March, April, and May ICYMI Event Roundups
Have you missed out on some of our key events the past few months? Here's our takeaways from each and every event we've held, from talks on corruption, website development, and digital rights. Dig in, learn something new, and let us know what you think!
Open Data Day Event
- The Sunlight Foundation and Open Gov Hub teamed up to celebrate annual Open Data Day with this event. The event kicked off with 2 lightning talks from Hub members to put open data efforts in a global context.
- Tawheeda Wahabzada gave an overview of Open Data Watch's newly released 2017 Open Data Inventory, which ranks countries around the world on their availability of national statistics, and ranked the United States in 7th place. Then Jorge Florez of Global Integrity spoke about their work enabling citizens to use open data to follow the money and influence public budgeting processes in Mexico.
- Then the Sunlight team introduce their new US City Open Data Census, which collects information about the availability of open data from 214 cities across the country. Participants spend the afternoon contributing data to this portal. Each city receives an assessment based on its availability of open data on a variety of topics from Budgeting to to Business Permits, Employee Salaries, Zoning and more. Anyone who is interested is encouraged to continually help contribute information to the Census http://us-cities.survey.okfn.org
- District Capital Management offered a free introductory workshop on Taking Control of Your Personal Finances, particularly for nonprofit professionals. They advise that everyone should always first pay themselves (including putting some income into your savings), then pay your bills, then use your leftover disposable income for 'fun' purchases (not the other way around). There are many tools available that can help people manage a personal budget and Mint is one app they recommend.
- AnnualCreditReport.com is a great place to get a free report and score. Credit scores are simply risk assessment tools for lenders and is based on the following: 15% length of credit history (so if you have an old credit card, never close it); 30% amounts owed; 35% payment history (automate payments whenever possible to help make sure you're always paying on time); 10% types of credit in use (mortgage, installment credit [student loans, private loans], revolving credit [credit cards, line of credit on a house]); and 10% new credit (if you apply for a new loan or open a credit card, you will take a temporary hit in this section).
- You should use only 1-10% of your credit card spending limit to help get a higher credit score, so you should apply for a higher spending limit if needed to stay in this range. Finally, they recommend that if you ever seek professional financial support always ask how they are getting paid so you know whether or not they may be trying to sell you something.
SDGs National Reporting Initiative Launch
This happy hour on March 14th from 5-7pm EST at the OpenGov Hub was to launch the SDG National Reporting Initiative's website and report.
- Around the world, people are using data to help achieve the SDGs by 2030. In Mexico, agricultural subsidies are being more effectively allocated to farmers in need using data on government assistance programs. In Uganda, the spread of an infectious disease in banana production was halted thanks to reports on a monitoring platform. In Rwanda, a Demographic and Health Survey and Living Conditions Survey enabled the government to use data from its first poverty reduction strategy to inform planning for the next one. Yet there are still challenges to how to maximize the ability of data to support fulfilling these goals.
- The data requirements for reporting on the SDGs present an unprecedented opportunity for governments to track and evaluate their progress. SDG reporting can also be a tool to help countries achieve their goals. The SDG National Reporting Initiative (www.sdgreporting.org), led by the Center for Open Data Enterprise, is a searchable database/clearinghouse for many SDG reporting resources, and facilitates greater information-sharing on SDG reporting between international, regional, and local communities.
- This initiative summarizes current approaches to SDGs reporting; assesses reporting and data priorities and needs; and highlights open source solutions and specific country experiences as additional resources. On the Initiative's site, you can find many reports summarizing lessons learned for good country and international-level reporting practices.
Inaugural Open Government Study Visit
In March the Open Gov Hub hosted its first Open Government Study Visit with a delegation of 12 mayors from Albania. The goal of this program was to support these leaders in establishing more transparent, accountable, responsive and participatory governments through a visit to Washington, DC that included a new Introduction to Open Government training and 15 meetings with their local government counterparts in the DC area and possible partners.
You can read more about this program here.
In honor of Sunshine Week, the Open Gov Hub co-hosted a training on Working with Whistleblowers with the Government Accountability Project and and Public Citizen.
You can read more about this training here.
This event featured a discussion between Matthew Murray (anti-corruption expert and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Europe the Middle East and Africa) and Anton Pominov (head of Transparency International-Russia), who discussed progress in the fight against corruption within Russia by Russians and what strategic choices Transparency International’s chapter in Russia makes to address current challenges.
