Washington state public transit agencies in 2012 badly lagged the national average in paying their own way for operating costs. Reports from the Washington State Department of Transportation and the National Transit Database show respectively that the 30 Evergreen State public transit agencies received just 13.6 percent of their operating revenues from fare payments versus an aggregate of 33 percent for all 824 transit agencies reporting nationwide. However, in Washington, transit system van pools had a remarkably strong financial performance, earning a full four-fifths of operating costs from riders.
Collaboration in Civic Spheres
Archive for the ‘Public Data Sets’ Category
by Matt Rosenberg November 11th, 2013
Visiting Seattle right now are 19 Arab journalists focused on transparency, media and civic life. The U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program and the World Affairs Council of Seattle are coordinating. I’m honored to have been asked to present to them Nov. 11 and to leave time for conversation, I’ve compiled his post for them – and others – illustrating sources and output of Public Data Ferret, a non-partisan Seattle-based news project that digs for sub-rosa online government documents and data sets. I also share some Recommendations for Global Open Government
Using special sources available to all, we craft original stories which are then archived by jurisdiction and topic in a special database, and distributed via legacy and social media. We always link to full source documents. Governments are making more and more documents and data available voluntarily, online, in the U.S. and elsewhere. They know that by doing so they can build trust, broaden public knowledge and participation, and perhaps also avoid the expense of staff hours required to gather information on demand.
We also teach and train student and community volunteers who contribute content; participate in panel discussions and conferences, and publish transparency policy analyses in outside venues. Public Data Ferret is a program of the 501c3 non-profit Public Eye Northwest.
We are supported by private donors, and earned revenues from communications consulting. We maintain total editorial control over what appears at Public Data Ferret, and how it is written. After three years, we are gratefully beginning to reach financial sustainability.
Why Do This?
Our motivation for starting the Public Data Ferret project was that:
Develop Shared Resource Guides to Public Documents and Data
To find material we often use our own continually updated resource guides to public documents and data. These include guides to sources from the U.S. government; Washington State; King County regional governments; the City of Seattle; and local governments across Washington State which follow the “best practice” of putting individual links to individual public documents in their online meeting agendas, thus making it much easier for bloggers and online reporters to link to source materials.
Drilling Down – Into Online Source Materials
Let’s examine some of the online sources of government documents and data that have been most helpful for Public Data Ferret, and some of the resulting news articles.
The ‘PubMed’ Index – National Institutes of Health
Public health reporting is enriched by the online reference library called Pub Med, sponsored by the U.S. government’s National Institute of Health. A recent find there led to our article, “Prescription Pot Could Be A Real Bummer, UW Doc Argues.”
Context on Medical Marijuana – Health Research & Public Debate
In a medical journal article, the doctor, who is an expert in addiction and psychiatry from the government-funded University of Washington and the Puget Sound Veterans Administration, reviewed the medical literature and called for great caution in prescribing medical marijuana for chronic pain, something that is currently legal in Washington State. The debate is very current because Washington is now right in the middle of implementing legalized recreational use of marijuana following 2012 voter approval, and new, tighter restrictions have already been proposed on medical marijuana as a result.
Important to “Connect The Dots”
Our method includes “connecting the dots.” It turns out this was not the first warning issued by UW doctors about legally consuming marijuana either for medical or recreational purposes. In our recent story we linked to a related report we did earlier this year, which emphasized another detailed warning from a UW researcher, and also contained links to six other government or university studies on the health hazards of smoking marijuana, something that is now even more socially acceptable following its legalization for recreational use in Washington State.
PubMed User Tips & “Open Science” Values
Our searches at Pub Med usually use the keyword “Seattle,” or “King County” which ensures that abstracts of any new public health articles by researchers from the University of Washington or King County, on any topic, will be found. We also use the search term “Washington State.” Searching by topic is another option, such as marijuana. The results are displayed in reverse-date order so you get the most recent entries first.
The Open Science Imperative
This specialized search engine indexes abstracts and sometimes free full-text versions of scholarly articles in “open access” or “open science” publications. If only an abstract is available, we contact the author by email and explain our project, and ask to be emailed a free, full-text copy. Some comply, some don’t. If we can’t get a free full-text copy, we will not do our own article on the findings.
Our Washington State+Open Science archive at Public Data Ferret provides links to many examples of our work based on articles found through Pub Med and similar sources, such as the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Centers for Disease Control’s “Wonder” Database
The CDC also has a database called “CDC Wonder” on disease and death rates by U.S. state since 1999, and we have been able to use it to generate original, Washington-specific stories with mapped data summaries, such as “Washington Tops U.S. in 12-year Alzheimers Death Rates,” and “WA Led U.S. in Breast Cancer for Most Recent Year Reported.” This last story included links to two others we did on related risk factors: “Study: Pre-pregnancy Drinking Boosts Breast Cancer Risks;” and “UW-Group Health Study: Some Pills Raise Breast Cancer Risk.”
