The National Freedom of Information Coalition 2020 FOI Summit was held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seven general sessions, four members-only educational panels, a hands-on training seminar from IRE and a virtual FOI research paper poster session were held over seven days between September 24th - October 1st. Open government and public information experts presented the latest developments impacting state and local government transparency. Session topics included police transparency reforms, virtual public meetings, COVID-19 health data, accessing public records, funding economic development, and creating a transparency culture in public institutions.
Thank you to all those who attended and participated in the annual summit. We are especially thankful to our Platinum Sponsor, Bloomberg LP, and Contributing Sponsors the InAsMuch Foundation, Charles Koch Institute and the Brechner Center for FOI at the UF College of Journalism and Communications.
Learn more about the sessions and view the presentations below. NFOIC plans to reconvene its in-person summit in 2021. Please join us in Louisville, KY, September 9-11 at the Brown Hotel. More information to follow.
Thursday, September 24th
Member-Only Session #1 - Building a strong coalition through strategic partnerships and DEI
- Terry Mutchler (Moderator), Dilworth Paxson, Partner
- Mark J. Rochester, Type Investigations, Editor in Chief
- Kelley Shannon, FOI Foundation of Texas, Executive Director
General Session #1 - The use of public funds for business incentives (Video)
Public funds to private companies to spur economic development is not new. Every year, state and local governments award an estimated $70 billion in subsidies to attract and retain businesses and jobs. Details of amounts, in-kind incentives and tax credits are typically withheld from the public claiming disclosing the information jeopardizes current and future deals. This session on public oversight and accountability concerning the use of public funds will ask: Is government confidentiality necessary to secure economic development and jobs in communities? And what can be done to help residents better understand the costs and benefits from those funds through greater transparency and access to information about their use? Moderator: Dalia Thornton, Director, Research and Collective Bargaining Services, American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees
- Dalia Thornton (Mooderator) AFSCME, Director, Research and Collective Bargaining Services
- Greg LeRoy, Good Jobs First, Executive Director
- Ronnie Bryant, International Economic Development Council, Board Member
- Sarita Nair, City of Albuquerque , Chief Administrative Office
General Session #2 : Achieving police transparency reform (Video)
Four states provide lessons learned for enacting recent police reform measures expected to lead to greater transparency and accountability. Hear from individuals from three of the states who contributed to passing those measures and strategy recommendations that can be applied to other jurisdictions. Moderator: Diego Ibarguen, Counsel, Office of General Counsel, Hearst Corporation
- Diego Ibarguen (Moderator) Hearst Corporation, Counsel
- Nikki Moore, Public Safety Committee for the California State Assembly, Committee Counsel
- Honorable Leslie Herod, Colorado, State Representative (D-Denver)
- Molly Griffard, The Legal Aid Society of NYC, Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by the Venture Justice Fund
Friday, September 25th
Member-Only Session #2 - Lobbying vs. Education
- Pamela Marsh (Moderator) Florida First Amendment Foundation, Executive Director
- Kate Belinski, Ballard Spahr LLP, Partner
General Session #3: Accessing health information during a pandemic (Video - Session begins at 01:15 mark)
At a time of national health crisis, the public urgently needs timely and accurate information about health-and-safety issues. Public institutions, however, create unnecessary obstacles to health information through the misuse or misrepresentation of open government laws or exemptions, such as HIPAA. While there is a balance to strike between transparency and privacy, the overriding interest is to keep residents informed. Hear from a panel of experts about what information and data sets are most important in a health crisis and how they can be more easily obtained from those who have it. Moderator: Justin Silverman, Executive Director, New England First Amendment Coalition
- Justin Silverman (Moderator) New England First Amendment Coalition , Executive Director
- Al-Amyn Sumar, The New York Times , Counsel
- Gunita Singh, RCFP, Legal Fellow
- Amanda French, The COVID Tracking Project at the Atlantic, Community Lead and Data Entry Shift Lead
General Session #4: The future of public records (Video - Session begins at the 1:00 mark)
From creation to dissemination to archiving, digital records now dominate government documents and data. Throughout their lifecycle, however, many records are lost or become impossible to retrieve. We are in an era of disappearing messaging apps, self-destructing emails, temporary Tweets and an emerging virtual government workforce. It's become a major challenge for public agencies to abide by state open government laws pertaining to collecting, managing and disseminating public information in today's digital society. Hear from a panel of experts and practitioners as they discuss the role of technology and administrative processes needed to ensure digital documents are secured and publicly available from cradle to grave and beyond. Moderator: Mark Walker, FOIA Coordinator at the New York Times
- Mark Walker (Moderator) The New York Times, FOIA Coordinator
- Lauren Kirchner, The Markup, Investigative Reporter
- Barbara Teague, Council of State Archivists, Executive Director
- Jen Snyder GovQA, Chief GovQA Evangelist
Tuesday, September 29th
Member-Only Session #3: Strategies for legislative tracking and relations
- Jeff Roberts (Moderator), Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition , Executive Director
- Deborah Fisher, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, Executive Director
- Natalie Wood, National Conference of State Legislatures, Group Director
- Pam Greenberg, National Conference of State Legislatures, Senior Fellow
Member-Only Session #4: Coalition Lightning Rounds
Representatives from NFOIC state coalitions provide a three-minute lightning talk highlighting last year's best open government victory, biggest setback, and their major challenge for the future.
