Friday, July 14, 2006

Here's one for open government

Just getting to some back issues of InfoWorld and was struck by Jon Udell's June 28 column on how the District of Columbia government is making many of its statistics available through datafeeds.

This should become a journalist's playground, if I'm reading it right.

Here is the descrption from the D.C. Web page:
Today DCStat is transforming the District of Columbia. With shared, real-time data, District agencies can operate as more responsive, better-performing organizations. Now DCStat supports information exchange between District agencies and neighboring counties and states by providing access to more than 150 data sets. District employees can view city operational activities through multiple web-based applications and can gather information to support many District initiatives.
To increase transparency into government activities and expenditures, District residents can access operational data by subscribing to Live Data Feeds. This allows residents to monitor government performance that will provide greater accountability in all business groups and agencies.
So far, only two datasets are online: Calls to the mayor's service center and registered vacant property. But those who visit the site get not only the feeds, but links to tutorials about RSS and about how to download a file and open it in Excel. In other words, there seems to be a commitment to actually helping people use these. (Pardon me while I catch my breath there; that's more than can be said for many media operations.)

But here is the best thing to my mind. If the much-maligned D.C. government can do it, why can't almost any other governmental entity of any heft do something similar? This gives journalists a place to point to and say "see" ...

Also sounds like something IRE and NICAR should jump on and talk up extensively so that journalists put on the pressure. I'd love to see those two organizations do some case studies on these feeds to show how something similar could be used elsewhere, too.


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