Esri’s new ArcGIS feature is live. Will terabytes of new open data follow?

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Back in February, I reported that Esri would enable governments to open their data to the public.Today, the geographic information systems (GIS) software giant pushed ArcGIS Open Data live, instantly enabling thousands of its local, state and federal government users to open up the public data in their systems to the public, in just a few minutes.

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“Starting today any ArcGIS Online organization can enable open data, specify open data groups and create and publicize their open data through a simple, hosted and best practices web application,” wrote Andrew Turner, chief technology officer of Esri’s Research and Development Center in D.C., in a blog post about the public beta of Open Data ArcGIS. “Originally previewed at FedGIS ArcGIS Open Data is now public beta where we will be working with the community on feedback, ideas, improvements and integrations to ensure that it exemplifies the opportunity of true open sharing of data.”

Turner highlighted what this would mean for both sides of the open data equation: supply and demand.

Data providers can create open data groups within their organizations, designating data to be open for download and re-use, hosting the data on the ArcGIS site. They can also create public microsites for the public to explore. (Example below.) Turner also highlighted the code for Esri’s open-source GeoPortal Server on Github as a means to add metadata to data sets.

Data users, from media to developers to nonprofits to schools to businesses to other government entities, will be able to download data in common open formats, including KML, Spreadsheet (CSV), Shapefile, GeoJSON and GeoServices.

“As the US Open Data Institute recently noted, [imagine] the impact to opening government data if software had ‘Export as JSON’ by default,” wrote Turner.

“That’s what you now have. Users can also subscribe to the RSS feed of updates and comments about any dataset in order to keep up with new releases or relevant supporting information. As many of you are likely aware, the reality of these two perspectives are not far apart. It is often easiest for organizations to collaborate with one another by sharing data to the public. In government, making data openly available means departments within the organization can also easily find and access this data just as much as public users can.”

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Turner highlighted what an open data site would look like in the wild:

Data Driven Detroit a great example of organizations sharing data. They were able to leverage their existing data to quickly publish open data such as censuseducation or housing. As someone who lived near Detroit, I can attest to the particular local love and passion the people have for their city and state – and how open data empowers citizens and businesses to be part of the solution to local issues.

In sum, this feature could, as I noted in February, could mean a lot more data is suddenly available for re-use. When considered in concert with Esri’s involvement in the White House’s Climate Data initiative, 2014 looks set to be a historic year for the mapping giant.

It also could be a banner year for open data in general, if governments follow through on their promises to release more of it in reusable forms. By making it easy to upload data, hosting it for free and publishing it in the open formats developers commonly use in 2014, Esri is removing three major roadblocks governments face after a mandate to “open up” come from a legislature, city council, or executive order from the governor or mayor’s office.

“The processes in use to publish open data are unreasonably complicated,” said Waldo Jacquith, director of the U.S. Open Data Institute, in an email. 

“As technologist Dave Guarino recently wrote, basically inherent to the process of opening data is ETL: “extract-transform-load” operations. This means creating a lot of fragile, custom code, and the prospect of doing that for every dataset housed by every federal agency, 50 states, and 90,000 local governments is wildly impractical.

Esri is blazing the trail to the sustainable way to open data, which is to open it up where it’s already housed as closed data. When opening data is as simple as toggling an “open/closed” selector, there’s going to be a lot more of it. (To be fair, there are many types of data that contain personally identifiable information, sensitive information, etc. The mere flipping of a switch doesn’t address those problems.)

Esri is a gold mine of geodata, and the prospect of even a small percentage of that being released as open data is very exciting.”

Code for DC launches OurDCSchools.org, an open government platform for proposed school policy

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Parents, students and other members of the public can now easily see the effect of a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/dc-releases-proposed-school-boundaries-and-far-reaching-student-assignment-policies/2014/04/05/368521e0-bc46-11e3-96ae-f2c36d2b1245_story.html”>new proposals for elementary school boundaries and far-reaching student assignment policies in the District of Columbia using a civic app called Our DC Schools.
The new website, built by volunteers at from Code for DC, a local open government group, makes it easier for the public to understand how important changes to the boundaries of DC school districts would affect a given address, rate the assignment policies proposed by the DC government, and forward that feedback to the Deputy Mayor for Education.

