New recommendations for improving local open government and creating online hubs

Today, the Aspen Institute hosted a roundtable on government transparency and online hubs in Washington, DC. You can watch the archived webcast below.

The roundtable focused on the release of two new white papers. The first, “Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action,” by Adam Thierer, discusses scenarios where community leaders, citizens, media, technologists and — critically, local government — can work together” to create local online hubs where citizens can access information about their governments and local communities.” Creating such high-quality online information hubs was one of the 15 key recommendations of Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. “Just as communities depend on maps of physical space, they should create maps of information flow that enable members of the public to connect to the data and information they want,” said the Knight Commission. (Download PDF or Read Online)

“Governments need to get more information out and make it more accessible, said Thierer today. “This shouldn’t be controversial.” Thierer said that government can do well to catalyze and support this development simply by doing a better job of making such information easily available in easy to use formats. While open government data stores have grown, Thierer noted that this has not trickled down. He cited the example of Manor, Texas as one example of where one local champion (former CIO Dustin Haisler) got help from Stanford and other external resources to get the local open data repository online.

Broadly, Thierer described three models for online hubs:

  • Hubs focused on community government information. Example: Texas Tribune
  • Community connections: local forums and community email listservs. Example: e-democracy.org
  • Community news and commentary. Example: Universal Hub

Thierer focused on the important role that libraries and local or state universities can play in this new ecosystem, by connected offline and online worlds. These universities could create “code toolboxes” that local communities can use, as Stanford did for Manor. He hoped that that model could be replicated nationally.

Government transparency

Download PDF or Read Online)

There are three basic issues here, according to Turner-Lee:

  • Do people get it?
  • Do they have the resources they need?
  • Can they do transparency with those resources?

“All of us who have been in this debate have seen a conflict between these three factors, said Turner-Lee. The question, she said Turner-Lee, is how we empower state and local government. The challenge is that in most open data effort, “We are still in a one-way world, where data is pushed down to the public, not in a reciprocal ecosystem.”

It’s one thing to say citizens who should be involved, said Turner-Lee, but more needs to be done. “As an organizer, I can speak to that. It’s hard to get people to a block meeting,” much less meeting online, she said. There’s also a persistent issue of the digital divide that has to be addressed in this context. “We cannot proclaim government transparency” where millions of people don’t have online access, said Turner-Lee.

There are many examples of where open data is being put to use on the behalf of citizens now. Turner cited apps driven by transit data in Chicago, heritage trees in Portland or the use of 311 by SeeClickFix in the District of Columbia.

Jon Grant focused on a major pain point for government at all levels for tapping into the innovation economy: procurement issues, which civic entrepreneurs run into in cities, statehouses and Washington. “It is time to look at these procurement rules more closely,” he said, and promote higher levels of innovation. “There are a lot of ideas are happening but a lot of rules restrict vendors from interacting in government,” said Grant. Turner-Lee observed that traditional procurement laws may also not be flexible enough to bring more mobile apps into government.

Fundamentally, empowering more government transparency through the Internet will require both creating a climate for the actions, said Turner-Lee, but also through structural changes, specifically, through the release of spectrum and Universal Service Fund (USF) reform.

It will also require that state and local government officials are part of the conversation, “It they aren’t at the table, we’re going to be pretty much talking to ourselves,” said Turner-Lee.

Former San Francisco CIO Chris Vein, now the new White House deputy CTO for government innovation, agreed. biggest challenge of all is that we like to think there are templates. to a certain extent, they can be. fundamentally, all politics is local. To make this work in government, a community “needs someone who takes risks, who goes out there and makes it happen regardlesss of the cost.”

All stakeholder at the panel acknowledged the crucial importance of community institutions, nonprofits and libraries in addressing issues of the digital divide and creating a bridge between online hubs and local citizens. Turner Lee noted that billions of people over the course of years have come into libraries for assistance, particularly the homeless and low-income citizens. “What better way to get people into the system by enabling libraries to be a conduit of information?” she asked.

“Public information belongs to the public, and the public’s business should be done in public,” said Turner. That said, local citizens also don’t want data for the sake of data. “Consumption of this data would be inconsistent if the data doesn’t provide quality of life,” she said.

Knight Commission to release recommendations on open government and online hubs

Tomorrow, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will release two new white papers that focus on implementing the recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

The two new white papers—“Government Transparency: Six Strategies for More Open and Participatory Government” by Jon Gant and Nicol Turner-Lee, and “Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action” by Adam Thierer, recommend steps that government and community leaders should take to increase government transparency and put more information hubs online.

To Aspen Institute will convene a roundtable of public officials, advocates, and watchdogs from national, state and local levels of government (along with this correspondent) tomorrow morning from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EST. See the list of attendees below for specific details.

There will be a live webcast of the event. The Knight Commission is encouraging people to participate online at #knightcomm hashtag. According to the event organizers, a livestream will begin at 9:00 a.m. (EST) and will be archived. These white papers will be available to read and download Friday morning. Look for links here when they become available.


Featured Roundtable Speakers

Dr. Jon Gant, Fellow, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and Associate Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a leading scholar in the field of information systems and public administration.

Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, Vice President and Director of the Media and Technology Institute for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. She has produced path breaking research on broadband adoption among minority and disadvantaged populations and engages city, state and federal legislators on issues in telecommunications, open government and the emerging technology innovation sectors.

Adam Thierer, Senior Research Fellow, Technology Policy Program, Mercatus Center at George Mason University, having previously served as President of the Progress & Freedom Foundation. His work spans technology, media, and Internet and free speech with a focus in online child safety and digital privacy policy issues.

Roundtable participants include:

Gary Bass, Executive Director, OMB Watch
Ben Berkowitz, Founder, SeeClickFix
John Bracken, Directory of Digital Media, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Jerry Brito, Senior Research Fellow, George Mason University
Kevin Curry, Co-Founder, CityCamp.com
Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Charlie Firestone, Executive Director, Communications and Society Program, Aspen Institute
Feather Houstoun, President, William Penn Foundation
Alexander Howarder, Government 2.0 Washington Correspondent, O’Reilly Media
William Kellibrew, IV, Deputy Director, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
Alex Kreilein, Legislative Assistant, Office of Congresswoman Jane Harman
Ngoan Le, Vice President of Programs, The Chicago Community Trust
Blair Levin, Communications and Society Fellow, Aspen Institute
Philip Neustrom, Founder, Davis Wiki
Steve Pearson, Publisher and Chief Technologist, Project Virginia
Lee Rainie, Director, PEW Internet and American Life Project
Rachel Sterne, Chief Digital Officer, Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment, New York City
Daniel Schuman, Policy Counsel, Sunlight Foundation
Nancy Tate, Executive Director, League of Women Voters
Tracy Viselli, Community Manager, ACTion Alexandria
Marijke Visser, Assistant Director, OITP, American Library Association
Eric Wenger, Policy Counsel, US-Legal-Government Affairs, Microsoft Corporation
Harry Wingo, Senior Policy Counsel, Google, Inc.