Category Archives: eGovernment

Does Open mean Accessible?

Over the past week there has been a flurry of discussion in Ireland over proposed amendments to the Freedom of Information Act here and has led to public reversal by the Minister responsible.
Freedom of access public information is a core principle in a liberal democracy and Ireland has in the past few years had a middling reputation in this arena. In fact, during the past general election both parties now forming the governing coalition made promises to reform Freedom to Information and to remove the restrictions placed by the previous government. There has been much valid consternation over Ireland’s continuing practise of charging a fee to make a request for information under the FOIA. Many argue that this is discriminatory, restrictive and reflective of a desire by the state to make information available in principle but inaccessible in practice. Earlier this year the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform tabled new legislation which the department claimed would modernise approaches to FOI and lend greater transparency to the operation of government in Ireland. However, the Minister and his department have been roundly criticised for seeming to actually raise barriers to access and reverse earlier moves to make public information more accessible. Specific clauses in the proposed legislation seem to put new restrictions in place and in ambiguous descritpion make the entire process far more subjective and unwieldy. Essentially, as Gavin Sheridan has pointed out in The Story (http://thestory.ie/2013/11/08/killing-freedom-of-information-in-ireland/), people should object to paying for information they have already paid to collect.  This article provides a great overview of the serious issues raised by the erosion of access that the proposals as currently proposed.
I was interested in raising an interesting counter argument however. As the discussion of the FOIA request fee was raised I was surprised to discover that only 3 nations currently charge a fee to file a request for information under FOI acts: Ireland of course, but Israel and Canada being the others. I was chagrined. Why is the nation of my birth, and a paragon of Openness in government (well that’s debatable but there are some amazing initiatives there right now and I applaud them highly) charging when most countries seemed to have accepted that information should be available freely to their citizens on request?
When I considered this (and not wanting to become an apologist for the Canadian government – many of whose recent decisions, such as making the census voluntary beggar belief and are not in harmony with my own values) I did want to make a counter case for FOI charges.
I believe that there is an important distinction between saying something is available and actually making it accessible. Simply legislating that people have the right to request public information is not the same as putting in place a mechanism to ensure they actually receive the information they are requesting in a timely fashion and in a form that they can use. To that end mere legislation only solves half the problem- and I would argue in the case of Canada, the charge actually performs and important function with regards to the rule of law and in especial establishment of a contract between the citizen and state. It is difficult to arrive at an appropriate charge structure, but it is clear that the minimal charge in Canada is actually renders the process straightforward and establishes a contractual agreement to provide a service and now in a perfectly transparent fashion. As was crystallised as an Action in Canada’s Action Plan for Open Government. All requests for Information are logged and publicly displayed on a website showing that they have been received and providing the requester and the general public with an way of holding the government to task on fulfilment. Without the development of the contract it can be argued that the citizen can pursue the government through the remedies identified in legislation but these are far more onerous, time consuming and difficult that being able to pursue for breach of contract law. Now, bearing in mind that I am not legally trained, many of these distinction may be lost on me, I think that at its basic level there is some justification for a nominal charge, not to discourage abuse (that’ll happen – its not always rational) but instead to actually bind the intent of the legislation with the legal provisions to actually deliver on that intent. This needs to move from the statute book to a legally enforceable contract and in Canada this seems to be the case.What think you Ireland?

All About Open

In case it hasn’t been obvious I do like things that have open in front of them. It’s an ethos I have been exploring personally and professionally for some time now and generally encourage such ponderings amongst module participants. You ‘enjoyed’ an interesting discussion on Free last week and we contracted it with the concept of open. To attempt to root our explorations in the current I will draw your attention to the Open Government Partnership meeting tat is taking place in London this week. As I mentioned in an earlier post Ireland has recently committed to this important initiative and Minister Brendan Howlin will be attending the first summit since Ireland made this commitment. This is an important time for Ireland. Although  the Action Plan for Ireland remains in development following a series of public engagements over the summer, there is gathering momentum amongst citizen groups to inform the eventual Action Plan. Continue reading All About Open

MindMixer Helps Citizens Engage With Their Communities

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 11.27.22“One of the biggest roadblocks to implementing local community ideas is finding resources in city government or local organizations who might be able to help. More importantly, how can you involve like-minded individuals in the discussion? A new type of civic engagement platform – like MindMixer – can help. MindMixer is in essence a “virtual town hall,” a community forum where constituents can meet to discuss issues and share ideas. (Here’s an overview of how MindMixer works.)”

