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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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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May 30, 2014 7:23 AM

A new report out from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) shows that some progress is being made on its 2009 call for governments to more fully embrace open data. Authors note that state and local governments have, in large part, embraced open data policy and are helping to drive government toward a data driven democracy.

“We’re continually looking at outcomes. Most important are outcomes for citizens and the positive impact we can make on their lives,” said Tony Encinias, co-chair for the NASCIO Enterprise Architecture & Governance Committee and chief information officer for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “Among the many outcomes possible with open data is connecting with our citizens. Providing them with channels for engaging with government, having influence on what government does and how it does it.”

Open data is facilitating something new to public sector agencies and offices – collaboration. Because government is both the biggest producer and consumer of data, open data initiatives not only provide transparency out to the general public but also provide transparency within the broader government organization. As datasets become available online, other parts of the government can get a glimpse into the activities of agencies and offices they might not otherwise see. “States are closer to a true “enterprise wide” perspective thanks to these open data initiatives,” the report says. Continue>>>
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May 27, 2014 9:48 AM

Mathematician Blaise Pascal famously closed a long letter by apologising that he hadn't had time to make it shorter. Unfortunately, his pithy point about "download time" is regularly attributed to Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau, probably because the public loves writers more than it loves statisticians. Scientists may make things provable, but writers make them memorable.

The World Bank confronted a similar reality of data journalism earlier this month when it revealed that, of the 1,600 bank reports posted online on from 2008 to 2012, 32% had never been downloaded at all and another 40% were downloaded under 100 times each.

Taken together, these cobwebbed documents represent millions of dollars in World Bank funds and hundreds of thousands of person-hours, spent by professionals who themselves represent millions of dollars in university degrees. It's difficult to see the return on investment in producing expert research and organising it into searchable web libraries when almost three quarters of the output goes largely unseen. Continue>>>
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access, open data, UK
May 19, 2014 7:14 AM

Before open data, there was FOIA. Beginning in 1967, the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) empowered the public to request access to government documents. Unfortunately, some branches of government quickly began to push back, and within the decade the infamous phrase "can neither confirm nor deny" had been devised to avoid releasing information.

This came to exemplify the adversarial relationship between the public and government. Yet public records requests (also known as FOIL, Right-to-Know, public information or open records requests, depending on where you are) remain a fundamental way in which the public is able to obtain information from government agencies under FOIA-like laws in all fifty states.

Our government institutions produce valuable data and documents that form the raw material for storytelling, journalistic inquiry, analysis, and meaningful public participation; they are also central to ensuring accountability through transparency. Continue>>>
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open data, open source
May 6, 2014 9:48 AM

Given all the hype around so called big data at the moment, it would be easy to dismiss it as nothing more than the latest technology buzzword. This would be a mistake, given that the application and interpretation of huge – often publicly available – data sets is already supporting new models of creativity, innovation and engagement.

To date, stories of big data's progress and successes have tended to come from government and the private sector, but we've heard little about its relevance to social organisations. Yet big data can fuel big social change.

It's already playing a vital role in the charitable sector. Some social organisations are using existing open government data to better target their services, to improve advocacy and fundraising, and to support knowledge sharing and collaboration between different charities and agencies. Crowdsourcing of open data also offers a new way for not-for-profits to gather intelligence, and there is a wide range of freely available online tools to help them analyse the information. Continue>>>

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May 6, 2014 9:46 AM

Recently, in a victory for open data, both chambers of Congress passed with bipartisan support the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. The bill now heads to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature. The DATA Act would drastically improve the public’s access to federal spending data by expanding the universe of information the government is required to post online and creating government-wide financial data standards.

Leading the effort to implement the law’s provisions will be the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget. Treasury is a promising open data steward, but unfortunately the OMB’s history doesn’t inspire confidence in its commitment to the law.

Treasury has made good-faith efforts to answer questions, accept feedback and collaborate on designing the new face of federal spending. It reached out to a broad community of users and established avenues for public input. These efforts, combined with its expertise in government financials, have all the makings of a vastly improved system. Continue>>>
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May 2, 2014 8:11 AM

There's no doubt the UK is leading the way in open government data. Almost 17,000 datasets are now available on the data.gov.uk website – and the benefits of sharing data with the public are obvious: according to theOpen Data Institute, it has the potential to increase custom for services and products, ease information sharing with other organisations, reduce maintenance cost and encourage innovation.

Perhaps most convincingly of all, open data is predicted to deliver a £2bn boost to the UK economy in the short term, with a further £6-7bn further down the line. Yet simply declaring data public does not automatically make it practical or meaningful. It has to be secure, accessible and presented to users in a format that is easy to use and make sense of.

The huge amounts of sensitive information - such as patient records, payment details or personally identifiable information (PII) – released could potentially be at risk of breaches and misuse. As a result, government is faced with having to find a solution that protects the privacy rights of the individual while at the same time providing organisations with valuable data. Continue>>>
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international, open data, UK
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