What is smart government?

Last month, I traveled to Moldova to speak at a “smart society” summit hosted by the Moldovan national e-government center and the World Bank. I talked about what I’ve been seeing and reporting on around the world and some broad principles for “smart government.” It was one of the first keynote talks I’ve ever given and, from what I gather, it went well: the Moldovan government asked me to give a reprise to their cabinet and prime minister the next day.

I’ve embedded the entirety of the morning session above, including my talk (which is about half an hour long). I was preceded by professor Beth Noveck, the former deputy CTO for open government at The White House. If you watch the entire program, you’ll hear from:

  • Victor Bodiu, General Secretary, Government of the Republic of Moldova, National Coordinator, Governance e-Transformation Agenda
  • Dona Scola, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Information Technology and Communication
  • Andrew Stott, UK Transparency Board, former UK Government Director for Transparency and Digital Engagement
  • Victor Bodiu, General Secretary, Government of the Republic of Moldova
  • Arcadie Barbarosie, Executive Director, Institute of Public Policy, Moldova

Without planning on it, I managed to deliver a one-liner that morning that’s worth rephrasing and reiterating here: Smart government should not just serve citizens with smartphones.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments, for those of you who make it through the whole keynote.

The Empire (State) Strikes Back (Against Corruption)

This week, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman launched NYOpenGovernment.com, a new website that his office touts as a means for “voters, the media and government watchdogs hold state government accountable” by providing the public online access to government data on campaign contributions, lobbying, and state contracts.

“Secrecy breeds corruption, while transparency generates confidence,” Attorney General Schneiderman said, in a prepared statement. “New York Open Government will help the public keep an eye on what their government is doing in order to deter corruption and increase confidence in the public sector. This site is a one-stop-shop for New Yorkers demanding up-to-date and comprehensive information about their government.”

The launch of the new site fulfills a commitment that Schneiderman made as a candidate for Attorney General. NYOpenGovernment.com is an expansion of Project Sunlight, which went online in 2007 under then NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

The citizens of New York could use a boost to confidence about their state government. According to a release from the NY AG’s office, at least 20 current or former elected members of the legislative and executive branches of the New York State government were either accused or convicted of crimes per the last decade.

“It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about this launch,” said Laurenellen McCann, national policy manager for the Sunlight Foundation, when asked for comment. “NYOpenGovernment.com demonstrates a genuine commitment to public oversight that more states should seek to emulate. Without the online release of information about campaign contributions, lobbying, state contracts, and other “influence data”, no government can really claim to be fulfilling its promise to be open or to provide open data.”

The data on the new website is sourced directly from the relevant state agencies. Campaign finance data come from the Board of Elections, lobbyist data from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, state contract data from the Comptroller’s office, state corporation data from the Department of State, and bill information from the legislature. According to the attorney general’s office, the AG receives raw data, in different formats, from the agencies when they update their own respective websites.

“What’s worth noting about New York’s new platform is that it not only releases this important accountability data, it also provides contextualization for it, allowing citizens to access the info through centralized searches,” said McCann. In fact, this is the primary approach behind sites like Ethics.gov, or Sunlight’s Influence Explorer.com and one that we consider a best practice.”

It’s also worth noting that the site’s Web design is clean, uncluttered and loads quickly on a mobile device, if not in a mobile-optimized version.

If media and citizens have requests for data or questions about quality or accuracy, the AG’s office established a primary point of contact: Jason Ortiz, the director of special projects, and provided an official phone number (212-416-8743) and email address: Jason.Ortiz@ag.ny.gov.

The introduction of site was parsed by numerous members of New York’s good government community:

“With New York Open Government, Attorney General Schneiderman is showing clear leadership in making to government more transparent and accountable,” said Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Media and Chairman of the NY Tech Meetup, in a prepared statement. “By updating New York Open Government online tools and features A.G. Schneiderman is demonstrating that in the 21st century, the public’s access to information regarding how their government officials act must be easily searchable and accessible online.”

“We’re excited by Attorney General Schneiderman’s New York Open Government website,” said John Kaehny, Executive Director of Reinvent Albany, in a prepared statement. “We applaud the attorney general’s efforts to harness the immense power of the internet to increase government transparency and accountability. We look forward to working with A.G. Schneiderman to help New York Open Government achieve its full potential as a potent tool for restoring trust and confidence in our state government.”

“New York Open Government is an important resource for New Yorkers who want to know how their government works,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director, Common Cause/NY, in a prepared statement. “We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for helping to bring New York’s information services into the 21st century, and significantly improving access to publicly available data. Government transparency is essential to an engaged electorate.”

