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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

FOI Summit: Transparency in the Digital Age: The report card, thus far

Thomas Sussman, director of the Governmental Affairs Office of the American Bar Association (clockwise from top left), J.H. Snider, president of iSolon.org, John Wonderlich, policy director of The Sunlight Foundation, and David Donald, data editor for The Center for Public Integrity, spoke on access to information in the digital age. (Photo by Michael T. Martinez)

Attendees heard from experts breathlessly working to transform access to governmental information. Here are notes from the FOI Summit session "Transparency in the Digital Age: The report card, thus far":
  • Donald discussed the Obama administration's efforts to make data available. He said government should be doing two main things to make data available: (1) to make raw data available; and (2) to make machine-readable data available. Donald said government should be working to "wholesale" data, not "retail" data. For example, when the government provides a website that allows the user to search for data in an active server page, Donald said the government acts as a retailer. Instead, the government should provide all of the raw data at once, like a wholesaler. Donald praised previous efforts to win the format battle, saying machine readable data has become more of the norm than pdf documents.
  • Donald recommended attendees explore the Gov 2.0 Expo website and the everyblock.com website, which provides unfiltered data for local communities, although Donald caution that the data on the site may have dirty data problems.
  • Wonderlich outlined how the public citizen online can be relevant to government and the systemic changes necessary to obtain affirmative disclosure of public information. Wonderlich noted legislative efforts like Faster FOIA and improved training of FOIA officers could improve the culture among the compliance community.
  • Snider focused on the "glass half-empty" with respect to the relationship between open government and information technology. Snider suggested the Open Government Directive has "severe weaknesses" like a poor definition for "high-value datasets." Snider posited that a "principal-agent" framework and a "conflict of interest ontology" would improve access and interpretation of publicly available data.

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