Kansas City Measures Performance through Online Dashboard

GovTech: “To follow through on its commitment to provide more visibility into city performance, Kansas City, Mo., launched KCStat Dashboard on Oct. 22, an online tool that displays progress on city goals and objectives.
Developed by government data company Socrata, the dashboard is the city’s way of offering residents more information about government performance with real-time data, said Julie Steenson, a performance analyst for the city. Upon full implementation, the dashboard will display various statistics, from citizen satisfaction percentages to progress on maintenance and repair tasks.
“It’s been a real evolutionary project,” Steenson said. “We never had a way for the citizens or even the elected officials to see our data at a glance.”
Kansas City’s KCStat program began in December 2011 as a data collection effort that focused on service areas that drew a significant number of public complaints: street maintenance, water line maintenance, water billing, customer service, code enforcement and animal control.
In January, the city council updated its 24 major priorities (developed with public input) into six key areas — public infrastructure, economic development, public safety, healthy communities, neighborhood livability and governance — and sought a way to make their ambitions both measurable and publicly available.
Answering this call, Socrata offered the city a platform called GovStat, a program it announced in March as a way for government leaders to integrate data to decision-making while engaging citizens at the same time.
Key features of the platform, according to Socrata’s March product announcement, include an easy-to-use interface (without the need for user licenses), and real-time dashboards that can be shared through a simple drag-and-drop system.
Mayor Sly James praised the tool for its benefits related to transparency.
“The KCStat Dashboard is the city’s way of helping residents see how we’re doing at our job of serving them,” said James in a city release. “Our residents deserve nothing less than a city government based on data-driven results, and KCStat is a great tool for benchmarking our results.”

New Report: Federal Ideation Program: Challenges and Best Practices

New Report by Professor Gwanhoo Lee for the IBM Center for The Business of Government: “Ideation is the process of generating new ideas or solutions using crowdsourcing technologies, and it is changing the way federal government agencies innovate and solve problems. Ideation tools use online brainstorming or social voting platforms to submit new ideas, search previously submitted ideas, post questions and challenges, discuss and expand on ideas, vote them up or down and flag them.
This report examines the current status, challenges, and best practices of federal internal ide­ation programs made available exclusively to employees. Initial experiences from a variety of agencies show that these ideation tools hold great promise in engaging employees and stake­holders in problem-solving.
While ideation programs offer promising benefits, making innovation an aspect of everyone’s job is very hard to achieve. Given that these ideation tools and programs are still relatively new, agencies have not yet figured out the best practices and often do not know what to expect during the implementation process. This report seeks to fill this gap.
Based on field research and a literature review, the report describes four federal internal ideation programs, including IdeaHub (Department of Transportation), the Sounding Board (the Department of State), IdeaFactory (Department of Homeland Security), and CDC IdeaLab (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services).
Four important challenges are associated with the adoption and implementation of federal internal ideation programs. These are: managing the ideation process and technology; managing cultural change; managing privacy, security and transparency; and managing use of the ideation tool.
Federal government agencies have been moving in the right direction by embracing these tools and launching ideation programs in boosting employee-driven innovation. However, many daunting challenges and issues remain to be addressed. For a federal agency to sustain its internal ideation program, it should note the following:
Recommendation One: Treat the ideation program not as a management fad but as a vehicle to reinvent the agency.
Recommendation Two: Institutionalize the ideation program.
Recommendation Three: Make the ideation team a permanent organizational unit.
Recommendation Four: Document ideas that are implemented.Quantify their impact and demonstrate the return on investment.Share the return with the employees through meaningful rewards.
Recommendation Five: Assimilate and integrate the ideation program into the mission-critical administrative processes.
Recommendation Six: Develop an easy-to-use mobile app for the ideation system.
Recommendation Seven: Keep learning from other agencies and even from commercial organizations.”

