Tag Archives: Sunshine Week 2015

Sunshine Week focus on local efforts to make transparency happen

With good reason, Minneapolitans care about the health and welfare of their trees. Some wonder if the trees on the boulevard belong to the homeowner, the city or the Park Board. Residents can now learn this and more with a quick click on the City’s open portal, just one of scores of data files readily accessible online – and a taste of what is to come as the city expands the portal’s possibilities for data users.

Hopes and hype were high when the City of Minneapolis launched its open portal to data by and about the city. The expectation, if not the plan, was that inquiring minds would have ready access to massive banks of data essential to their work or personal lives. Though the endorsement of the City Council and staff is a commendable first step, the proverbial – and predictable – devil is in the details. Sunshine Week spurs us to capitalize on that first step – and to reflect on how we fulfill the promise of transparency and accountability as a goal for which the City and residents share responsibility.

For the past decade Sunshine Week (March 16-25) has challenged Americans to focus on transparency as the bedrock of our democratic government. During Sunshine Week we pause to reflect that the fundamental premise goes back to the nation’s forefathers whose vision was that, in a democracy, we the people – as defined in 18th Century terms – rule. To do so, today’s more inclusive “we” need to know what is going on with our government because we are the deciders. Life in the digital age calls for back-to-basics thinking about the idea of open government – the intent, scope, limits, barriers and mechanics of implementing systems that fulfill the promise and meet the real needs of the people governed.

In Minneapolis, the recent prominence of open data on the public agenda can be credited to a great extent to the work of volunteer coders, many working through OpenTwinCities, a local affiliate of CodeforAmerica. Their commitment and persistence raised public awareness to the point at which the staff and City Council launched the much heralded data portal. The measure of success of that portal is simple: the extent to which any user is able to find and use data created or collected by the city.

As has happened on a mega-scale with other open government launches, there were technical problems at the outset, glitches ably handled by City technology staff who moved quickly to the rescue. And there have been other problems, including some users’ dissatisfaction with missing documentation, the coder’s guide to how the data are configured. Of greater concern is the fact that, as use of the system expands, some City departments have not yet provided essential data; many more have been slow to eliminate barriers that stymie the seeker. By any measure it is clear that today’s portal offers promise, but not yet the full potential of open government.

The first principle of open government is the presumption of openness which means that government information belongs to the people, that limits to access must be assessed and justified; attention to openness must becomes the standard “pattern or practice” of city government. Further, it is essential that information seekers trust that the information by and about their government is not tainted by vested interests. Above all, data must be in a form and format that is both useable and useful; barriers to access – whether language or disability, lack of tools or skill, or fees – must be eliminated.

This requires a cultural change. On the one hand, elected officials and dedicated civil servants throughout city government are challenged to rethink their work. Cultural change demands that supervisors at every level reconsider their priorities and those of the workers they supervise. At the policy level it is the responsibility of elected officials to hold themselves and every staff member accountable to embrace the spirit of openness. Council members and their staff need to recognize and reward transparency as a strength of Minneapolis.

For our part we voters must place high value on a system that is committed to the presumption of openness. As Minneapolis residents we are challenged to rethink our role as information receivers – and providers. It is an unaccustomed challenge for us to play a dynamic role in the reconstructed digital environment that demands us to take personal responsibility to know the rules, to provide good information to the city, and to hold our elected officials accountable for the service we elect them to perform.

Traditionally, our responsibility has been to understand physical aspects of our city – safe streets, reliable utilities, wise investments and intelligent development. The digital age demands more of the City and of us as residents.

Transparency and accountability hold great promise for Minneapolis, a city whose residents have always embraced the challenge to learn, to share ideas, and to make decisions based on the common good. Our heritage and experience validate our high expectations of open government. In this digital age, knowing more about our City gives us an edge — it plays to our strength.





Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Voice for Open Government, Vigilant Voters

Midst the cacophony that drowns out rational thinking during political campaigns I have long perked up my ears when I heard that Kathleen Hall Jamieson would be the guest commentator. In her measured, critical but positive way she invariably helps us challenged voters to make sense of the rhetoric. I am confident that, when Bill Moyers or another thoughtful interviewer asks an intelligent question, Jamieson will offer a cogent response in words well chosen to communicate meaning to the average voter. For a quick refresher on the media persona of Jamieson, view the first clip on this pre-2012 election discussion on Bill Moyers: http://billmoyers.com/content/web-extra-analyzing-debates-and-ads-in-the-elections-final-stretch/

Intrigued, eager to learn more about a scholar who was willing to share her thoughts with the average voter, I have discovered just how this unique woman continues to shape powerful resources that curb rampant misinformation, propaganda and naked lies.

Born in Minneapolis in 1946 Jamieson graduated from St. Benedict’s High School in St. Joseph, a residential school operated by the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict. She received her BA from Marquette University with an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Following a career in academia Jamieson was named Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Along the way she has authored or co-authored sixteen books and articles beyond calculation. One example is a February 2015 article “The Discipline’s Debate Contributions: Then, Now, and Next,” published in the Quarterly Journal of Speech. In that article Jamieson synthesizes some of the contributions scholarship has made to understanding televised presidential debates – learning from debates, factors that mediate audience, and the ways in which candidate debate communication forecasts the presidency of the eventual winner.

Renowned as a media guest Jamieson has been honored with a host of teaching awards. In May 2013 she spoke at the University of Minnesota Center for the Study of Politics and Governance; Eric Black’s thoughts on that presentation are an essential read for anyone who wants to understand more about what motivates – and distresses – Jamieson. (http://www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2013/05/kathleen-hall-jamieson-and-attack-fact)

What many who know Jamieson from her media appearances do not know is that, in her role as Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, she is responsible for the familiar FactCheck.org, for FlackCheck.org, the political literacy falsehood-detector, and, most recently, for SciCheck.org.

Founded in 2003 FactCheck.org was one of the first websites devoted to refuting misleading assertions about US politics. FlackCheck.org operates as a parallel resource. What’s new is SciCheck.org launched earlier this year. The mission of SciCheck.org is to evaluate the scientific claims made by politicians. This podcast and print overview of SciCheck.org affirm that the coverage is nonpartisan and bipartisan:


In a video interview with Mother Jones Jamieson “credits” another Minnesotan, Michele Bachmann, as the inspiration for SciCheck. “When Michele Bachmann made false allegations about the effects of…a vaccine, in public space on national television…the journalists in the real context didn’t know how to respond to the statement as clearly as they ought to….The time to contextualize is immediately. That [allegation] should have been shot down immediately.” Specifically, it was Bachmann’s diatribe against HPV, underscored by false scientific assertions about measles vaccine safety and her rants against climate change, that spurred the urge to nip misinformation in the bud.

In a recent episode of Mother Jones Inquiring Minds podcast Jamieson expands on the need for the media to respond with alacrity and viable facts to false claims and outright prevarications: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/02/michele-bachmann-factcheck-scicheck-inquiring-minds

Though Jamieson is tongue in cheek about Bachmann, she is serious about her concern that, in spite of the vast and valid amount of solid scientific information available, voters too often get their news from highly ideological media outlets. Especially since the Supreme Court Citizens United decision, the flow of information is subject to the heavy hand of vested interests that counter and drown out legitimate reporting on science issues.

Thus, when the Stanton Foundation, legacy of one-time CBS executive Frank Stanton, approached Annenberg, Jamieson was firm in her conviction that what the Center needed to do was “hire ‘real science journalists’ with the expertise to refute false claims and to get those corrections ‘into the bloodstream of journalism more quickly.’”  (Update: the issue of scientific viability came to a head in late February when the House passed by a vote of 229-191 the Science Advisory Board Reform Act which would effectively prevent scientists who are peer-reviewed experts in their field from providing advice to the Environmental Projection Agency.)

