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Help Create An Innovation Agenda For The Next Administration

12 like 2 dislike

Darrell West of the Governance Studies program of the Brookings Institution is seeking to crowdsource ideas, feedback and insights into how the government can promote an innovation economy.  The results of this effort may go into an eventual report put out by West for new members of the next Administration.  Below this post, we've pre-loaded an initial list of 96 different possible agenda items, as prepared by West, for an innovation agenda, covering a variety of proposals touching on these topics:

  • the building of digital infrastructure
  • the promotion of entrepreneurship and economic development
  • improving productivity in the private and public sectors
  • improving education and workforce development
  • strengthening creativity and invention
  • improving university commercialization
  • improving decision making through data analytics
  • protecting digital assets
  • harmonizing cross-border laws to promote the digital economy
  • promoting socially responsible innovation

Now we need your help:

  1. Read through the list of items listed below this post
  2. Vote (up or down) on the items, based on the priority you believe they deserve
  3. Comment on individual items, with suggestions, thoughts, information, clarifications, etc.
  4. Respond to others' comments and discuss the various ideas being proposed
  5. Add your own items if you feel there are ideas that are lacking from the initial 96 items

Together, we can help shape a powerful agenda for innovation.

initiated Aug 13, 2012 in Economics by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
edited Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick

113 Responses

31 like 0 dislike


Have educational resources developed with taxpayer dollars be licensed under creative commons license 

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
@mmasnick I voted up but I think it should be public domain. Creative Commons may be a good start though given that they aren't scrapping copyright laws anytime soon.
@ninja Agreed - that was my first thought upon reading this. If it's paid for by the public, it should be full public domain... In fact, when you think about it, it's rather crazy that "taxpayer-funded educational resources" are not *already* copyright-free...
@leigh It's been discussed a while back in an article that it is extremely hard to make anything classified as Public Domain under the current laws. I tend to believe that's why Mike is suggesting Creative Commons. I'm very wary though as it's some sort of "patch" to override the current problems in the law. And patches tend to delay even more dealing with the core issues no matter how effective they (the patches) are.
@ninja True - but one of the few places where it *is* possible/easy to make things public domain is in publications by the government. AFAIK anything actually published by a School Board is public domain - but the problem is the bidding process whereby they buy their materials from textbook companies (a process that creates all sorts of messed up incentives that run counter to actually getting the best possible material for students, and leaves all the IP with the publishers)

I'm sure there would be challenges, but I think it'd be a good place to start, and a place where you can be firm and unwavering in insisting that we do it right. "Educational material should be public domain" is a difficult position to argue with.
@leigh @ninja A couple points: things developed by third parties, not the government are NOT automatically public domain.  In that case, a CC license could make more sense (and has one added benefit of encouraging sharing of derivative works as well), because it encourages companies to produce CC materail.  So I think this suggestion (from Darrell, again, not from me) could make a lot more sense.

There are a few companies that are trying to produce CC licensed textbooks, and this kind of effort could help them out.