According to Code for DC, their team will published all responses collected, after the street addresses are excluded, on OpenDataDC, “a public catalog of civic data built by and for the people of Washington.”  The group will continue to collect responses until mid-May 2014, sharing them with the Boundary Review Advisory Committee, the relevant government entity entrusted with working on the proposals. You can find more a bit more context about the app and the issues at WAMU.org.

Our DC Schools builds upon the data behind the Washington Post’s interactive news app, which also enables people to perform a similar geographic search, and then goes one step further than the newspaper, giving people tools to rate proposed changes and send it on to local government.

 

code-for-dc-logoAccording to Code for DC, the idea for the civic app came from Chris Given, when he saw how much data was available regarding the issue

“I attended a public working group meeting at Dunbar High School and while I was impressed by the dedication of the Deputy Mayor for Education and DC Public Schools staff, I was just bowled over by the scale of the challenge of getting meaningful feedback from everyone these policies affect,” said Given, in a statement. “I wanted to create an on-ramp for engaging with a really complex issue.”

In personalizing and visualizing the school district changes, unpacking these proposals for assignment and connecting feedback concerned citizens affected by the proposals to policy makers at local government, these volunteers are demonstrating how open government data and the World Wide Web can inform residents and stimulate citizen engagement in matters of great public interest.

Notably, the civic app came to life through a collaboration between Code for DC and the office of the district’s Deputy Mayor for Education (DME). It’s an effort to use modern technology to better engage the people of DC in their government.

“The Our Schools DC app is an example of what can be achieved when government collaborates with citizens to find solutions to common problems. In addition to providing valuable information, it’s a means of public engagement that will help city leaders better meet the educational needs of communities throughout the district,” said Traci L. Hughes, Director of the District of Columbia Office of Open Government, in a statement.

 

Sunlight Foundation highlights benefits of open data beyond the business case

Given the considerable attention that the economic outcomes of open data releases has received over the past year, with trillions of dollars in potential value flowing across headlines, it’s worth reminding everyone of the impacts of open data beyond the bottom line. Thankfully, Emily Shaw, the national policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation, did exactly that in a blog post today, including a handy briefing document that I have embedded below. She credited her colleagues for the brief:

“Democratic governance improves when people have data that helps them see how officials are doing relative to past or promised performance,” she wrote.

As Shaw highlighted in her post, open data can increase the transparency of governments, corporations, journalism or academia. Its release and analysis can and does hold those same entities accountable. Open data can enable efficiencies in information search, access and retrieval, supporting the case of those looking for the return on investment in these kinds of open government initiatives. And open data can support and enhance civic engagement and participation between the people and their government.

New study details technology deficit in government and civil society

stem-talent-federal-agenciesThe botched re-launch of Healthcare.gov led many observers unfamiliar with the endemic issues in government information technology to wonder how the first Internet president produced the government’s highest Internet failure. The Obama administration endured a winter full of well-deserved criticism, some informed, some less, regarding what went wrong at Healthcare.gov, from bad management to poor technology choices and implementation, agency insularity and political sensitivity at the White House.

While “Obama’s trauma team” successfully repaired the site, enabling millions to enroll in the health insurance plans offered in the online marketplace, the problems the debacle laid bare in human resources and IT procurement are now receiving well-deserved attention. While the apparent success of “the big fix” has taken some urgency away from Congress or the administration to address how the federal government can avoid another Healthcare.gov, the underlying problems remain. Although lawmakers have introduced legislation to create a “Government Digital Office” and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to reform aspects of federal IT, neither has gotten much traction in the Senate. In the meantime, hoping to tap into the success of the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Services team, the U.S. General Services Administration has stood up a new IT services unit, 18F, which officials hope will help government technology projects fail fast instead of failing big.

