Code + Collaboration – Open government is greater than the sum of its parts

The challenge of genuine, sustained, respectful collaboration, both the hope and the life blood of the information age, fascinates me. Over time I have learned to value viable collaboration and to celebrate the power of a diverse community of human beings who share the serious work it takes to identify, then achieve, a common purpose. I understand that collaboration is organic. More important, I appreciate that, while people and organizations will pay for goods and services, no one wants to pay for collaboration.

At last week’s CodeforAmerica Summit I relished the experience of serious, mature collaboration for a mighty cause, to build an open government movement. In breakouts, hackathons, formal presentations and everywhere in the hallways geeks, gurus and gawkers engage in the real work of collaboration, with little time or inclination to ponder the fact that the “labor” in the term is not by chance.

Yes, there were lots of geeks, many of them volunteers, speaking in code and acronyms, feverishly enthused about open government and apps to make that happen.   And then there were the corporate types eager to share the systems their companies have designed to expand the market by making local, state, federal, even global information more accessible to more concerned citizens.

And there were droves of representatives of the public sector – elected officials, data gurus, librarians, analysts, planners, advocacy groups concerned about everything from public transit to clean water to food shelves, public education and emergency services.

Each of these constituencies assumed personal and institutional responsibility to hold their government accountable – and to help their neighbors, communities and institutions understand and engage in the open government movement.

Some resounding themes of the CodeforAmerica 2014 Summit that stand out in my reflections:

  • Focus on the user – how designers must learn to listen to and sincerely engage users, both end users and those whose job it is to serve end users;
  • The need to embed sustainability into the system and into the environment in which the system will survive and thrive;
  • Deep respect for the commitment and role of public servants who have ideas to share but are too often constrained by the system itself;
  • The expanding and change-making role of women in the field of technology for the public good;
  • The internal connections that link the many nodes of the open government movement — the continuum that spans from the individual member of the public to a world of government information that ranges from local transit to climate change and food security;
  • The role of broadly defined collaboration among government officials, public employees, citizen activists, and the information industry.

The participants in CodeforAmerica 2014 are designing the tools that improve interactive communication between government and those governed. I hope these same folks and pioneers of their ilk will find time and support to reflect on their experiences as builders of technologies that re-order democratic systems. I also hope that these dreamers and creators will record their ideas about the capacity of the tools and the needs of the people so that together the sectors they represent will see the wisdom of collaboration as the only path if we as a society are to create an enlightened market for open government that is accountable to the public and that befits the digital promise of the world’s democracies.

Daybreak Bookstore Brightens St. Paul’s Grand Avenue

A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.

The source of this observation, skeptic Jerry Seinfeld, would be a welcome guest this evening for the grand opening of Minnesota’s newest indie, Daybreak International Bookstore at 1665 Grand Avenue in St. Paul. (http://daybreak.rabata.org)

In truth, opening festivities have been been going on all week with the Grand Opening Celebration set for later today, Friday, September 19, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. There will be live music, free food, performances by Ali & Patrick and the best and brightest of the TC’s bibliophile scene.

Though the word “unique” is much over-used, Daybreak truly deserves the adjective. For starts, the shop is organized by continent.   According to founder Tamara Gray, Daybreak “will focus on global books with themes including social justice, religion/spirituality, women’s issues, language, travel and children’s book, as well as literature.” Readers can take a break to view the news in Arabic, French, Spanish or language of choice (within reason). There will be guest appearances by scholars, book signings, performances, book clubs, language tutoring and classes on global themes. Gray adds that the hope is that Daybreak will also become a gathering place for the community.

What’s more, the bookstore is a nonprofit venture, a project of Daybreak Press, a division of Rabata (Rabata.org).

Gray brings broad experience to the book store. She manages the Rabata website and founded Daybreak Press and Ribaat, an online academic program that brings college-level Islamic learning to women around the world. Got 20 years Gray lived in Syria where she studied Islamic sacred texts and subjects. She has worked with schools globally to set up, evaluate and improve curriculum; today she is a doctoral student at the University of St. Thomas.

Store hours will be 10:00 am – 9:00pm Monday-Saturday and Noon-5:00pm Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

Historians Make History as They Gather in St. Paul

Though history’s always in the making in St. Paul the saintly city is more than ever abuzz this week with curators, archivists, preservation and conservation experts, scholars, digitizers, funders and dedicated historians of every stripe.   It’s impossible to categorize, much less describe, the thousand-plus committed attendees at the annual conference of the American Association for State and Local History meeting this week at the Crowne Plaza on the banks of the Mississippi (if you don’t count the Kellogg Boulevard speedway….)

