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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May 4, 2015 11:05 AM

While not the only source of open data, government can play an important wider supporting role, no matter who manages or provides the information beyond the General Election, argues Open Data Institute technical director Jeni Tennison.

Government collects, maintains and provides access to a whole range of data. It manages information to aid decision making, including geospatial data, the census and crime surveys.

The day-to-day business of government also produces data, such as spending information, transport timetables or car registrations. Continue>>>
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April 24, 2015 11:59 AM

The push for open government and open data by federal officials, as well as authorities across many states and cities, can seem an unmitigated good. Talk to journalists, however, and there are myriad areas where they believe government at all levels is still being less than transparent — and less than helpful in revealing facts that the public is entitled to know.

Scholars who study transparency initiatives point out the ambiguities inherent in many transparency projects, the modest real outcomes in most cases, and even the potential downsides of “naked government” or the possibility of using the banner of transparency to whitewash or conceal. For example, the Obama administration has said it has a “lot to brag about” in terms of responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and in 2014 alone it “processed 647,142 FOIA requests, and over 91% of those requests resulted in the release of either some or all of the requested records,” according to press secretary Josh Earnest. However, the Associated Press did its own analysis and concluded that the Obama administration set a “new record” for denying records in 2014. (This debate comes as the federal government continues to field more and more requests from citizens and firms of all kinds, in addition to journalists.)

Meanwhile, open-data initiatives such as Data.gov have been criticized by journalists for the perceived lack of useful datasets, even if businesses have leveraged some of the data streams. And at all levels, it is unclear if merely releasing datasets meaningfully contributes to public knowledge or understanding. Part of the cognitive dissonance might be explained by the fact that even the original “open data” agencies, such as the federal government’s principal statistical agencies (the Census Bureau, for example), have struggled to keep up with the pace of Web innovation, from user-centric design and interactive applications to search and mobile optimization. Continue>>>
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April 22, 2015 12:46 PM

The Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins, established with a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, aims to assist more than 100 U.S. cities in creating data infrastructures to transform the way their governments operate. The center is part of the university's 21st Century Cities Initiative, a university signature initiative that brings together city leaders and top researchers to confront the pressing needs of revitalizing cities throughout the country and abroad.

"Our focus is on resilient cities both here and around the world. We want to study 21st-century possibilities and challenges, and to adopt 21st-century solutions," says Kathryn Edin, a sociologist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, who has been named director of the 21CC initiative. Edin has guided the organizational, financial, and investigatory growth of 21CC, formerly named the Johns Hopkins Institute for the American City, since joining the faculty last year as a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor.

"Imagine a city whose infrastructure is crumbling," she says. "The 20th-century solution is to dig up pipes, repair them, and put them back in the ground. In the 21st century, we'd want to think bigger than that." Continue>>>
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April 20, 2015 1:05 PM

Plodding along seemingly slower than desert tortoises that spawned the dispute between Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management more than 20 years ago, the BLM has finally provided a watchdog group with a few dozen pages of documents under a Freedom of Information Act request.

But none of the heavily redacted documents sheds light on what led to last year’s armed standoff between Bundy’s supporters and federal agents. The standoff occurred after the BLM hired a helicopter firm to round up more than 300 of his free-roaming cows from the Gold Butte range only to let them be released from a makeshift corral on April 12, 2014, as a potentially violent confrontation loomed.

“There’s so little information; we don’t know why it took a year to find 44 pages,” Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. His group requested the documents in late April for an FOIA lawsuit it filed against the BLM in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Continue>>>
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April 14, 2015 12:22 PM

No one knows for sure whether Walter Scott was the third 2015 fatality from a police shooting or the 20th. And we should know.

But the United States has no database for police shootings, so we can’t find out .

If Mr. Scott’s shocking death is to spur a much-needed national conversation about policing, racial profiling and the use of deadly force, the big-picture number is a key piece of information. Continue>>>
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February 11, 2015 11:10 AM

Phrases like “housing vouchers” and “senior accessibility” aren’t commonly heard at a weekend hackfest. But those words were the focus of one of Seattle’s largest open data hackathons ever — a unique event hosted by Zillow and the University of Washington this weekend.

