A Public Digital Works Project

Innovation. Sometimes innovation lies in process. And that’s what I want to mention today. And I promise, at the risk of starting to flow like the Hon. Senator Joe Biden, it’ll be simply a mention.

I recently blogged about a way of thinking about the work we’re doing at the OSET Institute. It was buried in my blather recently about the Yin-Yang of our approach. Someone informed me off-line that they thought it was the tip of a big idea. So I’m going to toss it out here: What we’re really doing at the Open Source Election Technology Institute amounts to (ready?) …a digital public works project.

We all know about public works projects – they’ve historically been those things we think of as public services (sometimes even rising to the category of critical infrastructure). These are services such as the electric grid, the public water and sewer systems, public roadways, federal highways, and transportation systems, and even (more recently) public telecommunications such as municipal Wi-Fi.

Public Works are hugely important infrastructure fundamental to our functioning as a society, and generally we task our government with ensuring their delivery. Sometimes these things simply have too much vested public interest for the private sector to fund, build, and provide, although reasonable minds sometimes differ and we’ve seen “privatization” of public works before, and will again.

We believe that the cornerstone of a digital democracy (heck, any democracy) is the process and systems used to conduct elections. We believe this particular public infrastructure has far too much public vested interest to be controlled entirely by the private sector (even in partnership with government). And we believe that what we’re doing amounts to a public digital works project.

Where it importantly differs from other public works projects is in financing and administration. For now, our government (maybe not in years gone by or perhaps at some point in the future) is stretched far too thinly to properly attack this very large problem.

To be sure, government is serving a vital role through the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) with the support of the National Institute of Science & Technology (NIST) to provide a clearing house for information, education, assistance and support of and for elections (polls, services, technology, and workers). And they are producing important certification processes to ensure that any voting technology withstands a muster from voluntary guidelines they have developed.

To this extent, the work of the OSET can be very useful to the efforts of the EAC and NIST. Therefore, OSET works will be vetted through their processes, as well as the public processes of our open source operation.

However, the OSET Institute efforts are a public digital works project, but they are funded through private donation and grants (both private and potentially some federal) and managed by technology professionals deeply experienced in marshaling large scale technology developments. And the OSET Institute is doing so employing open source methods and processes while adhering to the discipline and rigors of high assurance design.

This is necessarily different from the processes Government must employ and the means of funding they must rely on to even attempt to do the same. And their agendas, mandates, and frankly, politics make it difficult if not impossible to even emulate the environment of the OSET Institute. Government relies on tax dollars and constitutionally mandated and legislatively enabled administrative processes (think: government bureaucracy). And there was no way around that necessary evil… until the advent of the OSET Institute. The OSET Institute is here to perform the “heavy lifting” of re-inventing how America can conduct trustworthy elections using digital voting technology.

Think of the work of the OSET Institute as a unique and essential public digital works project… on a publicly funded volunteer (not taxed) basis, and moving at the speed of any entrepreneurial digital venture (and not of a typical government bureaucracy).

In other words, the difference is that unlike government public works projects (even with private sector contractors) the work of the OSET Institute proceeds under an open source mandate, using strict engineering methodologies, and to every extent possible, on the pace of an Internet age, without the constraints of government processes.

Your ball. Please tell me what you think.

Happy Holidaze!


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