FOI Advocate News Blog

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The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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October 22, 2014 7:36 PM

President Obama's well-publicized national open data policy (pdf) makes it clear that government data is a valuable public resource for which the government should be making efforts to maximize access and use. This policy was based on lessons from previous government open data success stories, such as weather data and GPS, which form the basis for countless commercial services that we take for granted today and that deliver enormous value to society. (You can see an impressive list of companies reliant on open government data via GovLab's Open Data 500 project.)

Based on this open data policy, I've been encouraging entrepreneurs to invest their time and ingenuity to explore entrepreneurial opportunities based on government data. I've even invested (through OíReilly AlphaTech Ventures) in one such start-up, Hipcamp, which provides user-friendly interfaces to making reservations at national and state parks.

A better system is sorely needed. The current reservation system, managed by the Active Network / Reserve America is clunky and almost unusable. Hipcamp changes all that, making it a breeze to reserve camping spots. Continue>>>
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October 22, 2014 7:35 PM

Philadelphia shells out a pretty penny every year to settle lawsuits based on allegations of police misconduct.

MuckRock.com, which bills itself as a "collaborative news site" that helps journalists, researchers and citizens analyze and share government documents, posted an online report yesterday that looked at how Philadelphia's annual payouts stack up against those in a handful of other large cities. The findings might not surprise you.

The city has shelled out more than $40 million to settle 584 of the 1,223 police-misconduct lawsuits - think wrongful-shooting deaths, excessive force or illegal searches - filed since January 2009, the website reported. Continue>>>
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October 22, 2014 7:34 PM

Four key principles-accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion-have in recent years become nearly universal features of the policy statements and programs of international development organizations. Yet this apparently widespread new consensus is deceptive: behind the ringing declarations lie fundamental fissures over the value and application of these concepts. Understanding and addressing these divisions is crucial to ensuring that the four principles become fully embedded in international development work.

Accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion represent vital embodiments of the opening to politics that occurred in development work in the 1990s. They bridge three distinct practitioner communities that emerged from this new direction-those focusing on governance, on democracy, and on human rights.

But consensus remains elusive. Democracy and human rights practitioners generally embrace an explicitly political understanding of the four concepts and fear technocratic or purely instrumentalist approaches. Governance specialists often follow a narrower approach, applying the core principles primarily to the quest for greater public sector effectiveness. Continue>>>
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October 22, 2014 7:32 PM

Valdosta Daily Times Editor Jim Zachary began the first in a statewide series of Open Government Symposiums with the words of Thomas Jefferson, ìInformation is the currency of democracy.î

Elected officials, city and county administrative staff, community watchdog groups, college students and journalists convened at the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University Friday.

Zachary asked the standing room only crowd to give elected officials and government staff applause for taking part in the open government event, saying, 'They are to be commended for taking an interest in and showing some commitment to government transparency.' Continue>>>
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October 22, 2014 7:31 PM

I should have been a lawyer. It's not that I have the smarts or the diligence. It's not that journalism isn't rewarding and challenging. It's just that, during my childhood, I couldn't count how many times my argumentative nature led somebody to suggest that I should become a lawyer. The irony is that my 11-year-old has inherited that nature - which is both a blessing and curse for his parents - and often is told the same thing. Something about the "sins of the father," I'm guessing.

Sure, I digress. It's just that I found myself thinking about all of this - lawyers, lawyering, the law, the ins and outs of legal maneuvering - last week when The Columbian's Editorial Board met with Bob Ferguson. He is the state's attorney general, having been elected in 2012.

Ferguson is not up for re-election; he simply was in town and offered to meet with The Columbian. And, to be honest, after dozens of meetings with candidates for various offices, it was a pleasure to have a more informal session with an official, just shooting the breeze and garnering some insight to what's going on around the state. Continue>>>

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October 22, 2014 7:30 PM

So much for transparency. Two top deputies of Mayor de Blasio, who campaigned on creating a new era of government openness, commonly use their personal Gmail accounts to discuss city-related issues, the Daily News has learned.

First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris and director of intergovernmental affairs Emma Wolfe routinely communicate via their private email addresses, according to multiple government insiders. Good-government groups contend that's a behind-the-scenes way to dodge oversight and contrary to the open government de Blasio vowed to run as he campaigned for mayor.

