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Here is an interesting post regarding motivating people to act and its relationship to gaming.
The following is a letter I sent to member of the Colorado General Assembly regarding HB10-1036, which calls for school districts to publish financial data on-line. A good thing, but how the data is published in important. This issue is of importance in light of a recent Denver Post article on School District spending. The bill will be up for hearing on Thursday, March 11, 2010. The hearing start at 1:30 pm in Senate Committee Room 354 and the bill is the second item on the Senate Education committee’s calendar. You may listen to the hearing here.
My issue is with the fiscal analysis and the assumption that school will (or should?) publish the district financial data is PDF. I am not trying to pick on PDF, but rather with the PDF creation process. (As with many things, the problem is a user issue not a technology issue). Please read my letter and if you contact the committee members (list here) and the Senate sponsor, Senator Chris Romer.
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Dear Senator or Representative;
I am writing you today in support of HB10-1036, the Public School Financial Transparency Act. However, I would encourage the Colorado General Assembly to more explicitly recommend the use of open standards based technologies when publishing government data. This bill is a good step in furthering financial transparency and in increasing public accessibility to financial data. As the bill declares, all Coloradans have an interest in knowing how moneys are being expended in the pursuit of quality public education. A critical issue to public accessibility to financial data is how the data is published on the Web. The fiscal note to HB10-1036 states that “it is assumed that financial documents can be electronically converted to portable document format (PDF) . . . and posted to online at minimal cost.” This statement is correct in both respects. There is no doubt that providing PDF versions of these documents on-line would be a step in the right direction and would give citizens access to information that would not be easily accessible today. Furthermore, PDF can be one of the most flexible human-readable electronic formats invented and can provide one of the richest possible electronic formats ever devised in terms of capabilities. However, in many cases the process of creating PDFs limits the usefulness of the data contained in the PDF. Therefore, publication of PDFs to the exclusion of other formats limits the value of government data.
I support this bills intended goal of giving citizens access to public information that would be otherwise relatively inaccessible. Open government data and transparency is more than accessibility. In fact the W3C e-Government Interest Group’s (e-Gov IG) draft document on “Publishing Open Government Data” states that “sharing government data enables greater transparency; delivers more efficient public services; and encourages greater public and commercial use and re-use of government information.” What PDF provides in accessibility it can lack in usability and re-usability. That is why PDF only or strong reliance on PDF versions of government data should be augmented. I do not wish to belabor the pitfalls of the publication of open government data in PDF. Instead, I want to share what steps can be taken to provide complete openness and transparency to government information.
The W3C, the Sunlight Foundation, and other open government advocates recommed that government’s should use open standards based technologies when publishing data. Furthermore, in some cases the data or information that is converted to PDF is already in an open format, such as XML. The W3C e-Gov IG’s Publishing Open Government Data document makes the following initial recommendations for publishing government data:
Step 1: The quickest and easiest way to make data available on the Internet is to publish the data in its raw form (e.g., an XML file of polling data from past elections). However, the data should be well-structured. Structure allows others to successfully make automated use of the data. Well-known formats or structures include XML, RDF and CSV. Formats that only allow the data to be seen, rather than extracted (for example, pictures of the data), are not useful and should be avoided.
Step 2: Create an online catalog of the raw data (complete with documentation) so people can discover what has been posted. These raw datasets should be reliably structured and documented, otherwise their usefulness is negligible. Most governments already have mechanisms in place to create and store data (e.g., Excel, Word, and other software-specific file formats). Posting raw data, with an online catalog, is a great starting point, and reflects the next-step evolution of the Internet – “website as fileserver”.
Step 3: Make the data both human- and machine-readable:
- enrich your existing (X)HTML resources with semantics, metadata, and identifiers;
- encode the data using open and industry standards – especially XML – or create your own standards based on your vocabulary;
- make your data human-readable by either converting to (X)HTML, or by using real-time transformations through CSS or XSLT. Remember to follow accessibility requirements;
- use permanent patterned and/or discoverable “Cool URIs“;
- allow for electronic citations in the form of standardized (anchor/id links or XLINKs/XPointers) hyperlinks.
These steps will help the public to easily find, use, cite and understand the data. The data catalog should explain any rules or regulations that must be followed in the use of the dataset. Also, the data catalog itself is considered “data” and should be published as structured data, so that third parties can extract data about the datasets. Thoroughly document the parts of the web page, using valid XHTML, and choose easily patterned and discoverable URLs for the pages. Also syndicate the data for the catalog (using formats such as RSS) to quickly and easily advertise new datasets upon publication.
The ultimate goal is to make any data published by government both human and machine readable. Machine readability is import because it allows interested parties to more easily parse the data. Furthermore, machine readability is import because it helps to create opportunities for citizens and organizations to develop new and creative tools to give the data even greater value.