“Greater than the Sum of Our Parts” is the intriguing theme of the conference. A few hours in the exhibits gives meaning to the phrase – the exhibitors reflect the diverse and interdependent functions that comprise the complex world of these stewards of the narrative of the nation’s towns, states and regions. The robust agenda includes programs and tours on corporate history, museums, archives, court and legal history, classrooms, interpretive centers, historic homes, military history, religious history and more.

The keynote speakers for the conference suggest the diversity of the themes and participants — Garrison Keillor keynoted today followed tomorrow by Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO of Carlson and more.   Speaker at Friday’s awards banquet is Dr. Anton Treuer, Executive Director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University and editor of the Oshkaabewis Native Journal, the only academic journal of the Ojibwe language.

There are tours and more tours – of St. Paul’s brewing history “from Pig’s Eye to Summit”, a farm tour of the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life and the Oliver Kelley farm, tours of the mighty Mississippi, the Alexander Ramsey House, several farmers’ markets and corporate museums. And there are sessions on services for people with disabilities and one session that caught my eye, a discussion entitled “Memories Matter: Our Historic Resources to Help Those with Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases.”

The exhibits range from high tech digital archives to art conservationists determined to preserve art and objects as “primary sources”, reflected but not replaced be digital reproductions (or paint-by-number replications) of the original.

Squadrons of Minnesota museum mavens, clad in sky blue water t-shirts, are everywhere welcoming the visitors, pointing out the area’s sites and eateries, telling the stories, and having the strength to get up and do what needs to be done to guarantee that the 2014 American Association for State and Local History will go down in history!

 

 

 

 

 

Go Global on September 28 – It’s International RTK Day!

More than ever, the right to know ranks as a priority with democratic people, from emerging nations in Africa to struggling democracies in Europe to U.S. Senators debating the bipartisan Freedom of Information Act. Political and social structures are overwhelmed by information and telecommunications technology that pose both solutions and threats to the people’s right to know.

The goal of International Right to Know Day, celebrated each year on September 28,  is to raise awareness of every individual’s right of access to information produced and/or held by the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. While secrets and surveillance grab the headlines, the right to know encompasses the people’s right to lift the bureaucratic veil from information about a host of critical issues — campaign expenditures, who sets the research agenda, who pays what taxes, how taxes collected are spent, clean water, climate change, consumer products, public health, services for people with disabilities, prescription and over the counter drugs, rail safety – in truth, virtually every issue faced by residents of a democracy has right to know implications. Information that is accessible is the coin of the realm of a democratic society responsible for holding its government accountable.

International Right to Know Day was established on September 28, 2002 to commemorate the establishment of the Freedom of Information Advocates Network. Representatives of 15 nations participated – Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Georgia, Hungary, India, Latvia, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Rumania, Slovakia, South Africa and US.

A dozen years later it’s worth recalling that list of organizers and assessing the growth of the collaboration. Today the members of the FOI Advocates Network include over 200 organizations and civil society organizations representing every continent on the globe. Members of the network exchange knowledge and experience as well as initiate efforts to improve standards and practices that assure the public’s right to know.

To celebrate International Right to Know Day each nation, each civil society organization, creates a unique approach – everything from academic conferences to award (including absurd awards) ceremonies and pop concerts. In some countries RTK Day has morphed to Right to Know Week. In fact, music has been composed especially for the occasion. The stories are best told on the Right to Know Day map and collage designed by the FOIA Network. https://www.google.com/search?q=right+to+know+day+map+2014&client=safari&rls=en&biw=1553&bih=999&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=-FYbVJ7WLoLtoASC4YCgBQ&ved=0CCcQsAQ)

Everything you ever wanted to know about Right to Know Day (and were afraid to ask?) can be found at www.foiadvocates.net.

It’s Constitution Day – There’s an app for that too!

For more than 200 years the American public has struggled to comprehend the full meaning of the United States Constitution. As of today, September 17, 2014, there’s an app for that – also an e-book! And they’re both free.

The 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention who signed the document on September 17, 1787, would undoubtedly rejoice as on Constitution Day (aka Citizenship Day) 2014 the Constitution and its advocates march proudly into the information age – app in hand.

