30 Nov Digital Government Summit seeks to bridge the digital divide
Madison, Wis. – Putting technological resources together in a coordinated fashion was the topic for government IT leaders, law enforcement officers, and government executives at the third annual Digital Government Summit this week at Monona Terrace.
Matt Miszewski, CIO for the State of Wisconsin, said the goal of the conference was to develop connections between public and private representatives by discussing issues each group could unite behind. This year, the conference moved to expand sponsor booths and attract educational representatives from K-12, technical colleges and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“It’s not as if there’s a deliverable, but what we want to get is people talking to each other,” Miszewski said. “City to city, group to group, policies coming together.”
Wisconsin’s law enforcement agency is working toward this goal, said Jim Pingel of the Office of Justice Assistance. Pingel is currently project director of the Wisconsin Justice Information Sharing Program, an initiative to develop a statewide interface for sharing information between police stations, courts and district attorneys.
Sharing information electronically is a lot easier in Wisconsin than other states, Pingel said, since it already possesses statewide systems such as Consolidated Court Automation Program for circuit court records and DA-Protect to handle case files of district attorneys. A unified system will expand this network further, offering access to all the unclassified data from the time an officer files a report.
Pingel said expanding this system is highly supported, especially since the many are intrigued by this type of technology. “The public thinks you’re doing this CSI kind of stuff, as you sit in your squad car and are able to access a whole wealth of information,” Pingel said.
One problem to deal with is the guarded nature of law enforcement, an attitude Pingel says the group has been working on through communication with dozens of different agencies across the state to make sure they understand the system’s capabilities.
“With a law enforcement officer that’s on the opposite end of the state, you’ve decreased your ability to know who is accessing your information,” Pingel said. “What it really comes down to is building trust.”
Trust has also been an important factor in experimenting with educational technologies, according to Jay Farnsworth, an educator at the Waunakee Intermediate School. Eight years ago, Farnsworth implemented a program at Waunakee to provide sixth-grade students with laptops for the entire year to study how it alters their study habits and curriculum development.
The program, which continued for seven years and was disbanded following the 2004-2005 school year, had impressive results. Students were able to practice their writing and presentation skills, and Farnsworth said they also showed a stronger sense of responsibility. In seven years of the project, not a single machine was damaged in transit or at home.
However, Farnsworth and his team was unable to draw up more support for the project since the laptops were limited to one class in ten. Teachers were reluctant to change their entire curriculums to accommodate the technology, and the cost of expanding the program was not seen as feasible by the school.
“People would come in, they would just shake their head and leave, saying ‘it just doesn’t seem like something we could do,’” Farnsworth said. “I couldn’t influence the mass in the direction I wanted, and I think it’s because I couldn’t exaggerate the success.”
Farnsworth said the school currently relies on mini-labs to get their computer work done, but without a personal computer for students to rely on they are only doing half as much work as they originally did. He said he hopes the project, or something similar, can be restored at the school, as students are fast evolving to make technology a part of their daily work habits.
“Our students can use technology and they take it in that way – they’re good at chatting, they’re good at communicating and they want to do just that ,” Farnsworth said.
Lou Waters, chief executive officer of SimDesk, agreed that personal computers are important to productivity since they provide a “home base” for people to get work done. Unfortunately, with more money spent to maintain existing computers for students than to attract new ones, the concept of one computer to one person seems to be a far-off goal under the existing system, Waters said.
“The idea of personal computers is almost like the homestead rush to populate the U.S. – even if it’s virtual, they need a place they can go where their stuff is,” Waters said.
What companies and government should be looking at is taking another look at the public access infrastructure – an area he said gets forgotten but receives a lot of use. For example, library computers are used to write and print reports, keep in touch with family and friends and even research their medical problems.
Developing this existing infrastructure, Waters said, would give lower income families an advantage they desperately need in education and the workforce. Just focusing on getting everyone a computer isn’t a reasonable goal – the trick is to find a system that already works and build on its capabilities.
“If you’re going to spend your money furthering the status quo, you’re going to waste your money,” Waters said. “We’re at the limit of what we can do, [we should] spend it on something that can elevate the status quo.”