“In the information age, New Yorkers want and expect access to the hard data that shows what their government is up to,” said Russ Haven, legislative counsel for NYPIRG. “Attorney General Schneiderman’s New York Open Government website provides a ‘one-stop shopping’ place for average New Yorkers as well as sophisticated researchers to find information about elected officials and those seeking to influence them. The features will make it easier to access, organize and ultimately make sense of information as never before. This is an important resource for New Yorkers trying to keep tabs on government.”

What’s next?

There’s an additional bright spot here, with respect to cost to taxpayers: no expensive contract to a systems integrator was involved. The office of the Attorney General built the site in house, with no consultants. According to the NY attorney general’s office, hat they’re committed to sustaining and enhancing the site, including adding more datasets, improved search and a trackers for the most viewed data.

If, in the future, it may be possible for citizens to share information about government programs, practices or officials into the their social networks, it will a step ahead for networked accountability. “We’ve seen the power of social media for democracy movements around the world,” said NY Attorney General Schneiderman, in a prepared statement. “By making this tool compatible with multiple media platforms, we hope to empower our own citizens to hold their government accountable.”

The AG’s office looks at the website like an example of “living, breathing and evolving public accountability,” and emphasized that they will listen to its users and implement their suggestions “when it makes sense” to do so.

Here’s one suggestion, from this native of upstate New York: set up a data.nyopengovernment.com so that citizens, media, developers, advocates and state employees can see, browse and download the data in bulk. Currently, a user can search for an individual and then view all the relevant records, as for Mario Cuomo, with the capacity to download the data as a .CSV, Excel file or XML.

While New York should and is being lauded for this step forward to make open government data available in open, structured form only, its public officers could help to enable an ecosystem of networked accountability through enabling the creation of Web services, not just new websites. The next evolution in open government is not to encourage citizens to visit a website but to release the data that site is built upon so that it finds them, when they use search engines, social networks, media websites or civic applications like OpenStates.

Philadelphia shows brotherly love to open data with new executive order

As TechnicallyPhilly reported this morning, the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has joined the ranks of municipalities putting more public data onto the Internet.

“Transparency is a cornerstone of good governance, and it is vital for the City to be open and available to our citizens,” said Mayor Michael Nutter in a statement posted to the city of Philadelphia’s Facebook page. “Philadelphia was recently named at the seventh most social media savvy city in the nation. The Open Data policy furthers many of the policies and initiatives already put in place by the City.”

Bill Signing_MLeff_08

“The Open Data Policy puts in place the necessary framework, structure and governance that will increase collaboration among City departments and bring citizens closer to their government,” said Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid. “This policy is the first installment in Mayor Nutter’s vision for Philadelphia to become a model for increasing transparency and removing barriers to information sharing and collaboration.”

As NBC Philadelphia reported, the executive order also establishes an internal social media policy for Philadelphia municipal government.

The city now has 90 days to select or hire a chief data officer (a position that Logan Clier called for all cities to establish on the Code for America blog earlier today) and 120 days to establish a “data governance advisory” board, both of which will be in entrusted with established standards and means of publishing open data, along with periodically evaluating the releases to date.

Philadelphia may soon have an opportunity to compare notes with other cities that have pursued open data platforms around the United States, including San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Boston and New York City. NYC has set up a wiki to help implement its landmark open data legislation, an example that Philadelphians might draw inspiration from, with respect to forming more collaborative and transparent processes online.

There’s much to like in this executive order, for open data advocates, but one phrase in particular jumps out: “Each City department and agency shall develop a schedule for making information available to the public and updating it on a regular basis.”

This could go a long way to addressing key concern that has been extant in other cities and states, where data sets go online but are not subsequently updated. That will only be true, however, if political will is coupled with policy clout to drive more release and public engagement with media, academy and Philadelphia’s technical community to put the data to work for the public’s good.

The good news on that count is that Philadelphia has a partner in Technically Philly, which has been an active participant in driving this change:

The Executive Order had been long rumored and follows the more than year-long growth of a public-private coalitionpushing for a clearer strategy on using data to make government more transparent and efficient.

Full disclosure: Technically Philly has been involved in these conversations, though purely to make clear the editorial objectives of this technology news site. Last fall, during and after the OpenDataRace, a project that sought public voting on desired city data, representatives of Technically Philly, GIS firm Azavea, which built OpenDataPhilly.org, and the William Penn Foundation met with new city CIO Adel Ebeid to discuss the effort on multiple occasions, sometimes with other city IT staff.

