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

April 14, 2014 8:13 AM

The Emirates Identity Authority, the United Nations Public Administration Network and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs will jointly conduct the first Open Government Data Forum on April 28 and 29 at Ritz Carlton Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Abdulaziz Al Maamari, Director of Government communications and Community, Emirates ID, said 27 keynote speakers from 15 countries, mainly Europe, USA, and the region, will attend the meeting.

“The forum’s key topic revolves around the open data policy and how to allow it to customers in seamless and easy-to-use methods through making all elements and information available within a framework of content that is open for the public to use and reuse, leveraging thereby their level of knowledge and expertise.” Continue>>>

April 8, 2014 12:01 PM

NASA is set to release on April 10 a comprehensive catalogue of software code that runs some of the most sophisticated robotics and rockets on the planet.

The agency, in line with the White House's Open Government policy, is also aiming to make the free online catalogue of more than 1,000 projects one of its most easily accessible.

According to Dan Lockney, NASA's Technology Transfer Program executive, the release is not a historical archive, but a collection of recent software solutions developed by the space agency. Continue>>>

NASA, open data, open source
March 26, 2014 8:30 AM

When President Barack Obama signed the Open Data Executive Order last May, many IT leaders applauded the White House's decision to release treasure troves of public data as part of an important government initiative for greater transparency.

However, what many didn't bargain for was the state in which they'd find these once-buried data sets. "A dog's breakfast," "a train wreck," "a massive hairball" -- those are a few of the terms IT leaders have used to describe the vast volumes of public data now being made available to the general public.

Yet the business opportunities are unprecedented -- open data offers bits and bytes of public information that are freely available for anyone to use to build new businesses, generate revenue, develop new products, conduct research or empower consumers. With the federal government as the single largest source of open data in the U.S., we now have unfettered access to information about everything from bus routes and pollution levels to SEC filings and weather patterns. Savvy businesses are using public data to predict consumer behavior, shape marketing campaigns, develop life-saving medications, evaluate home properties, even rate retirement plans. Continue>>>

March 13, 2014 2:33 AM

Shortly after his election in 2008, President Obama launched the Open Government Initiative, an effort to increase transparency, participation and collaboration in the federal government. The White House website noted that government data had traditionally been inaccessible to the public:

“For too long, the American people have experienced a culture of secrecy in Washington, where information is locked up, taxpayer dollars disappear without a trace, and lobbyists wield undue influence. For Americans, business as usual in Washington has reinforced the belief that the government benefits the special interests and the well-connected at the expense of the American people.”

The initiative introduced a number of websites to offer raw government data directly to the public. On, citizens can access government datasets from a variety of disciplines — from National Science Foundation research grants to the FDIC failed bank list. On, citizens can download federal spending data by location, year, agency or category — for example, all spending on Department of Defense contracts in 2010. Continue>>>

March 12, 2014 1:22 AM

Live, open government data – collated on third-party platforms – can change peoples’ lives profoundly in a wide variety of ways.

According to the UK’s website: "The government has made releasing open data a priority because: it makes the government more accountable to citizens and strengthens our democracy (for example, the Department for International Development’s Aid Tracker); it brings us better public services (for example, The Guardian’s GCSE Schools Guide); and it feeds economic and social growth (for example, transport data intermediary Placr)."

The government says it leads the world in open data – but just what does this really mean? As it backtracks to explain its recent move to gather NHS patient data from primary care sources, it is a timely question. Continue>>>

March 11, 2014 4:55 AM

Part of promoting better broadband in Minnesota is promoting better uses of broadband and one of my favorite uses is civic technology – or creating greater opportunities for civic engagement using technology. The easy example (especially given our current winter!) is Adopt-a-Hydrant, a website where residents can sign up to take responsibility for making sure that their adopted hydrant remains accessible. Usually that means shoveling it out after a snowstorm. It’s a huge task for the city to take on shoveling out each hydrant. It’s not so difficult when citizens can volunteer to take on one hydrant. It’s the essence of crowdsourcing – or the old adage many hands make light work. But they only way Adopt-a-Hydrant works is when the developers the website have access to the location of each hydrant. Access to the open data opens the door to greater civic engagement. It’s just one example.