The use of PDF in government and in the private sector is persistent. Therefore, it is highly advisable that when a PDF is created that steps must be taken to include metadata formats, file attachments, and other features that will add value to the document and allow the data in the PDF to be more machine readable. If PDF is going to be the dominate form of publication, then the creation process should aim to create greater interoperability to forward the goal of usability and re-usability.
Again, I support this legislation’s goal of creating transparency and openness in public school finances. However, I would strongly encourage the Colorado General Assembly to more explicitly recommend the use of open standards based technologies when publishing any government data.
The following post is by a friend and colleague, Scott Primeau. (Disclosure I happen to be the co-work mentioned in the post). Scott provides valuable insight into the design of effective government.
via Colorado Commentary by Scott Primeau on 3/4/10
I was talking to a co-worker about our office’s reconfiguration plans, which involve merging divisions and training employees to handle a wider variety of customer needs. It’s a nice plan, and it is likely to benefit our customers by removing the layers they have to dig through to get to the services they need.
In the physical world the reconfiguration has involved combining two separate customer entrances that were on two different floors into a single entrance with employees from two divisions at the front counter. One of the next steps is to create a single call center for the two divisions, instead of the existing structure that utilizes an auto-mated phone tree to direct customers to the appropriate division. But, this post isn’t about the reconfiguration.
The discussion triggered some other thoughts about providing efficient services. Government watchdogs and government itself continually make calls for more efficient government- faster, more reliable service, at less cost.
A state government trend in this area has been the creation of Web-based portals that allow customers to access a variety of services from multiple state agencies through a single website. Some of these portals are a mere collection of information and links to other agencies, such as Colorado’s www.colorado.gov. Other portals are based on functional needs, such as registering a business through the Utah Division of Corporations’ OneStop Business Registration site, http://www.corporations.utah.gov/osbr_phase_2.html. (Both of those examples are NIC websites, but they are substantially different.)
Portals and other virtual spaces offer customers an alternative to visiting multiple government agencies to accomplish their tasks. But, the real key to efficiency is to make people efficient.
Efficiency isn’t just about consolidating locations, whether they are physical or virtual. Efficiency is about rationalizing functions.
Please hold the backlash for just a moment. I know this didn’t work so well with homeland security. That’s what my co-worker mentioned as he laughed, maybe rightfully so, at my suggestion of consolidating state agencies.
Technology is making a lot of improvements in efficiency possible. I do believe the Internet, social media, mobile devices, and other technological developments are making government better and are helping people get more from their government. But, can technology make up for inefficient structures? If a person has to visit at least three state agencies to form a business, get a license, and sign up to pay taxes, can a website make up for the twists and turns, the discrepancies in policies, the processing delays, and the inconsistency in customer service?
Technology can make up for a lot, but improving government is not just about making government more efficient; it’s about making people more efficient.
The question shouldn’t be how can government do it? The question should be how would a person do it? Processes should be designed around people’s practices and expectations. Government agencies shouldn’t expect people to adapt to the government’s ideas.
Redesigning government around people will take a lot more than new websites. Redesigning government will take changes to legal frameworks, a lot of vision, and a whole lot of cooperation.
I’m sure there are a lot of holes to this idea that I haven’t filled, but I’ll settle for starting with a little idealism.
(If you’re interested in some similar ideas, check out Nicholas Charney’s discussion on Govloop, Envisioning a fully web enabled government department/agency and the related comments.)
Today I am happy to announce that the first Rocky Mountain Gov 2.0 Camp in June 2010. Government 2.0 Camp is a participant driven and group organized unconference about government’s use of social media tools and Web 2.0 technologies. This camp will bring together government leaders, policy makers, scholars, students, contractors, and government employees to discuss and work collaboratively on improving government through technology.
The goal of the camp is to share information about Government 2.0 initiatives that are already in process and to collaborate about how to leverage social media tools and Web 2.0 technologies to create a more collaborative, efficient, and effective government at the local, state, and federal levels. Additional information about the event is available at http://barcamp.org/rmgov20camp (or the shorten link: http://bit.ly/5P14mc) and the Government 2.0 Camp Rocky Mountains group, http://groups.google.com/group/RMgov20camp?pli=1 (or the shorten link http://bit.ly/5QttB2).
The camp is tentatively scheduled for a Saturday in Mid-June. The location is to be determined, but it will be in Metro-Denver-Boulder area.
This event is open to anyone interested in improving government. We plan to provide free attendance for the event. The Eventbrite registration site will be available soon.
If you would like to take a more active role in organizing the event, please go to http://barcamp.org/rmgov20camp and contact the planners. Some of ways you can help are by designing the event logo, arranging for camp t-shirts, meals, and helping with administration of the event. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. As a barcamp style event, the participation of everyone will make the event a success.
Thinking about Gov 2.0 and implementation by Government. Here are four step from one point of view.