Why Research is Key to mySociety’s Future

Paul Lenz – Head of Finance and International Projects, mySociety: “mySociety operates in a field that we term the Civic Power sector. This sector includes a wide range of organizations, including non-profits like Ushahidi, The Sunlight Foundation, Avaaz and other companies like Change and Nationbuilder. There are many differences between these organizations, but they do share one thing in common: in the context of the wider civil society & development world in which we are situated, they are very young indeed.  mySociety, celebrating it’s tenth birthday this year, is one of the oldest in this sector –  but we are a spring chicken compared to the likes of Oxfam, Amnesty International and Plan
Theory of change
Our underlying philosophy – our theory of change – is that enabling (and encouraging) politically inexperienced people to take actions like reporting broken street lights or asking for government information will make people more aware of their own power to get things changed, and that will benefit both them and the communities they live in. But just because lots of people perform these actions doesn’t mean we have affected those users in any profound way.
As we have matured we have started to ask ourselves some tough questions, including:
– Does the use of our sites and services (and those of our partners) make people more powerful in the civic and democratic aspects of their lives?
– Does this power genuinely deliver tangible beneficial impacts (particularly in the face of potentially unresponsive or corrupt governments)?
– Do our tools risk increasing the power of the relatively richer, better educated and technically adept minority at the expense of the majority?

Theoretical challenges 
One of the challenges we face is that within our field there is not an easy or categorical connection between action and impact.  If you immunize a child against disease, then you can be certain that the child has a materially higher chance of remaining healthy.  There are of course wider discussions around whether immunization should be carried out by foreign NGOs or whether governments should work to improve their own health provisioning, but there is no doubt that the immunization itself is a good thing.
What about writing to a politician?  Is that a good thing?  We believe that it is.  We believe that it drives engagement and accountability and strengthens democracy.  But we can’t prove it, and we might be wrong. We must find out.
We have a great deal of data – page impressions, unique visitors, Freedom of Information requests raised, international re-uses of our code bases, messages sent to politicians, etc. – but no way of linking this to true impact.  In order to address this gap we will conduct methodologically rigorous, experimentally-driven research on both UK and international deployments of our technologies. We will then use the findings and the method we develop to encourage increased rigor in impact assessment by other organizations working in the Civic Power sector.
It is quite likely that some of these outcomes will be challenging for us, potentially suggesting that some of our workstreams have little or no true impact as things currently stand.  Nonetheless, we are committed to sharing the all of the results – good and ill – as they start to come through.”

Concerns about opening up data, and responses which have proved effective

Google doc by Christopher Gutteridge, University of Southampton and Alexander Dutton, University of Oxford:  “This document is inspired by the open data excuses bingo card. Someone asked for what responses have proved effective. This document is a work in progress based on our experience. Carly Strasser has also written at the Data Pub blog about these issues from an Open Science and research data perspective. You may also be interested in How to make a business case for open data, published by the ODI.
We’ll get spam…
Terrorists might use the data…
People will contact us to ask about stuff…
People will misinterpret the data…
It’s too big…
It’s not very interesting…
We might want to use it in a research paper…
There’s no API to that system…
We’re worried about the Data Protection Act…
We’re not sure that we own it…
I don’t mind making it open, but I worry someone else might object…
It’s too complicated…
Our data is embarrassingly bad…
It’s not a priority and we’re busy…
Our lawyers want to make a custom license…
It changes too quickly…
There’s already a project in progress which sounds similar…
Some of what you asked for is confidential…
I don’t own the data, so can’t give you permission…
We don’t have that data…
That data is already published via (external organisation X)….
We can’t provide that dataset because one part is not possible…
What if something breaks and the open version becomes out of date?…
We can’t see the benefit…
What if we want to sell access to this data…?
If we publish this data, people might sue us…
We want people to come direct to us so we know why they want the data…

Findings from the emerging field of Transparency Research

Tiago Peixoto: “HEC Paris has just hosted the 3rd Global Conference on Transparency Research, and they have made the list of accepted papers available. …
As one goes through the papers,  it is clear that unlike most of the open government space, when it comes to research, transparency is treated less as a matter of technology and formats and more as a matter of social and political institutions.  And that is a good thing.”
This year’s papers are listed below:

Mirroring the real world in social media: twitter, geolocation, and sentiment analysis