Also, Leigh, the rule on no copyrights for gov't docs *only* applies to the federal government.  It does not apply to state and local documents, though many think it should.  So, it's entirely possible that school board documents could be covered by copyright...
@mmasnick I guess the question of which CC license we are talking about makes a big difference too. Having BY-ND-NC on everything would make very little difference - unfortunately, while I can see publishers relinquishing the ND and maybe even BY clauses, I can't see them ever agreeing to release without the NC requirement.
@ninja Agreed!
@mmasnick I figured there was some trick to this item. And I never knew the rule didn't apply to the state govts. Seems odd to me that something that applies to the top level of the Govt doesn't automatically extend to the rest. Still, as leigh noted the NC attribute is pretty damning. If we consider for a minute that a lot of systems w use today were first introduced via Govt researching (military notably) then going for Public Domain makes much more sense to me. Again, I'm not saying this item is not valid but I doubt how effective it can be.
@ninja I'm actually not sure I agree with your assessment that all of this is due to government research.  We're talking about educational materials, like textbooks, much of which was developed outside of government funding.  So I don't think it's an issue either way.  I think focusing on a CC license here makes sense.
@mmasnick specifying which CC license helps, CC-BY being the most obvious, being used in limited similar policies that exist now. There's a lot to be said for CC0/public domain or CC-BY-SA instead, but misunderstanding of both and disagreement about which is actually more appropriate leads back to CC-BY. "[a] creative commons license" is just ripe for skepticism and nitpicking as seen above.
@mmasnick Not all surely but it started from Governmental systems (or something that had taxpayer funding). Sure if it was developed outside of the Govt then it's ok to have a license on it but if it has taxpayers money funding then it should be public domain. But you are right if you mean it's not that black and white.
27 like 1 dislike
Encourage classes in critical thinking, analysis, statistics, and financial literacy in K-12 schools.
response added Aug 13, 2012 by Josh Remer (930 points)   1 2 3
@aphx Logic classes are probably more important than math classes... students have been taught to hate math, but logic could be a "new" class that no one hates... (yet!)
Vague. What does "encourage" mean? When is it sufficient?

Also, education policy is not a federal responsibility.
@joshremer   I'd have to say yes and no. I liked it up to the part about financial literacy. I think financial literacy is kind of a scam. The social safety net and pensions were systematically destroyed by the finance industry, under the guise of giving people "control" over their finances. All they really did was shift the burden of saving and investing onto citizens, which just doesn't make sense. Should one's core competence really extend to evaluating municipal bonds, P/E and risk ratios of securities, options, and so on? Of course not.

To me, the basic economics of savings and mortgages would be a great thing for people to learn, but on a practical level they simply must have professionals whom they can trust.

Critical thinking, analysis, statistics, and so on are great things for people to learn, however. I just wouldn't want it to be used as justification for more fleecing under caveat emptor.
@jimharperdc -- Yes, this is a "vague" goal, but it could serve as a nice starting point for more specific policies.

Education policy is not a federal responsibility... But citizens certainly do seem to hold the federal govt accountable when policies like "no child left behind" don't produce positive tangible results, no?

Perhaps we need to propose a more fundamental goal -- such as creating a system of metrics to determine what education funds are accomplishing. Then we can attempt to decide what is sufficient. Hopefully, though, these metrics will not be based on nationwide standardized tests.
@joshremer It is not a bad idea.  But, should K-12 schools focus on education or rather on practical skills and job training?
24 like 1 dislike


Encourage more open access to data collected through federal grant dollars

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
@mmasnick We tried -- that worked out... not so well. Agreed that open access to data collected through federal grant dollars is laudable, but how is this innovative? Do we know what data is useful to be made available?

Do we know what businesses we might be putting out of business by making data available? What businesses we might create by making certain types of data available? Need more thought here -- it's not a one-size fits all solution.

If you put requirements like this, do we know of any researchers who might not accept the federal funds (and thus not help the federal government with research) because of these caveats?
@anon_e I don't think this is innovative by itself, but it's pretty clear that it would likely enable important innovations.
@mmasnick "Pretty clear" in my opinion needs more evidence and is an unsatisfactory answer for needs more logical thought. The 2008-2011 period saw plenty of dot-com like actions by the government with to make more data available. While well-intended, a lot of work was spent obtaining data and clearing data with not much boom. Again, several questions need to be asked:

Do we know what businesses we might be putting out of business by making data available?

What businesses we might create by making certain types of data available?

If you put requirements like this, do we know of any researchers who might not accept the federal funds (and thus not help the federal government with research) because of these caveats?

Government should be deliberative in what it does.
@anon_e if we're talking about government data, it's difficult to argue that it should be locked up. We have a perfect example of how this helps, rather than hurts, businesses: weather data.  In the US, data published by the National Weather Service is free and open to all.  And huge numbers of weather services have been built on top of it.  In Europe, such data is considered proprietary, and there is very little competition.  Open data creates opportunities for innovation.
@mmasnick Note that I'm not saying "lock it up" -- I'm saying in that in a time of reduced budgets, are you absolutely sure ALL data needs to have the SIGNIFICANT amount of time to obtain it, clean it, and make it available?