Meanwhile, Jamieson is at work creating a complementary strategy known called LIVA, an acronym for “leveraging, involving, visualizing, analogizing”. The intent of LIVA is to more clearly communicate the evidence and overcome the biases of communicators and receivers of science-related messages. These biases Jamieson identifies as “endpoint bias,”, the tendency to overemphasize the last point in a trend line, and the inclination to overvalue recovery from a loss. Jamieson’s goal is to leverage the credibility of well-accepted sources such as NASA, involving the audience in a visual presentation of the evidence, and using an analogy to make the conclusion clear.” The authority and impartiality of sources of information are the premise on which the LIVA method rests. The LIVA strategy is outlined in a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences co-authored by Jamieson and researcher Bruce Hardy.

Above all, Jamieson holds that the people’s right to know, to have access to accurate and unbiased sources of information by and about the government is paramount. Speaking at the University of Minnesota in 2013 Jamieson concluded:

There’s a sustained ongoing set of challenges for those who believe in the policy model in which one set of institutions is responsible for coming to know as best we can, and protecting the record, and some other set of institutions is engaged in policy making. To the extent that we don’t find some way to blunt these forces that are subverting these institutions we are going to have high levels of deception backed by large sums of money wreaking havoc with the way in which we make policy.

A wise woman’s timely challenge for Sunshine Week 2015.






Real Digital Inclusion – A challenge for transparency advocates

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect. Tim Berners-Lee W3C.

Some fundamental first principles:

1) The idea of digital inclusion is more expansive than we sometimes imagine; in fact, digital inclusion encompasses the right to appropriate access to the content made available through technology.   The distinction between availability and accessibility is at the core of the right of people with disabilities to receive, manipulate and share content.

2) Because the Web can either remove or erect barriers to communication and interaction the potential of today’s technology is radically and exponentially changed. Our thinking must do the same.

3) What’s good for people with physical and mental challenges will often enhance the lives of a broader constituency including seniors, people who live in remote or developing areas or who speak and read other than mainstream languages.

Because most of my waking hours are devoted to thinking about access to information by and about the government, the lens through which I see the world focuses on the inclusion of all as active participants in this democratic society. My mantra echoes the words of President Woodrow Wilson who reminded us that “government ought to be all outside and no inside.”

Thus it seems to me that Sunshine Week, March 15-21, 2015, presents a ready opportunity to connect the dots between digital inclusion and efforts to ensure the people’s right to know. Sunshine Week is a concerted effort by journalists and other open government advocates to shine light on the people’s right to know. (http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/blog/mary-treacy/thoughts-sunshine-week-2015-wwjmd) The problem: the unique needs of people with disabilities, and the potential of evolving technology to assure access, has remained in the shadows of the inclusion narrative. It’s time to connect the dots – to feature assistive technology as a key feature of the Sunshine Week agenda.

Clearly, advocates for open government must be in the front lines in the drive to expand the concept of digital inclusion to encompass the needs and potential of people with mental and physical challenges. Information by and about the government belongs to all the people; it is the responsibility of government at every level to embrace the potential of technology to remove barriers to access.

Linking the ideas and tools of assistive technology and open government is a poignant example of the challenge we face to create opportunities and incentives for new partnerships. In an era of warp-speed technological – and political – change, a world in which the web is pervasive, the stakes for users and government alike are great. The opportunities to learn and engage accrue to all concerned.

Last weekend I was able to participate in a workshop on assistive technology sponsored by Open Twin Cities and Hennepin County. There local and state accessibility experts described their accomplishments and hopes while coders shared ideas and skills to create apps that will assist people with differing abilities to navigate the enormous resources of the web. The energy in the group of nearly 50 enthusiastic coders engaged in a common cause was palpable.

Next step is for those who choose to drink more deeply of the Pierean stream to delve more deeply into the resources that Web access promises. At the risk of overload, here are some useful resources that can pave the way for those who want to further explore the how-to’s and why’s of web accessibility.

WAI – The Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI/)

brings together individuals and organizations from around the world to develop strategies, guidelines, and resources. WAI engages representatives from industry, disability organizations, education, government, and research. The virtual door is open to all.

First Monday (www.FirstMonday.org) Started in 1996 this is one of the first openly accessible, peer–reviewed journals on the Internet, solely devoted to the Internet. First Monday is global in scope, indexed in a host of readily accessible reference sources.

