October 2009 E-Democracy News — Hot Topics

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Hot Topics: October 2009

Editor’s Choice: 50 most influential Britons in technology

The Telegraph recently published a two-part series on the most influential Britons in the technology realm. It’s an eclectic and interesting mix of movers and shakers in large organizations and a handful of innovators in the e-democracy world.

Number one is a slam dunk:  Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who developed HTML and the World Wide Web in 1990. He still oversees the World Wide Web Consortium, which sets standards for the Web.

But the rest of the list includes several members of parliament, other government officials, and a few notable innovators, including Tom Steinberg, who has created mysociety.org and whatdotheyknow.com (see item below); Iain Dodsworth, creator of Tweetdeck (my personal favorite Twitter aggregator); Tanya Byron, psychologist and government advisor; Kevin Marks, who was an engineer for Technorati; and Pete Cashmore, creator and blogger at Mashable.

The list also contains interesting insight (particularly for the non-Brit like me) into the political dynamics and potential positions of power some on the list might be placed in.

Check out part 1 and part 2 of the list.

EU to define e-government priorities

The European Union (EU) ministerial conference will define the main priorities for e-government activities over the next three years on Nov. 19-20, 2009.

Several sites have posted about the EU’s public call for public input on the delivery of public services online, including the Pan-European Participation Network’s post.

For more information on the EU conference, visit the meeting website.

An easier to use Federal Register?

Thanks to Steve Clift for posting this item that identifies some new features about the Federal Register, the official legal publication for the Executive Branch of government in the United States.

The range of items is quite broad – each year 80,000 pages of presidential disaster declarations, poverty-limit designations, agency rules, notices of public meetings, etc. are published. Anyone who does business with the government relies on the Federal Register for these pieces of information, as well as advertisements for proposals to provide government services under contract.

Ed O’Keefe from the Washington Post writes about an effort to take archived versions of the register back to 2000 and store them in XML, which allows that information to be displayed by other Web sites. Think widgets and mashups.

Report on e-government services

Thanks to Steve Clift for posting about the French Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report on e-government services.

Essentially, the report  looks at efforts of governments within the OECD (30 member countries in Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America) to expand their e-government services. Many went into it with an organizational focus to reduce costs and improve services. However, the report shows low use. The report shows the evolution of e-government services to a more user-centric  experience.

Defining E-Democracy

Members of British Parliament are inviting voters in Great Britain to send them information on how e-democracy should work.

The Committee on House of Commons Reform has issued the formal call for evidence on issues it should continue, particularly regarding its methods for enabling the public to become more involved in debates and proceedings.

Specifically, members of parliament are considering an e-petition system of some kind.

Read the full Computing article.

Flashmobs target Merkel

During the final days of the German election campaign, incumbent German Chancellor Angela Merkel was being confronted with a modern era method of quickly organizing groups of people – flashmobs.

Flashmobs are groups of people summoned over the Internet to gather at a place and time. In Germany, these groups were waving flags and banners, and heckling Merkel.

Typically, these gatherings tend to be informal, non-serious gatherings more for fun than for a specific cause. However, at least one blogger, quoted by Reuters, noted that more serious and substantive motivations are behind these impromptu gatherings.

Read the Reuters article describing the phenomenon.

Public data in Australia

The New South Wales government in Australia is beginning a process to catalog all the sets of public data it collects and has also committed to making that information available to the public.

The portal, data.nsw.gov.au, includes information on what’s currently available and when the remaining information will be.

The impetus was a recent event held by parliamentary officials to identify a long-term roadmap for Government 2.0 strategies.

Read the full article on IT Wire.

Freedom of Information made easy

If you haven’t yet discovered www.whatdotheyknow.com, it’s definitely worth a look, even if you don’t live in the UK.

The site organizes previous Freedom of Information requests from units of government in the UK – you can simply search for the BBC or the Department of Health, and see all the requests submitted, with links to the data requested.

You can also submit your own request for information to an organization right through the site. An easy-to-understand form pops up and the site include handy tips about what to include, how to focus requests, and what to avoid.

So when will someone in the US come up with a site like this? Is there one out there already?

@2.gov – mass tweet distribution

Thanks to E-Democracy.Org Executive Director Steve Clift for including an item on this service on his newswire. This innovative new service allows individuals, via their Twitter posts, to communicate their views on important issues to all their government representatives.

The site allows you to use your existing Twitter account to forward your posts to public officials in your area (determined by your zip code). Simply mention @2gov in your posts.

If you’re a registered voter, the service can validate that your message is coming from a real voter in the official’s area. The official will get formatted reports even if they’re not on Twitter.

How much Democracy 2.0 in US?

British Blogger Simon Collister has been keeping a careful eye on the Obama Administration’s aspirations for using the Web to engage more Americans in discussion of policy issues. Obama’s promises of openness in government have undoubtedly piqued the interest of both technologists and democracy advocates, but for the most part we’re all still waiting to see what this actually means.

Collister points to a post about this very issue – and while those watching this issue say the Obama administration’s response is more “muted” than some perhaps expected, a few key advancements have been moving forward, including efforts to put more public data on the Web and the ability to submit comments on pending federal legislation.

Read the full post from Delib.

Best of the Web honors announced

The Center for Digital Government in the U.S. recently released its annual Best of the Web Awards, which judges public Websites on a range of categories, including accessibility, innovation, and ease of use.

Utah snagged the first place award for a State Portal, followed by California, Arkansas, Maine and Colorado. Virginia Beach, Va., ranked number one for a City Portal and was joined by neighbor Fairfax County, Va., the number one County Portal.

Government Technology has a nice article breaking down the reasons these sites were honored.

World eDemocracy Forum announces 2009 award finalists

The World eDemocracy Forum has announced finalists for the 2009 e-Democracy Awards. The group solicits nominations for three categories – International, European and French. Among the nominees are Twitter, Obama’s new media team, Iran’s protestors, the Democracy Center, and e-participation.net.

The group will choose the winners at an assembly in the French National Assembly on Thursday, Oct. 22, in partnership with PoliticsOnline, the Politech Institute of Europe and Blog Territorial.

Read more about the nominees and the forum’s website.

To e-mail or to tweet?

Steve Clift points to an interesting Pew Center study on the Internet and Civic Engagement, which finds that e-mail still beats online social networking sites for group communication within civic groups, and the numbers are pretty overwhelming – 57 percent to 24 percent.

Steve suggests this means you need to continue investing in more “traditional” online communications, as well as the emerging ones. I’d agree – adding only that it’s important to provide a broad range of options for participation and communication – and people are going to use what they’re most comfortable with. You don’t want to lose a key constituency by being too far on the cutting edge.

Read the full Pew report and see Steve’s full DO Wire post.

Learning from the UK experience

Edward Andersson of Involve UK wrote an interesting post about how the UK’s experience in online civic engagement can provide valuable lessons for the US as it dives in, albeit a few years behind other nations.

He provides a list of five helpful principles, including some wise advice about keeping the engagement citizen-focused while still providing institutional support. He also suggests the US needs to be ready to partner with private businesses on some efforts, which also means navigating legal obligations in that relationship,

The post embraces the spirit of information sharing and collaboration – the US can learn a lot from what the UK has gone through, and hopefully avoid some of the less positive experiences.

Read more at the Involve site, including Andersson’s follow-up post.

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