What Does the World Look Like When the Work of Government is Driven by the People?
Define high value data sets that can be shared in machine-readable format. This is data that is not updated frequently, never anticipates the need for improvement, and is generally referential in nature. Examples might include historical spending, infrastructure details, and census-like data.
Define high value data sets than can be interacted with via an API. This is data that anticipates improvement from the public, and/or which regularly needs to stay updated by the agency. Examples might include permits, locations of buildings, and crime data.
Define the data types that are not shared, period. Shine a bright light on these data types, and make very clear statements as to why they are not shared. If “getting to the data” is the reason for not sharing, put that to the community and you will be able to find someone to help you get that data out for free. Examples are data that is already protected by law, or which contains personally identifiable information.
via O'Reilly Radar – Insight, analysis, and research about emerging technologies. by Greg Whisenant on 2/8/10
What Does the World Look Like When the Work of Government is Driven by the People?
Gov 2.0 has a lot of definitions, but in observing the exciting breadth of projects currently being built, it feels a little like the Blind Men and the Elephant, where everyone defines it based on their first hand experience, but not from a holistic view. In its essence, Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Gov 2.0 is where government acts as the catalyst to let others build upon its work h — and most importantly, to multiply its impact.
For the first time in history, we’re really at a point where this is technologically feasible. Even if you have no specific tie to government, Gov 2.0 envisions a world in which — just by having experience and interests — ordinary members of the public willingly contribute to the knowledge, facts and policies that comprise our government. It might be as easy as carrying your cell phone. And it might take just 30 seconds.
In December, the Obama Administration released its long awaited Open Government Directive, which was met with enthusiasm from some, and an underwhelmed “meh” from others. The Administration has asked state and local government to adopt the Directive, but it still begs the question:
If I am an agency head and want to embrace Gov 2.0, what should I do first?
Right now it’s a confusing whirlwind of options: Create raw datafeeds in machine readable formats? Create iPhone apps? Use a wiki internally? Create a Facebook group, a Facebook page? Start posting to Twitter? The choices are infinite, but the resources are most definitely limited.
Below is a starting discussion, a "Four Steps to Gov 2.0," designed to align the various Gov 2.0 stakeholders – individuals, governments, private companies, elected officials – toward the same goal in pursuit of open and participatory government. It applies to all levels of government at the federal, state, and local level. It attempts to structure an agency’s actions as prioritized consecutive steps, in a way that will reward those that adhere to it with more power, better engagement, and future compatibility with other government agencies, private companies, experts, and the general public. Even a few years ago, it would have been technologically impossible or at least prohibitively expensive. Now, the biggest obstacle is simply a plan and the political will.
It's most definitely an amalgam of many different ideas, especially Clay Shirky’s idea of convening the conversation, and the Obama Administration’s ideas around releasing high value datafeeds and making government transparent, participatory and collaborative. It prioritizes the steps, and finally, introduces the idea of an API that creates a virtuous cycle by returning crowdsourced value back to the agency.
Four Steps to Gov 2.0
1. First and foremost, “convene the conversation.” Governments that want to win should first maximize the free contributions of the general public and experts for issues handled by that agency. Focus on creating the systems to foster self-organization and moderation (think user voting, forum moderation, and social reputation).
Before all else, this should be the first — and only — goal of agencies at every level. The original Obama campaign site and Peer to Patent are great examples, and several other early examples are starting to emerge.
2. Next, examine your agency’s data and put it into three “buckets”. If you have not completed #1, go back and do that first because you’re leaving a valuable resource on the table. The buckets are:
3. Next, build the datafeeds, because they will help maximize the public’s information and contribution in Step #1. Push this data to the public in machine-readable formats: XML, RSS, or CSV, accessible via Web services.
4. After the datafeeds are complete, build the API. Look at this as a social compact, where as part of the exchange, companies and members of the public are able to return value back to the agency, creating an infinite loop of ever improving data. Use it to generate mechanical turk-like assistance from the public. I’ll explain some of the key components of an effective Gov 2.0 API in a future post.
After these steps have been accomplished, look at building a regular Web site, specific applications, and services. Agencies that prioritize in this order won’t put themselves at risk of building social silos (these are social networks that end at the boundary of the town, state, or agency).
I’ll consider each of these steps individually in subsequent blog posts. If you have more ideas, please let me know here or send a note at greg [at] crimereports.com.