Into this mix comes  a new report from Friedman Consulting, commissioned by the Ford and MacArthur Foundations. Notably, the report also addresses the deficit of technology talent in the nonprofit sector and other parts of civil society, where such expertise and capacity could make demonstrable improvements to operations and performance. The full 51 page report is well worth reading, for those interested in the topic, but for those limited by time, here are the key findings:

1) The Current Pipeline Is Insufficient: the vast majority of interviewees indicated that there is a severe paucity of individuals with technical skills in computer science, data science, and the Internet or other information technology expertise in civil society and government. In particular, many of those interviewed noted that existing talent levels fail to meet current needs to develop, leverage, or understand technology.
2) Barriers to Recruitment and Retention Are Acute: many of those interviewed said that substantial barriers thwart the effective recruitment and retention of individuals with the requisite skills in government and civil society. Among the most common barriers mentioned were those of compensation, an inability to pursue groundbreaking work, and a culture that is averse to hiring and utilizing potentially disruptive innovators.
3) A Major Gap Between The Public Interest and For-Profit Sectors Persists: as a related matter, interviewees discussed superior for-profit recruitment and retention models. Specifically the for-profit sector was perceived as providing both more attractive compensation (especially to young talent) and fostering a culture of innovation, openness, and creativity that was seen as more appealing to technologists and innovators.
4) A Need to Examine Models from Other Fields: interviewees noted significant space to develop new models to improve the robustness of the talent pipeline; in part, many existing models were regarded as unsustainable or incomplete. Interviewees did, however, highlight approaches from other fields that could provide relevant lessons to help guide investments in improving this pipeline.
5) Significant Opportunity for Connection and Training: despite consonance among those interviewed that the pipeline was incomplete, many individuals indicated the possibility for improved and more systematic efforts to expose young technologists to public interest issues and connect them to government and civil society careers through internships, fellowships, and other training and recruitment tools.
6) Culture Change Necessary: the culture of government and civil society – and its effects on recruitment and other bureaucratic processes – was seen as a
vital challenge that would need to be addressed to improve the pipeline. This view manifested through comments that government and civil society organizations needed to become more open to utilizing technology and adopting a mindset of experimentation and disruption.

And here’s the conclusion:

Based on this research, the findings of the report are clear: technology talent is a key need in government and civil society, but the current state of the pipeline is inadequate to meet that need. The bad news is that existing institutions and approaches are insufficient to build and sustain this pipeline, particularly in the face of
sharp for-profit competition. The good news is that stakeholders interviewed identified a range of organizations and practices that, at scale, have the potential to make an enormous difference. While the problem is daunting, the stakes are high. It will be critical for civil society and government to develop sustainable and
effective pathways for the panoply of technologists and experts who have the skills to create truly 21st century institutions.

For those interested, the New America Foundation will be hosting a forum on the technology deficit in Washington, DC, on April 29th. The event will be livestreamed and archived.

Liberté, Egalité, Transparencé? France joins Open Government Partnership.

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France has seen its share of revolutions, governments and leaders, from Gallic chieftains to Frankish kings, emperors to presidents, monarchy to people’s assembly, fascism to republic. Now, France will be the 64th country to join the historic Open Government Partnership that launched in September 2011.

Last week, in the 55th item in a joint statement, French president François Hollande and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto announced that France would be joining the Open Government Partnership:

“Persuadés que la transparence, l’intégrité et la participation des citoyens aux décisions qui les concernent sont les piliers de la démocratie, le Mexique et la France ont décidé d’adhérer à l’Initiative pour un Gouvernement ouvert, dont le Mexique assumera la présidence en 2015 et sera siège du Sommet l’an prochain. Forts de leur expérience en matière d’ouverture et de partage des données publiques, la France et le Mexique entendent encourager pleinement cette initiative.»

Roughly translated to English, that is:

“Convinced that transparency, integrity and participation of citizens in decisions that concern them are the pillars of democracy, Mexico and France have decided to join the Open Government Partnership, of which Mexico assumes the presidency in 2015 and will be the seat of the Summit next year. With their experience of the opening of materials and sharing of public data, France and Mexico agree to fully encourage this initiative.”

