As much as I would like to offer a simple definitive answer to the question, I have to say instead that it depends; particularly when democratic institutions and processes are being established and corresponding norms, values and practices are evolving. This view is based on 20 years working at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to increase organized citizen engagement, as a means of deepening democracy so that governments deliver a better quality of life for citizens. This work has provided a number of lessons regarding the relationship between citizen engagement, transparency and government accountability.
Unlike the others in this series who have been working on the ground to implement transparency policies and initiatives, I have not. My background is in political science, so I’m going to do something that political scientists often do. I’m going to theorize and I’m going to offer a typology.
Though we tend to talk about accountability as if it is one thing, I think there are actually three types of government accountability that we care about: preference accountability, character accountability, and performance accountability. And each of these has its own relationship to citizen engagement. By better understanding this, we can better understand the citizen engagement – transparency – accountability nexus.
The term civic engagement can be defined in a variety of ways. For the purposes of this conversation let’s say it consists of someone’s involvement in matters of public concern. Let’s also say that citizen engagement refers specifically to the involvement of individuals as opposed to civil society organizations.
What are the different ways that citizens engage? How does the shape of their engagement influence the shape of any government accountability that might come from it? I’ve noticed a few different types of engagement - and each type appears to have different repercussions for accountability. Here are three:
Exciting news for anyone working on open government technology: Google's Civic Information API now includes representative data! The API was already a great source of electoral information. Now it can help connect people to the politicians who represent them after election day.
Google's team has done a great job of acquiring tons of data from a variety of sources and combining it in a simple-to-use API. At Sunlight, we're proud to have played a part in making it possible to stitch that data together. The heart of this effort is the Open Civic Data Identifier system.
Based on work done by our Open States team and developed in consultation with a number of other organizations, OCD-IDs are a generable standard that can reliably identify political jurisdictions. This might sound simple or boring, but it's a fundamental interoperability problem in the opengov space -- one that gets all the more tricky when you start adding support for levels of government that don't come with readymade shapefiles. OCD-IDs were designed with that challenge in mind, plus several others (for instance: what happens when a politician changes offices?).
Sunlight has already added support for OCD-IDs to our Congress API, and they'll be present in a coming revision to our Open States API. Organizations like Granicus and Open North are also adopting the standard. We think it's going to be an important tool for connecting currently-disparate domains of open data with one another.
We've got more great stuff planned for the Open Civic Data project. But for now we hope you'll check out the Civic Information API and think about whether OCD-IDs could be used to connect your data to the growing open government universe.
Thanks to OpenNorth's James McKinney for his invaluable contributions to the development of the OCD-ID specification, especially as it relates to the Popolo Project; and to Phil Ashlock for his pioneering work on this problem via Democracy Map.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Beginning with the famous phrase "Four score and seven years ago," the 1863 speech is an emblem of democracy and freedom and a popular recitation for social studies students and members of Congress alike.
And when searching the Congressional Record for "Gettysburg Address," the GOP also mentions the speech more overall.
Last night the House took an important bipartisan step towards greater government transparency by passing the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, H.R. 2061 (DATA Act) on a near unanimous vote.
The DATA Act will significantly improve the transparency of federal spending data, as well as make it easier to use, by instituting strong, government-wide financial data standards. It will also ensure that more, and more accurate, data is made publicly available.
- Members of Congress are happy to share a little help with their friends, other members of Congress. Even in this non-election year, Leadership PACs have raked in $18 million and doled out nearly $12 million to other politicians. (Roll Call)
- Don't call me a Lobbyist, from this moment forward I am a Government Relations Professional! I'm just following the lead of the group-formerly known as the American League of Lobbyists, which voted to rename itself the Association of Government Relations Professionals. (Public Integrity)
- The Philippines has launched a portal aimed at opening up foreign aid information. This portal could be come vital as the country attempts to rebuild after being slammed by a devastating typhoon last week. (Future Gov)
State and Local News
- The New York City Council is slated to hold an oversight hearing to investigate the Big Apple's open data law. It's set to go at 1:00 pm tomorrow. (The New York City Council)
- More news out of New York City comes in the form of an exploration of the City's efforts to review and analyze regulations before they become law. (Data-Smart City Solutions)
- Strengthening government oversight: Examining the roles and effectiveness of oversight positions within the Federal workforce. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. 2:30 pm. Subcommittee on Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce. 342, Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Today the Sunlight Foundation filed its very first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. In May 2013, we sent a FOIA request to the General Services Administration (GSA) requesting a copy of all contract notices that had been posted on Fedbizopps.gov since 2000. These notices would allow members of the press, researchers, and our developers to analyze government spending patterns, to look for inaccuracies, corruption, and waste.
Despite our repeated inquiries and reminders, Sunlight never heard back from the GSA about our FOIA request in the more than five months since then. So we decided to take action.
- A group of 80 law professors are calling on President Obama to open up the Trans-Pacific Partnership process. In the wake of recent major leaks, they argue that the closed negotiation process is not working. (Tech Dirt)
- The cable industry's major trade association the National Cable and Telecommunications Association dipped its toes into the dark money game in 2012, spreading relatively small donations around to a number of groups that spent huge amounts to oppose President Obama. (Public Integrity)
- The House Ethics Committee has ended its investigation into trips to Taiwan taken by Reps. Peter Roskam and Bill Owens. Owens, whose trip was closely tied with a lobbying group, had already paid back the cost of his trip. (POLITICO)
- The Open Data Institute has signed an agreement with South Korea's National Information Society Agency to pursue collaboration in open data. (FutureGov)
- Interested in learning how the money flows through the Nigerian extractives industry? You'll have a chance on December 7, when the Open Knowledge Foundation hosts a webinar on the topic. (Open Knowledge Blog)
State and Local News
- Orange County, California has experienced a number of dog bite incidents in recent months and is considering displaying their data on an interactive map in an attempt to combat the problem. (Government Technology)
- Democrats are often seen as being opposed to campaign finance deregulation in the wake of the Citizens United decision. But, last year Unions and other left leaning groups used it to their advantage, specifically successfully targeting state elections. (Roll Call, Public Integrity)
Happy Friday, here is this week's review of the notable deleted tweets from politicians captured and archived by Politwoops.
Former representative and current challenger for a House seat, Robert Dold, R-Ill., tweeted and deleted two messages that read "Nicole & I had a great time last night w/ Callista & @newtgingrich. Looking forward to his help in my race. #ILSEN." The tweets included the image seen to the right and were rather perplexing because his wife's name is Danielle, he used the hashtag ILSEN and, most importantly, he is not the man in the photo. After a brief search I found the same message and image came from the campaign account of Doug Truax, a newly declared candidate for Senate from Illinois. We're not sure how this mix-up happened but perhaps they share a campaign consultant juggling too many Twitter accounts or maybe Mr. Truax was borrowing Mr. Dold's phone?