More on how to do Open Science-based reporting in this tutorial we published.
Another archive is for data visualizations. Among those we’ve created, some employ Tableau software and others Google Public Data Explorer. Among the particularly interactive ones are those showing:
Effective Government Management, of Budgets and Programs
A variety of government information sources facilitate oversight and accountability reporting. Public Data Ferret’s U.S. Government+Management archive includes numerous stories about difficulties in efficiently overseeing federal spending and programs. One recent example is our article, “CRS: U.S. Improper Payments At Least $688 BIllion Since 2004.” This story was also enriched by additional research we found using a valuable U.S. government disclosure site called paymentaccuracy.gov, which tracks improper payments on an agency-by-agency basis, as mandated by federal law.
NGO Liberates Hidden Government Reports From CRS, Regularly
“CRS” stands for the Congressional Research Service, which is an independent policy analysis arm reporting to the U.S. Congress. Incongruously, Congress has steadfastly refused to let CRS directly make its work available to the public, even thought CRS is taxpayer-funded. However an NGO, the Federation of American Scientists, does post online most CRS reports within days of release, thanks to cooperative sources inside the agency.
This is an institutionalized, and clearly tolerated example of “leaking” documents, which serves the public interest. Here is the main FAS index of CRS reports, and a particularly useful subsection titled “miscellaneous topics.”
Washington State Oversight
Our Washington State+Management archive includes stories reported with the aid of many different online sources.
One is the regularly-updated compendium of oversight reports issued by the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO). Freshened with new content every Monday morning, the SAO’s site has many dry and unremarkable reports about whether or not proper financial reporting procedures are being followed by local and regional governments in Washington state.
But other reports are more newsworthy; often these are so-called “whistleblower investigation reports,” or fraud reports. SAO performance audits examine how well state or regional agencies are fulfilling their mission and duties.
Stories based on Washington State Auditor Reports
Some stories we have published based on SAO reports include:
The Seattle+Management archive includes stories developed from SAO reports and other sources, including,:
Transportation, Education, Finance & Budget
There are many other ways to use the Public Data Ferret archive, mainly by combining different jurisdiction and topic search keywords. For example:
Seattle City Council Committee Meeting Agendas
At the local level, one example of voluntary government transparency which sometimes yields newsworthy stories are the meeting agendas of the legislative committees of the Seattle City Council. They are accessed from a central hub and include embedded links to documents explaining the agenda items for each meeting. Examples of related stories we have done include:
Recommendations for Global Open Government
There is no “One Size Fits All” approach to government transparency. Conditions vary widely between cities and states, and particularly between countries. But aided by the Internet, social media and mobile technologies, there is also growing impetus supporting fair and free elections; broadened human rights; freedom of the press; plus heightened expectations of corruption-free, transparent governance; government performance measurement; and accountability.
With that in mind, NGOs, citizens and governments should work together to advance the following objectives.
Open data must be for the electorate, not the elite.
by Mike Klaczynski May 15th, 2013
To graduate from a public high school in Washington, students in the classes of 2013 and 2014 must pass the state’s High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) in reading and writing and an End-Of-Course (EOC) test in either algebra or geometry. Starting in 2015 those requirements will grow to include EOCs in algebra and geometry, and biology. State assessment tests called the Measurement of Student Progress (MSP) are also given in grades three through eight to help students, parents, teachers and administrators assess academic progress and adjust teaching methods and curriculum as deemed necessary. For non-special education students, passing the regular tests requires a grade of Level 3 (proficient) or Level 4 (advanced). Using Washington state data on achievement tests taken and passed in math and reading in different Seattle public schools across different grade levels, we developed the following interactive data visualization. Explore it to see how neighborhood public schools rate, compared to others in the district.
1) Make your selections. Under “choose grade,” use the pull-down menu to select a type of school (elementary, K-8, middle, high). Using the “compare schools” tool select one school, or all schools within that category, or a custom combination of schools. Under “choose a test,” select either math or reading.
2) Explore the data. Here’s an example. By choosing all elementary schools and state reading test pass rates, you can: a) get a quick comparative overview via a mouse-over of any school’s dot on the map. You’ll see a pop-up box summary for each dot over which you hover, with a combined multi-year pass rate in the chosen subject, and relative ranking versus peer schools within the district; b) drill in to a school’s data by clicking on its map dot. Then you will have two more views of the data – above to the left (percent low-income and not, plus total number of tests taken); and below (yearly results by grade, subject and income group, versus district averages).