- More and more, TI-Russia's investigative work is uncovering international connections to cases of corruption within Russia. For example, the Deputy Mayor of Moscow used the same international money laundering systems as Saddam Hussein, and a high-level Russia officially was ultimately removed from my position after a collaboration between Russian and American journalists revealed how he and others were storing stolen funds in the US by purchasing high-end properties in Miami. Because of this, corruption fighters within Russia want to collaborate with outsiders more to combat these cases.
- Russia, like many other countries, actually has very good laws to prevent corruption (for example, a law prohibiting bribes), but they are not well enforced. Part of why Anton was visiting the United States was to encourage the US to better enforce its own transparency and accountability measures (for example, to investigate possible corruption in how US EB-5 visas are awarded), because the US often leads the way and sets a standard that other countries will follow (likewise, Russia is often a leader of its region).
- When asked if the State Department should fund groups like his, Anton responded that local activists best understand the risk calculation of whether or not they should receive foreign funding for their work, so give them the opportunity and let them decide. And despite other challenges, Russia still has sufficient space for independent media so anti-corruption activists have a platform to share their work (even if they are sometimes smeared in state media).
During this workshop attendees learned about Insights for ArcGIS, a web based platform that offers a data analytics workbench where users can explore spatial and non-spatial data, answer questions users didn't know to ask, and quickly deliver powerful results.
- Esri invests about 35% of its revenue every year in research and development, allowing it to regularly introduce new mapping tools. Insights is one of Esri's newest tools, created for people who need to create maps and data visualizations from Excel-style data, but aren't proficient in GIS. It enables you to easily produce and share data visualizations without any coding.
- The spatial aggregation function allows you to. Insights enables you to create multiple cards (which are either tables, charts, or maps, created based on any two variables you select from Excel-style data) and to have the data interact across cards. And once you've completed a workflow (a series of tables and charts), you can simply input a new data set using that workflow (called 'model') and have the results automatically populate.
- Then you can easily publicly share these models and high-level, dashboard insights on webpages (without having users get lost in the underlying Excel data), can be embedded, converted into pdf and more. Insights used to be a premium product but now it is available as one of the apps on arcGIS online. It costs $500 per year but nonprofit users get a 50% discount.
Open Gov Hub 4 Year Anniversary Party
- The Open Gov Hub is celebrating its 4 year anniversary of moving in to its custom built space (after a 1.5 year incubation phase). Since the beginning, the Hub has always been a meeting place for people, ideas, resources, and tools to connect, to help open up governments and empower citizens around the world.
- The Hub recently researched its audiences. 4 insights we discovered were: Hub members are friends are in different stages in their careers, but all interested in warm relationships and continued learning; they work in somewhat different sectors but share underlying values ; they like learning from each other and working together; and they want to be at the intersection/convergence of different ideas and perspectives and to choose for themselves (not be told what to do or think).
- This summer the Hub will be revealing a new website, tagline and logo as a result of its recent audience research and rebranding process.
- The Panama Papers revealed the scale to which anonymously owned shell companies have been used as a conduit for hiding assets of corrupt government officials, and made this story a popular one. As a result, it helped propel the FACT Coalition’s campaign for beneficial ownership legislation in the US. For the first time in years, it looks very possible that this year, we may in fact see beneficial ownership transparency legislation get passed. For an overview of the key legislation go here.
- Anonymous shell companies aren’t just a vehicle for helping corrupt officials hide their assets. They also undermines efforts at poverty alleviation and tax justice. The interfaith humanitarian and development network Jubilee USA became a lead advocate for beneficial ownership transparency because they saw how much their efforts at poverty alleviation, debt relief and to end human trafficking were being hampered by the ability of the very wealthy and corrupt to hide their assets, and of human traffickers to move money. For more on their perspectives on why anonymous shell companies are a key vehicle for perpetuating poverty, tax evasion, and slavery, read here.
- Despite the fact that anonymous companies are behind the ability of traffickers, terrorists and kleptocrats to move and hide assets, the US is still remarkably behind other G20 countries in delivering on promises made to deal with the problem of anonymous shell companies. As the recent report launched at the event by Transparency International shows, the US legislative and operational framework to tackle anonymous shell companies lags behind that of 8 other G20 countries and is scored on par with Saudi Arabia, Russia and China. To see that report, click here.
