This teleconference dealt with new exciting work on addressing a perennial problem: how do people who want to participate in government find out when issues they care about are being discussed? Currently, one has to visit a dozen or more web pages (all in different formats) or get oneself to a physical bulletin board. Initiatives such as Somerville Voice’s Beat Reporter rely upon individual initiative to “scrape” information from multiple sources and consolidate them onto separate pages. This is very labor intensive.
This working group, associated with e-democracy.org and eCitizenFoundation.org, is assembling a set of technical standards and best practices that, if widely adopted by city, state, and federal governments, would allow citizens to subscribe to a set of meetings they care about and receive timely notifications and agendas early enough to participate. If fully developed, citizens could even comment in advance on issues, and their comments be bundled as part of the meeting materials.
At this teleconference, we commented on the October 29 2010 version of their guidelines. The requirements have three aspects: business, legal, and technology. Key standards:
- All pages should be both human and machine readable.
- Each page should have a unique URL.
- Each use of the page should link to a single authoritative version.
- Each jurisdiction should have a unique URL
- If printed, each page should have a machine processable barcode.
As the presenter demonstrated, bar codes are easy to produce online. This is the QR code for Somerville Voices, which I generated in under a minute at http://www.terryburton.co.uk/barcodewriter/generator/:
Among the points I raised was that meeting notices should not only be presented accessibly but should include information about meeting location accessibility. Others suggested physical descriptions of locations and aggregators by accessibility.
There was strong Massachusetts representation at the meeting. One of the conveners, Daz Greenwood, taught at the Media Lab at MIT and worked with Somerville City Hall on open source presentation of notices and agendas. Another mentioned the new Open Government law out of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. Another, out of Cape Cod, is working with ustransparency.com. Elsewhere, people are working on projects like a Vancouver open data initiative, a New York City universal lookup service, and efforts such as federalregister.gov, xml.org, and publicinfo.org.
The group is looking for:
- Input on the current proposal, particularly from government agencies that announce meetings.
- Current examples of online meeting notices and agendas.
- A pilot project for a group that wants to start publishing meetings and agendas on line or wants to improve how they are doing it.
- Input on accessibility issues.
- Input on making this information usable by nontechnical people.
For more information, see:
- P3: Public Meetings – Open Standard and Prototype Technical Working Group Home
- Public Meeting Notices and Agendas Wiki Page