Paper by E Baucom, A Sanjari, X Liu, and M Chen as part of the proceedings of UnstructureNLP ’13: “In recent years social media has been used to characterize and predict real world events, and in this research we seek to investigate how closely Twitter mirrors the real world. Specifically, we wish to characterize the relationship between the language used on Twitter and the results of the 2011 NBA Playoff games. We hypothesize that the language used by Twitter users will be useful in classifying the users’ locations combined with the current status of which team is in the lead during the game. This is based on the common assumption that “fans” of a team have more positive sentiment and will accordingly use different language when their team is doing well. We investigate this hypothesis by labeling each tweet according the the location of the user along with the team that is in the lead at the time of the tweet. The hypothesized difference in language (as measured by tfidf) should then have predictive power over the tweet labels. We find that indeed it does and we experiment further by adding semantic orientation (SO) information as part of the feature set. The SO does not offer much improvement over tf-idf alone. We discuss the relative strengths of the two types of features for our data.”

What's Different that Makes Open Data an Infrastructure?

Article by Christopher Thomas: “It wasn’t too long ago that governments remained pretty guarded with their data. It really did not matter who the data steward was, as each discipline had its “reasons” for keeping data out of the hands of others…
The mapping and GIS industry was no stranger to the resistance to open data.  However the concerns were slightly different than the governments’ concerns.  Perhaps this was due to the time, effort, and money required to develop the data by staff.  Mapping and GIS fought a valiant battle that this data was not information subject to the Freedom of Information Act, but rather an asset subject to different rules of funding and cost recovery.
Recently, attitudes have been changing as mapping and GIS data are being looked at as more of an infrastructure, because governments now see the importance of including it as part of their daily operation. …
So what’s different today? Well, governments can avoid data dumps that leave important members of your team wondering how the data is being used.  Or better yet, wondering how many times your old data has been exchanged and used without new or updated data being considered. You later learn that someone has used your old data on a project that has come back to haunt you.  The major difference today is that there is an ability to extend this infrastructure as a web service.  If you publish current data on websites or portals, data can now be downloaded for use in various products or connected to apps. As Mark Head, chief data officer for the city of Philadelphia puts it, “web services are the ‘secret sauce’ to open data.” Governments can simply extend map and GIS data for adoption by business startups and civic hackers, for example, with the confidence that current data is being used.”

Open government and conflicts with public trust and privacy: Recent research ideas

Article by John Wihbey:  “Since the Progressive Era, ideas about the benefits of government openness — crystallized by Justice Brandeis’s famous phrase about the disinfectant qualities of “sunlight” — have steadily grown more popular and prevalent. Post-Watergate reforms further embodied these ideas. Now, notions of “open government” and dramatically heightened levels of transparency have taken hold as zero-cost digital dissemination has become a reality. Many have advocated switching the “default” of government institutions so information and data are no longer available just “on demand” but rather are publicized as a matter of course in usable digital form.
As academic researchers point out, we don’t yet have a great deal of long-term, valid data for many of the experiments in this area to weigh civic outcomes and the overall advance of democracy. Anecdotally, though, it seems that more problems — from potholes to corruption — are being surfaced, enabling greater accountability. This “new fuel” of data also creates opportunities for businesses and organizations; and so-called “Big Data” projects frequently rely on large government datasets, as do “news apps.”
But are there other logical limits to open government in the digital age? If so, what are the rationales for these limits? And what are the latest academic insights in this area?
Most open-records laws, including the federal Freedom of Information Act, still provide exceptions that allow public institutions to guard information that might interfere with pending legal proceedings or jeopardize national security. In addition, the internal decision-making and deliberation processes of government agencies as well as documents related to personnel matters are frequently off limits. These exceptions remain largely untouched in the digital age (notwithstanding extralegal actions by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, or confidential sources who disclose things to the press). At a practical level, experts say that the functioning of FOIA laws is still uneven, and some states continue to threaten rollbacks.
Limits of transparency?
A key moment in the rethinking of openness came in 2009, when Harvard University legal scholar Lawrence Lessig published an essay in The New Republic titled “Against Transparency.” In it, Lessig — a well-known advocate for greater access to information and knowledge of many kinds — warned that transparency in and of itself could lead to diminished trust in government and must be tied to policies that can also rebuild public confidence in democratic institutions.
In recent years, more political groups have begun leveraging open records laws as a kind of tool to go after opponents, a phenomenon that has even touched the public university community, which is typically subject to disclosure laws….

