Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for October, 2014

Meet The Guardian’s Data Editor, Alberto Nardelli

by October 28th, 2014

When Alberto Nardelli started the Twitter feed Tweetminister in 2008, there were a small handful of British Members of Parliament tweeting. As that number began to grow, leading into the 2010 U.K. general elections, Nardelli introduced Twitter Q&As and mapped and analyzed political trends using tweets as source data.

Now there are more than 400 MPs using Twitter, and Tweetminister – which lets users track down their MP’s tweets – has more than 63,000 followers. Before stepping away, Nardelli turned the pursuit into a media consulting company with a team of four others. In September he was hired as editor of The Guardian’s Data Blog.

Sharing Is Easy: Open Source Advocates Push For Better Civic Apps

by October 27th, 2014

LONDON (10/27/14) – In May of this year a network of 25 different civic technology organizations met in Santiago, Chile to figure out how to better succeed at giving their work away for free. The problem is that too many well-intentioned civic apps – be they web-based, mobile or “any kind of civic technology which helps people solve any problem to do with public life“ – simply fail to lift off. That’s according to Tom Steinberg, director of U.K.-based innovators mySociety. They’re developers of FixMyStreet and a series of other platforms to help people engage in politics and policy. Project failures can be due to poor design, he said, but in other cases the culprit may be a lack of shareable parts from cohorts. Steinberg spoke Sunday, October 26th during a forum he led at the Mozilla Festival (Moz Fest), here.

Making Public Access To Public Records Easier

by October 25th, 2014

LONDON – Some of the best public interest news reporting starts with public records requests made by journalists or advocates, to governments. But it can be a sticky, confrontational process. Jeremia Kimelman thinks public records requesters can do better.

Kimelman, a Code for America Fellow, led a session Saturday, October 25, at the 2014 Mozilla Festival (MozFest), harvesting strategies on how to adapt records requests to the data age in a way that respects participants on both sides of the process. One essential ingredient for those requesting  records is decidedly low-tech, said Kimelman: “(It’s) empathy. You need to actually pick up the telephone and call the public records officer and establish a relationship. In the end despite the laws it’s a people-based system.”

The U.S. Government’s Watchdogs: More Bark Than Bite

by October 20th, 2014

In September, nearly four dozen U.S. Inspectors General signed a letter to Congressional committee leaders protesting the lack of transparency and access to material needed for their watchdog investigations. Yet it’s not usually inaccessible information that cuts the impact of the Inspectors. It’s the indifference of their parent agencies and Congress to the important findings they do produce.

Consider the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Inspector General, which reported that NRC’s failure to flag construction project changes at Southern California Edison’s San Onofre nuclear plant – tied to steam generator malfunctions – led to the site’s shutdown.

Not the first time

The incident at San Onofre was not a first. In October of 2013 the NRC’s IG reported the agency was failing to adequately regulate “active component aging” at nuclear plants nationwide, and recommended ways to improve oversight. Serious stuff, tied to heightened risks of reactor shutdowns, safety equipment failures and other potential safety risks. Yet in July of this year the IG had to issue a stern written warning to the NRC that its response to the report had been too dismissive. In 2007, the NRC’s IG warned the NRC it was then seven years overdue in addressing recommendations to improve safety oversight of uranium fuel production centers and other “major fuel cycle facilities.”

It’s part of a broader problem. In early 2009, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reported that 13,800 IG recommendations made in reports from 2001 through 2008 had not been implemented, costing the nation $26 billion in identified savings. In a new version of that report issued in 2013, the totals jumped to 17,000 IG recommendations not fully implemented, at a cost of $67 billion.

Where do numbers like this come from? A few clues.

Sean Parker’s Penance – A California Beaches Mobile App

by October 15th, 2014

It sounded like deja vu all over again: more bad news for beach-hoarding magnates who may employ gates, landscaping, fake garages and fake trespassing signs restricting access to public lands. A California court in late September ruled against Vinod Khosla, Sun Microsystems co-founder and clean energy investor, saying he couldn’t keep a locked gate to Martin’s Beach, reached along his Half Moon Bay property. Then Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill turning the screws on Khosla further. Still, the much-publicized case is but a speck of sand on the beach. There are 1,150 access points along the state’s 1,270-mile Pacific coastline, and many are tricky to find or use. The good news: fairly soon there’ll be a new way around that.