FOI Advocate Blog

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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September 16, 2014 1:47 PM

When Gov. Mike Pence unveiled his new $9 million government management system, he ran down a list of ways it would make state government work better before ending with the promise that state government will also be more ìtransparent.î

But last weekís rollout of the new Management and Performance Hub, which Pence vowed will make Indiana the best state in the nation at crunching big data, was plagued with confusion - and a lack of transparency. Pence said it would help eliminate duplicative programs but didnít identify which programs heíd targeted to cut. Even the most basic question - how much the state had paid for the program - proved problematic.

The promise of ìtransparentî government is almost universally popular among politicians. It evokes the vision of a truly ìsmall dî democratic government that is answerable to the people and supports the concept of public trust. Continue>>>
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September 3, 2014 9:21 PM

No doubt the government’s push for more open data could drive innovation in private sector organisations, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. At the Australia 3.0 forum in Melbourne last week, a mixed group of IT professionals, government officials and heads of private companies came together to discuss how to address the main barriers preventing agencies and departments releasing more data to the public.

The elephant in the room when it comes to releasing government data is the expense of anonymising it. Departments such as human services, health and social services hold vast amounts of data but much of it is highly personal and sensitive, and costly to anonymise.

“It requires a degree of expertise, and not all agencies will have the skills to be able do that, so they might have to bring the skills in. Most agencies will not have the relevant skills to be able to understand how to anonymise the data in a sufficient, safe way to get it out there,” said Abul Rizvi, former deputy secretary, digital economy, Department of Communications. Continue>>>
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August 22, 2014 7:45 AM

A new study puts the Beehive State near the top when it comes to making government data accessible. The Center for Data Innovation gave Utah a score of 8, which is the highest possible, for its open data policies.

From Roll Call: "Here’s why the report thinks having both a detailed open data policy and open data portals that provide data in machine-readable formats and through a single location are important:

"The purpose of open data portals is to provide government accountability and data that can be used for socially and economically beneficial purposes, and they are more likely to continue to be updated and maintained if they are backed up by state policies, just as policies are more likely to be effective if there is a place to publish the data they require."

The other states that scored at the top of the study were Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Oklahoma. The bottom scoring states are Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming. Continue>>>
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August 7, 2014 7:34 AM

Bozeman has joined the state of Montana’s open government push as the first city to publish local databases on a state website. The website, data.mt.gov, contains 36 datasets. It includes all public information about the facilities leased by the state and employee pay information, among other databases. Four datasets from the city of Bozeman include all building permits issued since 1996 and city zoning districts.

The site was part of the governor’s push for greater transparency in government and increased efficiency, said Audrey Hinman, bureau chief for the Application Technology Services Bureau for the state chief information officer. It went live on June 30 to little fanfare. The state plans to widely trumpet the site once it has more datasets and staffers gain more experience with it.

Bozeman was brought into the fold after partnering with the state on the Montana Site Selector, a similar project that melds city and state land data. City staffers’ “very aggressive” approach to making city data publicly available made Bozeman spring to the top of the list once the governor and state chief information officer decided to open the website to local governments, Hinman said. Continue>>>
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August 1, 2014 7:29 AM

The national governments of the US, the UK, and other G7 nations have been focusing more attention on the economic value of open data, as opposed to broader societal benefits.

While pointing to evidence that open data fuels economic activity is a good rationale for the release of relevant data sets, it's far from the only impact that releasing government data can have upon the world. As I've explored in past columns, publishing open data can increase resilience against climate change, offer insight into healthcare costs and outcomes, protect consumers, and fuel accountability and transparency.

If national governments are going to invest time, money, and public attention on releasing data, they should also focus upon releases that have social benefits as well as economic outcomes. Last week, looking for fresh examples, outcomes, and emerging issues around these issues, I attended a forum on the social impact of open data hosted by the Center for Data Innovation in Washington, DC. (See video.) Continue>>>
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August 1, 2014 7:22 AM

As government records grow in both volume and type, agencies are challenged with managing that information in a manner that combines physical and digital environments. Moreover, by 2019, agencies will be required to manage their permanent electronic records in a format that meets the guidelines of the presidential directive on managing government records.

The directive's goals are to minimize costs and promote greater openness, accessibility and accountability between government and citizens in alignment with President Barack Obama's Open Government Initiative, which was launched in 2009.