The Center for Legislative Archives, home of the official records of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, has created Congress Creates the Bill a Rights, a free mobile app and eBook  available for download on iPad at the App Store. The ebook is available for download on the National Archives website and in iTunes and the iBookstore for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

As we learned in Social Studies class the path to ratification of the Constitution was not fast track. You can retrace the state-by-state ratification process here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_drafting_and_ratification_of_the_United_States_Constitution

Constitution Day dates back to 1939 and the reign of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst who proposed the holiday to be known as “I am an American Day.” The holiday was first celebrated on the third Sunday in May, 1940, a day with special focus on new Americans. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service supported and promoted the holiday so that by 1944 the Hearst-sponsored 16 minute film by that name went viral. By the end of the decade the governors of all 48 states had proclaimed the national holiday.

The name change can be credited to Olga T. Weber, a Louisville, Ohio, resident who petitioned the leaders of her city to change the date to correspond with the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. In 1953 President Eisenhower signed the law declaring Citizenship Day to be celebrated on September 17.

In more recent times Louise Leigh, an enthusiastic student of the Constitution, founded a nonprofit organization called Constitution Day, Inc. to encourage recognition of the national holiday. The combined Constitution/Citizenship Day was inaugurated in 2004 with the support of Senator Robert Byrd of Virginia who attached a supportive rider to an Omnibus Spending bill.

One condition of the law was that, on September 17 each year, the head of every federal agency will provide each employee with educational materials concerning the Constitution and that each education institution that receives federal funds will hold a program for students on Constitution Day.

With thanks to the founding fathers, to these committed Constitutionalists and the U.S. Congress, Happy Constitution Day to every American citizen, particularly the newest citizens of the Land of the Free.

 

 

For Twin Cities Readers Book Fare Trumps the State Fair!

For some among us the iconic Minnesota State Fair should eschew the politicians, dump the Skyride, douse the corndogs and replace it all with a tasteful gathering of bibliophiles, Minnesota writers, readings, book talks, exchanges of bon mots among the literati. That’s why we have the Twin Cities Book Festival, the ultimate antidote to the State Fair.

Once again Rain Taxi will restore the natural order to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds when writers, publishers, readers, booksellers and their ilk will gather for the Twin Cities Book Festival. It’s Saturday, October 11, 10:00 AM til 5:00 PM and it’s happening in some of the Fairgrounds classiest settings, including:

  • The Progress Center where there will be an all-day exhibit of publishers, magazines, literary organizations, local authors, booksellers and more.
  • And there are readings and talks on the Reading Stages in the Fine Arts Building, just next door. Participants include Julie Schumacher, Laird Hunt, Okey Ndibe, Hoa Nguyen, Steven Pinker, and an ever growing-list of authors who write for adult readers.
  • There are sites for children’s authors and activities (Michael Dahl, Chris Monroe, Phyllis Root and Lauren Stringer, to name a few),
  • Options for middle grade readers (Margi Preus and William Alexander among others)
  • And teen favorites (Marie Lu, Pete Hautman, Carrie Mesrobian and other YA authors)
  • There’s an author hub featuring Dessa, Michael Fallon, Julie Kramer, John Rosengren, Ben Weaver and who knows who else…. (If you really must know “who else” keep checking the Rain Taxi website (http://www.raintaxi.com/twin-cities-book-festival/ or Facebook for updates….)
  • So no one goes home bookless there’s a used book bonanza,

And it’s all free and open to the public!

The Festival is sponsored in part with funds from the Legacy Fund distributed through the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.

 

Young producers challenge “dominant media narratives” of their community

During the summer months you may have seen young photo-journalists focusing an eagle and a ready lens on their Northside neighborhood. These are no idle sightseers, paparazzi or voyeurs, these young people have been participants in the Digital Divide Documentary Empowerment Project. That’s a heavy duty name for a fun and educational project that’s about to premier a professional-level documentary depicting issues of inequity in North Minneapolis. The young artists’ cameras and keen eyes tell a story described as a challenge to “dominant media narratives about the community.”

Forbidden Fruit: Hidden Gems of the Northside will premiere on Tuesday, September 16, 6:30 p.m. at the Capri Theater, 2027 West Broadway Avenue in North Minneapolis. The event is free and open to the public. The documentary will be shown later on local and regional cable access channels.

The Digital Divide Project is a program of CURA: The Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, the civic technology incubator at the University of Minnesota. For more information contact Kristen Murray, program developer kmu@umn.edu 612 625 7560 — better yet, catch a sneak preview on Facebook! It’ll leave you wanting more!