Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hack, Mash & Peer: Crowdsourcing Government Transparency

George Mason University professor Jerry Brito has posted a working paper entitled Hack, Mash & Peer: Crowdsourcing Government Transparency on the Social Science Research Network:

"In order to hold government accountable for its actions, citizens must know what those actions are. To that end, they must insist that government act openly and transparently to the greatest extent possible. In the Twenty-First Century, this entails making its data available online and easy to access. If government data is made available online in useful and flexible formats, citizens will be able to utilize modern Internet tools to shed light on government activities. Such tools include mashups, which highlight hidden connections between different data sets, and crowdsourcing, which makes light work of sifting through mountains of data by focusing thousands of eyes on a particular set of data".

"Today, however, the state of government's online offerings is very sad indeed. Some nominally publicly available information is not online at all, and the data that is online is often not in useful formats. Government should be encouraged to release public information online in a structured, open, and searchable manner. To the extent that government does not modernize, however, we should hope that private third parties build unofficial databases and make these available in a useful form to the public".
The context for the article is the U.S. situation but it contains a fascinating description of how independent third parties such as NGOs and citizen think tanks have created hacks to publish, in a structured format, data that the government has either not published online or not made easily accessible.
"The most important contribution all these hacks make, however, may not be the accessibility they provide to individual users, but the fact that their hacked data is offered in a structured and open format. This allows yet other third parties to tap into the now useful data to create new applications. As Joshua Tauberer [creator of Govtrack.us] has explained, 'Gathering the information in one place and in a common format gives rise to new ways of mixing the information together'." (pp.18-19)
The article takes a look at many projects, including:

  • Govtrack.us
  • LOUIS—The Library of Unified Information Sources (search engine that indexes Congressional Reports, the Congressional Record, congressional hearings, the Federal Register, presidential documents, GAO reports, etc.)
  • Metavid (captures and archives video of Congressional proceedings)
  • OpenSecrets.org (campaign finance data, lobbyist tracking, financial disclosure forms of Congress members, and executive officers)
  • MAPLight.org (searchable database that highlights the connections between campaign contributions and how members of congress vote)
  • etc.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 7:21 pm

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