Additional technical notes:
by Matt Rosenberg May 14th, 2013
A new report from the U.S. Department of Energy shows Washington state has continued through 2010 to remain near the top among all 50 states in fueling its economy with minimal consumption of carbon dioxide emissions. According to the report from the department’s Energy Information Administration, Washington in 2010 ranked sixth lowest nationally for the tenth year in a row in metric tons of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions per million dollars of gross domestic product (GDP). The only states ranking lower in 2010 in proportion of energy-related carbon dioxide emitted to fuel their economies were, in order, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, and Oregon.
The report emphasizes that what is being measured is based on where the energy is used, not where it is produced. But in the states whose economies are most tied to carbon emissions in the report, a lot of the consumption of that greenhouse gas actually occurs in order to produce fossil fuels.
The states using the most energy-related carbon dioxide per million dollars GDP were Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, West Virginia and Louisiana. The report notes, “All these are fossil-energy-producing states. The activity of producing energy is itself energy intensive.”
Another important metric in the report is per-capita, or per person, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions per state. There, Washington ranked eighth lowest among all 50 states in 2010, and between sixth and tenth lowest straight through from 2000 to 2009.
Looking at the percentage decrease in per capita energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from 2000 through 2010, only nine states outpaced Washington, which decreased by nearly one-fifth, in percentage terms.
The EIA also analyzed each state for 2010 energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by major sector of usage. In Washington, the commercial sector was responsible for 3.8 percent, electric power production for 13.1 percent of the usage, the residential sector for 5.1 percent, industrial 12.0 and transportation a relatively whopping 42.1 percent.
by Matt Rosenberg May 7th, 2013
Washington state has one of the lowest rates of out-of-wedlock births in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. A new report issued in May 2013 says that in the most recent year for which detailed American Community Survey data on the subject are available – 2011 – 35.7 percent of births nationwide were to unmarried women. In Washington, the rate was just 27.7 percent or fifth lowest overall, but it ranged widely within the state by metro region. Tri-Cities and Bremerton were far below the national average, while greater Seattle, Olympia and Bellingham were somewhat below it. Spokane was slightly below the national average, Wenatchee above it, and Longview and Yakima far in excess of it. State-by-state, the only ones with lower overall rates than Washington were Utah, New Hampshire, Montana and Nebraska. They ranged from 14.7 percent to 25.3 percent. It matters, say the authors of the report, because children born outside of marriage are more likely to be raised in poverty, and have poor developmental and behavioral outcomes.
by Danning Chen April 9th, 2013
U.S. states with the highest skin cancer rates tend to have a high proportion of whites in their population while those with the lowest rates don’t. And the top two states for skin cancer, Vermont and Utah, feature especially high concentrations – compared to others – of young whites, age 18 to 24. These are a few of the correlations evident from the most recent annual skin cancer rates across the U.S., for 2009, and some of the demographic risk factors identified in scientific research. The official “white/non-Hispanic” population is 80 percent-plus in seven of the top ten skin cancer states, versus only one of the bottom ten. Three of the top ten were in the Northwest: Idaho fifth, Washington sixth and Oregon tied for seventh. Exposure to ultraviolet rays from both sun and tanning beds is considered a major risk factor for skin cancer, but sunny climes alone don’t appear to be a determinant. States typically bathed in ultraviolet rays such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona were in the bottom quintile for skin cancer. You can further explore the data in the visualization below.
(Additional user tips: You can hover over the dot in each state for all three data points. To quickly rank states, hover over any of the three column headers in chart, then slide cursor to longest of the adjacent horizontal bars and click for a descending sort.)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with 61,646 melanomas of the skin diagnosed in 2009, and 9,199 attributed deaths. According to research published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in 2012, skin cancer costs approximately $1.7 billion to treat annually in the U.S. and results in $3.8 billion in lost productivity. The National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2011-2012 Update notes younger adults and men are less likely to apply forms of sun protection, as are adults with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level. Another risk group is young white women prone to use of indoor tanning beds.
by Matt Rosenberg April 2nd, 2013
A recent data brief from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that inpatient hospital death rates are down 20 percent from 2000 to 2010 overall, and down markedly in that time for seven of eight major “first-listed diagnoses” with the notable exception of septicemia, or infections of the bloodstream. The overall death rate for U.S. hospital inpatients dropped from 2.5 per 100 patients in 2000 to 2.2 in 2005 and 2.0 in 2010. Death rates per 100 patients hospitalized for first-listed diagnosis were also down sharply for respiratory failure, pnuemonitis due to solids and liquids, pneumonia, kidney disease, cancer, stroke, and heart disease. But for septicemia, inpatient deaths grew 17 percent – from 13.9 per 100 patients hospitalized for that diagnosis in 2000, to 16.3 per 100 such patients in 2010.