100 parliaments as open data, ready for you to use

Myfanwy Nixon at mySociety’s blog and OpeningParliament: “If you need data on the people who make up your parliament, another country’s parliament, or indeed all parliaments, you may be in luck.

Every Politician, the latest Poplus project, aims to collect, store and share information about every parliament in the world, past and present—and it already contains 100 of them.

What’s more, it’s all provided as Open Data to anyone who would like to use it to power a civic tech project. We’re thinking parliamentary monitoring organisations, journalists, groups who run access-to-democracy sites like our own WriteToThem, and especially researchers who want to do analysis across multiple countries.

But isn’t that data already available?

Yes and no. There’s no doubt that you can find details of most parliaments online, either on official government websites, on Wikipedia, or on a variety of other places online.

But, as you might expect from data that’s coming from hundreds of different sources, it’s in a multitude of different formats. That makes it very hard to work with in any kind of consistent fashion.

Every Politician standardises all of its data into the Popolo standard and then provides it in two simple downloadable formats:

  • csv, which contains basic data that’s easy to work with on spreadsheets
  • JSON which contains richer data on each person, and is ideal for developers

This standardisation means that it should now be a lot easier to work on projects across multiple countries, or to compare one country’s data with another. It also means that data works well with other Poplus Components….(More)”

Unpacking Civic Tech – Inside and Outside of Government

David Moore at Participatory Politics Foundation: “…I’ll argue it’s important to unpack the big-tent term “civic tech” to at least five major component areas, overlapping in practice & flexible of course – in order to more clearly understand what we have and what we need:

  • Responsive & efficient city services (e.g., SeeClickFix)
  • Open data portals & open government data publishing / visualization (Socrata, OpenGov.com)
  • Engagement platforms for government entities (Mindmixer aka Sidewalk)
  • Community-focused organizing services (Change, NextDoor, Brigade- these could validly be split, as NextDoor is of course place-based IRL)
  • Geo-based services & open mapping data (e.g.. Civic Insight)

More precisely, instead of “civic tech”, the term #GovTech can be productively applied to companies whose primary business model is vending to government entities – some #govtech is #opendata, some is civic #engagement, and that’s healthy & brilliant. But it doesn’t make sense to me to conflate as “civic tech” both government software vendors and the open-data work of good-government watchdogs. Another framework for understanding the inside / outside relationship to government, in company incorporation strategies & priorities, is broadly as follows:

  • tech entirely-outside government (such as OpenCongress or OpenStates);
  • tech mostly-outside government, where some elected officials volunteer to participate (such as AskThem, Councilmatic, DemocracyOS, or Change Decision Makers);
  • tech mostly-inside government, paid-for-by-government (such as Mindmixer or SpeakUp or OpenTownHall) where elected officials or gov’t staff sets the priorities, with the strong expectation of an official response;
  • deep legacy tech inside government, the enterprise vendors of closed-off CRM software to Congressional offices (including major defense contractors!).

These are the websites up and running today in the civic tech ecosystem – surveying them, I see there’s a lot of work still to do on developing advanced metrics towards thicker civic engagement. Towards evaluating whether the existing tools are having the impact we hope and expect them to at their level of capitalization, and to better contextualize the role of very-small non-profit alternatives….

One question to study is whether the highest-capitalized U.S. civic tech companies (Change, NextDoor, Mindmixer, Socrata, possibly Brigade) – which also generally have most users – are meeting ROI on continual engagement within communities.

  • If it’s a priority metric for users of a service to attend a community meeting, for example, are NextDoor or Mindmixer having expected impact?
  • How about metrics on return participation, joining an advocacy group, attending a district meeting with their U.S. reps, organizing peer-to-peer with neighbors?
  • How about writing or annotating their own legislation at the city level, introducing it for an official hearing, and moving it up the chain of government to state and even federal levels for consideration? What actual new popular public policies or systemic reforms are being carefully, collaboratively passed?
  • Do less-capitalized, community-based non-profits (AskThem, 596 Acres, OpenPlans’ much-missed Shareabouts, CKAN data portals, LittleSis, BeNeighbors, PBNYC tools) – with less scale, but with more open-source, open-data tools that can be remixed – improve on the tough metric of ROI on continual engagement or research-impact in the news?…(More)

