Open access to scientific research not only helps degreed experts collaborate in their own languages; it is a building block to a better informed citizenry. But capitalizing on its value to the broader society takes focus, effort, and support. Read more in our widely-shared analysis, “Open Access Out of the Shadows: Now What?”
Collaboration in Civic Spheres
Archive for the ‘News Hub’ Category
by Matt Rosenberg April 21st, 2011
“From Washington D.C. to Washington state, events conspire to remind us that the quest for open government is still a work in progress. One case in point: Out here in the verdant, drizzly climes of the Pacific Northwest, a recent legislative attempt to ratchet up baseline Web disclosure by local governments and the state ran aground.”
by Administrator November 18th, 2010
By David Herzog
These next few months will be busy here in Open Missouri-land. Mizzou J-School master’s students who are working on the project will be stepping up their efforts to collect inventories of databases held offline by state government agencies. How’s that going, you ask? It depends on the agency. Some, such as the Missouri Ethics Commission, have happily told us about the public data they collect. So give them a gold star for openness; the commission clearly gets its obligation to the public. Gold stars go to the departments of Conservation and Natural Resources; both of them provided detailed information in the spring, during a pre-Open Missouri pilot run. Other agencies say they’re working on compiling the information. We’re learning that many agencies lack internal inventories of their databases and need to create them for us….Finally, some agencies have flat-out told us they’re not going to divulge information about the data they collect using taxpayer money. I’ll provide a detailed scorecard later.
All of the information we collect will go into the Open Missouri website, which we hope to start developing within the next month. We’re going to work closely with our friends at the Sunlight Foundation and use code from their National Data Catalog.
(Read the full post at the Reynolds Journalism Institute blog, here.)
by Administrator July 15th, 2010
By Jeff Lee
Long before Mayor Gregor Robertson’s intemperate remarks calling public presenters political “hacks,” relations between Vancouver and its neighbourhoods were testy.
Politicians and community activists say that disconnect arose largely from the last city council’s EcoDensity program, which sought to layer citywide environmental goals into the way density, land use and design are considered in local planning processes.
Instead, the program fractured efforts by the city and neighbourhoods to develop local land-use plans through a careful, decade-long citywide exercise called CityPlan.
“Just the word density could strike fear in neighbourhoods,” said Robert Allen, the head of the Renfrew-Collingwood Visions Implementation Committee. “A lot of this tension has been below the surface for a long time.”
Allen, whose group worked with Vancouver to help each of the city’s 23 neighbourhoods develop updated community plans, said the trust-building exercise was killed the moment former mayor Sam Sullivan’s NPA-dominated council dropped the EcoDensity program on them. Dialogue stopped and many were enraged by the city’s preoccupation with politically charged rezonings that would strategically build density into neighbourhoods.
Now, neighbourhoods have learned to distrust the city’s planners and engineers, he said, because they never know if their local issues will be taken into consideration.
In recent months, the city has made concerted efforts at reconciliation with neighbourhoods, from plans for a “citizens’ summit” to air concerns to the creation of a stand-alone office for information and community engagement. But those efforts may have been set back by Robertson’s description last week of public presenters to council as “f——g … hacks.”
“Well, if I don’t think it helped,” said Coun. Andrea Reimer, who is spearheading the city’s efforts to “engage” communities again in cooperative civic affairs.
“Community engagement is all about trust and relationships, so it’s hard for his comments not to have an impact on that,” she said.
Robertson said in an interview the city doesn’t have strong relations any more with many community groups. He blamed much of that on Sullivan’s EcoDensity program, but acknowledged his own gaffe hasn’t helped matters.
“”It definitely creates a lot more work and effort to assure people that we’re open and listening and that we want dynamic debate on this,” he said.
“We’ve worked to improve consultation and engagement with neighbourhoods from day one and it has been a big challenge. Many neighbourhoods are wary and distrustful of city hall from previous administrations. It’s tough when we try to improve this and it is construed as the opposite, as closing down debate.”
Allen lives on the opposite side of the city from Doreen Braverman, the chairwoman of the Arbutus Ridge Concerned Citizens Association. But they share a common view that their communities are constantly at odds with city hall.
“They don’t listen and they don’t care,” said Braverman, whose group is opposed to a proposal to redevelop the Arbutus Centre shopping mall into a residential development. “I think the EcoDensity program really broke relations between community groups and city hall. But this group in office isn’t much better.”
She said Robertson’s remarks are “just what you think they think of you. It’s very phoney. I think what he’s done is make people realize we’re not just whistling Dixie when we say we’re not being listened to.”
Allen says that even though Robertson “did himself and his party no favours” with his comments, he thinks the mayor’s gaffe could won’t result in worse relations with communities.
“Actually, I think it will have the opposite effect. It points out that yeah, we do have issues in communication. So then it gives us the opportunity, just as we are doing now, to talk about it. I think that’s the silver lining in this.”
Reimer said the city is working hard to try to reconnect city hall with its neighbourhoods. This fall, several plans will go before council, including one to set up a single “Vancouver Office of Information and City Engagement” (VOICE), where people can get information neighbourhood issues, from rezonings to street improvements.
Reimer said that while the parts of EcoDensity that the Vision Vancouver council liked were folded into its Greenest City program, but the word “EcoDensity” still causes residents to shiver, she said.