- Hub member the Fourth Sector Group is ambitiously working to support a global fourth sector of the economy which has been growing at the intersection of the traditional private, public, and nonprofit sectors for decades. This fourth sector is comprised of hybrid, 'for-benefit' enterprises like social enterprises, B corporations, cooperatives and more, which currently represent 4% of US GDP. Even more important, the fourth sector represents a systemic solution to respond to the wicked social, political, economic and environmental challenges facing us in the 21st century - challenges which the outdated model of capitalistic economic growth developed in the 18th century cannot address.
- The two core defining traits of for-benefit enterprises is that they have a social purpose at their core, and they have an income-generating business/revenue model to achieve that. Many for-benefit also possess additional traits: inclusive, democratic ownership, transparency, fair compensation, governance by by all affected stakeholders, and more.
- Fourth Sector Group is working to catalyze a chain reaction of many different actors worldwide to strenthen a new ecosystem to enable more rapid fourth sector development - from helping develop the new legal and regulatory frameworks to make it easier for people to start and run for-benefit organizations (ex: L3Cs legislation), to helping match flexible funding resources to for-benefits, to raise public perception about how the fourth sector can and should be the new norm (building a movement) and more.
Going Local: A Defending Democracy Workshop on How US civil society organizations can respond to democratic challenges, through international platforms (MSIs) and beyond
- As part of the first global OpenGov Week, the Defending Democracy program (with Open Gov Hub, Global Integrity, Sunlight Foundation and Transparency International) partnered with the Open the Government Coalition to run a workshop bringing together US and international civil society representatives to talk about their experiences leveraging the Open Government Partnership and other international platforms to achieve their goals. 5 short international cases were presented (from Argentina, Mexico, Georgia, Chile and Philippines), and 4 US cases were shared (about EITI, transparency in fracking data, beneficial ownership and more).
- Different groups have used different tactics to respond to changing political dynamics - from moving their focus from national to local issues, to focusing more on engaging the parliament or public rather than just the executive branch, to even withdrawing from OGP (as Mexican civil society did in response to the discovery that government was spying on civil society leaders). At its best, OGP can provide an experimental proving ground for civil society leaders to hone a specific methodology for co-creating policies with their government counterparts, that could then be replicated to other issues and policy discussions.
- Multistakeholder initiatives like OGP can be powerful international platforms, but in general it is important for civil society groups not to solely invest their reform efforts through these channels (not to put all their 'eggs in the MSIs basket'), and to make sure that their engagement in MSIs is still relevant to their priorities (rather than getting sidetracked) and they have influence in setting the agenda.
The Right Tools for the Right Job: How OGP can help win the fight for civic space (part of OpenGov Week)
You can view the full video footage of this event here. Around the world, we are seeing civic space shrinking, and OGP countries are no exception. OGP provides many opportunities and tools to governments and civil society. But are we focusing on the right problems and using the right tools? OGP’s recent civic space paper found that OGP action plans have not yet addressed the most pressing civic space problems in OGP countries.
- The bedrock of all open government efforts is ensuring citizens have the basic ability to participate - to organize, associate and express themselves freely. However, such civic space is shrinking globally. In response, OGP has just published a new report looking at how OGP can help win the fight for civic space.
- The report recommends 5 ways that OGP can support protecting civic space, from ensuring that all OGP commitments do no harm, to introducing more commitments that cover the gamut of ways to preserve civic space (for example, ensure digital free expression), and beyond.
- The original vision behind OGP was not to have too high of a bar of entry, but rather to get countries in to the Partnership who have expressed some commitment to open government values, and then to ramp up their level of engagement once they become members. However in instances where they are fundamental violations of the basic values, OGP has found it necessary to remove membership of certain countries (such as Azerbaijan). Despite this, OGP seeks to stay engaged with civil society in those countries and ensure they remain included in this global network of thousands of NGOs around the world under the OGP umbrella and leveraging their collective power to further preserve civic space.
Taoti Creative offered a free workshop on how to cut through the noise of the internet and strengthen your organization's website presence and effectiveness.
- People are constantly inundated with information competing for their attention these days, so to improve your digital presence you need to get outside of your own head and first and foremost know your user, understand what tasks they are trying to accomplish on your site, and ensure they can do so as quickly and easily as possible.
- To do this requires user testing and research. There are lots of methods and tools to choose from depending on your specific objectives. Some general tools for lots of different types of user testing include: Optimal Workshop (the most recommended by the presenter), but also Usertesting.com; Hotjar; User Zoom; Survey Monkey and Survey Gizmo.
