February ICYMI: Blockchain Voting, OpenGov in the Philippines, & Creating Collaboration

OpenGov Hub is home to over 40 organizations, so there is always a lot of activity happening within our doors. This upcoming week alone we have an event on the Open Data Charter as a Vehicle for Change, a Map Data Visualization presentation, and a weekend of celebrations and panels around Open Data Day.
We want to help you keep track of everything that is going on, so we'll be posting this monthly ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) blog to give you a roundup of some of the happenings at the Hub. Check out January's ICYMI.
Here's what happened in February at the Hub:


Open Government in the Philippines: Prospects and Challenges

The panel discussion reflected on the prospects and challenges for open government reforms in the Philippines after its recent elections. Panelists discussed government-led reforms in light of political transitions, gleaning from a recent G-Watch/Making All Voices Count study of citizen-led reform initiatives, Going vertical: citizen-led reform campaigns in the Philippines (December 2016). The three panelists were Joy Aceron of G-Watch and the Independent Reporting Mechanism of Open Government Partnership; Joe Foti, the Program Director of the IRM at OGP; and Rose Nierras, the Director of Country Strategies at the International Budget Partnership

Three Takeaways:

  1. Key ingredients to successful civic movements in the Philippines:
    - Broad based coalitions with diverse stakeholders from diverse sectors in and outside government and having these coalitions reach "minimum agreement" on how to best frame and advocate their cause to attract broad support;
    - Using different tactics at different levels (some collaborative, some resistant with/against government); identify champions from above and mobilize citizens from below;
    - Ensure initiatives remain autonomous and derive their power and influence from citizen solidarity and numbers, not on their relationships with people in power.
  2. Opengov advocates need to constantly balance between having sharp focus on solving our priority problems, while flexibly adapting to changing political circumstances. Given the administrations in the Philippines (and in the US) today, it could be important to reframe opengov issues and focus on the broader struggles for democracy, justice, and human rights.
  3. International initiatives supporting opengov reforms within countries like the Philippines might have greater impact by making sure all reform commitments that governments make (through the Open Government Partnership and elsewhere) actually address real challenges for everyday people in the country, rather than being "solutions in search of problems." While the international community and open government movement have talked a lot about the global threat of closing civic space, but we can do a lot more to operationalize reforms to combat this (ex: NGO tax law reforms).

Blockchain Mobile Voting App Demo

This was a demo from Boston-based startup Voatz that uses blockchain technology to enable secure smart phone or tablet based voting. Presenting the demo were Nimit Sawhney, Voatz CEO, and Jennifer Brody, Voatz Policy Manager.

Three Takeaways:

  1. Voatz has three goals: help increase voter turnout, increase overall election transparency, and decrease election and voter fraud.
  2. They have run a number of early pilots with promising signs, including for the Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention and the City of Cambridge, processing 40,000 votes so far.
  3. Basically, Voatz uses the massively decentralized database feature of blockchain to secure election results. Vetted third parties (which Voatz calls "validating peers" instead of the normal "miners") - like local universities and banks in the jurisdiction where the voting is happening - donate some of their extra computing space and each entity stores a ledger of the voting record, so if any of those entities that store the data try to alter a block (e. g. a vote) then send it back to the blockchain, the system will reject it because it conflicts with the other copies of the ledgers that other peers are storing. Hence the immutability of this voting method.


Open Data Charter as a Vehicle for Change - From Promise to Delivery

At the end of February, OpenGov Hub hosted a panel with the Open Data Charter team while they were in DC about how to defend the efforts that have been made in the open data movement amidst new political realities around the globe. The team included Ania Calderon (new Executive Director), Liz Carolan (Strategy and Programme Director), and Robert Palmer (Partnerships and Communication Director).

Three Takeaways:

  1. The open data movement is nearly 10 years old but has failed to fully live up to its promise of delivering meaningful improvements in people's lives. And today's broader political climate and "post fact/truth" environment is a real threat to data/evidence-based decisionmaking.
  2. In order to tackle this challenge, it is important to balance between making explicit that openness is a political decision and requires political buy-in (not just a technocratic solution), while at the same time embedding a culture in governments of open data in a way that these changes are almost so mundane and technical to be sustained and withstand changes in political leadership.
  3. Whenever you start with the data itself - rather than starting with a concrete, specific problem in people's lives - you may be setting yourself up to fail in delivering on the promise of open data.

Additional Resources: 10 Government Innovations and Their Place in the Hype Cycle (Huffington Post)

Creating Collaboration

The OpenGov Hub is more than just a coworking space and an event space; we are an active collaborative community. If you read our post on what to expect this coming year at the Hub, you already know what we have in the works.

But here's a little update for everyone:

- Our Working Groups focusing on one of our four strategic themes (open data, local opengov reforms, adaptive learning, or working in difficult contexts) have started to meet. In these initial meetings groups are working together to create a shared vision of the problems and issues they want to tackle both as a group and at their individual organizations.

- Our Skillshare Guilds continue to be a place for knowledge sharing. The Innovation Guild has been meeting to discuss some of the latest innovations that pertain to the work of our members, while the Communications and Branding Guild has been working on analyzing and improving the communications strategies of guild members. 

Want to know more about the people who make up our community? Check out our new Know Your Hubber series.