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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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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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
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