Computers in Libraries (http://www.infotoday.com/cil2014/) The 30th Computers in Libraries conference is scheduled for Washington DC, April 2015. See also the journal of the same name. (http://infotoday.stores.yahoo.net/cominlibmags.html)

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Department of Economic and Social Affairs © United Nations 2008 -2015 (http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml)

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished!  Benjamin Franklin.






Thoughts on Sunshine Week 2015 – WWJMD?

The sun has shone and the sun has hidden behind many a bureaucratic and political cloud since the launch of Sunshine Week a decade ago. The decade has experienced cosmic change ranging from Wikileaks and Snowden to the emergence of open government groups such as Code for America to the President’s National Action Plan for Open Government to a last minute failure of the 113rd Congress to pass the FOIA Improvement Act.

Constant vigilance inspires Sunshine Week sponsors to join forces to plan for Sunshine Week 2015, March 15-21.

Ten years seems a propitious time to reflect on the basic principles as well as the visible manifestations of Sunshine Week including thoughtful editorials, inside the Beltway events, state and local awards, and the many examples of collaborative focus on a fundamental principle of this democracy.

It’s also a reminder to get back to basics — I think of it as a sort of WWJMD? (What Would James Madison Do?) approach to Sunshine Week 2015.   The focus on Madison stems from the fact that the celebration of Sunshine Week is set to coincide with his birthday on March 16. Besides Madison has always been my go-to thinker on the sometimes elusive permutations of the freedom of information tenet. (http://www.twincities.com/opinion/ci_14680391)

My reflections have been informed and reinforced by a treasure collected and distributed by FreedomInfo.org. (http://www.freedominfo.org/resources/freedominfo-org-list-quotes-freedom-information/) The thoughtful staffers there have produced a robust collection of freedom of information quotes, arranged chronologically from the 18th Century to the present. “Light on ponderous material from the preambles of laws” the listing of quotes is lively, inclusive, and open-ended, inviting those who care about such things to add their own.   FreedomInfo’s collection is great reinforcement for my personal WWJMD? Challenge and a must for any group grappling with plans for Sunshine Week 2015.

The other indispensable resource for Sunshine Week planners is the abundant assistance provided by Debra Gersh Hernandez who has been the illuminating presence since the pre-dawn of the national Sunshine Week initiative. Deb is responsible for the Sunshine Week website (http://rcfp.org) and for the steady flow of tweets that keep the ideas and energy flowing from Sunshine Week planners around the nation.

A bit of background: Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Prime movers are freedom of information proponents including journalists, civic socity groups, libraries and archives, government officials, schools and universities, and an expanding cohort of advocates for transparency and accountability at every level of government. Key players at the federal level are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of News Editors, organizations that welcome inclusion of the broadest possible circle of interest and activity. Sunshine Week 2015 is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation along with The Gridiron Cub and Foundation.

Sponsors and past participants in Sunshine Week offer a host of ideas and support materials, including an Idea Bank of “bright ideas” from a decade of Sunshine Week experience and a “Toolkit” rich with op ed pieces, editorial cartoons, logos, icons, sample proclamations and more. There is also a virtual catalog of Freedom of Information in action – samples of how federal and state freedom of information laws have been put to work to expose and resolve real life problems.

Back to my decentennial deliberations — WWJMD?   Admittedly, James Madison would have some catching up to do. On the one hand, he would hold the nation’s leaders feet to the fire, demanding that they move on passage of the bipartisan Freedom of Information Improvement Act sponsored by Senators Leahy and Cornyn. He would stoke up the heat under the President’s commitment to transparency as stated in the National Action Plan for Open Government.

Madison would applaud the unstinting work of state coalitions and national civic society efforts to keep the heat on – and to work with global freedom of information initiatives. And he would welcome the energy and commitment of the nation’s newest open government enthusiasts who are raising issues and developing new tools to make government information more accessible to more people. Most of all, he would work with leaders to make sure that all the players and stakeholders are at the table, talking with, not past, each other.

With specific reference to Sunshine Week 2015 Madison, the global thinker, would concur with British philosopher Jeremy Bentham who wrote that “without publicity, no good is permanent; under the auspices of publicity, no evil can continue.” (1768)