Brian Eno • Greg Stikeleather • Cameo Wood • Ping Fu • Peter Schwartz • Lawrence Wilkinson • Ken and Maddy Dychtwald • Future Ventures • Ken and Jackie Broad • AtoB • WHH Foundation • Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan • Jackson Square Partners Foundation • The Long Now Members

We would also like to recognize George Cowan (01920 - 02012) for being the first to sponsor this series.

This is the legacy site. Return to the new site.