Web 2.0 in the Public Sector

Special to the Executive Biz Blog: Aneesh Chopra, Sec. of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia

Last month, Governor Kaine took the cabinet to the Eastern Shore where we met local shopkeepers selling their wares to a growing number of tourists. During our welcome reception, a local merchant shared with me the story of his t-shirt company, the Purple Pony, and its mascot, Walter. You see, Walter has a MySpace page and is attracting fans all across the country. It is a story of Virginians from all corners embracing Web 2.0 applications to drive economic growth.

As Virginia’s Secretary of Technology, I take great pride in Virginia’s ranking as home to the nation’s highest concentration of technology workers, our second annual ranking by Forbes.com as the best state for business, and EducationWeek’s study that a child born in Virginia has the highest likelihood of lifetime success. In 2006, we learned that one out of three new jobs created in the entire Commonwealth were in the technology industry and a growing number are in the Web 2.0 space.

While I’m encouraged by the economic development potential in Web 2.0, I’m passionate about its value in driving innovation in the public sector. Last week, we announced a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership with Microsoft that leverages the Virtual Earth platform to strengthen college campus safety. For its part, Microsoft is offering free training and developer toolkits to encourage as many college campuses as possible to overlay evacuation routes, historical incidents color-coded by severity, and where possible, real-time GPS information on campus shuttles or other strategic assets needed in times of emergency. These applications are already popping up all over the country by individuals empowered to make a difference. To formalize this creativity, we are pleased Microsoft is willing to train and support faculty, students, and safety officials on the promise and power of Virtual Earth – all at no charge to anyone. Imagine the possibilities when creative minds take advantage of robust technology.

We are also increasingly reliant on Web 2.0 tools to facilitate government collaboration on key policy and operational matters. In partnership with UVa, my office has unveiled nearly a half-dozen collaboration sites to encourage leaders in Health IT, technology-related economic development, the state’s “paperless government” initiative and others to share resources, support a wiki, blog, or other tools to encourage the rapid diffusion of knowledge so we can make better decisions for Virginia’s taxpayers.

As we celebrate Virginia’s 400th anniversary at Jamestown, we are reminded of her myriad untold stories. As we think about the potential of Web 2.0 and our collective desire to celebrate our nation’s history, we see emerging possibilities to marry our strong tradition of excellence with innovative tools to empower Virginians. You may have read recently about the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ ambitious goal to catalog our complete history through the “Encyclopedia Virginia” initiative. While the Foundation is currently focused on recruiting high-quality, peer-reviewed submissions organized in a coherent frame for all to access through the web, it is also pondering the proper role for Virginia’s broader community. What might the power of Web 2.0 do for our work in building that collection?

I believe our future as a community is tied to our ability to leverage the empowering tools of Web 2.0 to our notion of what it means to support one another through public service. Let’s work together to unleash both the economic development and public sector potential of this exciting new set of platforms.

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