Open data becomes valuable when developers know it’s available and are able to create applications that make the data useful (as happened at the Capitol Code event a couple weekends ago) and when citizens know that the applications are available. There is legislation being introduced to promote and facilitate access to open data and understanding of open government applications. Continue>>>

March 11, 2014 2:33 AM

Councils are not doing anything with valuable data that offers insight into the needs of communities, according to the local government thinktank Localis. In their report, based on interviews with council leaders in the UK, they said that local authorities could use data to find out what residents want in a similar way private companies such as Amazon do.

Council leaders said that, particularly around the integration of health and social care, partners were unwilling to share data and that a lack of knowledge about data protection laws was holding things back.

Camden council announced its digital strategy last week, setting out how technology and analysing data could help local authorities deliver services. Councillor Theo Blackwell said that the council wants to "realise how digital technology and big data can be a way to save money and improve services through co-production, collaboration and challenges by residents and businesses". Continue>>>

March 11, 2014 1:22 AM

Uncle Sam wants a few good innovators -- again. The White House has launched the third round of its Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program, which pairs tech-savvy entrepreneurs from the private sector with top government officials to tackle selected challenges facing the administration.

The program's "lean startup" approach has delivered a variety of tools, including ones that help the public save on utility bills and improve access to government health information, and it has brought acclaim to participants.

The White House will assign the latest round of applicants to one of 14 projects in six- to 12-month sprints focused on three major initiatives: Continue>>>

March 1, 2014 3:33 AM

In recent years, the central government in the UK has been involved in pushing an open data agenda, not only on its home turf, but also globally through the Open Government Partnership of which it was one of the eight founding members. The idea is to create governments that are more open, accessible and accountable by giving the public access to a vast array of datasets that are downloadable and reusable.

The UK has had varying degrees of success with this at a central government level – it is working to fulfil its commitments and has released thousands of datasets, which can be found at, but has also been struggling with unleashing information from complex legacy systems.

However, in the pipeline there are plans to create a National Information Infrastructure, which will ultimately contain all public data in a way that can be accessed by anyone, in real time. Recent efforts have also been championed by inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who heads up the government’s Open Data Institute – which aims to nurture innovative data driven start-ups and support organisations in working effectively with open data. Continue>>>

February 24, 2014 2:22 AM

The city of Burlington took a huge step toward more open government last week when officials released a wide variety of data on the city’s website.

Now, coders are interpreting that data and trying to create useful tools for the public.

This weekend about 30 people gathered at Fletcher Free Library in Burlington for Code Across BTV. It was one of 45 other CodeAcross events taking place around the world.

The idea was to take data that might not be all that interesting or accessible, and make it easier to understand and use.

Linda Setchell was one of the participants. Her group used the City of Burlington’s data to create a digital map of all the early childhood education centers in Burlington.

“You can go in and look at what centers exist in a particular ward of the city,” said Setchell. “And compare that to the population of zero to five-year-olds.” Continue>>>

hackers, open data, Vermont
February 23, 2014 3:33 AM
Computer experts in Tulsa are joining together for a weekend of civic innovation. 
It's part of an international weekend of locally held events to use open government data and put it to good use. In May 2013, The Tulsa city council and mayor of Tulsa adopted the open and accessible data resolution, which provided more online non-risk data for third parties. 
"The more data we provide with people, the more they can do with it," said Ian Riley, a computer science and mathematics major at the University of Tulsa. "The data allows us to be enabled. We can capitalize on that data and provide apps that will allow you greater access to your surroundings." Continue>>>
February 17, 2014 2:22 AM

Last time we checked in with Garrett Dunwoody, San Mateo County’s Open Data Manager, we talked about cybersecurity as it relates to open data for Cybersecurity Month. We also went over the definitions of open data and open government. Since then he has moved from the county’s Information Services Department and now works out of the County Managers Office on budget, performance, policy, and Open government initiatives. Today, we continue our conversation, but this time focusing on the why of open data and its relationship with open government.

Let’s get broad: Why open data?

Garrett: Open data segues into, and is the easiest tool for, open government. It’s honestly the first step because it’s tangible, useful, and you can do things with it which have results. Open data initiates the move towards transparency which is the ultimate goal of open government.

Providing people with raw and unfettered data shows not only what government is doing, but on what data is valuable in the decision making process. Releasing data also provides people access to data. Depending on the tools available within an agency’s data portal, tools can be built into the portal that allows for analysis and visualization of the data. This process gives constituents the opportunity to turn data into information. As we’ve seen over the last few years, people are doing pretty great things with data that used to just sit around on government hard drives. Continue>>>

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