As with every open data effort, the devil will be in the details. Or, to put it another way, the devil will be in the datasets, including the quality and relevance of what’s posted. That said, it’s impossible to see today’s action as anything other than a watershed for the city that I grew up in, from 1984 to 1994, and I can’t help but hope that everyone in the City of Brotherly Love collaborates in making the most of the opportunity that now lies before Philadelphia to apply data for the public good.

Go make stuff that matters.


As of 7:43 PM ET this evening, the city had not yet posted the executive order to Phila.gov, the city’s official website. I’ve published the EO on open data and government transparency in full below.

EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. __ -12

OPEN DATA AND GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY

WHEREAS, the City of Philadelphia is committed to creating a high level of openness and transparency in government; and

WHEREAS, the three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government; and

WHEREAS, the City’s participation as a founding and vital partner in the open data consortium has provided a model for transparency on which the City should continue to build; and

WHEREAS, more City data sets should be published and made available via an Open Data Portal which will provide access to information and a mechanism for public feedback and participation; and

WHEREAS, the demands of an across-the-board open government framework require the dedication of a new position, of Chief Data Officer, to direct these initiatives; and

WHEREAS, social media tools have become a part of everyday life for City employees and City residents, such that social media can be a means of increasing government transparency and civic engagement; and

WHEREAS, timetables should be established for development and implementation of an overall Open Government Plan to enhance and develop transparency, public participation, and collaboration in all City activities;

NOW THEREFORE, I, Michael A. Nutter, Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, by the authority vested in me by the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, do hereby order as follows:

SECTION 1. OPEN DATA WORKING GROUP AND CHIEF DATA OFFICER

A. As soon as practicable, the Mayor and the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) will establish an Open Data Working Group to focus on transparency, accountability, participation, and collaboration within City government. The Working Group, which will include senior level representation from program and management offices throughout the City, will assist the CIO in selecting a Chief Data Officer. The Working Group will also provide a forum to develop innovative ideas for promoting open government goals, including collaborations with researchers, the private sector, and the public, and for developing resolutions to issues raised through the public feedback mechanisms of the Open Government Portal.

B. Within 90 days of the Effective Date of this Order, the CIO, with assistance from the Open Data Working Group, shall hire or designate an individual to serve as Chief Data Officer (CDO). The CDO will lead the Open Data and Transparency initiatives outlined in this Order, including working with City departments and agencies to establish standards for publication of data and the most effective means for making such data available. The CDO will report to the Chief Innovation Officer.

SECTION 2. DATA GOVERNANCE ADVISORY BOARD

Within 120 days from the Effective Date of this Order, the Mayor shall appoint a Data Governance Advisory Board. The Board shall consist of nine members, including the Chief Innovation Officer and the CDO, and shall be chaired by an individual designated by the Mayor. The Open Data Working Group shall solicit nominations for members of the Advisory Board, and shall recommend appointments from the public, private, academic and nonprofit sectors. The Advisory Board shall meet regularly at such times as the Board decides, and its members shall serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.

SECTION 3. OPEN GOVERNMENT PLAN

A. Development of Plan. Within six months of the Effective Date of this Order, the CIO and the CDO, in conjunction with the Advisory Board, shall develop and publish an Open Government Plan. The plan will detail, including specific actions and timelines, the steps that the City will take to incorporate the principles of open government into its daily activities.

B. The Plan shall be formulated with the input of senior policy, legal, and technology leadership in the City; open government experts; and the general public.

C. Components of the Plan shall include:

(1) Transparency: Steps the City will take to conduct its work more openly and publish its information online, including ready public access to ordinances and regulations, policies, legislative records, budget information, crime statistics, public health statistics, and other information. Where possible, publication shall be in an open format, subject to privacy, confidentiality, and security concerns, and to the City’s Social Media Use Policy. Additionally, the Plan will identify high value data sets not yet available to the public, and establish a reasonable timeline for their publication online in open formats.

(2) Public Participation: Description of how the City will enhance and expand opportunities for the public to participate throughout each City agency’s decision-making process, including instructions for online access to published information and opportunities for comment; methods for identifying stakeholders and other affected parties and encouraging their participation; links to appropriate websites where the public can engage in the City’s existing participatory processes; and proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to increase public participation.

(3) Collaboration: Steps the City will take to enhance and expand cooperation among City departments and agencies, other governmental agencies, private and nonprofit entities, and the public, to fulfill City goals and obligations; including proposals to use technology platforms and links to appropriate websites to improve, and inform the public about, existing collaboration efforts, and use of innovative methods to obtain ideas from and to increase collaboration with those in the private sector, nonprofit and academic communities.