- Card Sorting and Tree Testing are two useful tools to improve your information architecture (how you organize and categorize all your content). Card Sorting is great if you are starting from scratch, while Tree Testing is great if you want to evaluate the information infrastructure you already have. Card Sorting helps you see where people expect to find certain types of information, showing you how to structure and label your content. Each card should represent just one idea, you should have 30-60 cards, and keep Card Sorting activity to 10-15 minutes total. Meanwhile Tree Testing should ask a user to complete a maximum of 10 information-finding tasks. You should have at least 50 participants and randomize the tasks for the best results.
- When looking at Website analytics, focus on things like bounce rates (what underlying task are people trying to achieve but are unsuccessful at first), time spent on form pages (how quickly can they complete their task), and analyze what is bringing people to high-traffic pages. Avoid over-interpreting analytics however, and integrate ongoing user testing and feedback mechanisms (ex: pop-up survey questions on your site) at all times, not just during a redesign process.
Power and Parity (part of OpenGov Week)
- Where are women in governments around the world? How much power do they hold? How did they get to their positions of leadership? The Global Women's Leadership Initiative Index is a first-of-its-kind project that harnesses the the power of data to answer these three key questions, providing a multi-dimensional snapshot of women's public service leadership in 75 countries. The report author presented some of their findings. One finding is the need for more gender-disaggregated data as a foundation (for example, there is no way to know how many female federal judges are at the national level). Perceptions of government and of women effect ability to achieve gender parity in government and beyond. Data 2x is one response to this problem. They also find a correlation between women's leadership and good governance - better governed countries have more women leaders.
- Currently there are a few ways that gender equality is being worked on through the Open Government Partnership. In some countries, there is an emphasis on encouraging the participation of women's groups. One of Sri Lanka's current OGP commitments is a law for a minimum of 25% women's participation in local politics. Another country included a participatory assessment of gender-based violence services by women's groups. And in Cote d'Ivoire, an OGP commitment focuses on involving women's groups to participate in local participatory budgeting and setting their budget priorities. However there is still tremendous untapped potential to leverage OGP to advance gender equality, and this is something Canada plans to emphasize when they become OGP co-chair later this year.
- Work to increase women's political participation should occur simultaneously at 3 different levels: changing attitudes (to support the notion of women in politics); at the institutional level (making sure government institutions are representative of their full populations including women); and encouraging more women themselves to run for office and help other women running for office. And how can open government efforts better link up with popular movements for gender equality? One way may be to emphasize the concept of "open government for all" - to emphasize how open government can respond to the needs of historically marginalized groups.
- Why don't women run for office more around the world? One reason is they don't know how, but another reason is because they think it won't make a difference and their system still won't be able to hear their voice. So its incumbent on all of us to help change these perceptions and the instuitutions themselves to achieve greater gender parity and open government.
OGP in the United States (OpenGov Week event)
- The public was indeed solicited for its input in the drafting of the 3rd US National Action Plan, however there was a lack of government feedback on the recommendations citizens gave of issues to prioritize. In other words, there was some consultation but no active collaboration in producing this Action Plan, which was published in October 2015 and implemented between 2015-2017.
- Overall, this 3rd US National Action Plan was more ambitious than previous plans, with a total of 52 commitments spanning a wide range of issue areas from climate data to FOIA, health care, higher education, policing and more. However, the rate of implementation of these commitments was lower than in previous years. Some areas that experience regression included the inability to make WethePeople (the White House online petition platform) more accessible, and the reduced follow through on EITI commitments regarding natural resources disclosure.
- In terms of outcomes, there were major improvements in some areas. For example, new legislation on whistleblowing, the release of nonprofit tax data, the Police Data Initiative (which includes over 130 local police departments across the country and over 200 datasets), and more. The final evaluation report is currently open for comment here.
- Where do we go from here? Recommendations are to improve the mechanisms for participation, including the working group to meet at least 4 times per year. And having the government providing a reasonable response to major areas of assessment. The IRM would also like to see agencies move toward real-time reporting of their progress toward fulfilling commitments. the IRM also recommends moving more toward a multi-stakeholder governance structure, and move toward the federal agencies having more ability to lead on fulfilling their individual commitments, rather than all the work being centralized through the White House.
Why do so many governments struggle with delivering the most basic, needed services to their people? And how can development practitioners better support the building of state institutions that can better do so?
