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January 11, 2010

State of the Union opened up

The White House is inviting us to talk with the President’s advisers in the runup to the State of the Union. The first is at 3:30pm EST today, on the environment. How open the conversation will be of course remains to be seen, and presumably the speech is already drafted. Still, it could be toward the high end of expectation, and, in any case, it’s interesting to watch the White House try to figure out how to scale conversation.

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December 12, 2009

Linda Stone on “Inspiration Replication”

From the set of video interviews I did at Supernova

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December 8, 2009

Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce issues draft

The Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce has published a draft of its report, asking for comments before it’s submitted.

The report takes “engagement” as the desideratum of e-gov, and was produced in an engaged, public way. It recommends transparency, the use of open standards and Creative Commons licenses, loosening copyright restrictions on “orphan works,” tax benefits for donations to “info-philanthropies,” encouraging agencies and government employees to engage online, and more.

Personally, I think the draft — from its principled overview to its broad areas of application — is a blueprint for democracies everywhere. (Disclosure: I was on the International Reference Panel, which mainly means I got to comment on some earlier drafts.)

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December 6, 2009

Alec Ross on the Net in the State Dept.

In this five minute interview, done at Supernova, Alec Ross — who reports to Hillary Clinton as Senior Innovation Adviser — talks about how the Internet cadre is doing in the State Department.

[Disclosure: I may have the opportunity to work with the State Dept. (as a volunteer) on the internal use of Web 2.0 tools, pending my getting a security clearance. I believe Alec was instrumental in this. So, thank you Alec. And, of course, that inevitably taints my interview. FWIW, I was a fan of Alec’s well before I knew him.]

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December 4, 2009

Anil Dash on Expert Labs

Anil Dash, a person I both like and admire, has become the head of a new project under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with MacArthur Foundation backing. Expert Labs will be a platform that enables federal agencies (and eventually others) to pose questions and get answers from social networks of credentialed experts and the public. I’m excited about this because I think it will do good things, because I’m writing about networked expertise these days, because I like to see knowledge addressed socially, and because the White House stimulated the creation of this project. (I was at the initial discussions between the White House, the AAAS, and some people they pulled in for a day of brainstorming.)

This is one of the half dozen interviews I did at Supernova, which I will be posting as I get around to uploading them.

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November 24, 2009

eBook on eGov

You can download a free PDF of a new anthology about egovernment, called State of the eUnion, edited by John Gotze. I haven’t read it, but there are some excellent contributors. (Disclosure: I’m one of the not-so-excellent contributors.)

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November 4, 2009

Open Declaration on E-government

Some folks, including Nadia El-Imam, have put together an Open Declaration on Public Services 2.0 that is going to be presented alongside the declaration of the European ministers at the Malmö ministerial conference in about 3 weeks. They’re looking for signatures.

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October 12, 2009

Lessig’s “Against Transparency”: A walkthrough

I’ve been in a small round of email among friends, arguing over exactly what Larry Lessig means in his article in The New Republic titled “Against Transparency.” It is a challenging article for those of us who support government transparency, and Larry is obviously both influential and brilliant. So, I wanted to be sure that I was following his argument, since it is somewhat discursive.

Here’s what I think is a guide to the flow of the article, with links to the eleven Web pages across which the article is spread. (I’ve made judgment calls about where to divide topics that span a page.) The following is all my gloss and paraphrasing; let me know if you think I’ve gotten it wrong. Note that I intend this only as a guide to reading the article, not as a substitute. I’ve purposefully filed off the nuances, grace notes, and subtleties that make this a Larry Lessig article. (Note also that the italicized bits are not me interjecting; they’re the article’s own objections and qualifiers.)

Section I: Transparency is not necessarily good

[link] Sometimes, transparency that seems good is bad. (“Punch-Clock Campaign” example.)

Especially bad is “naked transparency,” which wants massive amounts of government data made available over the Internet. Naked transparency will “simply push any faith in our political system over the cliff.”

Qualifier: Most transparency projects are not bad.

[link] Transparency projects that track the flow of money and influence are particularly bad.

[link] A short history of transparency. (Brandeis)

To be helpful, information has to be incorporated into “complex chains of comprehension.”

Is that what’s happening with what naked transparency reveals? The supporters of transparency haven’t asked that question.

[link] Section II: Transparency leads to untruth

Mere correlations between politicians, donors, and votes does not tell us if the politician is corrupt.

Objection: But, revealing those correlations does no harm.

[link] Yes it does! (Hillary Clinton example.) Once the correlation gets in our head, we can’t get rid of it.

Objection: More information will chase out the bad info.

[link] No it won’t! Our attention spans are shot. You can see this everywhere. (Surveillance camera example.)

[link] Section III: How to respond

Can we get the good of transparency without the bad? No. (JAMA example.)

[link] The transparency argument is following a familiar pattern. Similarly, tech has enabled a “free content movement” that has disrupted the newspaper and music industries.

Let’s not follow that pattern in how we respond. We can’t fight the Net’s lessening of control over info.

[link] We need solutions that accept the Net’s effect. (William Fisher and Neil Netanel examples.)

[link] The solution is obvious. Transparency is inevitably going to raise false suspicions. We are prey to those suspicions because we already believe that politics is corrupt. Therefore, we need to eliminate political corruption.

To eliminate political corruption, we should enact the Fair Elections Now Act.

Caveat: The name of the act is misleading. It’s not about fairness.

Without this, we are doomed.

The transparency movement should support campaign finance reform, and should constantly remind us that transparency is not “just a big simple blessing.”

[link] Likewise for the rest of the Internet triumphalism.

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September 9, 2009

Making the most of government data

The Sunlight Foundation has picked two winning mashups in its contest:

Washington, DC – The Sunlight Foundation awarded Datamasher.org with the grand prize of $10,000 for Sunlight’s Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge. Datamasher.org is a Web application designed by Forum One Communications that lets anyone–no programming background required–choose different government data sets and mash them up to create visualizations and compare results on a state by state basis. Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs, announced the winners and distributed over $25,000 in awards late yesterday at the Gov 2.0 Expo hosted by O’Reilly Media and TechWeb.

Sunlight created the Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge to solicit creative Web applications based on the information available at Data.gov, the new central depository for government data created by Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra. It was inspired by the Sunlight’s commitment to use new tools to make the work of the federal government more transparent

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September 1, 2009

Pew on civic engagement

Pew Internet & Life has a new study on the Internet and civic engagement. Here are the four key findings, as put by Lee Rainie, the head of the project:

First, those engaged with civic life online are very similar to those who participate offline from a socio-economic perspective. It turns out that overall the internet is not dramatically diversifying the class of folks who are civically engaged. The well-to-do and well-educated still predominate online, despite some of the early hope and predictions of activists.

Second, generational change in civic engagement is taking place online. Young adults, traditionally a politically inactive group, show less of a deficit in online than in offline political participation.

Third, new kinds of civic engagement are being created in the social mediasphere – on blogs, social network sites, Twitter and the like. Young internet users dominate their elders in those areas and there is tantalizing evidence that socio-economic stratification is not as pronounced among the social media participants who are civically engaged.

Fourth, we find that online tools like email, websites, and instant messaging are now embedded in civic activity as groups of all kinds use them to further civic and political goals.

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