SECTION 4. OPEN DATA POLICY

A. Open Government Portal. Within 90 days of the Chief Data Officer’s assumption of responsibilities, the Office of Innovation and Technology shall establish a Portal that will serve as the source for Citywide and departmental activities with respect to this open government initiative. The Chief Innovation Officer, in his discretion, may build on previous open data initiatives, or may establish a new portal.

B. Identification of Barriers, Guidance and Revisions. Within 120 days of the Effective Date of this Order, the City Solicitor, in consultation with the Chief Innovation Officer, shall review existing city policies to identify impediments to open government and to the use of new technologies and, where necessary, issue clarifying guidance or propose revisions to such policies, where greater openness can be promoted without damage to the City’s legal and financial interests.

C. Department and Agency Open Formats. Each City department and agency shall develop a schedule for making information available to the public and updating it on a regular basis. To the extent practicable and subject to valid restrictions, agencies shall publish information on line (in addition to other planned or mandated publication methods), and in an open format. The open format will provide data in a form that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, searched and reused by commonly used web search applications and software. Such information shall, subject to legal and practical restrictions and to the City’s Social Media Use Policy, be made available to the public without restrictions that would impede re-use of the information.

D. Open Data Catalog. Within 90 days of the CDO’s assumption of duties, each City department and agency shall create a catalog of its public information. The catalog shall be made accessible through the Open Government Portal. The determination of what shall constitute “public information” and “high value data sets” for purposes of this Order, as well as what “high value data sets” should be shared as set forth in paragraph 4.E hereof, shall be made by each department or agency head in consultation with OIT and the Law Department.

E. High Value Data Sets. Within 120 days of the CDO’s assumption of duties, each Deputy Mayor shall identify and publish online, in an open format, at least three high-value data sets, not currently available on line or not available in a downloadable format.

F. Public Feedback. The Open Government Portal shall include a mechanism for the public to give feedback on and assess the quality of published information, provide input about what information should be a priority for publication, and provide input on the City’s Open Government Plan.

G. Legally Protected Information. Nothing in this Order shall be construed to supersede existing requirements for review and clearance of information exempt from disclosure under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act and other applicable laws, regulations, or judicial orders.

H. Evaluation. The City’s progress toward meeting the open government goals set forth in this Order shall be evaluated six months from the Effective Date of this Order, again one year from the Effective Date, and annually thereafter. The evaluation shall be released on the Open Government Portal, and shall include criteria to be developed by the Advisory Board.

SECTION 5. SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY

A. The City of Philadelphia’s Social Media Use Policy is, by this Order, simultaneously adopted and incorporated herein by reference as if fully stated.

B. Going forward, the Mayor’s Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships and the CIO, or their designees, shall consider any additional issues that arise concerning standards for the acceptable use of social media by City employees, as well as by members of the general public who comment on or otherwise interact with the City through its social media websites, and shall, with the review and approval of the Law Department, make such amendments as may be advisable to the Social Media Use Policy.

SECTION 6. EFFECTIVE DATE

This Order shall be effective immediately.

Date: ___________________ ____________________________
MICHAEL A. NUTTER, MAYOR

Open government means calling all hands on deck, not just civic developers

“I think that government is always going to need help, and that’s part of the message that we’re trying to spread… government not only will need help but will become an institution that lets people help, that encourages people to help out, and has a strong connection to the citizens its supposed to serve.”-Jennifer Pahlka, talking in a new interview with CNN on geeks helping open government.

Earlier this winter, Pahlka (aka @pahlkadot) delivered a TED Talk, “Coding a Better Government,” that now has over 300,000 views at TED.com and another 40,000+ at YouTube:

That talk and her SXSWi keynote — which was nearly three times as long and perhaps that much better — aren’t just about Code for America or civic coding or the impact of the Internet on society. It was about how we think about government and citizenship in the 21st century.

Jen’s voice is bringing the idea of civic coding as another kind of public service to an entire nation now. If America’s developer community really wakes up to help, city and state government IT could get better, quickly, as a network effect catalyze by the “Code for America effect takes off.

As Paul M. Davis wrote at Shareable Magazine, however, if the open government and open data movement is to help cities and citizens, it will need more than just “civic hackers.”

“To build resilient, peer-to-peer cities these precarious economic times demand, these conversations and collaborations need to be facilitated top-down, ground-up, and between every other decentralized community node that can contribute to weaving a diverse tapestry of a city’s political, cultural, historical, and socioeconomic data. …

To those of us who don’t think of ourselves as hackers but find ourselves applying that ethos to other trades—journalists, community organizers, field researchers, social justice activists, lawyers and policy wonks, and many more groups—let’s join the conversation, contribute our skills to the civic hacker community, and see what we can build together for our cities.”

