Opening my eyes

Open data was without a doubt one of the biggest trends 2009 for people like us who work in the happy Venn diagram sweet spot of government and culture/heritage.

There was the State Services Commission release of the draft NZ Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework (which the Library gave feedback to during the consultation process).

The Open Government Data barcamp and hackfest (held here at the Library), emerged from an impromptu meet-up at the mid year GOVIS conference.

There was the launch of the Open New Zealand network by Nat Torkington and Glen Barnes, along with the Open Data Catalogue of government and local body datasets. This was closely followed by the launch of data.govt.nz, a directory of New Zealand government datasets. The National Library's Publications New Zealand database is one of the sources listed here.

The demand side for data is shown by the well-established They Work For You (a volunteer-run site giving insight into the New Zealand Parliament's activities), new-comer Consultations.org.nz (no longer up) which aggregates information about consultations currently being held by local government bodies, and the nascent New Zealand version of Fix My Street.

Over in Australia there was all the activity around the Government 2.0 Taskforce . The final report from the Taskforce is presented today (22 December 2009). When Senator Kate Lundy spoke in Wellington about open government earlier this year it was great to hear her using the Australian National Archive's Mapping Our Anzacs work as one of her examples, and fantastic to see the National Library of Australia's user-corrected OCR singled out by Taskforce chair Nicholas Gruen last week in the Sydney Morning Herald (although where was the link to the NLA newspapers site, huh?! If I could have one small wish for 2010, it would be that when the MSM writes about websites and online stuff, they include the bloody links).

Various small workshops on open data have been being held round Wellington's government departments over the last few months; I attended one at the Department of Internal Affairs last week, which I'll return to later. And coming up early next year is an Open Government miniconf at the Australasian Linux Conference.

So naturally I was interested in Mark Drapeau's predictions for Government 2.0 on the O'Reilly Radar blog. Drapeau gave five predictions for 2010-12:

  1. Local governments as experiments
  2. The rise of Citizen 2.0
  3. Mobile devices as primary devices
  4. Ubiquitous crude video content
  5. Always on-the-record

In the first category, Drapeau linked to a project I hadn't previously seen – Manor Labs. Manor, Texas, has a population of about 5,800. Manor Labs is the city's research and development division, which works to identify new technologies to benefit Manor's residents. The site lists R&D projects, like a tourism project using RFID reader to send information about points of interest around the town to people's phones, and a similar QR-code project.

The main feature of the site (no longer up) though is the ability for people to submit ideas and solutions to help Manor. Ideas currently displayed on the site include improving the Emergency Responder system by dedicating different channels to different uses; encouraging more people to respond to the census count to make the Manor City Limits sign's population count more accurate; and opening a public library.

Various tactics are used to encourage people to participate (besides, of course, the hope your idea may be acted on). Once ideas have been added to the site, they can be voted up or down, and commented on. Good suggestions are rewarded with 'innobucks', which can be spent in the online store. The site also has a leader board. The thing that intrigues me about these incentives is that they relate back to the community. The person who votes or comments on your idea is likely to be a fellow resident. The leader board is also published every week in the Manor Messenger. Items in the store include Have Your Own Week (a proclamation declaring a week in your honour) and a Manor Police t-shirt. Love it.

Now. I said earlier on that I'd return to the workshop held at DIA. At the session, Andy Neale from Digital New Zealand talked about domain specific data (the data that different kinds of departments produce, likely reports from Statistics New Zealand on employment figures) and operational data (data about government departments, like average salaries, electricity usage, headcounts).

As an example of transparency in an organisation, Andy brought up my much-loved Dashboard from the Indianapolis Museum of Art (I often rant about the IMA's work in this area on my non-work blog).

IMA's dashboard, showing a range of interesting stats.

The Dashboard is a very pretty visualisation of all sorts of metrics from the IMA; from the value of its endowment to the number of artworks it has out on loan. The prettiness almost camouflages how rich the data is; you can drill down to months and months worth of information on dozens and dozens of things.

The Dashboard of course didn't just emerge miraculously. The IMA's Chief Information Officer Rob Stein has recently written a five-part series on the IMA blog on the topic of 'Museums and Transparency', which describes how the IMA has adopted transparency as a policy across the organisation, and shows how the Dashboard fits in, and what the outcomes have been.

Fittingly, the IMA has released the Dashboard under an open source licence. The final post in Rob's series gives advice on implementing these kinds of tools. So my prediction – or hope – for organisations like mine, and ours, for 2010-12, is that this is the time when the radical trust we've been talking about for a while meets with the radical transparency we're just beginning to see.

By Courtney Johnston

Courtney did almost every job in the web team, and is now out in the world and in charge of everything.

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