Can you think of instances where some data is fairly esoteric and not worth the expense?

Remember: budgets will be tight and/or declining? Are you absolutely sure the juice is equally worth the squeeze in every instance here?

Can you prioritize what data is the most valuable?

Weather data is great and we already do it. It doesn't mean the same applies to all government data (this was conversations the 2008-2009 folks missed, that all data could magically be as good as weather data). I submit that the flight patterns of a rare subspecies of bird for the last 60 years while nice -- is not the same magnitude.

Is there a way you can get for-profits or non-profits to carry the cost? That way zero impact to declining budgets AND for-profits have an incentive to help prioritize for you what data is important in their opinion!

One last thought: remember how AOL made "anonymized" data available openly to the internet. Well that argument you have that open data leads to innovation is partially right -- the supposedly anonymized data turned out be possible to reconstruct the identities of the individuals doing the search queries. Ooops! So how are you going to ensure that if the government makes data available on humans, it doesn't make the same mistake and set itself up for a lawsuit?
Vagueness problem. What does it mean to "encourage"?
24 like 2 dislike


Ensure that local, state, and federal government procurement processes are fair, open, and transparent

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
Procurement should be preferential to open source solutions that otherwise are qualified for the job.  Open source is best for taxpayers.  Open source is least likely to leave purchaser locked in to a single vendor that under performs or can't perform.  If a competitor can out perform the current vendor, then they have just as much right and access to the open source as the original vendor.
@dannyb Wouldn't it be better to suggest "open standards"

Open source can have vendors drop support. Open source is not always best for taxpayers if it costs a lot on the contracting support side. Check out -- would recommend suggesting open standards and not confusing with open source. Open source is good, but it does not always succeed in what you claim here.

Also -- this is just one piece of a much more difficult procurement reform piece. People will claim procurement wasn't "fair" when they don't win the contract they wanted. This could be legitimate claim or a sour grapes claim. How do you determine the difference?
General statement about all of the ideas here:

I applaud the effort and generally am a fan of crowdsourcing. However I am concerned as crowdsourcing has been empirically proven (see for the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and google Scott Page Diversity for references) to need two things to have better results than a panel of experts, namely:

(1) A diversity of participants
(2) Shared goals among the participants

I am concerned that we may not have sufficient diversity (hard to see if we have a high percentage of white males online or not). What's our percentage of "folks outside of government" to folks "inside of government as political appoints" to folks "inside of government as non-political career employees" to folks "at the federal vs. state vs. local level of governments"? How diverse are we?

Again, though well-intentioned, most of these responses seem to need more thought to the broad dimension of (1) how government actually works internally, and (2) how to involve government and businesses together vs. in conflict.

... which makes me then concerned we lack shared goals. Without shared goals (people may be making pitches because it helps them, instead of invoking Rawls' Vale of Ignorance and thinking about the broader common good), we'll be fragmented and it simply will be whatever majority block is present that pluses up the most.  

I'm concerned that we lack shared goals and diversity as the statements seem pithy without much identification of the problem they're trying to solve. Statements seem to be written by individuals who haven't actually worked within the government and thus lack the clarity on how exactly the proposals would be implemented in a realistic time period other than by sheer podium-stomping (which rarely works long-term).

Again -- lots of hope -- but empirically without diversity and shared goals, this exercise has challenges.
This item lacks specificity. One doesn't know how the government would "ensure" these things or how to measure fairness, openness, and transparency.
23 like 2 dislike


Improve transparency by publicizing government requests to remove Internet content, censor usage, or subpoena information

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
@mmasnick Why just government requests? Aren't most requests to remove Internet content from private companies?

How is this innovative? This sounds more like a concern that the government is improperly using its authorities to do those activities -- which would be better as part of a different agenda.
@anon_e Just government requests, because this is what the *government* should be doing.
@mmasnick You sound conspiratorial. Do you think this is going on in secret?