Irish eGovernment Directory

govieThis probably deserves some good comparative study (not just variety and access to government services but also quality of services available), but it is good to see an evolving comprehensive spot to access eGovernment services in Ireland. There’s comparable services out there with similar pointers, but this is a positive direction for officialdom here. The Gov.ie online services directory is simple and straightforward and soliciting user input to aggregate access to available services. I like the crowdsourced audit but wonder about the balance between coordinating access and a means to coordinate an effective delivery.

So you’ve heard about Postal Codes have you?

 

academyHouseAnPostThe Independent today headlined with an ‘investigative’ piece detailing how the revenue will be using ‘sophisticated mapping technology provided by GeoDirectory to quantify access to services and apply a multiplier to the property tx to be implemented later this year. In a nutshell (and details of the entire scheme remain publicly hazy – let’s talk about that tonight) they propose to triangulate access to services such as the Luas, the DART, shops, schools and other amenities to increase tax payable – assuming you use things closer to you. The first question I have to ask is : Is this is overly simplistic (fair, equitable, legal) way of determining taxable property value? Clearly it is deserving of deeper investigation itself…but there you go. What do you think?

Continue reading So you’ve heard about Postal Codes have you?

DailWatch Looks Promising

Launching on 11 October, DailWatch promises to be a two way street allowing citizens to keep tabs on what their TDs are up to as well as allowing TD’s to guage the pulse of their constituents. Definitely a space to watch. There are a variety of places that attempt to provide a means for Irish resident’s to rant, to express their concerns and you can of course go to oireachtas.ie to search databases to see what hansard can tell you about what’s actually going on behind the scenes. I have been a subscriber to custom feeds from Kildarestreet.com allowing you to get transcripts whenever selected TD’s or Senator’s appear on record. Here is an opportunity to marry both sides of the street and I for one am looking forward to seeing what transpires. You can also follow @dailwatch for updates.

A New Age in Participatory Government: The Finnish Open Ministry

The Finnish government has just approved a new unique ID for all citizens thus paving the way to the new Finnish Open Ministry platform. Open Ministry is a follow on to the ‘citizens’ initiative‘ which allows for a mandatory vote on new laws proposed and backed with  A huge and fascinating experiment in extending citizen involvement but also true to the ethos, the Open Ministry platform is open-source and available on GitHub. This is definitely one to watch.

Related: Could crowdsourcing be a better way to make legislation?

Getting Back to How we Share Public Data

I am very impressed with a Norwegian initiative called the ‘Data Hotel‘. It’s an EU funded approach to providing the mechanism and the standards to make data from public sector agencies freely available. It addresses one of the key challenges to organizations today – not that they don’t want to share – simply that they lack the tools and resources to do it with increasingly depleted resources. Enter the Data Hotel. It embraces all the right open access standards, not just for the data itself, but in terms of open source software. Continue reading Getting Back to How we Share Public Data

Urban Information via the Green Band

Salon has an interesting look at the impact of a pilot project in Paris (CityPulse) that distributed 100 sensor wristbands and tracked a variety of environmental factors as well as paths taken over the space of a year. Part of the Smart Cities initiatives that emerging worldwide and aided by IBM and Cisco among other corporate players, these programmes demonstrate the potential for a touted €16B annual market. It’s about making people and things digitally aware and networked. Continue reading Urban Information via the Green Band