This fall will also mark the first “citizens’ summit,” which Reimer said will allow residents to set their own agendas about what is important to them.
“Community engagement is not like building a bike lane. It’s not simple and it’s not technical. It is a process built on relationships and foundations of trust,” she said.
by Administrator July 8th, 2010
By Jim Dempsey & Deirdre K. Mulligan
We see evidence of the Internet’s revolutionary impact in spheres ranging from commerce to entertainment to the way we now stay in touch with friends. The Fourth of July invites particular consideration of the Internet’s impact on democracy.
Moreover, it calls for a deeper understanding of the sources and conditions of the Internet’s influence: What is unique about the Internet? From what technical and policy choices does its power derive? And, most urgently, what must be done to maximize its potential to support democracy at home and abroad?
The Obama campaign was not the first to embrace the Web, but it set a new standard, using the Internet to raise millions from small donors and adopting online social media to mobilize volunteers and voters. Conservatives leveraged the same tools in electing a Republican to Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts.
Perhaps more important, the Internet is reshaping the daily processes of decision making at all levels of government. An extraordinary amount of official information is online. No longer are bills and drafts of regulations available only to lobbyists. Sacramento is one of a growing number of American cities that stream and archive council meetings, integrating video with agendas, minutes and other documents on a single Web page. Increasingly, e-government systems are becoming two-way. The Environmental Protection Agency has an online system for submitting technology solutions for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Department of Homeland Security is running an online consultation, open to all, on its draft strategy for improving the security of Internet transactions.
Some of the most exciting developments are at the neighborhood level, as citizens organize themselves, identify common issues and develop solutions that can then be presented to elected officials. One small nonprofit, e-democracy.org, hosts more than 25 forums in 15 communities across the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, providing a set of templates citizens can use to organize their discussions and build a shared understanding of a problem. Facebook, on the other hand, hosts 390,000 “causes” and uncounted advocacy groups.
Around the globe, the Internet is having similar effects. Online activism and networking permeates national politics across the spectrum of the world’s democracies. The Internet’s most striking ramifications, however, are in authoritarian countries, from worker walkouts in China coordinated with text messages to the Green Revolution’s use of cell phones in Iran to broadcast police violence to the world as the government blocked coverage by cable networks. And in terms of participatory use of the technology, other countries are actually ahead of the United States. Last year, La Plata, Argentina, combined in-person meetings, paper ballots, electronic voting and texting to allocate the city budget. Over 10 percent of the city’s voters participated.
Why is the Internet such a powerful platform for democratic activity? Fundamentally, the Internet’s technical architecture facilitates participation and connection. Unlike the concentrated mass media of the past century (newspapers, movies, radio, television), the Internet is uniquely decentralized, abundant and user-controlled. Production and distribution of content are inexpensive. Barriers to entry are low. Anyone with a computer (and increasing millions with mobile phones) can speak in the public forum, access a world of information and organize.
Equally important, in the early days of the Internet, policymakers, advocates, companies and coalitions built a policy architecture to steer the technology toward democratic ends. These policy choices embodied the principles of openness, innovation, interconnection, nondiscrimination, user control, freedom of expression, privacy and trust. It is this symbiosis of technology and policy that produced a platform on which individuals across the globe exercise their democratic muscles.
However, this framework is not guaranteed. Technologies can change. Features being built into the servers at the core of the network could facilitate censorship. Monitoring software deployed in the name of copyright protection or cybersecurity could be exploited to maintain political control.
The Internet’s legal code also is being challenged. Governments worldwide are seeking to force Internet service providers, Web 2.0 platforms and other intermediaries to filter content for a variety of purposes. Shifts in societal use of the Internet can outstrip legal protections, eroding core values when policymakers fail to act. Notably, the laws that protect privacy have not kept pace. For example, the cell phones we carry double as tracking devices, allowing governments to map our daily movements as courts and Congress fail to update rules.
Business models, too, can threaten openness. In the absence of rules enforcing nondiscrimination, service providers may cut deals favoring some content over other, and may even block controversial speech entirely. Several years ago, one service provider quickly reversed itself after briefly blocking pro-choice text messages.
Debates on these and other issues critical to the democratic future of the Internet are under way. The Federal Communications Commission launched a proceeding to re-establish rules of neutrality for Internet access providers. A coalition of companies and advocates is calling on Congress to strengthen standards for Internet surveillance. Internationally, things seem to be heading in the wrong direction, as countries from Italy to China are increasing regulatory burdens on Internet services.
Valid criticisms of the Internet abound. Sometimes it seems more like Bedlam than Independence Hall. The Internet’s cult of the amateur threatens to drown out sources of insight and knowledge, such as this and other newspapers. Social systems for verifying information online are still emerging.
Yet, taking stock on this July Fourth, it is clear that people around the globe have found in the Internet a powerful force for democratic ideals and action.
Our nation’s founders provided a durable framework for democracy and an inspiration to the world. Two hundred years later, the technical and policy architecture of the Internet can serve democracy as much as the concepts of limited government and separation of powers still do. Just as preserving democracy demands vigilant participation, so too we must actively engage in shaping the technical and legal code of the Internet.
Jim Dempsey is vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology and head of CDT West in San Francisco. Deirdre K. Mulligan is a faculty director at the UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law and Technology, a professor at the School of Information, and a board member of the Center for Democracy & Technology; her current research focuses on information privacy, cybersecurity and surveillance.