Legally, if the government wanted to remove content or block content -- it would need to file a legal court docket. That docket would be public, unless the case was made to a judge who determined it should be kept secret because the material involved something that sharing with the public was only made worse. Do you have evidence where the government isn't following this existing procedure to remove internet content or "censor" informaton?

As for subpoenas, again -- unless a judge determines the material should be kept secret because the material involved something that hsharing with the public was only made worse -- these would be records of the court. What exactly is the problem you're trying to fix here that existing mechanisms don't help solve?
@anon_e Nothing conspiratorial at all.  You asked why this suggestion was focused on gov't transparency rather than companies, and I explained, because this is a project about what the government is doing.

As for the court docket info, that's clearly not always true.  If you look at Google's transparency report, for example, they've revealed requests from law enforcement to take down content outside of the legal system.
@mmasnick The court docket info is actually consistent with what I've said: unless the case was made to a judge who determined it should be kept secret because the material involved something that sharing with the public was only made worse. If Google did this, the legal system made that determination.

What are you trying to fix here? Do you think the court system is broken or being abused?
This seems to be a civil liberties issue and not innovation. I'm unclear on what problems it is intended to address because I'm not clear that there is a problem with government seeking the removal of Internet content or "censoring usage." The government rightfully subpoenas information *all the time* in the course of ordinary law enforcement and while it might be nice to know about all of it, I don't think it's a high priority to get at all of it, but rather to get at wrongful instances.
18 like 1 dislike


Reduce barriers to entry to low skill jobs by reducing unnecessary licensing or certification requirements at the state and local levels

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
@mmasnick How do we determine unnecessary licensing or certification? Review panels? Who determines?

There is value in some licensing. I don't want just anyone claiming to be a plumber or electrician. Which areas do you consider there to be unlicensing or certification requirements?

Now, encouraging those licensing or certifications to be more affordable, that might be better than through the "baby out with the bath water".
@anon_e There has been a fair amount of research done into how licensing and certifications can seriously harm competitiveness.  There are areas where it can make sense, but we've clearly gone beyond that.  I think there are enough tools today to let there be a significant culling of unnecessary licenses and certifications.
@mmasnick Can you cite some papers. And we're talking about professional licensing of individuals, right?

Usually the folks who argue that professional licensing of individuals harm competitiveness do not consider the harm they're doing to the professions. Professional socieities evolved as a way of self-policing themselves when the general public doesn't know enough to know if that stranger you meet is skilled or not and/or is ethical or not. Think doctors -- how do you know if they're skilled or ethical? Think lawyers? Now plumbers? Electricians? (zap goes your house b/c you got a non-certified electrician who didn't know what they were doing or was unethical and cut corners).

Which profession do you think suffers from the burdens you reference?
@anon_e plenty of research on this topic.  Recent NYT article:
@mmasnick Love it when economists assume that making money is making money is making money (that is, any gain is equal to a similar gain of similar magnitude).

The links you posted describe a different problem -- that state or local boards may be overzealous. The suggestion from Econlib seems to have a more concrete, brass tacks fix:

Public representation on licensing boards has also become a popular way of improving accountability.

... why not this? That way you avoid throwing the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater?
I like the idea, but this is not a federal responsibility.
18 like 1 dislike


Create incentives for the formation of competitive as opposed to monopolistic markets 

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
For software, one of the biggest ways to encourage competition and discourage monopolies is with open source.  Therefore open source should be preferred.
@mmasnick Are you saying the U.S. government does not do this? Can you point to specific examples? Isn't the DOJ considering Google on anti-trust? Didn't they historically do this with Microsoft?

How is this innovative again?