Privacy and openness
If there is a tension between transparency and public trust, there is also an uneasy balance between government accountability and privacy. A 2013 paper in the American Review of Public Administration, “Public Pay Disclosure in State Government: An Ethical Analysis,” examines a standard question of disclosure faced in every state: How much should even low-level public servants be subject to personal scrutiny about their salaries? The researchers, James S. Bowman and Kelly A. Stevens of Florida State University, evaluate issues of transparency based on three competing values: rules (justice or fairness), results (what does the greatest good), and virtue (promoting integrity.)…”

Open Government and Its Constraints

Blog entry by Panthea Lee: “Open government” is everywhere. Search the term and you’ll find OpenGovernment.orgOpenTheGovernment.orgOpen Government InitiativeOpen Gov Hub and the Open Gov Foundation; you’ll find open government initiatives for New York CityBostonKansasVirginiaTennessee and the list goes on; you’ll find dedicated open government plans for the White HouseState DepartmentUSAIDTreasuryJustice DepartmentCommerceEnergy and just about every other major federal agency. Even the departments of Defense and Homeland Security are in on open government.
And that’s just in the United States.
There is Open Government AfricaOpen Government in the EU and Open Government Data. The World Bank has an Open Government Data Toolkit and recently announced a three-year initiative to help developing countries leverage open data. And this week, over 1,000 delegates from over 60 countries are in London for the annual meeting of the Open Government Partnership, which has grown from 8 to 60 member states in just two years….
Many of us have no consensus or clarity on just what exactly “open government” iswhat we hope to achieve from it or how to measure our progress. Too often, our initiatives are designed through the narrow lenses of our own biases and without a concrete understanding of those they are intended for — both those in and out of government.
If we hope to realize the promise of more open governments, let’s be clear about the barriers we face so that we may start to overcome them.
Barrier 1: “Open Gov” is…?
Open government is… not new, for starters….
Barrier 2: Open Gov is Not Inclusive
The central irony of open government is that it’s often not “open” at all….
Barrier 3: Open Gov Lacks Empathy
Open government practitioners love to speak of “the citizen” and “the government.” But who exactly are these people? Too often, we don’t really know. We are builders, makers and creators with insufficient understanding of whom we are building, making and creating for…On the flip side, who do we mean by “the government?” And why, gosh darn it, is it so slow to innovate? Simply put, “the government” is comprised of individual people working in environments that are not conducive to innovation….
For open government to realize its potential, we must overcome these barriers.”

Mozilla Location Service: crowdsourcing data to help devices find your location without GPS

“The Mozilla Location Service is an experimental pilot project to provide geolocation lookups based on publicly observable cell tower and WiFi access point information. Currently in its early stages, it already provides basic service coverage of select locations thanks to our early adopters and contributors.
A world map showing areas with location data. Map data provided by mapbox / OpenStreetMap.
While many commercial services exist in this space, there’s currently no large public service to provide this crucial part of any mobile ecosystem. Mobile phones with a weak GPS signal and laptops without GPS hardware can use this service to quickly identify their approximate location. Even though the underlying data is based on publicly accessible signals, geolocation data is by its very nature personal and privacy sensitive. Mozilla is committed to improving the privacy aspects for all participants of this service offering.
If you want to help us build our service, you can install our dedicated Android MozStumbler and enjoy competing against others on our leaderboard or choose to contribute anonymously. The service is evolving rapidly, so expect to see a more full featured experience soon. For an overview of the current experience, you can head over to the blog of Soledad Penadés, who wrote a far better introduction than we did.
We welcome any ideas or concerns about this project and would love to hear any feedback or experience you might have. Please contact us either on our dedicated mailing list or come talk to us in our IRC room #geo on Mozilla’s IRC server.
For more information please follow the links on our project page.”