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“France is joining the Open Government Partnership with great determination,” Marylise Lebranchu, Ministre de de la Décentralisation, de la Réforme de l’Etat et de la Fonction Publique, France, said, in a statement. “France is willing to contribute to its dynamism with full commitment and by engaging in a fruitful dialogue with its partners. What’s at stake is innovation and building the public action of tomorrow. It’s not only about being accountable, it is also about deeply renewing the way we design, drive and assess public action.”

Commenting on France joining, the civil-society co-chair of OGP, Rakesh Rajani, said that “opening up government to citizen ideas and oversight is not easy and not always popular. France has shown … that it is willing to take the extra step of joining the Open Government Partnership, and putting citizens at the heart of government reform efforts.”

Minister Kuntoro, the government co-chair of OGP, in a statement, said that “OGP is stronger today with France as a participant, and I look forward to working with them to advance reform efforts in France and globally. The demand from citizens for open, innovative and accountable governments is common across the world. France can help strengthen OGP and inspire other countries to join this vibrant movement.”

Official adoption of gouvernment ouvert and open data by France means that “données publiques” (public data) and “données ouvert” (open data) will become part of the lingua franca of Francophone countries around the world. (Canada started that the ball rolling a few years ago.) Tranparence, collaboration and participation, the three pillars of open government proposed by the White House open government initiative five years ago, need far less in the way of translation, differing only in one letter.

Whether there is much of a discussion of how “libéralisme” — meaning economic liberalism and the market system — relates to données ouvert remains to be seen, particularly given that the Socialist party is currently in power in France. As the relationship between of open data and economic activity has become better established and the potential value of its release valued in the trillions of dollars (or euros), governments around the world have become interested in tapping their own national reserves.

One challenge for France, as it is everywhere the 21st century version of technology-driven open government is being embraced, will be to come to grips with the privacy rights of citizens, from surveillance to public data release, nor put critical infrastructure at risk through open data releases.

Another will be to pay equal or greater attention to the release of “données publiques” that is not only “ouvert” in the sense of format, license and reuse, but also in the sense of making the government more transparent and accountable to the citizens of the representative democratic republic, or to the oversight of their elected representatives, where public disclosures might affect national security, privacy or the trade secrets of companies under regulation.

The most uncomfortable challenge, however, may be reconciling this newfound, public commitment to more “openness” with closed or secret systems of government in France, from intelligence to criminal justice, just as it has true in other participating countries, from the United States to the Philippines.

As the Fifth French Republic submits a letter of intent and joins the Open Government Partnership, the Hollande administration is committing itself to creating a National Open Government Action Plan, following through on a public consultation and collaboration with civil society, and then to working towards milestones and goals in it.

Whether France makes meaningful commitments in its consultation, from publicizing it to giving citizens a real say in the future direction of the country, or follows through on them, will be, as is true everywhere, an open question.

[Illustration Credits: OpenDataFrance.net and Republique Citoyenne]

This post and headline have been updated, after official confirmation of France’s intent to join, with statements from government and OGP.

After a false positive, Twitter suspends open government blog for being too social

Twitter’s best practices for tweeting don’t appear to mix well with its rules for tweeting, as I found out last month when the social networking company briefly suspended the Twitter account for this blog. While I was able to quickly get the account back online, the episode raises somr issues regarding how Twitter’s algorithm flags media accounts and some contradictions in the company’s guidance for new users.

When I found that I couldn’t file a help request to Twitter Support to appeal the suspension of @e_pluribusunum_ through that account, I used my main account (@digiphile).

Initially, I thought the suspension was due to spam, similar to the situation David Seaman encountered in 2011.

After I directly contacted Twitter for help, the account went back online later that day:

As I found out days later, however, the suspension was for “sending multiple unsolicited @replies or mentions,” per the statement I have from Twitter Support on @e_pluribusunum_:
“This account was suspended for sending multiple unsolicited @replies or mentions. Twitter monitors the use of these features to make sure they’re not abused. Using either feature to post messages to other users in an unsolicited or egregious manner is considered an abuse of its use, which results in account suspension. You can find more information about @replies and mentions here:https://support.twitter.com/articles/14023-what-are-replies-and-mentions

I have now unsuspended your account. Please note that it may take an hour or so for your follower and following numbers to return to normal. Be sure to review the Twitter Rules, as repeat violations may result in permanent suspension: http://twitter.com/rules”

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The tweets in question, however, are extremely similar to the way I’ve been using Twitter for years, advise others to use Twitter, and that Twitter itself recommends to new users.