More than 200 developers spent most of the past 72 hours at Zillow’s downtown Seattle headquarters for “Hack Housing,” an event that encouraged teams to use public government data to build solutions that help people find affordable and accessible places to live — specifically first-time homebuyers, senior citizens, and low-income renters.

The judges awarded the $10,000 first-place prize to SmartMove, an app developed by Tim Lebell, Jake Grajewski, and David Puerto that determines the best place to live based on proximity to a person’s most-visited locations, like a workplace, the grocery store, and other places critical to their daily lives. Continue>>>
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February 6, 2015 1:21 PM

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect. Tim Berners-Lee W3C.
Some fundamental first principles:

1) The idea of digital inclusion is more expansive than we sometimes imagine; in fact, digital inclusion encompasses the right to appropriate access to the content made available through technology. The distinction between availability and accessibility is at the core of the right of people with disabilities to receive, manipulate and share content. Continue>>>
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January 14, 2015 8:36 AM

The city of Jackson, Michigan, has bold ambitions to make its website the first of its kind in the Great Lakes State to operate as an open data portal.

Unfortunately, city officials announced they’ve hit a slight delay in the process, pushing the expected rollout back at least a month.

"We're kind of struggling to keep our heads above water after the holidays," Jackson City Manager Patrick Burtch said in an interview with MLive.com. "We were going to meet with city employees this week to train them on policies and procedures but pushed it back to next." Continue>>>
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January 14, 2015 8:34 AM

2015 should be the year for open data in California. A new crop of state lawmakers and constitutional officers, combined with activity underway in state and local governments, are pushing California closer to a “tipping point” where the demand and use of data can truly transform the public sector.

Other states – including New York, Texas, Maryland, and Utah – have all jumped on the Open Data bandwagon. In 2014, California cities, including LA and San Diego showed their commitment by hiring chief data officers. At the state level, the California Health and Human Services Agency is -growing its open data offerings, adding departments and data sets to its portal that started last year with public health data. The data-rich portal is essentially a pilot for the rest of state government.

The pioneers are demonstrating that data is a public resource that can stimulate economic investment, inform policy choices, guide public mangers to improve results and deepen citizen involvement in public decisions and community activities. Continue>>>
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January 5, 2015 6:50 AM

Open data has found the most innovation at the local government level. While not taking away from the efforts of data.gov and the state initiatives, local data has more impact on the day to day lives of civil society. A wealth of city and county public data exists, but accessing it can sometimes be time consuming. Now, thanks to a new local government partnership, open data in Durham is just months away from becoming a reality.

The City of Durham and Durham County governments in North Carolina are embarking on an open data partnership that will lay the groundwork for businesses, non-profits, journalists, universities, and residents to access and use the wealth of public data available between the two government organizations, while becoming even more transparent to the residents of Durham.

Durham City and County is taking a social sustainability approach toward their open data initiative. There are several categories of data that fit in with the assessment, gap analysis and open data roadmap toward creating a sustainable Durham: Continue>>>
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December 30, 2014 11:23 AM

Richmond officials are looking to open up more city data to the public by making information available on government spending, permits, crime and real estate.

Councilman Jonathan T. Baliles, 1st District, introduced an ordinance this month that would require the city to publish its payment register on the city’s website.

The administration of Mayor Dwight C. Jones also has been working on an open-data project through the finance and information technology departments, according to the mayor’s office. Continue>>>
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December 8, 2014 1:56 PM

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act creates a monumental challenge for federal agencies. Government leaders, watchdog groups and citizens want to make sure tax dollars are being used in productive, efficient ways free from waste and fraud. They also want proof that publicly funded programs are performing well against stated missions and executing within budget.

The only way to know is by seeing the proof: the data itself. Government agencies can't just analyze and manage data. They must also share it in ways that are insightful and useful. The demand for government transparency and accountability is here to stay.

But open data should be viewed as an opportunity as much as a challenge -- an opportunity to encourage greater citizen participation and save precious budget dollars in the process. In fact, open data could be a huge money-saver. A McKinsey and Co. study has suggested that open data could allow government agencies to recover a combined $3 trillion a year or more. But those savings won't happen automatically. Continue>>>
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