I wanted to share this beautiful post from my wise friend, Jonah. His words are directed to the Jewish people, but the Goyem of the world can learn much in these words. Let us all remember that the only thing that divides us is our ability to deny the wholeness of our life and world. Thich Nhat Hanh, a great scholar from the Buddhist traditional, wrote in his book “Anger” that the only way cool the flames of anger is to embrace our fear and suffering. The truth that Jonah speaks is the same as coming to the understanding that life is suffering, that light is dark, and truth is non-truth. The world and life is whole because it is both negative and positive. It is Shalem!And to my friend should you read these words – thank you and peace be with you, Julia, Bina and the Geffen clan. ~ Brian
via Ish ben Partzi by Ish ben Partzi on 12/9/09
Since this summer I have spent a great deal of time in contemplation of our tradition, our history, and how to study each with a mind to the other. Each day I read the news from Israel waiting for some glimmer of hope, and am often left wanting. But I have come to realize one thing. I do not believe that we have chosen to come to complete terms with our tradition. I believe we ignore our past reality when dealing with our present. And that we do so at our peril. But I know that Torah is truth. And so the answers are there. And so we come to parashat Vayeshev, a story where dreams dance between reality and fantasy, where truth and lies are intermingled, where hatred and love seem to exist simultaneously. Joseph is sent to search for his brothers as they tend their flocks in Shechem. This seemingly innocuous introduction to the story leads, as we all know, to the eventual acts of the brothers that lead to Joseph’s sale into slavery and, later on, the entire Jewish people’s as well. The gemara Do we truly pay attention to the lessons of our tradition’s wisdom? This is the fundamental question of my relationship to Torah. This is how I try to read the Holy texts of our people. And how Jews have seemingly approached text for millennia. And yet, all too often we witness the lessons of the past disregarded or distorted. Or we chose to see one side of an issue, ignoring a truth on the other side. Torah is truth we say. Torah is שלם Shalem, complete. And Shabbat, well Shabbat is the day of completeness – the day of pure truth. After all, we say Shabbat Shalom.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף קב א on the verse
וַיִּשְׁלָחֵהוּ מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן, וַיָּבֹא שְׁכֶמָה (בראשית לז:יד)
So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem (Braishit 37:14) notes that Shechem is תנא משום ר’ יוסי מקום מזומן לפורענות בשכם עינו את דינה בשכם מכרו אחיו את יוסף בשכם נחלקה מלכות בית דוד (מלכים א יא)
It was taught in the name of R. Yossi: A place predestined for evil: in Shechem Dinah was violated; in Shechem Joseph was sold by his brothers; and in Shechem the kingdom of the House of David was divided (I Kings:12:1). Shechem is trouble the tradition says, and implies that we should stay away. And yet, today Shechem is the subject of dispute. It is a city called Nablus, which sits in the West Bank. And in it is “Joseph’s tomb.” And so Jews, religious Jews like you and I have connection to it. At the onset of the 2nd Intefadeh it was a centerpiece, destroyed by rioters it became a symbol for many that peace was an current impossibility. That the other had nothing but hatred for us Jews, that when given the opportunity they destroy our history rather than protect it. And so a “holy” place became a site of hatred and contention. Yet it seems apparent that we discarded one piece of the wisdom of our tradition for the sake of another. Joseph is buried there, so the place is holy. Yet tradition teaches us that this is also “a place predestined for evil” – a place where bad things happen. And so the question arises, when we returned to Eretz Yisrael after 2000 years, when our holy sites heretofore existing only in the communal memory of our people became real places – we CHOSE a specific narrative as our truth. Shechem ceased to be a place of evil, and became only a holy place. And so our truth ceased to be shalem, as we left part of it behind. I see similarities in our discussions of an egalitarian approach to Halacha in the manner presented to us this summer by Rav Eitan. More specifically, in the existing reaction to Halacha of our type from the other halachic minded Jewish communities of the world. The current focus seems to be that Halachic rulings that are lenient in essence, are less true than their stringent counterparts. And so a Torah-true halachic reading that increases egalitarian practice in the Synagogue by Rav Eitan is on its face less real than a reading that says buses in Israel should be gender segregated. Each opinion is a halachic reaction to modernity, each is a departure from Jewish tradition as it has existed up to this point, yet the Halachic community seems to only value the strict. Why? It is choosing a half truth. It is an existence that denies shalem. It is calling Shechem a holy place while ignoring warnings that it is also dangerous. So our goal then is, I believe, to attempt to see the whole of the lessons of the tradition. It is our responsibility to search deeply into our texts, locate the wisdom, and if it sets before us difficult situations, if it shows a complete truth that is complex and requires conscious decision-making – then we must take it upon ourselves to make the hard choices. For Israel, this is leaving Shechem – and by extension the holy site of Joseph’s tomb – in the hands of a non-Jewish population that is at current time a hostile population. And to do so with the comfort of knowing that we are, in fact acting in a way that is Torah-true. For us it is to always remember that we are as true to the tradition as anyone else, that we have chose different emphasis, turned right where others turned left – but have not left the system, have not left the wisdom behind. My friends we are the present כלי קודש – the receptacles of holiness. The wisdom of the ages is within you. Use it wisely.