Here are the tweets sent the day before the suspension and the three that morning, which I have to assume triggered the suspension.

The seventh tweet, embedded above, had six different @names in it, but it was appropriate: I was attributing the source of the information, referring to an NPR program (The Kojo Nnamdi Show) and naming the 4 guests who were on it. The eighth tweet had three @mentions in it, as I had retweeted a media account that referred to a reporter and added the subject of the story for context.

So: Were there a lot of @mentions? Yep. Were they “unsolicited?” Yep.  That accurately describes tens of thousands of tweets that I’ve sent over the past seven years. In this case, they were far from “abuse.”

That led me to wonder how many people, journalists, government or media companies or nonprofit organizations a Twitter account is allowed to @mention before it’s suspended. Should any of the categories of users I listed now have to actively ask followers for feedback or allow others to talk about them? That doesn’t seem practical nor scalable. Are there different rules for different users, Verified or not? (I’ve asked Twitter for comment on these general questions but have received no answers after two weeks. I will update the post if I do.)

In the meantime, I’ve tried to think them through myself. The “newness” of this account likely tripped Twitter’s automated filter, leading to the suspension. That means that other new users have to think about whether they’re sending “unsolicited replies or mentions” to keep clear.

I found that deeply jarring. I used the @E_Pluribus Unum_ account exactly as I have @digiphile, for over 7 years now, resharing tweets with attributed context and quotes, tweeting about public figures and government officials, tagging mastheads, retweeting select tweets.

That’s more or less how I define being “social” and engaging on the platform. That’s how I thought Twitter defined it, too. Twitter’s own best practices for engaging followers recommends it:

Mention high-profile users
@HillaryClinton included Secretary of State Madeleine Albright username@madeleine in a Tweet welcoming the former Secretary to Twitter. In turn, Albright replied to @HillaryClinton and also mentioned the Kennedy Center (@kencen), where she had recently performed. Including so many mentions of other users makes it more likely that people will find the conversation and join in. “

If Twitter is suspending new accounts that @mention too many high profile users or reply to them in an “unsolicited” fashion, I can’t help but have serious concerns about Twitter’s future and commitment to being a platform for free expression, government accountability, or hosting civic dialogue.

I do see potential issues with “egregious” @mentions — “@reply spam” has been an issue on Twitter for years — but isn’t that exactly what the block button has been used for, or the new abuse reporting button should be used for? People have been tweeting “#FollowFriday” recommendations for years with many unsolicited @mentions. Are they risking suspension?

Honestly, knocking new accounts offline for being “too social” suggests a tone-deaf algorithm. Ignoring my questions regarding general standards suggests something else. (The company generally refuses to comment on individual accounts.)

Given reports of retention issues and low activity by most users, an overly aggressive approach to filtering new users that are engaging in activity that Twitter itself recommends, particularly media accounts, strikes me as actively self-defeating.

Twitter and its investors should care about the people who never tweet. This experience reminded me that those same parties should care about the people who do tweet and are caught up on algorithmic censorship, followed by vague missives not to talk about other accounts too much.

As I’ve written before, Twitter is not a public utility. It’s a private company with a Terms of Service and Rules it itself sets.  If Twitter’s users don’t like them or lose trust, their option is to stop using the service or complain loudly on other platforms.

In general, Twitter’s record on censorship, Internet freedom and privacy is the best of the big tech companies, as an analysis by the Electronic Frontier Foundation last year highlighted. They’ve gone to bat for their users, from Turkey to Washington. Today, however, I just wish they’d clarify how social those users are allowed to be.

Editor’s Note: The headline of this post has been amended, with “After a false positive” added.

Applause for the passage of the DATA Act in the Senate

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Over on Storify, I’ve collected applause for the passage of the DATA Act in the Senate. More to come on this landmark open government bill soon.