If millions of non-coders collaborate with the geeks amongst us, learning from one another in the process, it could transform “hacking as a civic duty” from a geeky pursuit into something more existential and powerful:

21st century citizenship in which an ongoing digital relationship with government, services, smarter cities and fellow citizens is improved, negotiated and delivered through mobile devices, social media and open data.

We live in interesting times.

A future of cities fueled by citizens, open data and collaborative consumption

The future of cities was a hot topic this year at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, with two different panels devoted to thinking about what’s next. I moderated one of them, on “shaping cities with mobile data.” Megan Schumann, a consultant at Deloitte, was present at both sessions and storified them. Her curatorial should gives you a sense of the zeitgeist of ideas shared.

The expanding world of open data journalism

From healthcare to finance to emergency response, data holds immense potential to help citizens and government. Putting data to work for the public good, however, will require data journalists to apply the powerful emerging tools in the newsroom stack to the explosion of information from government, business and their fellow citizens. The promise of data journalism has been a strong theme throughout the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting’s (NICAR) 2012 conference.

It was in that context that I presented upon “Open Data Journalism” this morning, which, to paraphrase Jonathan Stray, I’d define as obtaining, reporting upon, curating and publishing open data in the public interest. My slides, which broadly describe what I’m seeing in the world of open government today, are embedded below.

San Francisco pitches lean government as a platform for innovation [PRESENTATION]

Over at TechCrunch, Eric @Eldon reports that “San Francisco Launches The 2012 Innovation Portfolio, From Open Taxi Data To Beta Tests In City Hall,” sourcing the post on a presentation from the city’s innovation staff, which I’ve embedded below. Eldon posts a summary over in his post but here’s the gist of it:

Mayor Ed Lee, who came to power last year with heavy support from the local tech scene, is announcing a new initiative today at the TechFellows awards ceremony, that has some intriguing ideas for making the city itself more relevant to the booming industry within it.

Broadly, the so-called 2012 Innovation Portfolio is trying to do everything from helping founders making it easier to complete the paperwork for creating a company, to giving developers new access to city data, to introducing new ways for citizens to share their opinions with the city, to actually testing out tech products at City Hall itself.

As Sara Lai Stirland reported last month, however, while San Francisco’s plans for open government, open data, open doors to new business and better services is focused on worthy goals, achieving them won’t be a walk in Golden Gate Park. Then again, it’s rare that anything worth doing is easy.

Honestly, in reading this over, I’m not sure about how much of this innovation initiative is truly new, although there is one news nugget “As part of this effort, the City is moving to a cloud-based data sharing service for launch in March.”

While that appears to have perplexed Eldon, many Govfresh readers will be able decipher it: San Francisco looks likely to be adopting Socrata next month. If so, that means that, in theory, civic developers will have more (better?) APIs for SF open data soon.

I have a feature in the works on what San Francisco is up to in open government and will report back when I have more to share.

Update: Govfresh founder Luke Fretwell noticed that San Francisco’s new innovation site is running on WordPress. In doing so, the city government would be adopting two of the planks from Luke’s manifesto to reboot government innovation in San Francisco. It’s a promising start.

Will ESRI allow public GIS data to be fully open government data?

As has been true for years, there’s a robust debate in municipal information technology world around the use of proprietary software or open source. An important element of that conversation centers on open data, specifically whether the formats used by companies are interoperable and “open,” in the sense of being usable by more than one kind of software. When the license required to use a given software application is expensive, that requirement can put budget-strapped cities and towns in a difficult position. Last week, former New York State Senate CIO Andrew Hoppin weighed in on the debate, writing about proprietary software lions and bears in the Civic Commons marketplace, a new online directory of civic software.

 I believe the Civic Commons Marketplace will ultimately save US taxpayers billions of dollars in government IT spending, while accelerating the propagation of technology-driven civic innovation in the bargain.  I’ve believed this for a while.   Thus, it’s a debate worth having; the Marketplace deserves attention, and critique.

In order to realize its potential, from my perspective as a recovering government CIO, I believe that the Civic Commons Marketplace must give equal billing to all software used in government, regardless of the software license associated with it.

Nick Grossman, the executive director of Civic Commons, chronicled the debate that Hoppin described in a Storify:

I talked with ESRI founder Jack Dangermond in September 2010 about how he was opening up ESRI and the role he saw for mapping in open government. My sense then, as now, is that this is an issue that’s deeply important to him.

There are clearly strong feelings in the civic development community about the company’s willingness to open up its data, along with what that means for how public data is coded and released. If you’re a GIS developer and have an opinion on this issue, please let us know in the comments.