The Open Gov Hub is pleased to host a book talk on Building State Capability with co-author Michael Woolcock of the World Bank and Harvard Kennedy School, and a panel discussion with diverse perspectives to address these questions.
Read the full write up of the event here.
Accountability Lab's Integrity Idol Screening: South Africa
- Integrity Idol is an innovative global campaign run by citizens in search of honest public servants. Integrity Idol began in Nepal in 2014, spread to Liberia in 2015 and has now evolved into a global campaign that is currently in 6 countries and has been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide.
- Over the last year, Accountability Lab ran the first ever Integrity Idol Campaign in South Africa. After nominations were received from all of the country and nominees were thoroughly vetted, we are now in the final stage of the campaign where citizens get to vote for their favorite honest public official from 5 finalists.
- These videos inspiringly highlight the unsung public servants who are working often thankless jobs every day to improve their communities. In doing so, Integrity Idol campaigns can help improve public perceptions of government, and help inspire young people to want a career in government.
Promoting the Right to Information in Pakistan
- The first effort toward freedom of information began as an ordinance in 1997, but the first round of actual implementation began in 2002 and second round began in the last few years, with state's beginning to implement their own FOI ordinances at the more local level.
- The Center for Law and Democracy produces a Global RTI (right to information) Rating that compares many different countries based on how strong their RTI legislation and implementation are.
- Youth engagement has helped bring RTI to life - for example, even after the law was passed, the commission actually responsible to implement RTI in Punjab did not have anyone appointed for over one year, but through social media pressure young people raised awareness to this and helped get commissioners appointed.
Every year RightsCon brings together activists, technologists, policy makers, and business and government representatives to talk about the current state of human rights in the digital age.Members from the Open Gov Hub community attended this year's RightsCon in Toronto on May 16-18, and we want to share all that we learned (or didn't learn) with you during this brownbag lecture. Dhanaraj Thakur (Web Foundation), Kristi Arbogast (Open Gov Hub), and Ulrich Mans (Political & Legal Advisor on Human Rights and UN Affairs) presented.
- RightsCon is the world's largest annual conference focused on digital rights (with 2500 attendees this year), and attending is a great way to get a sense of the emerging issues in this field. It is organized by Access Now and originated with a key focus on internet access, but now has a broadened focus on 'human rights in the digital age.' There were 18 topical tracks at the conference. Because this is such a broad scope, it's likely that different subsets of people will break off to specialize in different issues within that umbrella.
- Hubbers who attended RightsCon shared several things that stood out to them. New York is the first city in the world to establish a task force to review every single automated decision making algorithm to see if any violate the city's existing anti-discrimination laws, stay tuned to see how this develops. Most efforts focused on increasing internet access is more focused on mobile - this forces you to think about formatting differently, and constraints around mobile data access. Many conversations centered around the increased production of fake or manipulated content - one way to respond is tactics to verify or authenticate original content, and the other way to respond is focusing on educating viewers/users to better differentiate. There is also a tension with the majority activist community at RightsCon who on the one hand wants to respond to disinfoinformation but at the same time is wary of legal restrictions on hate speech. Data privacy was also a clear focus (especially with GDPR about to be implemented), but some people have limited understanding of the existing government efforts to regulate. It would be helpful to bring more government representatives to these conversations. A number of panels also focused on bots, one of which focused on the positive uses of bots for example to increase citizen engagement on public policy development or transparency (ex: every time an agency awards a new contract that information could automatically be tweeted out publicly). There are 3 general ways to begin to hold algorithms accountable: by examining who is actually writing the code that produces the accountability; examining if the data the algorithm is based on is biased or not; or by examining the impact of the algorithm on the human rights of the end user/person affected by it.
- The Hubbers who reported out felt there were too many overlapping panels with limited preparation and think the organizers should consider vetting conference session proposals in the future. A number of session organizers couldn't attend because they couldnt receive visas in time. Two overall challenges stood out: 1) Conversations on human rights and tech often ignore the contexts of low and middle income countries - data from lower income countries often skews more toward more wealthier, male, english speakers who are online in these places, so if you develop algorithms based on these data those algorithms will continue to skew toward certain groups. 2) We also have a tendency to propose more technology to address the ethics and rights concerns that come from technology (ex: people propose using AI to solving social issues related to AI). But are there reasons to be optimistic? Yes, since at least there is a move to make privacy the default with new social media, and making privacy by design (Cambridge Analytica and similar incidents have helped move this forward).