Update: Over at TechRepublic, I published a column asserting that the passage of the DATA Act is a major event in the age of data transparency.

Update: To date, the White House Office of Management and Budget has expressed support for Congressional attention to open government, if not the bill itself.

“We share Senator Warner’s commitment to transparency and government accountability, support the Senator and his efforts to pass the DATA Act, and appreciate his focus on the issue,” said OMB spokesman Frank Benanati.

More to come on this landmark open government bill soon.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh issues open data executive order; city council ordinance to come?

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The City of Boston has joined the growing list of cities around the world that have adopted open data. The executive order issued yesterday by Mayor Marty Walsh has been hailed by open government advocates around the country. The move to open up Boston’s data has been followed by action, with 411 data sets listed on data.cityofboston.gov as of this morning. The EO authorizes and requires Boston’s chief information officer to issue a City of Boston Open Data Policy and “include standards for the format and publishing of such data and guidance on accessibility, re-use and minimum documentation for such data.”

The element on re-use is critical: the success of such initiatives should be judged based upon the network effects of open data releases, not the raw amount of data published online, and improvements to productivity, efficiency, city services, accountability and transparency.

Notably, Boston City Councilor-at-Large Michelle Wu also filed a proposal yesterday morning to create an open data ordinance that would require city agencies and departments to make open data available, codifying the executive order into statue as San Francisco, New York City and Philadelphia have done.

“Government today should center on making data-driven decisions and inviting in the public to collaborate around new ideas and solutions,” said Wu, in a statement.  “The goal of this ordinance is greater transparency, access, and innovation.  We need a proactive, not a reactive, approach to information accessibility and open government.”

 

Notably, she posted the text of her proposed open data ordinance online on Monday, unlike the city government, and tweeted a link to it. (It took until today for the city of Boston to post the order; city officials have yet to share it on social media. )

“Boston is a world-class city full of energy and talent,” said Wu. “In addition to promoting open government, making information available to the fullest extent possible will help leverage Boston’s energy and talent for civic innovation. From public hackathons to breaking down silos between city departments, putting more data online can help us govern smarter for residents in every neighborhood.”

As long-time readers know, I lived in Boston for a decade. It’s good to see the city government move forward to making the people’s data available to them for use and reuse. I look forward to seeing what the dynamic tech, financial, health care, educational and research communities in the greater Boston area do with it.

EXECUTIVE ORDER OF MAYOR MARTIN J. WALSH

An Order Relative to Open Data and Protected Data Sharing

Whereas, it is the policy of the City of Boston to practice Open Government, favoring participation, transparency, collaboration and engagement with the people of the City and its stakeholders; and
Whereas, information technologies, including web-based and other Internet applications and services, are an essential means for Open Government, and good government generally; and
Whereas, the City of Boston should continue, expand and deepen the City’s innovative use of information technology toward the end of Open Government, including development and use of mobile computing and applications, provision of online data, services and transactions; and
Whereas, the City of Boston also has an obligation to protect some data based upon privacy, confidentiality and other requirements and must ensure that protected data not be released in violation of applicable constraints; and
Whereas, clarification and definition of open data, privacy, security requirements, interoperability and interaction flows is necessary for the City’s Open Government agenda;
NOW THEREFORE, pursuant to the authority vested in me as Chief Executive Officer of the City of Boston by St. 1948, c. 452 Section 11, as appearing in St. 1951, c. 376, Section 1, and every other power hereto enabling, I hereby order and direct as follows:

1. The City of Boston recognizes Open Government as a key means for enabling public participation, transparency, collaboration and effective government, including by ensuring the availability and use of Open Data, appropriate security and sharing of Protected Data, effective use of Identity and Access Management and engagement of stakeholders and experts toward the achievement of Open Government.
2. The City of Boston Chief Information Officer (“CIO”), in consultation with City departments, is authorized and directed to issue a City of Boston Open Data Policy.
a) The Open Data Policy shall include standards for the format and publishing of such data and guidance on accessibility, re-use and minimum documentation for such data;

b) The Open Data Policy shall include guidance for departments on the classification of their data sets as public or protected and a method to report such classification to the CIO. All departments shall publish their public record data sets on the City of Boston open data portal to the extent such data sets are determined to be appropriate for public disclosure, and/or if appropriate, may publish their public record data set through other methods, in accordance with API, format, accessibility and other guidance of the Open Data Policy.
3. The City of Boston CIO, in consultation with City departments, is authorized and directed to issue a City of Boston Protected Data Policy applicable to non-public data, such as health data, educational records and other protected data;

a) The policy shall provide guidance on the management of Protected Data, including guidance on security and other controls to safeguard Protected Data, including appropriate Identity and Access Management and good practice guidelines for compliance with legal or other rules requiring the sharing of Protected Data with authorized parties upon the grant of consent, by operation of law or when otherwise so required;
b) The policy shall provide a method to ensure approval by the Corporation Counsel of the City of Boston to confirm Protected Data is only disclosed in accordance with the Policy.
4. This Executive Order is not intended to diminish or alter the rights or obligations afforded under the Massachusetts Public Records Law, Chapter 66, Section 10 of the Massachusetts General Laws and the exemptions under Chapter 4, Section 7(26). Additionally, this Executive Order is intended to be interpreted consistent with Federal, Commonwealth, and local laws and regulations regarding the privacy, confidentiality, and security of data. Nothing herein shall authorize the disclosure of data that is confidential, private, exempt or otherwise legally protected unless such disclosure is authorized by law and approved by the Corporation Counsel of the City of Boston.
5. This Executive Order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the City of Boston, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
6. The City of Boston CIO is authorized and directed to regularly consult with experts, thought leaders and key stakeholders for the purpose of exploring options for the implementation of policies and practices arising under or related to this Executive Order.

Can NewsGenius make annotated government documents more understandable?

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Last year, Rap Genius launched News Genius to help decode current events. Today, the General Service Administration (GSA) announced that digital annotation service News Genius is now available to help decode federal government Web projects:

“The federal government can now unlock the collaborative “genius” of citizens and communities to make public services easier to access and understand with a new free social media platform launched by GSA today at the Federal #SocialGov Summit on Entrepreneurship and Small Business,” writes Justin Herman, federal social media manager.

“News Genius, an annotation wiki based on Rap Genius now featuring federal-friendly Terms of Service, allows users to enhance policies, regulations and other documents with in-depth explanations, background information and paths to more resources. In the hands of government managers it will improve public services through citizen feedback and plain language, and will reduce costs by delivering these benefits on a free platform that doesn’t require a contract.”

This could be a significant improvement in making complicated policy documents and regulations understandable to the governed. While plain writing is indispensable for open government and mandated by law and regulation, the practice isn’t exactly uniformly practiced in Washington.

If people can understand more about what a given policy, proposed rule or regulation actually says, they may well be more likely to participate in the process of revising it. We’ll see if people adopt the tool, but on balance, that sounds like a step ahead.

600-x-320-GSA-Mentor-Protege-Program-subpart-519-70-on-cell-phoneWhat could this look like? As Herman noted, Chicago’s SmartChicago Collaborative uses RapGenius to annotate municipal documents.

Another recent example comes from DOBTCO founder and CEO Clay Johnson, who memorably put RapGenius to good use last year decoding testimony on Healthcare.gov.

The GSA’s first use is for a mentor-protege program.

Here’s hoping more subject matter experts start annotating.

[Image Credit: Huffington Post]

Internet Caucus to host forum in DC on open data with Zillow CEO

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Tomorrow, the Internet Caucus is hosting a forum on open data in the United States Congress that will feature a conversation between Zillow CEO Spencer Rakoff and  yours truly.

Open government data powers Zillow’s ability to give consumers more insight into the real estate market. They are a clear winner in the open data economy, an early beneficiary of federal government releases of data that could one day add trillions of dollars in economic value, better services, resilience against climate change, accountability, and social justice. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the potential and challenges of opening up data about housing and making the real estate market more transparent.

If you have questions about Zillow, open data, startups, real estate or other counts, please let me know. 

[Image Credit: Zillow]