Digital government evolution: From transformation to contextualization

Paper by Tomasz Janowski in the Government Information Quarterly: “The Digital Government landscape is continuously changing to reflect how governments are trying to find innovative digital solutions to social, economic, political and other pressures, and how they transform themselves in the process. Understanding and predicting such changes is important for policymakers, government executives, researchers and all those who prepare, make, implement or evaluate Digital Government decisions. This article argues that the concept of Digital Government evolves toward more complexity and greater contextualization and specialization, similar to evolution-like processes that lead to changes in cultures and societies. To this end, the article presents a four-stage Digital Government Evolution Model comprising Digitization (Technology in Government), Transformation (Electronic Government), Engagement (Electronic Governance) and Contextualization (Policy-Driven Electronic Governance) stages; provides some evidence in support of this model drawing upon the study of the Digital Government literature published in Government Information Quarterly between 1992 and 2014; and presents a Digital Government Stage Analysis Framework to explain the evolution. As the article consolidates a representative body of the Digital Government literature, it could be also used for defining and integrating future research in the area….(More)”

Interactive app lets constituents help balance their city’s budget

Springwise: “In this era of information, political spending and municipal budgets are still often shrouded in confusion and mystery. But a new web app called Balancing Act hopes to change that, by enabling US citizens to see the breakdown of their city’s budget via adjustable, comprehensive pie charts.

Created by Colorado-based consultants Engaged Public, Balancing Act not only shows citizens the current budget breakdown, it also enables them to experiment with hypothetical future budgets, adjusting spending and taxes to suit their own priorities. The project aims to engage and inform citizens about the money that their mayors and governments assign on their behalf and allow them to have more of a say in the future of their city. The resource has already been utilized by Pedro Segarra, Mayor of Hartford, Connecticut, who asked his citizens for their input on how best to balance the USD 49 million.

The system can be used to help governments understand the wants and needs of their constituents, as well as enable citizens to see the bigger picture when it comes to tough or unappealing policies. Eventually it can even be used to create the world’s first crowdsourced budget, giving the public the power to make their preferences heard in a clear, comprehensible way…(More)”

New Interactive Citizen-Generated Data Platform

DataShift: “Following a study to better understand the number, type and scale of citizen-generated data initiatives across the world, the DataShift has visualised the resulting data to create an interactive online platform. Users are presented with a definition of a citizen-generated data initiative before being invited to browse the multiple initiatives according to the various themes that they address….(More)”

We, the government

Davied van Berlo has published a new book about the role of government in the network society. It has not yet been published in English  but can be downloaded in Dutch at boek.ambtenaar20.nl.

The Civil Servant 2.0 book is available Uk_flag_300.png in English.”

About “We, the government”:

“The network society. Everybody’s talking about it, but what does it really mean? What effect does the networking age in society have on government? The public good is no longer just a government issue but a cocreation between government and society. However, what will this collaboration look like and will we be able to execute political goals in such a networked society?

In his third book Davied van Berlo, writer of Civil Servant 2.0 and Civil Servant 2.0 beta, explores the role of government in the network society. “We, the government” gives a new perspective on the working of government and offers civil servants and public officials a hand in shaping their new role in society.”…

Davied has used parts of his new book in the presentation he gave to the Dutch chapter of the Internet Society, see the video. Below the video an english version of the Prezi is available….(More)”

Knight Cities Challenge Winners

Carol Coletta at Knight Foundation: “32 civic innovators receive $5 million in funding in first Knight Cities Challenge…

Several themes emerged among the winning applications, which all sought to accelerate talent, opportunity or engagement—the three primary drivers of city success—in some way. “Bringing life back to public and vacant space” was the theme of our largest category of winners, representing almost a third of the group. The second largest category was “changing the stories people tell about their cities” with almost 20 percent. Three more themes each represented 13 percent of the winning ideas: “reimagining the civic commons,” “retaining talent” and “promoting civic engagement.” A full list of the winners appears below…. (More)”

Training the next generation of public leaders

Thanks to the generous support of the Knight Foundation, this term the Governance Lab Academy – a training program designed to promote civic engagement and innovation – is launching a series of online coaching programs.
Geared to the teams and individuals inside and outside of government planning to undertake a new project or trying to figure out how to make an existing project even more effective and scalable, these programs are designed to help participants working in civic engagement and innovation develop effective projects from idea to implementation.
Convened by leading experts in their fields, coaching programs meet exclusively online once a week for four weeks or every other week for eight weeks. They include frequent and constructive feedback, customized and original learning materials, peer-to-peer support, mentoring by topic experts and individualized coaching from those with policy, technology, and domain expertise.
There is no charge to participants but each program is limited to 8-10 project teams or individuals.
You can see the current roster of programs below and check out the website for more information (including FAQs), to sign up and to suggest a new program.

