This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Open Data - Left or Right, Inside or Outside, Works for Creating New Community Paradigms

The importance of open data to new community paradigm efforts was realized at the end of last year with the post, Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation which dealt, in part, with Code for America’s Beyond Transparency related video panel and Open Data - Getting Started video panel. Since then supporting documentation on the topic from a variety of sources has been collected. This issue has support from both the political left and right and from numerous organizations. Two of which are sources that have been followed for some time but have not been featured to any extent on these pages. One works from within government, at all levels, and one works mostly outside of government, actually it pretty much works outside. 

Public Lab for Open Technology and Science is a connected online but still working within their own individual community that develops and applies open-source tools for environmental exploration and investigation by democratizing inexpensive and accessible Do-It-Yourself techniques, like hooking camera’s to weather balloons or kites for public mapping. It is a collaborative network of practitioners actively re-imagining the human relationship with the environment. Although there is no claim of any expertise in this area, having a chapter in your community with which to work together seems a logical step. Online, they seem a very cohesive community. How well they are integrated into the community advocacy within their own communities outside of their group circle is another question.  There would arguably be easier and better integration with community governance based on participatory democracy than with the more institutional forms of government.

The group that works from within the multiple levels of government is GovLoop, which has a simple mission: connect government to improve government. We aim to inspire public sector professionals to better service by acting as the knowledge network for government. This is something to which communities striving to create new paradigms would want to be connected.
GovLoop is the largest government niche network of its kind, serving a community of more than 100,000 government leaders helping them to foster collaboration, learn from each other, solve problems and advance in their government careers, as well as being a leading site for addressing public sector issues.
It could also be a potential fifth column against entrenched bureaucratic institutions of government power, a good thing from this blog's perspective. Not that this will be found in any part of the GovLoop mission statement or be anywhere explicitly stated on their webpages but they invariably give support to best practices across the spectrum of government which is helpful in putting pressure on entrenched holdout government institutions and the community making up GovLoop is often sympathetic to the community principles expressed on these pages, at least as individuals if not through their particular institutions. 
Voices from both of these communities have spoken up for important events supporting the expansion of open data in government. PLOTS called for celebration, within their ranks, for the first birthday of the US Open Data Policy and the first open data report. President Obama took the historic step of signing an executive order on May 9, 2013, making open and machine-readable data the new default for government information a year ago. Not that sexy sounding but making information about government operations more readily available and useful is paramount to the promise of a more efficient and transparent government at all levels.
The White House Project Open Data, covers, at a federal level, efforts in  opening data in areas of importance to new community paradigms including Health, Energy, Climate, Education, Finance, Public Safety, and Global Development.
These efforts, which are designed to share best practices, examples, and software code to assist other federal agencies with opening data, have helped unlock troves of valuable data and are making these resources more open and accessible to innovators and the public. Data for which taxpayers have already paid.
Pat Fiorenza, Senior Research Analyst at GovLoop, posted an article, ”DATA Act is a Big Win For Data Transparency", on the passage of H.R. 2061, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013 (DATA Act), the Senate version of which had passed in April, and which the President’s signed in to law on May 9, 2014
 The DATA Act was supported from both sides of the political divide in Washington DC being championed by Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) in the house and Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) in the Senate.
Government transparency, according to Pat, provides numerous means of improving not only transparency, but also business growth and improved government services. Making it as well, in my view, a primary and essential tool for community activists. 
Freely available data from the US, and from all levels of government for that matter, is an important national resource, serving as fuel for entrepreneurship, innovation, scientific discovery, and economic growth. In a time of imposed austerity because of tightening budgets, it can provide a means of combating waste, fraud, abuse and corruption.
Publishing data allows activists to analyze government’s financial data and assess spending trends, and be improved stewards of taxpayer money. Pat was actually talking about government institutions but the idea still works for advocates not on the government payroll. 
John Kamensky, a Senior Fellow with the IBM Center for The Business of Government and another frequent GovLoop blogger had previously written an article on "Implementing the DATA Act:  Encouraging Signs" focusing on the sweeping nature of the new law and the challenge for public managers to effectively meet the relatively tight implementation timeframe. 
This was the result of a three-year effort to pass the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (the DATA Act) which deals with federal spending transparency based on the success of the Recovery Act’s financial reporting efforts and proposed extending of it to all federal spending.  
Even though the effort was at the federal level, there are still lessons for advocates working at the local level. John, highlighted several key lessons provided by Ed DeSeve, a key leader of the Recovery Act effort. 
These included providing focused leadership from the top with implementation led by well-respected veterans of public service. New community paradigms recognizes that community leadership will remain essential as will dedicated professional public service.
Perhaps more apparent in keeping with new community paradigms is a collaborative governance framework through which to engage networks of affected stakeholders.
If  they can get statutory deadlines established ensuring the urgency to act and get appropriate funding for implementation then it would be an extremely helpful step, although this is likely something that community advocates working outside of the doors of city hall cannot initiate by themselves.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any dedicated funding even with the new federal law, but  other aspects point to hopeful signs of potential success and again provide lessons at the local level.
The effort had virtually unanimous support in Washington. Virtually unanimous community support, if and when it could be achieved, would arguably be as good if not better than virtual bipartisan support in Congress. There would also though still be the need for a commitment to the oversight of its implementation.
The federal effort was supported by the Data Transparency Coalition, an outside group involving industry and non-profit stakeholders that not only supported passage, but more importantly supported implementation. As demonstrated by the New Community Paradigms wiki, communities have multiple advocacy organizations with which to work.
Communities can seek key support and involvement from public interest organizations that are key stakeholders in using transparency to improve citizen engagement and agency accountability such as the Sunlight Foundation.
As John Kamensky said, with the federal effort, any attempt to implement open data policies, regulations and laws will have to face the real challenge of not just complying with the law, but actually acting on its intent to increase transparency, improve performance, and change the culture in government institutions, particularly from a new community paradigms perspective city halls.

By creating coalitions of like minded advocates both outside and inside of government halls, those seeking to create new community paradigms can achieve not only the opening and availability of data but can also create the social networks needed to transform their communities.

Past Posts