Public=Online Launch Event @ Google

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“I can’t think of a more important word in politics than transparency.”

Those words were spoken by Huffington Post’s Technology & Innovations Editor Jose Antonio Vargas at yesterday’s launch of Sunlight’s Public=Online national transparency campaign. Vargas couldn’t have a found a more receptive crowd for that statement as the room was filled with a cross-partisan selection of people ready to geek-out about transparency.

As one audience member noted, Vargas’ statement couldn’t be more true. House leaders are pledging to provide copies of the health care bill at every iteration online for the public to view 72 hours before coming to the floor. The normal parochial deals cut behind-the-scenes to help secure legislative success are becoming albatrosses for those lawmakers who pursued them. And transparency promises are being publicly challenged and praised as they are raised to a high level of policy importance. Transparency isn’t just a buzzword, it’s the word.

Public=Online seeks to make transparency an even bigger deal in the coming months and years. The speakers at yesterday’s panels helped explain why.

Public Square Project’s Ryan Hopkins talked about the importance of transparency at the local level. Hopkins’ outfit Public Square Project is emblematic of the exact type of work that people could get involved in to effect their communities. I especially like the Pittsburgh Citizen, a citizen-driven local news organization.

CATO Institute’s Jim Harper explained the non-partisan nature of transparency and transparency activism. Harper also discussed his work using create web sites and act as his own media. Who needs the media when you can be the media yourself? All the more reason for more transparency.

Google’s Ginny Hunt discussed her work in mining the data that directly effects their lives: voting information, weather data, etc. Hunt explained how Google Public Labs chose the data to work with by figuring out what statistics people were actually interested in.

Which takes us to another classic quote from Huffington Post’s Jose Antonio Vargas. Discussing the need for media and newspapers to remain relevant and accessible Vargas said, “We need to meet people where they’re at.” (Yes, Boost Mobile has infected everyone’s grammar.) That statement goes for pretty much everyone involved in politics or media. If you aren’t engaging people where they are or talking to them about what they want to hear about, you may as well not exist in these days where we can float about the ether to find whatever it is we are seeking. This also goes to data, as Ginny Hunt explained. We need to focus on data that people want, use and need and then deliver it to them in ways that they can access, understand and engage with.

That’s where you can help. Join our Public=Online campaign and tell us what to do and what you want. We don’t want you to meet us where we are, but to meet you where you are. Come tell us where that is.

More event pictures below. You can also rewatch the live blog of the event that was hosted by Sunlight Labs’ Jessy Kate Cowan-Sharp, GovLoop’s Steve Ressler and myself:

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  • Ben

    Technology should be making government more transparent than ever. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, even in states like Massachusetts that consider themselves very tech savvy. Public=Online should be supported by reformers of all political persuasions.