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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November 19, 2014 1:40 PM

From President Obama’s first day in office, he has established himself as the first open data president. On day one, he issued a memorandum to create an “unprecedented level of openness in government” and affirmed that information collected and used by the federal government is a national asset. In the nearly six years Obama has been in office, he has taken a series of executive actions to further the ideal of open government through data, and there is still much to be done. With the presidential election season just around the corner, it remains to be seen if the progress made over the past few years will continue in future administrations, or if President Obama will be the last open data president.

President Obama’s initial memorandum served as the framework for the Administration’s Open Government Directive launched in December 2009, which requires federal agencies to adhere to three main tenets: publish government information online, improve the quality of government information, and create and institutionalize a culture of open government. The directive established specific goals and milestones for making high-quality government data accessible to the public. For example, in the first 45 days after the directive was created, agencies were required to identify and publish three previously unavailable, high-value data sets via Data.gov, which was launched in May 2009 by the Federal Chief Information Officer. Importantly, many of the requirements of the directive are ongoing processes, such as a requirement for agencies to update and publish an Open Government Plan every two years, ensuring that the commitment to open data becomes ingrained in government agency culture.

Recognizing that simply publishing government data online was not sufficient for making the data valuable, President Obama issued an executive order in May 2013 which required government data to be published in an open and machine readable format by default. Publishing machine readable data not only helps government agencies fulfill their Open Government Directive requirements more completely, but it also allows the data to be more easily searched and analyzed by the public. With open license to use and reuse this data, the range of organizations that can access, analyze, share, and derive value from this data broadens dramatically. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released its Open Data Policy in conjunction with this executive order to establish good data management practices throughout the data lifecycle, such as enhancing information safeguards and clarifying information management responsibilities. Continue>>>
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November 14, 2014 11:54 AM

NASA has been an open data operation since the passage of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, in the very earliest days of the Space Race after Sputnik. The agency has always published untold volumes of scientific data.

Yet the kind of standardized, machine-readable data demanded by the Obama Administration's Open Government Initiative remains a challenge.

"That made more complicated -- or, you might say, made wonderful -- the job we were already doing," NASA open innovation program manager Beth Beck said in an interview. "Big data is NASA -- that's what we have -- but taking all that data and making it machine readable, that's a big job." Most of the data is already digital and readable by some internal applications created by NASA and its network of contractors. The challenge is finding it in a sprawling, decentralized organization and putting it in a form that others can use. Some important data is locked up in the form of PDFs of scientific articles, when a data analyst would much prefer structured XML or even a comma-delimited download of tabular data. Continue>>>
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November 10, 2014 1:12 AM

The city has released details of a plan to help provide even more transparency and efficiency to city governance.

The Open Data Strategic Plan uses a comprehensive method termed the “open data census,” to help officials better track and confront crime and other quality of life issues, and for residents to find out what various city agencies are doing.

The plan is for the data to be used by city officials so they can also go about their work more efficiently. Continue>>>
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October 16, 2014 11:40 PM

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) director James Brien Comey, Jr. is one of the nation's top cops. But he's drawn the ire of civil liberty groups and citizen activists alike both over allegations of his agency's role in helping the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spy on Americans and over his recent comments to the press that suggest it's "dangerous" for mobile firms to offer full-device encryption.

Even outside the civil liberties space, this attitude is drawing quiet but pointed criticism from the world of enterprise IT, where encryption is often essential for protecting corporate secrets against both private and public espionage.

In a new interview with CBS Corp.'s (CBS) 60 Minutes program, Director Comey does not shy from his past remarks. In the bizarre interview, he seems to contradict himself just seconds later at times. Continue>>>
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data, FBI, NSA, open data
October 1, 2014 11:11 AM

An unprecedented number of individuals and organizations are finding ways to explore, interpret and use Open Data. Public agencies are hosting Open Data events such as meetups, hackathons and data dives. The potential of these initiatives is great, including support for economic development (McKinsey, 2013), anti-corruption (European Public Sector Information Platform, 2014) and accountability (Open Government Partnership, 2012). But is Open Data's full potential being realized?

A news item from Computer Weekly casts doubt. A recent report notes that, in the United Kingdom, poor data quality is hindering the government's Open Data program. The report goes on to explain that ñ in an effort to make the public sector more transparent and accountable ñ UK public bodies have been publishing spending records every month since November 2010. The authors of the report, who conducted an analysis of 50 spending-related data releases by the Cabinet Office since May 2010, found that that the data was of such poor quality that using it would require advanced computer skills.

Far from being a one-off problem, research suggests that this issue is ubiquitous and endemic. Some estimates indicate that as much as 80 percent of the time and cost of an analytics project is attributable to the need to clean up 'dirty data' (Dasu and Johnson, 2003). Continue>>>
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open data, UK
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
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