And for Danny B., see earlier comment on open source -- don't confuse "open standards" with open source. Innovation can happen with open standards with black-boxed code. Apple created a lot of products and jobs w/o going open source. Open source has its place and is good, but it's not a cure-all.
@anon_e I think you may be misunderstanding the point of much of this, in that you keep asking how "this" is innovative.  The government itself does not do much innovation.  But it can create the conditions for innovation.  And this is a policy item that is focused on creating conditions for innovation.  The concern is not anti-trust issues, as you allude to, but avoiding situations in which the government helps create the monopoly, a la the telephone system.
@mmasnick I'm asking if this is innovative in the idea that haven't we always been trying to do this since we broke up the telephone system in the 70s? When has the U.S. government not be trying to incentivize competitive markets? Often to the lament of several large companies.

So without specifically citing the incentives you want -- this recommendation appears "fluffy" and hand-waving. Are there different incentives that you think we could consider here? For example, if you got down to brass tacks and said:

Government should encourage all agencies to reuse open standards (from OASIS, OMG, and other open standards groups), that might have the impact you're describing. If government agencies have to reuse open standards -- and can only buy products with open standards, than sellers of products to the government would have to use open standards, which would make their products interoperable, which would create markets more competitive compared to the non-open standards (if any at all) we current have among products sold to government. Clearly those products, if they adopted open standards, would also be available for commercial use as well.

Does this help? I'm trying to encourage non-fluffy recommendations and this original recommendation was so vague it was hard to see what you were pitching?
I agree that this is too broadly stated. We wouldn't be able to check a "yes" or "no" box as to whether this had been done.
18 like 2 dislike


Incorporate crowd-sourcing into patent process to identify significant innovations and detect potentially over-broad or non-original patents

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
This good proposal needs more specificity. It could call for public review during the patent application process, for example.
Intellectual Property Reform
16 like 1 dislike


Increase accountability for unused and underused spectrum under the control of government agencies, including fees for holding unused spectrum. 

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
@mmasnick Unused spectrum is sometimes used for undercover police or national security efforts. How then would you assess "fees for unused spectrum".

What's the problem this is trying to solve -- perhaps go back to first principles and instead of regulating it or punishign government, are there ways we can make it attractive to businesses and government to find more common solutions?
@anon_e If it's being used by law enforcement then it is, by definition, "used."  No one is talking about taking away law enforcement spectrum.  But there is tremendous amounts of wasted spectrum that could be put to much more efficient and innovative uses.

As for what problem this is trying to solve?  Where to start? (1) We have a problem with not enough broadband.  Enabling more spectrum for use in broadband could be a huge boost.  (2) Enabling more unlicensed spectrum could create useful other technologies.  Think of all the unlicensed spectrum you use every day: WiFi, bluetooth, cordless phones, etc...
@mmasnick Re: undercover operations -- in some cases it cannot be declared as used or usable. Moreover, you wanted to wanted to increase accountability, which means more audits which might compromise.

As for problem to solve -- that's motherhood and apple pie you describe. What is the problem in terms of your proposed solution -- do you think that government agencies are sitting on lots of unused spectrum and if so, which specific ones (and maybe target them specifically so you can avoid compromising the efforts of others).

Trying to help de-fluffy your fluffy recommendation.

Block-D spectrum -- that's not been for a lack of executive branch government agencies willingness to make it available. That's a congressional stalemate on how to make it available. You would propose penalizing agencies when the problem is deeper and with the legislative side?
16 like 1 dislike


Encourage wider use of more open licensing of content and ideas, such as creative-commons licensing

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
@mmasnick Open licensing or open standards. Again, distinctions matter. Are we sure that if you encourage more open licensing of content people won't just go elsewhere or license their material or spend their time innovating?

Instead of regulating it, are there ways we can make it attractive to businesses to voluntarily make more open licenses or inexpensive licenses? Can we involve industry in helping with the solution?
@anon_e This is about open licenses, not open standards.  And there does seem to be quite a bit of evidence that open licenses encourage innovation.
@mmasnick If open licenses -- politically are you undermining any financial support base? Can you help think deeper and future on ways, instead of regulating it, we can make it attractive to businesses to voluntarily make more open licenses or inexpensive licenses?

Can we involve industry in helping with the solution?
How is "encouragement" measured? How would one know if this agenda item has been met?

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