Thanks to the Center for a New American Security, a think tank, Internet street mapping software has now moved beyond saving Gen Y drivers who never learned to read a map and become a proactive Government 2.0 tool.
The Big Energy Map is an online resource that places colored tabs on the geographical locations of Washington agencies that have a stake in issues of climate change or energy security. When a tab is clicked, a bubble comes up with a concise and informed overview of that organization’s place in the web of bureaucracy, its history, and why it is important now.
The catch is, while many Americans are concerned with global warming and U.S. energy policy, few people outside Washington or related advocacy groups would ever need to know precisely which agencies are tugging which strings. The map is indeed intended as a tool for bureaucrats and those in related fields—so does anyone else have a reason to care?
The answer is perhaps not. Yet. The map is rather limited in scope, and one may wonder upon first glance why it has its own website. But looking past the aesthetics of the map itself and into the nature of its creation reveals some interesting advances.
CNAS initially used an open wiki to gather information, which they then bolstered by directly talking to experts from various agencies and fields. In addition, the working paper that accompanies the map, Remodeling the U.S. Government for Energy Security: Initial Findings from the Big Energy Map, is constructed as a dynamic document. The authors were looking for a way of incorporating commentary, both from experts and regular Joes who emailed responses. By fully integrating input from onlookers, qualified and not, CNAS has further brought Washington policymaking into the sunlight, pushing the envelope of the already attractive, user-friendly, and interactive web sites of big think tanks like the Center for American Progress.
Even if the map itself is only used by a few thousand bureaucrats, and the research of its creators result in no more than a grain of sand in the beach of policy information, it should at least set a brilliant example in its method of conception. The success of Wikipedia, Intellipedia, and now possibly the Big Energy Map has shown that given a convenient outlet, those with knowledge will share it. If more projects follow in this vein, the esoteric world of policy creation will be brought home, and transparency in Washington could enjoy an all-time lucidness. And with increasing levels of information pulled from the reference shelf onto colorful maps, there may be hope for the A.D.D. generation in politics.
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