Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category

Saturday forum in Seattle to honor local watchdog heroes, and probe “Open Government: Past, Present and Future”

by March 8th, 2012

Saturday March 10 in Seattle during national Sunshine Week the Washington Coalition for Open Government hosts a day-long conference, “Open Government: Past, Present and Future.” More details on the event and registration here. Highlights include in-person stories of citizen activists from Lake Forest Park, Everett and Skamania County who used public records laws to daylight secrets about a government weapons cache, conflict of interest in a county auditor’s office, and a bogus charity. Panel discussions will look at lessons learned in the 40 years since passage of Washington State’s landmark open records initiative, and at the role of technology and community in open government, going forward.

Readiness worries for state’s public high school grads

by January 4th, 2012

Close to six of ten graduates of public high schools in Washington state who go on to community and technical colleges here have to take remedial, non-credit courses to be ready for their new college coursework, according to a report from the Washington Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

Of the 20,336 graduates of public high schools in Washington in spring of 2009 who then enrolled in an in-state community or technical college for the 2009-2010 school year, 11,623 or 57 percent had to take non-credit remedial courses, the report says. Math was far and away the subject in which most of those students had to remedial courses, followed at some distance by reading and writing.

Tutorial: Using the Washington Achievement Data Explorer

by December 20th, 2011

You can easily compare state achievement test score results between school districts and between schools within a district, using the University of Washington-Bothell’s Washington Achievement Data Explorer (WADE) tool online. It was developed and is sponsored by UW-Bothell’s Center For Education Data and Research. You can also survey a broad range of student, district and school data, and see whether districts or schools are exceeding projected performance levels on achievement tests, based on percentage of low-income students. Let’s explore the Explorer. First, go to the WADE site. You’ll see a panel showing three ways to dig in.

Admitted sex abuser was Census field rep in King County

by December 16th, 2011

For more than two years year after he began repeatedly sexually abusing a developmentally disabled woman he cared for as a nursing aide in a state-run assisted living facility in Shoreline – and for three months after public release of a Washington State Department of Health disciplinary document he signed confessing to the abuse – Shoreline resident Bart Finkbiner continued in a second, 20-hour-a-week job as field representative for the Seattle-region U.S. Census Bureau office, visiting an average of seven to eight homes per week in north Seattle and north King County to liaise with members of households which hadn’t responded to mail or phone prompts to complete the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Although there are no reports of any further misconduct by Finkbiner, the five-state Seattle Region U.S. Census division’s director Ralph J. Lee said that upon learning last weekend of Finkbiner’s signed confession to the state, he suspended Finkbiner with pay and ordered his work laptop, employee badge and other work materials removed from his work area, as an internal inquiry process unfolds.

Government as platform: the podcast

by November 25th, 2011

The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU-FM at American University in Washington, D.C. recently featured an hour-long podcast about how governments are using emerging technology to engage stakeholders. Joining the host were: Bryan Sivak, Chief Innovation Officer for the State of Maryland and former Chief Technology Officer, District of Columbia; Tom Lee,
Director, Sunlight Labs; Alex Howard, Government 2.0 Correspondent, 
O’Reilly Media; and Abhi Nemani, Director of Strategy and Communications at Code For America. A money quote, from Alex Howard:

One of the principles when you think about this open-data movement which is now worldwide is to help the data find the people who need it. And that often won’t mean going to a government website…In the ’90s, we talked about websites. Last decade, we started talking about Web services. So it’s not about going to a portal anymore. It’s about going to an application that might pull in data feeds from dozens of different places.

And the thing that government can do in releasing public sector data is then see that data be baked into applications that are useful and find citizens where they are actually using it. So mobile application which uses local health data, a transit application that uses transit data to help people to, you know, find where they need to go…Most citizens don’t want to see raw data, but they do want to know how to do things. And that’s where the Gov 2.0 movement can make a difference.

That’s just a snippet of a rich conversation. Listen to the whole show, even read the transcript.

Alex Howard, O'Reilly Media/Alex Howard

In coming months, here at Social Capital Review, the mother blog of the Public Data Ferret news knowledge base project, we’ll be developing a guide to Seattle-area civic apps including mobile, that use government data streams to help people meet their everyday information needs. Over time, it’s also going to be interesting to look at the “conversion rate” of government data sets posted online. Every big city, county and state government worth it’s salt, and numerous federal agencies, all have so-called “data sites” full of data sets, typically in formats that are accessible mainly to software developers.

The idea is that civic-minded geeks will come along, in many instances, and do the “social utility value add” by developing apps for mainstream audiences, such as ones we have here in the Seattle region which tell you when your bus is really going to arrive, or what the recent health inspection scores are for that Thai restaurant you’re about to enter. But how often does that value add – that packaging of the data into a useful, customizable tool – really happen? And are enough of the right data being released, or sought out?

(Note: the podcast transcriptionist incorrectly refers to the pioneering Baltimore government performance data program CitiStat as “city set” and a corollary Maryland program called StateStat as “state set.” (StateStat is well worth a look, BTW).


Alex Howard’s Digiphile blog, and his Google+ page.

Sunlight Labs.

Code for America.

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Audit: state could save millions by reducing snail mail

by November 2nd, 2011

A performance audit released Tuesday says four large State of Washington agencies that were examined spent almost $10 million dollars last year for un-required bulk mailings. The report from Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag’s office stops short of saying all the questioned mailings shouldn’t have been done, noting that there are times when for the sake of customer preferences, or because of limited access to technology for some stakeholders, when agencies may determine snail mail is the best option. Nonetheless, the audit said, state government has begun to find ways to save taxpayer funds by handling more business without postal service, and needs to step up such efforts further.

Auditor’s whistleblower reports: workers misusing state computers

by October 20th, 2011

Five separate whistleblower investigation reports issued this week by Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag find that employees at state agencies misused their workplace computers for personal purposes. According to the reports, they used their state computers to make hundreds upon hundreds of visits to hobby, shopping, wedding, photo, auction, and personal finance sites, and to trade stocks, work for a direct sales business, administer web sites for a dance studio and photography business, do work for a non-profit, administer classes taught at a local parks department, do their taxes, and urge veterans to lobby elected officials. Of the five employees, two resigned as investigations unfolded. Three others are being investigated further by their department supervisors. Employers involved are the departments of Social and Health Services; Personnel; and Labor and Industries; and the Office of Minority and Women Business Enterprises. Each pledges to continue reminding employees of prohibitions against personal use of state computers.