White House blog highlights public response to open government

White House officials, in a series of blog postings this week, provided a glimpse of how the public suggests the federal government could make government data more accessible — and be more transparent.

Federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra, using the White House Office of Science & Technology’s blog, highlighted more than a dozen themes suggested by the public on ways to improve access to federal data and associated metadata.

Among the suggestions Kundra listed:

  • Adopt data dictionaries to ensure that terms have the same meaning across agencies;
  • Maintain a transparency dashboard to show progress toward releasing data;
  • Find new, standardized ways to inventory and prioritize agency data for publication in open, downloadable formats;
  • Collaborate with the third parties to continually improve Data.gov, the government’s new data-sharing Web site; and
  • Make Data.gov as comprehensive as possible for nonclassified information.

Kundra said he received a number of more technical suggestions as well, including:

  • Adopt the latest innovative technologies for disseminating data, including Really Simple Syndication data feeds;
  • Create permalinks on the paragraph level to make documents easier to cite;
  • Standardize discovery and method calls to datasets;
  • Adopt better software for comparing relevance and meaning of documents to make government information more searchable;
  • Allow citizens to build their own applications on top of government online services; for example, using a service-oriented architecture approach;
  • Convert depository libraries around the country into regional data centers;
  • Make the National Archives and Records Administration the off-site electronic backup data center for all agency e-record systems;
  • Make contributed data subject to a waiver of copyright and database rights using the “CCO” scheme from Creative Commons; and
  • Digitize all government research reports and make them available free via the National Technical Information Service.

The suggestions were gathered using interactive online tools, as part of the administration’s broader open-government initiative, designed to capture public input as part of its policy-making efforts.

Kundra used the blog to solicit the public’s help in providing feedback on Data.gov, including what kind of data and applications people would like to see on the site.

In a related blog on the same Web site, Beth Noveck, deputy chief technology officer for Open Government, similarly highlighted a variety of ideas the public suggested on enhancing citizen participation in government decision. Citizens also weighed in with suggestions on promoting civic education, the use of Web 2.0 social media, participating in government rule-making technology.

In addition to listing a number of the public’s suggestions, Noveck’s blog points to a graphical representation of those ideas, using a tool called Debategraph Explorer. The tool clusters related ideas into layered, interactive maps. The top-level map shows a variety of spheres, each containing topics that relate to a central theme. Each orbiting idea links to deeper map, which is surrounded by specific ideas or suggestions.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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