Civic Hacking In The News: August 08, 2015

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This August 08, 2015, post is five items from recent news about civic hacking. If an item sounds interesting, click the headline link and read it in its entirety.

OpenGov Voices: Making political information truly accessible with Countable

Despite having a long way to go, those of us dedicated to opengov do need to take a moment to realize just how far we have come; Daniel Schuman’s recent blog post is a perfect example of this progress. A mix of technology and increased public pressure has brought about a number of developments that, as little as one decade ago, often seemed like a pipe dream. 

One area that is continually growing is making information not just accessible, but intellectually accessible, as well. Opening up information often helps inform reporters and those whose job it is to understand that information. But, for the most part, the information released by the government isn’t easily understood by those people who aren’t trained to translate that information. If that information doesn’t get “translated,” then, it won’t get consumed by the general public. It’s a big gap… 

Very often, official bill descriptions raise more confusion than clarification. That’s the area that Countable is most focused. Every day we’re hiring more writers and editors to pore over all of this legislative information, to crunch it all down to something that’s easy for any person to understand. Our summaries let anyone know what a bill would do, what the cost is, where it stands as well as pro and con arguments being used in the debate — all on one page. In this way, we’re helping make a more open government become more easily accessible to everyone…”

If you find the legislative process intriguing and reading political bills doesn’t put you to sleep, you should consider learning more about Countable and maybe write up your plain-language interpretation of a few bills for them.

Open data initiative to give true picture of election process

The National Democratic Institute is has announced the launch of the Open Election Data Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to ensure that citizen groups have access to election data that can give a true picture of an election process, including how candidates are certified, how and which voters are registered, what happens on election day, whether results are accurate, and how complaints are resolved. The initiative encourages governments to be more accountable and citizens to take a more active participatory role. While primarily geared toward civil society—including election monitoring organizations, many of which are partners of NDI—the initiative can also inform the efforts of political parties, election management bodies, and other actors concerned with electoral integrity. 

Citizens are starting to use open data to increase confidence in their elections. In Ukraine, for example, the citizen monitoring organization OPORA used open data to analyze applications to run for office…In Colombia, civil society group Misión de Observación Electoral (MOE) used official data to identify and map high-risk areas in the 2014 elections…MOE shared their analysis with authorities through regular meetings during the pre-election period, helping mitigate electoral violence…”

Open data has great potential for addressing big problems, especially outside the US. In NE Wisconsin, we’re concerned about apps that tell us where we need to vote, while in Colombia, they’re working to reduce electoral violence. The global push for open data, open government and civic hacking is leading to better elections and more engaged citizens in many parts of the world.

Datathons and open data portals: Virginia’s new civic tech initiatives

“In Virginia, residents now have the chance to make their state government more efficient, transparent and responsive to all: A hackathon challenges everyone to use the state’s open data to develop cutting-edge tools and applications that, if selected, could be presented to Gov. Terry McAuliffe and over 300 local government innovators. 

In April 2014, McAuliffe announced Virginia’s new open data portal in an attempt to modernize the state and provide greater accountability. Then in September, he convened state agencies to collaborate on nascent big data projects. A few weeks ago, McAuliffe announced the 2015 Virtual Datathon Challenge, a competition to encourage anyone to produce original, sophisticated applications for government agencies to implement… 

The best projects from each of the four tracks will be selected to compete at the Governor’s Datathon Cup in September, during which the various teams present their creations to government officials, business entrepreneurs and investors…”

If Wisconsin decided to do a civic hackathon similar to what Virginia is doing, would you participate? What kind of project would you work on? Maybe at one of the next DHMN civic hacking events we should have a mock challenge to see who can develop the best civic app for NE Wisconsin…

SeeClickFix raises $1.4 million to grow its 311 platform

SeeClickFix announced today it raised an additional $1.4 million in investment to expand its 311 offering aimed at making it easier for city residents to report non-emergency issues and allow governments to quickly respond and resolve these in an open and public manner…SeeClickFix has 25 employees with plans to double over the next year. SeeClickFix was founded in 2008 and, in January 2011, received its first major round of funding at $1.5 million. 

“Our citizen and government users have the same goal—to resolve problems and improve neighborhoods,” said SeeClickFix CEO Ben Berkowitz announcing the new investment. “This funding will allow SeeClickFix to accelerate development and adoption of the next generation of request management—improving communication and communities throughout the world…”

SeeClickFix is one of the most widespread US examples of a civic hacking type app. As reported in a New Haven article, SeeClickFix grew and spread globally because people enjoyed using it and felt it got results. If your city in NE Wisconsin had a civic tool like SeeClickFix, what would you use it to report and how do you think it would benefit your city and your fellow residents?

Cultural challenges slow federal open data efforts

The passage of the DATA Act last year brought with it a new set of mandates for government agencies to bring more of their spending data online, in a common format, to achieve a fuller picture of where public money is being spent…The DATA Act — in longhand, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act — enjoys strong bipartisan support for attempting to shed light on federal spending…”If implemented properly,” he continued, the DATA Act will “untangle the web of federal agency receipts,” providing a far clearer picture of government expenditures than has ever been available in the past. But even as open government advocates have been cheering the spirit of the legislation, achieving the promise of open, accurate and complete spending data remains a tall order… 

To begin with, agencies have been tasked with taking stock of their various spending records, but those efforts have been slowed by cultural barriers within the agencies…Under the current governance structures, agencies can be incapable of producing a single, holistic tally of how much they are spending on a given program or set of programs. “There’s a lot of money being spent right now by the federal government to produce inaccurate and incomplete data,” Dodaro said…”

It’s not going to happen in the next year or two, but in the foreseeable future, open data will lead to a much better picture of what government agencies spend money on. Civic hackers will help lead the way on this by continuing to request open data, by interpreting the government spending open data as it becomes available, and by making it clear to the general public where money was wasted and where money needs to be spent differently.

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