Tag Archives: Open Data

Open data opens opportunities for small business

You know it’s holiday shopping season when the toy commercials start popping up to lure toddlers, Thanksgiving dinner has to be moved up so shoppers can get to the mall and small business owners remind the shopping public of their unique merchandise and contributions to the main street economy.

Saturday, November 29 is Small Business Shopping Day https://www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday, a day to shop local and a prompt to highlight the data/information resources that government agencies provide independent business entrepreneurs and developers.

Admittedly there’s more information than small business people have time to ferret out; still, it’s a worth noting that wise use of good information pays handsomely in terms of time and investment saved and income produced. Bill Gates, who once qualified as a small businessman, has pointed out that good advice, combined with good ideas, is the secret of success.

Good advice is the purported business of several government agencies, programs and resources. Small Business Shopping Day offers a reminder to take critical look at the good advice, the data, the outreach, priorities, and online resources of the SBA and of other agencies designed to support small business.

The Small Business Administration is most obvious first step for advice. SBA is the nerve center of a vast distributed network of helping agencies, including Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Centers, US. Export Assistance Centers, Minority Business Development Centers, programs for people with disabilities, for American Indians, even a web-based Young Entrepreneur Series. SBA also supports and works closely with SCORE, an independent nonprofit that matches retired executives with entrepreneurs.

Perhaps best known of SBA’s program is the small business loan program. For example, small business developers need to know that federal government procurement contracts for small businesses; 23% of prime contracts are earmarked for small business, with funds set aside for women-owned, disadvantaged and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

The SBA website offers a wide mix of chats, videos, training on how and why to start a business, the basics of entrepreneurship, how to hire and fire, taxes, contracts, regulations, lots about patents and copyrights, intellectual property rights, even a training session on how to “get out” with tips on how to close the door when the time has come.

With an eye to the nature of many digital age small business new sites have sprung up; examples include the Intellectual Property Rights Center (http://www.iprcenter.gov) and Stopfakes (http://www.stopfakes.gov.) which deals in part with trade negotiations and international commerce.

Small business developers who are interested in knowing more about export opportunities can tap into Business USA, (http://business.usa.gov) launched in October 2011 to make it easier for America’s small businesses and exporters to access government services.

For information seekers encounter problems or want to understand their right to know, SBA offers a useful online guide to the agency’s requirements and procedures as defined in the SBA’s compliance for the Freedom of Information Act. http://www.sba.gov/about-sba/sba_performance/open_government/foia/general_foia_information

Clearly, timely information is an indispensable tool for the entrepreneur. At the same time, keeping an eye on the quality and accessibility of government information is the business of any concerned member of the public who cares about a robust economy fueled by the energy and ideas of small business people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The OK Cast Shares the Open Systems Message – and Spirit!

To know Alex Fink, even a bit, is to want to share his ideas, his spirit and his work – specifically his amazingly energetic podcast series.  The challenge is to do justice to his work!  So I’m just going to focus on the podcast – an exemplary application of a format with which I am enamored.

Alex Fink is a PhD student in Youth Studies at the University of Minnesota.  His focus is on “methods of making research to document injustice and resistance available to young people to create social change.”  My first brush with Alex’s thoughts was in notes re. social justice he posted on the Code for America/Open Twin Cities  listserv.

Next I learned about his newish podcast venture, a one-person operation in which he explores the range of open information/data issues – “the political economy and ecology of data, including data collection, data use, data access/sharing, data economics, and the ideologies surrounding it.”  In other words, Alex is actually putting a face on open data and open government.

To wit:  The OK Cast (as in Open Knowledge) is a bi-weekly podcast, of which Alex serves as both host and editor. The growing list of podcast topics now includes sessions on global integrity, participatory politics, visualizing information, the possibilities and practice of open planning – and more.

Backing up the podcast is the OK Cast blog, presented “with the goal to explore, connect, use and inspire open knowledge projects around the world to develop the public commons, improve organization and government transparency and communication, and advocate for social justice and social activism.”  It almost goes without saying that Alex is readily accessible on Twitter @TheOKCast

Make no small plans, is a motto that befits the work of Alex Fink.  My hope is that those who care about open government, broadly defined, will check out the visually stimulating blog and the aurally enlightening podcasts that this one visionary is harnessing basic technology to share and to inspire others.

Minneapolis Candidates 2013: Assessing their Access Agenda

Open Twin Cities (http://www.opentwincities.org/) is an assemblage of local hackers with a timely cause – to harness technology for the public good.  The group involves geeks, hackers, public employees and activists willing to put their technological expertise – and political influence – on the line to make change happen.  Their current initiative falls into the latter category and meets one of the group’s goals: to “lead a public discussion on open data and civic technology.”

Members of Open TC’s have mounted an aggressive campaign to raise candidates’ awareness of the basics.  In a questionnaire sent to candidates for Minneapolis Mayor and City Council the group poses a lengthy list of questions intended to raise candidates’ concern for the implicit, even esoteric, details of what it takes to assure citizens’ access to downloadable city data, which is collected by, and for the public good.

The idea is basic:  the city, like every public entity, collects mountains of data about virtually every function of city government, from crime statistics to street repair, from public transit patterns to who uses water resources, from building codes to neighborhood development.  Historically, the massive data resources have been available but not accessible, i.e. residents need to make a formal request, and probably pay for, access.  Technology can either facilitate or create barriers for public access to public information.

The movement to make public data accessible has taken on momentum as groups such as Open Twin Cities have stepped forward.  Committed access advocates in cities throughout the nation are pushing public entities at every level to publish datasets on websites and data portals.  They are actively demonstrating ways in which a concerned citizen, neighborhood group, or activist can download and manipulate the information that belongs to the people in the first place.

It is axiomatic within the movement that action requires knowledge and commitment of decision-makers to make change happen.  Thus, the questionnaire to prospective elected officials (http://bit.ly/MplsOpenDataQuestions.) raises some probing questions that elected officials need to consider.  The mailing includes some FAQs for candidates who may need a review of the concepts. Results, due by October 1, will be posted and shared with the media.

The intent of Open Twin Cities is to raise awareness and to generate discussion.  It remains to members of the public to seize the opportunity to join the access dialog by letting the squadrons of candidates know that access matters to the voters and to their prospective constituents.  Concerned citizens need not know the mechanics or how to make access happen within the city’s labyrinthine structures.  The devil in the details remains to the experts.  What the candidates need to know is that information matters, that good information leads to better decisions, and that the public, armed for action, will build a better community.

The bottom line is simple: public information in whatever format belongs to the people.  The technology exists to conceal the information, to use it for internal purposes only, to let it lie fallow, or to give it life by putting it to work in the hands of caring residents.  Informed residents offer the best hope – the only hope – of solving the city’s problems.  Today’s challenge to elected officials is establish as a priority strategies to make good information accessible – useful – to constituents of good will committed, as every candidate purports to be, to the public good.