ìPublic officials should use their public emails for public activities,î said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. As a public advocate, de Blasio published 'transparency report cards' for city departments, concluding many failed to make their records public. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 12:05 PM

Ever wonder where state legislatures or local politicians get funding for their campaigns and how those funds might influence the polices they create? Common Cause New Mexico Campaign Manager, Heather Ferguson met with Daily News staff Wednesday to talk about the importance of the New Mexico Pledge campaign.

Common Cause New Mexico and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government currently have a New Mexico Pledge campaign aimed at reducing the influence of big-money interests in political campaigns. The educational campaign was launched in September.

"The main goal of the New Mexico Pledge is to both engage and empower New Mexican citizens that there are solutions to their concerns regarding the current state of disclosure and transparency in our state government," Ferguson said, adding, the modern campaign system is broken and prevents elected officials from solving big problems. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 12:04 PM

I learned many things last Tuesday. A young gentleman proudly told me of a youth-led initiative in Cameroon supporting government reforms by leading regulatory trainings for public healthcare providers. A young woman shared with me her desire to learn how to analyze the budget data her government recently made available. And another gentleman currently working at an NGO in India shared with me how social media has revolutionized the way local governments are responding and enhancing their service delivery.

These are all stories from last week's World Bank Group's Youth Summit 2014: The Need for Open and Responsive Governments. Over 300 young leaders from government, academia, civil society and the international community convened to hear speakers, engage with peers and learn new tools to support their work in promoting open governments. Hundreds more participated through our livestream broadcast and in World Bank offices from Tbilisi, Georgia to San Salvador, El Salvador.

I had the distinct pleasure to chair this year's conference and moderate the first session with Erion Veliaj, minister of social welfare and youth in Albania. He energized the audience by sharing part of his story, the motivations and challenges of entering Albanian politics, and how it's in the best interest of governments to be more transparent as it's the people who hold the voting power. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 12:02 PM

Rarely is the term 'city hall' considered synonymous with the words 'innovation' or 'efficiency.' Too often, the public image of municipal government is of a static bureaucracy staffed with disinterested clock-watchers focused on petty tasks and arcane processes. But two Harvard authorities on government and technology say it doesn't have to be that way.

In their new book, ìThe Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance,î Stephen Goldsmith, the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), and Susan Crawford, the John A. Reilly Visiting Professor in Intellectual Property at Harvard Law School (HLS), offer a road map for managers who want to move beyond the traditional silos of urban government. By embracing the latest tools, like fiber connectivity and predictive data analytics, they posit, the city hall of the future could radically reshape how local government serves its citizens, improving both civic life and trust.

A 'responsive' city is one that doesn't just make ordinary transactions like paying a parking ticket easier, but that uses the information generated by its interactions with residents to better understand and predict the needs of neighborhoods, to measure the effectiveness of city agencies and workers, to identify waste and fraud, to increase transparency, and, most importantly, to solve problems. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 12:00 PM

The names of police officers who are subject to an internal affairs complaint, as well as the names of complainants, cannot be shielded from the public under the state Open Public Records Law, a state judge has ruled.

In the decision, handed down Thursday, state Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne in Bergen County found the Bergen County Sheriff's Office wrongly redacted the information in records provided to John Paff, a self-proclaimed open government activist.

Doyne rejected arguments raised by the county that the information must be kept confidential under internal affairs guidelines established by the state Attorney General's Office, finding that those guidelines have no bearing on the public records law. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 11:58 AM

The Obama administration has launched a series of open data initiatives to make information across a variety of areas such as health, energy, climate, and public safety more accessible to federal agencies and citizens, a top White House official said.

These projects are an outgrowth of the administration's ongoing Open Government Initiative, which is using open data standards to make the vast amounts of government data more accessible, Nick Sinai, deputy chief technology officer for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, explained at a recent government/industry symposium on data transparency.

To help federal agencies carry out President Obama's May 2013 executive order on open data, the White House's Open Government Initiative website discusses the administration's approach to open data and also provides free code and software to help agencies implement the executive order, Sinai said, adding that these efforts go beyond making data "liquid" at the point of dissemination. "It's really about using information as a strategic asset." Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 11:57 AM

The identity of a public official who submitted a public comment letter to the Charleston District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been concealed from public view, because otherwise it 'would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'

That's according to the federal agency, which released a handful of documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act request for materials generated from the public meeting on Hardeeville's RiverPort development.

Among the records was the unnamed official's handwritten letter. The meeting was held Aug. 19 at Hardeeville City Hall as a way for the public to learn about the development's Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and to offer input. Continue>>>
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