As agencies work to improve their digitization strategies, they must recognize the value and efficiency of close collaboration between records management (RM) and IT professionals. Although each group brings its own expertise to the digitization process, together -- and in compliance with National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) procedures -- they can form a winning partnership to propel agencies forward during their move to digital records. Continue>>>
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July 16, 2014 1:05 AM

The open data movement is about more than government agencies being transparent, it's driving efficiencies across government and industry in Australia, says GovHack's national coordinator Pia Waugh.

GovHack is an Australia-wide hackathon event where developers produce innovative tools and apps using open government data.

There are currently 3,677 datasets on data.gov.au, including an estimated 500 new datasets that were published in the few weeks leading up to GovHack 2014. More than 1,200 developers across Australia hacked away over a 48-hour period at this year’s event on 11-13 July.

Waugh gave examples of GovHack projects in the past that have been implemented in government and industry to help drive efficiencies.

The Open Budget project, developed during GovHack 2012, was implemented for this year’s Federal Budget. It’s a visualisation tool that allows citizens to easily see where different government agencies spend their money. Continue>>>
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Australia, open data
July 9, 2014 8:36 AM

Open Data Roundtable meetings have begun, a step in the partnership of government agencies with industry to ensure that the data sets the government publishes directly benefit the economy.

In a GovLab Blog, Joel Gurin, senior advisor, explains, “The GovLab’s Open Data 500 study — the first comprehensive study of companies that use open government data as a key business resource — has given us the knowledge, context, and connections to serve as an effective convener for Roundtables like this. Our study, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, has mapped the linkages between federal agencies and the companies that use their data for the first time. Most agencies don’t know who is using their data, beyond the companies that are their largest customers, and most companies don’t have the federal contacts to request data in more useful forms.”

Bruce Andrews, the Commerce Department’s acting deputy secretary, wrote in a blog, “"We know that only by listening to the business community, partnering with industry, and collaborating with fellow government agencies can we best serve our customers and unleash the full power and potential of open data.” Continue>>>
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June 23, 2014 7:05 AM

Entrepreneurs and innovators can now access machine-readable research data in the areas of energy, healthcare, and space from more than 700 federal research and development facilities to assist them in researching, building, and testing new technologies through a major enhancement to the Research.Data.gov portal.

The open data, from facilities belonging to the Energy Department, National Institutes of Health, and NASA, includes advanced research tools and represents billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded investment, said Doug Rand, assistant director for entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in a Data.gov announcement posted this week.

Such activities can have a dramatic influence on US technology in key areas such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and clean energy, to name a few. Continue>>>
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June 16, 2014 7:43 AM

The Open Government movement has captured the imagination of many around the world as a way of increasing transparency, participation, and accountability. In the US, many of the federal, state, and local Open Government initiatives have been demonstrated to achieve positive results for citizens here and abroad. In fact, the White House’s science advisors released a refreshed Open Government plan in early June.

However, a recent study in Sweden says the benefits of transparency may vary, and may have little impact on citizens’ perception of legitimacy and trust in government. This research suggests important lessons on how public managers should approach the design of transparency strategies, and how they work in various conditions.

Jenny de Fine Licht, a scholar at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden, offers a more nuanced view of the influence of transparency in political decision making on public legitimacy and trust, in a paper that appears in the current issue of “Public Administration Review.” Her research challenges the assumption of many in the Open Government movement that greater transparency necessarily leads to greater citizen trust in government. Continue>>>
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June 9, 2014 7:00 AM

Last month, web designer Sean Wittmeyer and colleague Wojciech Magda walked away with a $25,000 prize from the state of Colorado for designing an online tool to help businesses decide where to locate in the state.

The tool, called "Beagle Score," is a widget that can be embedded in online commercial real estate listings. It can rate a location by taxes and incentives, zoning, even the location of possible competitors -- all derived from about 30 data sets posted publicly by the state of Colorado and its municipalities.

The creation of Beagle Score is an example of how states, cities, counties and the federal government are encouraging entrepreneurs to take raw government data posted on "open data" websites and turn the information into products the public will buy. Continue>>>
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June 4, 2014 8:36 AM

The publication of a new report from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) prompts a quick look at the progress of the Obama administration’s US Open Data Action Plan.

That has its roots in the June 2013 pledge made at the Open Data Charter meeting of G7 leaders to publish a roadmap for improving use of open data as well as Obama’s executive order requiring federal agencies to make government data open and machine readable by default.

The NASCIO report, States and Open Data: From Museum to Market Place – What’s next?, looks at what has occurred across the US and offers some recommendations on how to advance state government open data initiatives and begin moving to a next level of maturity, which it calls the strategic stage. Continue>>>
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