Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for March, 2010

Washington State Legislature SSB 6367: Encouraging Online Responses To Public Information Requests

by March 31st, 2010

On March 15, 2010, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law SSB 6367, encouraging online responses to public information requests of state government. The text of the bill states that if commonly requested records were made available on the Internet there could be significantly reduced costs to the public and the state. The bill encourages agencies to post commonly requested records to their Web sites as a matter of best practices, whether or not there are any pending requests. The bill also stipulates that – with specific exceptions – within five business days of getting a public records request, a state agency or the secretary of the state senate or the clerk of the state house must deliver the information in a non-online form or (preferably) by providing a Web address to the appropriate link on the agency or legislative branch’s Web site. If a requester lacks Web access they will be able to get the information in another form.

KEY LINKS: SSB 6367 as signed into law; and legislative history.

KEY EXCERPT: “The Internet provides for instant access to public records at a significantly reduced cost to the agency and the public. Agencies are encouraged to make commonly requested records available on agency web sites. When an agency has made records available on its web site, members of the public with computer access should be encouraged to preserve taxpayer resources by accessing those records online.”


Open Government West Explores, “Who’s The Data For?”

by March 30th, 2010

According to the “Unlocking Government” report released recently by the consulting firm Deloitte Canada, core principles of open government include these:

  • Data should be easily accessible online. In today’s world, open access to data means that they should be easy to find.
  • Data need to be offered in accessible formats. If the government provides access to new information through an interactive map, for example, users should also be able to parse the actual raw data (to reuse it in a new application) from this source.
  • Collaboration between government agencies is important. Public leaders should expect their data to be combined with data from other sources and used in unique and novel ways and should approach the prospect in a spirit of collaboration and creativity.
  • Governments should be open about being open. Agencies should not quietly put data online. Rather, they should tell the public what they are doing and why, while seeking their participation and engagement.
  • These excellent guidelines help underscore that open government isn’t just for the usual suspects; namely, certain public officials, advocates, wonks and geeks. (I use these terms lovingly, FYI). At a Saturday, March 27 “unconference” session at Open Government West in Seattle, titled “Who Is The Data For?,” systems thinker and user experience designer Bryce Johnson (right) highlighted a range of answers. Designers and advocates should bear in mind, Johnson stressed, that among open government users are media; new residents including “English As A Second Language” immigrants; visitors and local tourists; families and other residents; government agencies; government vendors, and other businesses. Another point made during the conversation was that all the current emphasis on data and data sets shouldn’t obscure that documents – good old basic, revelatory public documents – need to be front and center also. That’s the idea behind a searchable database named Public Data Ferret that we’ve developed and located at its own special hub on this blog.

    What should the front door to the house of open government look like? The Beehive State has a pretty good sense of it. Utah has transformed its main state government Web portal into an impressive open government site. Utah walks the talk on easy access to and accessible formats for public data. The “dashboard,” or main page array of entry points by category is powerful in its simplicity, and relevance. Right away, the participant is invited to walk down hallways to “State Spending,” “State Contracts,” “Lobbyist Info,” “Campaign Contributions,” “Public Meetings,” “Data Sources,” and “Legislation.” This is the way to frame things. Click on “State Spending” and you go straight to the state’s public finance transparency site, where you can quickly access an appropriations reports menu and then among other items, the FY 2010-2011 appropriations summary, which is remarkably comprehensible. Utah’s getting the framing and the content right.

    Washington State Pregnancy, Birth And Abortion Rates, 1984-2008

    by March 29th, 2010

    The Washington State Department of Public Health makes available a summary of pregnancy, birth and abortion totals and rates. The most recent data are given for each year from 1984 through 2008. The key findings are that from 1984 through 2008, the rate of pregnancies per 1,000 women of childbearing age (15-44) dropped from 92.3 per 1,000 in 1984 to 85.2 per 1,000 in 2008; while the rate of live births over the same time span increased slightly from 66.2 to 66.9 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age; and the abortion rate dropped from 25.6 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 1984 to 18.0 per 1,000 in 2008.

    KEY LINK: Washington State Pregnancy, Birth And Abortion Rates, 1984-2008, November, 2009.