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dg.o2003 Convenes in Boston
Bigger in numbers, broader in scope, the National Conference on Digital Government Research unites diverse researchers and government participants with a common goal
DGRC Staff

NSF Digital Government Program Manager Valerie Gregg welcomes the record crowd.

The National Conference on Digital Government Research opened here on May 19 at twice the size of the group's first meeting four years ago, with diverse foci ranging from bioinformatics and transportation to open source software.

Nearly 200 researchers, government employees and industry representatives registered for the first full day's sessions at the Hyatt Harborside Hotel, overlooking the ruffled waters of the Boston Harbor on a breezy but sun-spangled day.

"It's gotten to be a conference with some reputation to it," said NSF Digital Government Program Manager Larry Brandt.

Keynote speaker Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, set a visionary tone, comparing the transformative effect of new wireless networking technologies to the globe-shaping impact of geography of the past.

"The digital environment really did flatten out the world," said Negroponte, the Wiesner professor of media technology at MIT, and author of the best-seller "Being Digital."

Nicholas Negroponte

The next step, Negroponte said, was to begin to use the wireless spectrum more intelligently. "Regulate the handset, not the spectrum," he said. "The United States is head and shoulders above the rest of the world in understanding these things."

The three-day, National Science Foundation event, formally called dg.2003, was the first held in Los Angeles, home to the Digital Government Research Center, a collaboration of the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute and Columbia University. The host city now will rotate every year, as other institutions are being welcomed to take an active role in the community's growth.

Conference co-chair Eduard Hovy attributed the conference's steady expansion to increased participation by social and political scientists as well as Asian and European international digital government researchers. Hovy said the new emphasis on social science in the past year or so, supported by an NSF program modification calling for papers on the political and social ramifications of government IT, has made the research more relevant to government agencies, if somewhat less theoretical. But it also has introduced intriguing new research questions no pure technologist would have dreamed up.

For example, Hovy said he is working on a collaboration that would cluster email responses to new government regulations by opinion categories.
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"By law they have to read every communication they receive on a new regulation, and they don't have time to read 4 million emails," said Hovy, who with his colleagues has jokingly dubbed the project "Spambusters." "If we can tell them these are all from Sierra Club, these are all from developers, it's a big help. We've been clustering for 30 years, but it turns out opinion clustering is a fairly difficult thing to do."

The Spambusters collaboration was the product of relationships forged at the conference, another great benefit of the cross-disciplinary gathering, Hovy said, adding, "We sat down and talked about it just last night."

The conference is the only national forum for bureaucrats, researchers, officials and business people to discuss how computer and networking environments can help government serve citizens better.

This, year, submissions were so heavy that conference chairs were forced to turn away 37 papers, while accepting 16 long papers, 30 short ones and 17 posters, plus more than two dozen system demonstrations. The topics included automating a dental identification system, e-disbursement of child support payments and better public policy through natural language searching.

"It's not just IT anymore," said Hovy of the discipline's broadening reach. "Who knows where we'll end up."