Wednesday, September 30th
General Session #5 (All registrants) - Are virtual public meetings sustainable? (Video - Begins at 1:27 mark)
The health pandemic forced state and local governments to move their public meetings online to deliberate virtually. This challenge led to confusion and disruption in many jurisdictions due to shortcomings from the technology solutions and legal requirements. Violations of public meeting laws (intentional and unintentional) resulted in many residents and journalists excluded from public proceedings. Several public bodies claimed a successful transition to virtual meetings, and there is positive data showing increased public participation. This session explores the continued use of online meetings even when governments return to in-person deliberations, and their potential for increased communication, participation, and trust. Moderator: Valerie Lemmie, Director of Exploratory Research at the Kettering Foundation
- Valerie Lemmie (Moderator), Charles F. Kettering Foundation, Director of Exploratory Research
- Graham Stone, PublicInput.com, Vice President of Government Relationships
- Larry Schooler, University of Texas, Lecturer
- Courtney Breese, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, Executive Director
- Honorable Lauren Poe, City of Gainesville, Mayor
General Session #6: Creating a culture of compliance to open government laws (Video)
Transparency experts believe open government law violations could be greatly reduced if public institutions would just enforce the laws that are already on the books. Charging a public official or agency with a violation is rare. Punishments are rarer, and when they occur they are usually a slap on the wrist. This session is a discussion about what is required for state and local governments to create and practice a culture of compliance and the benefits that can be realized. Moderator: Stefaan Verhulst, Co-Founder and Chief of Research and Development,The GovLab at New York University
- Stefaan Verhulst (Moderator), The GovLab (Governance Lab) at New York University, Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer
- Colleen Murphy, State of Connecticut, FOI Commission, Executive Director and General Counsel
- Amanda Kastl, Fairfax County, VA, Countywide FOIA Officer
- Daxton Stewart, Texas Christian University , Professor of Journalism
General Session #7: FOI Research Papers Presentation (Video - Session begins at the 1:40 mark)
Nine winning research papers have been accepted to the second National Freedom of Information Coalition FOI research competition. The top three authors discuss their findings in the general session that was followed by a nine virtual poster sessions with all the authors discussing their papers and answering questions.
The top three papers to be presented in a panel session at the National FOI Summit are:
- "Inherent frictions and deliberate frustrations: Examining the legal variables of state FOI law administration," by A.Jay Wagner, Marquette University ($500 prize)
- "Born to fail: Canada’s Access to Information Act reforms, and the global lessons for a meaningful right to information," by Michael Karanicolas, Yale ($300 prize)
- "Freedom of the database: Auditing access to structured data," by Jonathan Anderson, University of Minnesota, and Sarah Kay Wiley, University of Minnesota ($200 prize)
Additional winning papers (in author alphabetical order) included in the virtual "poster session" included:
- "Internalizing FOI-law in a developing country: insights from Colombian public servants," by Mauricio Astudillo-Rodas, Rutgers University
- "Secrecy in death records: A call to action," by Megan Craig, Syracuse University, Madeleine Davison, Syracuse University, Sarah Cohen, Arizona State University, and Jodi Upton, Syracuse University
- "Liberating government’s materials: Removing copyright obstacles to transparency," by Shubha Ghosh, Syracuse University
- "Who will take ownership of Florida high school football concussion figures," by Imani Jackson, University of Florida
- "COVID-19, death records and the public interest: Now is the time to push for transparency," by Amy Kristin Sanders, University of Texas-Austin
- "Government transparency (or lack thereof) in the age of COVID-19: Examining the impact and proper scope of HIPAA," by Al-Amyn Sumar, New York Times FOIA Counsel
Thursday, October 1st
IRE Hands-on Data Training
- Introduction to data journalism | An overview of the key analysis tools used to produce investigative stories (spreadsheets, databases, mapping, programming and statistical software), with examples of stories that were made possible with these tools.
- Spreadsheets and databases | Use data software for better watchdog stories and beat coverage. We offer beginning, intermediate and advanced training in Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, SQLite and other data tools.
- Visualizing data | Use free web tools such as Flourish, Datawrapper, Tableau Desktop and other software to produce interactive charts, graphics and maps, no programming required. We also offer more advanced sessions on writing code to create your own data visualizations.
- Coding for data analysis | Advanced sessions that show how you can use computer programming to quickly and transparently analyze data, leaving you more time and energy for other reporting tasks. Training can be offered in R or Python.
- Advanced coding to speed up your work | A series of sessions that helps you tackle the problems of data locked away on a website or in a PDF with web scraping, work with APIs to process data, speed up your analysis and share your work with your newsroom and the world.
- Cleaning up dirty data | We’ll show you techniques and tools for refining problematic data in a timely fashion instead of toiling away in your spreadsheets or databases. We offer cleaning sessions in OpenRefine, spreadsheets, SQL, Python and R.
- Mapping analysis | An overview of data reporting with common mapping software like QGIS, which gives you the power to attach data to locations and tally things up within a given space.
Presenter: Denise Malan, Investigative Reporters & Editors, Deputy Executive Director