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The scene appeared normal: a small house by a pond, with occasional traffic passing, mostly trucks and laborers from the work site up the road. But Gregor MacLennan was focused on the out of place details. "A sheen of oil floating on the top" of the pond, he recalls, "the gas flare roaring over the trees, and the only source of water trickling out of the hillside with the smell of crude."

MacLennan, the coder behind Digital Democracy's new ClearWater map, did not start out as a techie. As an environmental activist, he has spent more than ten years working in the Amazon Basin, studying the harmful effects of contamination from oil driling.

What if data published by governments had tracked changes and comments turned on like a Word document--for every user? That is basically the question asked the other day by Gov 2.0 evangelist Ben Balter. It's a valuable idea, driven by several urgent needs in the open data world: more usable government data, more engaged data users, and a more fluid, accountable dialogue between data publishers and data users. And Balter stands at the forefront of the issue, having pioneered the federal government's earliest uses of GitHub, the socially-oriented software platform, and now working with GitHub to help lead its new focus on state, local and federal government usage. The vision in his post is lucid and compelling, but the proposal is off the mark. We need better conversations more than we need better annotations. More precisely, we'll get more users to give more feedback that is more useful to more government data publishers if we…

Solid strategies, the wisdom of peers and an upbeat realism were the themes driving last month's Bridging Session for international advocates and technology groups promoting transparency. Like our 2011 session, the event sought to build bridges between policy and technology experts. Participants from five continents met in Glen Cove, New York from November 27 through November 30. The attending NGOs shared a commitment to improving disclosure and citizen knowledge about government budgets and natural resource wealth, but many of the week's lessons turn out to apply across all forms of advocacy. Web sites and mobile tools can help citizens and leaders improve governance and uncover corruption, but the full potential of these tools often remains untapped. Through the "TABridge" project, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (T/AI) seeks to improve collaboration on tech projects by identifying gaps in knowledge and improving funding strategies. Some presentations were highly structured, to expose people…

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