Schweik Brings Expertise in IT to National Center for Digital Government
Charles Schweik, associate professor of Natural Resources Conservation and Public Policy, has been appointed associate director of the National Center for Digital Government (NCDG). NCDG is a National Science Foundation National Center, based administratively in the Center for Public Policy and Administration (CPPA), part of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. NCDG works to build global research capacity, advance practice, and strengthen the network of researchers and practitioners engaged in building and using technology in government.
Schweik’s research program focuses on public-sector information technology, environmental management and policy, and the intersection of these domains. “My overall goal,” he says, “is to improve the way environmental policymakers, natural resource managers and citizens understand the effects of their actions, make better decisions about future strategies, share information about lessons learned, collaborate, and ultimately manage natural resources through the use of innovative applications of information technology (IT). Consequently, I study and actively conduct research at the intersection of Public Administration, IT (in particular, the Internet, databases, Geographic Information Systems [GIS] and satellite-based remote sensing), Public Policy and Political Science.”
Since 1998 Schweik has received nearly $1,400,000 (as of February 2006) in grant funding or donations. Much of his past research has involved studying deforestation and reforestation processes in the United States and Asia by combining satellite-based change analysis of the landscape with the study of management regimes and institutional contexts on the ground. One study, for example, used these techniques to evaluate the performance of a habitat conservation plan in California.
But most recently, Schweik’s research emphasis has turned to understanding how we can better utilize the Internet to encourage collaboration in science and in public administration. “Prior to graduate school,” he says, “I was a programmer for a major technology company. In graduate school, I began studying problems and solutions to managing environmental commons. Having these two backgrounds made me realize that the recent phenomenon of ‘open source’ software was a type of Internet-based commons, which has led to some real success stories in the software industry.”
Open source is a type of Internet-based collaboration between programmers, and in some cases, this collaboration can be global in nature. Many of these programmers volunteer their time and effort to these projects. Others are employed by firms or government agencies and paid to contribute. And it may come as a surprise that there are now well over 120,000 open source software projects residing on one open source website alone. In his study Schweik wants to learn what factors lead to success or failure of how to identify collaborative principles that appear to work in open source software development. This understanding could help areas of government that are seeking ways to collaborate in software development, such as the Government Open Code Consortium (gocc.gov). “But my ultimate hope,” Schweik notes, “is to produce insights that inform other collaborations beyond software. The collaborative principles could be much more generic, and the results might help us understand how people in the public and nonprofit sectors might collaborate globally in other domains, such as in scientific research and at a global scale.”
In addition to this research, Schweik has several other digital government-relevant projects, including designing and developing a web-based collaboration tool called the “Open Research System“ that supports collaboration by more than 50 researchers affiliated with the Baltimore Ecosystem Study Long Term Ecological Research program (www.beslter.org) and the Urban Ecology Collaborative (www.urbanecologycollaborative.org). Schweik also is a co-PI on a project trying to utilize the web and web-mapping functions to encourage information sharing between professional foresters and private forest landowners in Vermont and Massachusetts. “All of these projects,” he says, “have a ‘digital government’ connection and are a natural to be part of the new NCDG center on campus.”
Schweik’s experience with public-sector information technology and Internet-based collaboration will help to extend the social science research capacity of the NCDG and expand the center’s reputation for producing quality research around digital government.
September 25, 2006