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Open Source Bridge - Transparent, Collaborative, Participatory - Grass Roots Implementation of the Open Government Directive

Mark Frischmuth - founder of Democracy Labs
  • current system yielding polarizing candidates that yell at each other
  • idea was we shouldbe able to use technology to inform citizens to enable better decisions
  • Obama signed open govt directive first day in office
  • data.gov
    • 270,000 data sets online
    • hundreds of applications built on top of this data
    • movement towards democratization of data
  • still not as successful in facilitating collaboration
Jim ???
  • 3dna
  • idea: if internet can bring democracy to music, etc. should be able to bring democracy to democracy
  • whitehouse2 -- how would whitehouse be run if it was truly democratic
Travis ???
  • phd in CS at UW
  • computer-human interaction
  • interested in design of platforms for facilitating public communication
  • working with city of seattle
  • cto of flashvolunteer -- neighborhood-centric volunteerism
  • works on opensim platform
??? - Democracy Lab
  • interested in having conversations that are more structure
  • open democracy can dwindle into flame wars pretty quickly
  • values-based conversation mechanism helps keep the conversation structured
Three elements of open govt directive
  • transparency, collaboration, participation
Transparency
  • data.gov--lots of info out there, but no real increase in public trust--why not?
  • not really transparency
    • lot of datapoints
    • to get true transparency you need to get beyond the data points to the root causes
      • e.g. poverty in one area vs. another -- how was data produced?
  • collaboration and participation are missing
    • if you're not being heard as citizens, you won't trust what's going on
    • without transparency, collaboration, and participation (all three) it doesn't mean much
  • long term project--can't expect open govt initiative itself would have some tangible impact in overall trust
    • 5-10-15 year project
  • how does data that's available get brought up in public discourse?
    • can have a robust dataset with a few errors, and the errors become the story in the media
  • grassroots solutions trying to solve problems govt doesn't
    • do the grassroots efforts have their own agenda?
    • goal is to improve the discourse gradually--trying to make it better in a little way
    • have to convince people the data you're getting from grassroots organizations is a little better than you'd get elsewhere
    • site like whitehouse2 doesn't even work unless it's totally transparent and people can interact freely with the data
      • have to publish everything that everyone on the site does
      • have to help people formulate opinions for and against each topic -- all on a wiki
        • anyone can edit, but it's also tracked so the changes are transparent, so easy to see who isn't participating legitimately
    • relate open govt work with open source software
      • if open source projects aren't fully open, they don't work, e.g. android -- what's the agenda? is it REALLY open?
      • contrast with apache projects--can see the mailing lists and see why decisions were made
Participation
  • in order for this to work at all we need engaged citizens
    • expressing points of view, learning, engaging, etc.
  • what tools help this?
  • this is the core issue--lots of efforts targeting getting citizens engaged
    • hard part is getting people to care
    • important to give people a voice and allow them to share this with their friends
    • in some ways if one person says what someone is saying in a "better" way, this will get shared and spread around
      • efforts can get bogged down over "what's the best way to express this"
      • open systems allow the best message rise to the top
    • single biggest way to get people involved is to have meaningful results
      • people need to see how their efforts are impacting the political process
  • current way for people to participate is to vote, and they don't
    • people don't feel their voice is being heard
    • key to systems around open govt is to make people's voices heard
    • all kind of pointless if people aren't listening though
  • have to show impact
    • very easy to think your vote doesn't count
  • work at national scale?
    • go local where outcomes are more tangible--projects that get voted on you can see the results of this in your everyday life
  • what kinds of tools will best facilitate getting the citizens' information to decision makers?
    • get decision makers to sign up and interacting
      • important to show this happening
      • e.g. peer2patent--crowdsourcing to help USPTO see prior art
        • home page shows which people submitted specific prior art associated with specific patents
    • frustrating thing about "open for questions" that obama did a few months ago
      • marijuana question showed up multiple times -- couldn't figure out how to handle this so they haven't had one since
      • why not use FAQ type format?
Collaboration
  • political issues are adversarial by nature--how best to facilitate collaboration between adversarial parties?
  • point is to enable rational discussions
    • have to operate under the assumption that people want to have a rational discussion
  • need to improve online comment boards
    • introduction of second column into online discussion that would show summary bullet points
    • introduction of neutrality into comments which are typically very subjective
    • current comment board implementations drive away people who might otherwise participate, but overly prescriptive comment systems do the same thing
  • split the issue in two
    • how do you deal with jerks/trolls?
      • set up rules--e.g. no personal attacks
      • differentiate between attacks on ideas and attacks on people
        • this didn't really work
      • created public 4-step process to eliminate trolls/jerks
        • allow others to flag people/comments
        • escalating system of warning, losing karma, up to being expelled
      • interesting thing was nobody every got a second warning -- people played along or they left of their own accord
    • how do you deal with partisanship?
      • big problem is that people couldn't agree on what the goal was so there was no common ground to be found
  • through the application of better processes we can get more people involved without worrying about solving every problem involved
Questions
  • Portland working on releasing their data, currently have about 110 datasets. Most jurisdictions are willing to participate, but there's a lot of datasets that haven't been released. Need to prove to the govt organizations that releasing the data is worth their time. What's the major catalyst to prove to politicians to release more data?
    • again, have to make clear to people that they're having an impact
      • e.g. iPhone app that lets people submit where potholes are on bike trails
    • easy to solve the "read" side of the problem, harder to solve the "write" side
    • do developer contests to get people to show what can be done with the data
    • try to do something useful with what's out there
      • target datasets with a concrete application in mind--easier to work with people in government at that point
  • If an open source project starts out closed, then goes open, it tends never to get the full benefit of being truly open. Is government ever going to be open enough?
    • tends to be generational--if developers don't start with openness in mind, it doesn't ever get there
    • with turnover, change easier to happen
    • govt isn't going to be completely transparent and open until we put people in govt who got there via the open systems

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