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Transparency Roundup

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Virginia Cleans up in Digital Cities Competition
Virginia localities once again performed very well in the Center for Digital Government’s annual Digital Cities survey.

The 10th annual survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government and Government Technology,measures and assesses the use of information technology by local governments.
Not so long ago, governments could justify spending on e-government if it made lives easier and more convenient, or if it allowed a new service that was previously impossible. Now it’s not so simple, thanks to the struggling economy.
Today, showing that a project delivers“hard-dollar” returns has become more important. Consequently this year’s survey focused on measurable achievements.

In the 125,000-249,999 Population Category:

  • Richmond ranked 1st
  • Norfolk ranked 3rd
  • Hampton ranked tied for 5th
  • Alexandria ranked 6th

In the 75,000-124,999 Population Category Roanoke ranked 8th.
In the 30,000-74,999 Population Category:

  • Lynchburg ranked 2nd
  • Danville ranked 3rd

Overall, 7 Virginia cities were cited, most of any state. California cities received 6 citations and Texas cities 5.
With the 2010 elections behind us, the time has come for Virginia to focus on the decennial task of redrawing the district boundries for both Congressional and Statehouse seats.

  • With an eye towards making the redistricting process easier to follow, the Virginia Public Access Project has launched a redistricting portal.

VPAP’s new resource will allow citizens to follow the redistricting process and better understand the effect on their community.
There is a video that explains the process, an archive of news articles, and updates about redistricting of city and county electoral districts.

There also are interactive maps that show how population trends will shift seats — and power — to Northern Virginia.

  • For people who want to try their own hand at making the lines work, Dave Bradlee has released and incredible, free redistricting app. The app allows users to alter lines based on the projected results of the 2010 Census and to increase the number of districts in the state to try their hand at drawing House of Delegates or State Senate districts, as well as Congressional Districts.
  • After having spent quite a bit of time playing with the Dave’s Redistricting App, Waldo Jaquith gives us some thoughts on what an ideal redistricting process would look like.

After getting sucked into Dave’s Redistricting App for a couple of hours, I’m left wondering about all of the factors that ought to be taken into account when creating districts. In particular, congressional districts, due to their size, but I suppose I’m wondering all around, too. What I’ve come up with so far are:

  • Over at Virginia Statehouse News Stephen Groves takes a look at what redistricting means for candidates looking at running in 2011.

In Virginia, the General Assembly rushes through the process because new districts have to be approved for the looming summer primaries. Once Virginia gets the official data from the census in February or March, they must pass new districts and have it approved by the Department of Justice in a few months. This leaves many potential candidates wondering what their new district will look like.

Local Government 2.0

On his very first day in office, January 21, 2009, President Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, calling on all federal government agencies to begin mapping out how to make valuable information available online and solicit public feedback. Since then, though, advocates have bemoaned the pace of progress in D.C. The response to this call for open data has been uneven; some agencies, such as the EPA, released robust blueprints for becoming more responsive and transparent, while others have resisted any plan. Some high-profile gov 2.0 appointees have already left their government posts. “We are 20 months into the administration, and it’s time for us to begin to see some of this stuff,” says Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, the most prominent transparency advocate in Washington.

But transparency activists and programmers aren’t waiting for a superman to emerge from the capitol. Instead, folks like Pahlka are making gov 2.0 happen now — at the local level.

As the theory behind local Gov 2.0 tools evolves, so does the industry — and it remains to be seen if the market and the way its understood will mature at the same rate. The Fast Company article is a good starting point for people to get up to speed on how technology is being applied in local government around the country, and worth a read.

“In the near future, collaboration among different jurisdictions in standardizing data across local, county, state, and international boundaries will pose significant challenges,” said Newberry. “I do not think these are insurmountable.”

  • In another smart take on the power of data at the local level, Wired Magazine takes a look at one of the biggest advances in local government recently; New York City’s 311 system.

If anyone still wondered whether the 311 concept was here to stay, New York’s 100 millionth call should have dispelled all doubts. So, for that matter, should the other 300-plus public call centers now in operation across the US. For millions of Americans, dialing 311 has become almost as automatic as 411 or 911. But—as New York learned in the maple syrup incident—the hundreds of millions of calls also represent a huge pool of data to be collected, parsed, and transformed into usable intelligence. Perhaps even more exciting is the new ecosystem of startups, inspired by New York’s success and empowered by 21st-century technology, that has emerged to create innovative ways for residents to document their problems. All this meticulous urban analysis points the way toward a larger, and potentially revolutionary, development: the city built of data, the crowdsourced metropolis.

What does Wikileaks mean for open government?
At Tech President Nancy Scola takes a look at what the recent Wikileaks disclosures mean for the Open Government movement in this country.

there’s a considerable body of information that by common agreement the public should have access to but doesn’t, whether that’s state and federal legal code or details on federal contracts or specifics on who the Federal Communication Commission offers telecom licesenses to. That information difficult to get to, or make sense of, often because of the logistics of where it’s stored (offline, for example) or the format that it’s in. You can look at that body of information as material that’s been pre-negotiated to be public, but just isn’t yet. That’s a core aspect of “open government” that doesn’t really seem to be implicated by the sort of endeavor that Julian Assange and Wikileaks has going on here.

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