Faculty includes: 

  • Brian Behlendorf, Managing Director at Mithril Capital Management and Co-Founder Apache
  • Alexandra Clare, Founder of Iraq Re:Coded
  • Brian Forde, Senior Former Advisor to the U.S. CTO, White House Office of Science Technology and Policy
  • Francois Grey,  Coordinator of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, Geneva
  • Gavin Hayman, Executive Director of the Open Contracting Partnership
  • Clay Johnson, CEO of The Department for Better Technology and Former Presidential Innovation Fellow
  • Benjamin Kallos, New York City Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations of the New York City Council
  • Karim Lakhani, Lumry Family Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School
  • Amen Ra Mashariki, Chief Analytics Officer of New York City
  • Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of NESTA
  • Miriam Nisbet,  Former Director of the Office of Government Information Services
  • Beth Noveck, Founder and CEO of The GovLab
  • Tiago Peixoto, Open Government Specialist at The World Bank
  • Arnaud Sahuguet, Chief Technology Officer of The GovLab
  • Joeri van den Steenhoven, Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer of MaRS Solutions Lab
  • Stefaan Verhulst, Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer of The GovLab


Nesta: “Does your street feel safe? Would you like to change something in your neighbourhood? Is there enough for young people to do?
All basic questions, but how many local councillors have the time to put these issues to their constituents? A new web app aims to make it easier for councillors and council officers to talk to residents – and it’s all based around a series of simple questions.
Now, just a year after VoXup was created in a north London pub, Camden Council is using it to consult residents on its budget proposals.
One of VoXup’s creators, Peter Lewis, hit upon the idea after meeting an MP and being reminded of how hard it can be to get involved in decision-making….

Now VoXup is being used by Camden Council to engage with residents about its spending plans.
“They’ve got to cut a lot of money and they want to know which services people would prioritise,” Lewis explains.
“So we’ve created a custom community, and most popular topics have got about 200 votes. About 650 people have taken part at some level, and it’s only just begun. We’ve seen a lot of activity – of the people who look at the web page, almost half give an opinion on something.”

‘No need for smartphone app’
What does the future hold for VoXup? Lewis, who is working on the project full-time, says one thing the team won’t be doing is building a smartphone app.
“One of the things we thought about doing was creating a mobile app, but that’s been really unnecessary – we built VoXup as a responsive web app,” he says…. (More)”.

How do we improve open data for police accountability?

at the SunLight Foundation: “This is a challenging time for people who worry about the fairness of American governmental institutions. In quick succession, grand juries declined to indict two police officers accused of killing black men. In the case of Ferguson, Mo. officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown, the grand jury’s decision appeared to center on uncertainty about whether Wilson’s action was legal and whether he killed under threat. In the case of New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo’s killing of Eric Garner, however, a bystander recorded and made public a video of the police officer causing Garner’s death through an illegal chokehold. In Pantaleo’s case, the availability of video data has made the question about institutional fairness even more urgent, as people can see for themselves the context in which the officer exercised power. The data has given us a common set of facts to use in judging police behavior.
We grant law enforcement and corrections departments the right to exercise more physical power over the public than we do to any other part of our government. But do we generally have the data we need to evaluate how they’re using it?….
The time to find good solutions to these problems is now. Responding to widespread frustration, President Obama has just announced a three-part initiative to “strengthen community policing”: an increased focus on transparency and oversight for federal-to-local transfers of military equipment, a proposal to provide matching funding to local police departments to buy body cameras, and a “Task Force on 21st Century Policing” that will make recommendations for how to implement community-oriented policing practices.
While each element of Obama’s initiative corresponds to a distinct set of concerns about policing, one element they share in common is the need to increase access to information about police work. Each of the three approaches will rely on mechanisms to increase the flow of public information about what police officers are doing in their official roles and how they are doing it. How are police officers going about fulfilling their responsibility to ensure public safety? Are they working in ways that appropriately respect individual rights? Are they responsive to public concerns, when concerns are raised?
By encouraging the collection and publication of more data about how government is working, Obama’s initiative has the potential to support precisely the kind of increase in data availability that can transform public outcomes. When applied with the intent to improve transparency and accountability and to increase public engagement, open data — and the civic tech that uses this data — can bridge the often too-large gap between the public and government.
However, because Obama’s initiatives depend on the effective collection, publication, and communication of information, open data advocates have a particular contribution to make. It’s important to think about what lessons we can apply from our experiences with open data — and with data collected and used for police accountability — in order to ensure that this initiative has the greatest possible impact. As an open data and open government community, can we make recommendations that can help improve the data we’re collecting for police transparency and accountability?
I’m going to begin a list, but it’s just a beginning – I am certain that you have many more recommendations to make. I’ll categorize them first by Obama’s “Strengthening Community Policing” initiatives and then keep thinking about what additional data is needed. Please think along with me about what kind of datasets we will need, what potential issues with data availability and quality we’re likely to see, what kind of laws may need to be changed to improve access to the data necessary for police accountability, then make your recommendations in the Google Doc embedded at the end of this post. If you’ve seen any great projects you’ve seen which improve police transparency and accountability, be sure to share those as well….”