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The White House Spotlights "Labs of Democracy"

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, November 24 2009

U.S. Deputy CIO for open government Beth Noveck surveys the landscape, finding experiments in participatory democracy bubbling up throughout these United States:

Inspired by the President’s call for more open government, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts launched its data catalogue, following in the footsteps of Washington, DC, San Francisco, New York, and elsewhere around the country (as well as cities in Canada and the UK), to provide public access to information by and about government. What makes this exciting is not merely having transportation information available in machine-readable formats, but that professional and amateur enthusiasts can then get together, as they did last weekend, to create new software applications and data visualizations to better enable public transit riders to track arrival times for the next subway, bus, or ferry. Publishing government information online facilitates this kind of useful collaboration between government and the public that transforms dry data into the tools that improve people’s lives. (For another great example, check out what happened when we published the Federal Register for people to use.)

The National Association of State CIOs is helping to spur this movement toward greater data transparency at the state level by publishing “Guidance for Opening the Doors to State Data.”

Just as the federal government is using online brainstorming with government employees and the public to generate ideas for saving money or going green, state and local governments are also using new technology to tap people’s intelligence and expertise. The City of Manor, Texas (pop. 5800) has launched “Manor Labs,” an innovation marketplace for improving city services.  A participant can sign up to suggest “ideas and solutions” for the police department, the municipal court, and everything in between. Each participant’s suggestion is ranked and rewarded with “innobucks.” These innobucks points can be redeemed for prizes: a million innobucks points wins “mayor for the day” while 400,000 points can be traded for a ride-along with the Chief of Police.

Exciting stuff, and one tangible outgrowth of President Obama's call for more open government does seem to be the freedom and inspiration it has delivered unto those working at all levels of government. To get at the actual links to the projects and programs Noveck mentions, though, you'll have to click through to her original post. The White House still insists on attaching warning notices to every external link on Obama Administration sites, which messes up the underlying code and makes it more difficult for normal folk to remix and reuse what the White House open government team is putting out into the world. There's an irony in there somewhere...