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open data

What Does $3.2M Buy in Open Government?

Last week, the Knight Foundation awarded over $3.2 million to the eight winners of its “Knight News Challenge on Open Gov,” a competition open to non-profits, for-profits and individuals around the world that was designed to “provide new tools and approaches to improve the way people and governments interact.” Below is an overview of the winners and the problems they sought to solve.

Pictured: a still from winner GitMachines’ application video.

The Problems

One of the benefits of a public challenge is the chance to identify problems (or opportunities) in government that might be addressed with existing technology. The winning entries noted the following problems:

  • Government data portals have confusing interfaces. The complexity of government procurement policies and practices stifles competition, especially among small businesses, leading to wasted tax dollars. On top of this, many government procurement websites are difficult to use.
  • Proposed policies suffer from poor public understanding. Much of politics is about pocketbook issues, but with complex legislation it is difficult for voters to know the personal impact of different policy proposals.
  • Court records are not digitally accessible. Federal appellate court and state supreme court
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G8 Charter Puts Open Data on International Agenda

Last month’s international G8 summit produced a declaration with new guidelines for a broad range of policy issues. Included in this declaration was a set of recommendations for open data initiatives, known as the Open Data Charter. The charter represents the first time open data principles have been agreed to in an international forum—not to mention possibly the highest-level declaration of any kind to mention the open source code repository website GitHub—and will likely help shape the future role of government in data. Here are the key facts.

The summit

The Group of Eight is a policy forum for the governments of eight of the world’s largest economies (previously with six and seven member states) held annually since 1975. Although the summit will be gradually supplanted by the larger G20, which includes developing economies and non-Western states, G8 remains a bellwether of international policy. This year’s event was held June 17-18 at the Lough Erne Resort in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, and focused on tax policy as well as the ongoing Syrian civil war.

The participants

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron played host to President Barack Obama, German

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Highlights From The National Day of Civic Hacking

The atmosphere after a hackathon is usually one of relief and mutual congratulation—“We finally made it,” the participants say, referring both to finishing their programs and reaching the end of the grueling event—but the real work takes place in the weeks and months that follow. That’s when the programmers, designers, and subject matter experts refine their work, hopefully planting the seed for a new business or public service.

Below are four standout projects that emerged from the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH), which took place over the first two days of June in 95 locations around the United States. Besides celebrating their ingenuity, there are some lessons to be learned from each of them.

Spreading success stories in Chicago

In Chicago, an app called TowText lets users know if their car has been towed, and provides the phone number and address of the impound lot. The best part? Because of the City of Chicago has a standardized data-collection policy and a rapidly-updating database for relocated vehicles, TowText users get a message within fifteen minutes of their car being logged.

TowText was created by designer-engineer Tony Webster. Webster notes

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Your Friendly Neighborhood Hacker

When local news editors across America received tips that hackers would be gathering in their town over the weekend, they must have been alarmed. The events of the first National Day of Civic Hacking (NDCH) – held June 1-2 in 95 locations around the country – were benign, as anyone who has ever attended a similar meet-up might imagine, but that didn’t stop the flood of references to malware, identity theft and other computer security breaches in the news coverage.

In reality, the mission of the NDCH couldn’t have been more “white hat”:

“The event will bring together citizens, software developers, and entrepreneurs from all over the nation to collaboratively create, build, and invent new solutions using publicly-released data, code and technology to solve challenges relevant to our neighborhoods, our cities, our states and our country.”

This wasn’t the sort of “hacking” that captured the popular imagination in the ‘80s and ‘90s; the NDCH events looked more like community service jamborees, with visits from small-town mayors and a few boxes of free pizza on the tables. The participants weren’t there to break laws, and in fact collaborated with local

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