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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June 24, 2015 1:57 PM

The buzzword of the moment among local leaders is “open government,” and chief information officers are attempting to make the hype a reality. In the Center for Digital Government’s 2014 Digital Cities and Counties surveys, one of the top priorities for CIOs at the local level was “open government/transparency/open data.”

Yet, despite the strategic focus on open data, a recent Pew survey on views about open government found that only 7 percent of Americans think local governments share data effectively.  Continue>>>

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June 15, 2015 9:59 AM

The New York State Freedom of Information Law states:

"The legislature hereby finds that a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions. The more open a government is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government."

While this statement is a great ideal, freedom of information does not equal open data. Recently, I was searching for property data on a public website in a particular county in New York State. I was able to find what I was looking for, but rather than being available in a format that would have been easily portable or open it was instead embedded in a word processing document. Continue>>>

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June 14, 2015 3:36 PM

Wondering how much the city spent on road salt this winter? Interested in the expenses for keeping up the city's parks?

That information will soon be at your fingertips.

Stow has decided to become a pioneer in Summit County by becoming the first entity to participate in the state treasurer's Government Transparency Program.  Continue>>>

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June 12, 2015 2:58 PM

Today, the State Department released the FY 2015 Fiscal Transparency Report pursuant to section 7031(b)(3) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2015 (Div. J, P.L.113-235). 

The Department evaluated the public availability, substantial completeness, and reliability of budget documents, as well as the transparency of processes for awarding government contracts and licenses for natural resource extraction.  The report can be found on the Department’s website  Continue>>>

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June 12, 2015 11:56 AM

We started the week out talking about hackathons in Detroit, and we’ll finish the week the same way, although #hack4detroit has a twist: Participants are using the city of Detroit’s open data portal to create apps that will benefit city residents or help streamline operations.

Automation Alley’s #hack4detroit event starts at 7 p.m. tonight at Grand Circus downtown. At stake is a $5,000 grand prize; the apps will be judged by Beth Niblock, chief information officer for the city of Detroit; Sean Hurwitz, CEO of Pixo; Brian Balasia, CEO of Digerati; and Will McDowell, business analyst at Detroit Labs.  Continue>>>

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June 12, 2015 8:45 AM

SANTA MONICA—On June 9, the City of Santa Monica won a Technology Solutions award from the Public Technology Institute for its Open Data Initiative.

The annual PTI Technology Solutions Awards recognize excellence in local governments’ use of technology to, in their own words, “solve specific problems, improve community services and internal operations, and reduce costs.” This year, Santa Monica’s Open Data Initiative, with its mission statement of “Transparency, Collaboration and Third Party Applications Through Open Data,” was honored in the category of Data & Performance Metrics.  Continue>>>

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June 11, 2015 2:51 PM

We’ve been framing the debate between openness and privacy the wrong way.

Rather than positioning privacy and openness as opposing forces, the fact is they’re different sides of the same coin – and equally important. This might seem simple, but it might also be the key to moving things forward around this crucial debate.

Open data advocates often suggest that openness should be the default for all human knowledge. We should share, re-use and compare data freely and in doing so reap the benefits of innovation, cost savings and increased citizen participation — to name a just a few gains.  Continue>>>

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June 8, 2015 12:24 PM

Hackers are not usually associated with the civil sector, but a hackathon organized by the Civic Data Alliance on Saturday brought together coders, designers and non-profits to create data projects for the public good.

As part of the national Code for America Day, more than two dozen volunteers hunkered down for eight hours of designing, coding and sifting through publicly available data at Code Louisville, 252 E Market Street. Representatives from the non-profit sector and Louisville Metro Government, including Mayor Greg Fischer, also participated in discussions about how apps and data could improve the flow of information and resources to the public.  Continue>>>

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June 2, 2015 12:15 PM

The Department of Health and Human Services last week unveiled a redesign of its data repository, HealthData.gov.

The site aims to make government health-related data sets more accessible to the public for analysis; the new HealthData.gov migrated old content to DKAN, an open-source, Drupal-based platform built by NuCivic, a tech company based in New York. Continue>>>

June 2, 2015 12:03 PM

Government data is changing what we know about the work doctors do, and is giving developers the ability to transform that data into useful tools.

For the second year running, the government has released information on how doctors and other providers are charging Medicare. The physician utilization data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, covering $90 billion in payments across 950,000 providers, gives developers the raw material to build tools that allow for the comparison of doctors on a number of criteria, such as services delivered, charges submitted, and more.  Continue>>>

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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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