Author: Nick Selby

The politics of physics (and healthcare.gov)

Photo: U.S. Health & Human Services

Photo: U.S. Health & Human Services

Since last October the U.S. media, in full orgasmic throng, has been barking madly over the fate of the Healthcare.gov rollout. There has been overwhelming and obdurate polarization around positions on issues that would, in other arenas, be viewed through the objective lens of what most agree are facts.

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Code for The Philippines: Help urgently needed

The Philippines after October 2009 typhoon. (Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/21532636@N05/4244093557/in/photolist-7t369R-7t36rD-7t74cb-7t74iG-7t74mG-7t74sY-7HgsoM-7K2Q1j-8WuxVP-7xFXo6-dzdknf-agNBqW-agKNRX-agKNPH-agKNQK-agNCbb-dkQ4TR-8nVZ1v-dLXEWX-ap9NYe-7HtqK1-g5vn4h-g5vk8d-g9TjJQ-9ARXxH-9Fecxr-83m2BS-a5yJpX-8sjPtM-brM4xa-9ARXxr-7He1jh-9Yevur-cCaEp5-cCaFuj-cCawDm-bBNCxo-crPh5h-azT6F4-bX8ctC-ft7Qgy-bqsTNt-8sjLT8-bdCDPz-7KG1uu-gueoTp-bCq8WH-9hjhub-9hga6V-azBDuq-9uefut">IFRC</a>)

The Philippines after October 2009 typhoon. (Photo: IFRC)

By now you’ve no doubt heard of the horrific consequences of super Typhoon Haiyan which has devastated the Philippines. In addition to an inconceivable death toll, thousands are displaced and without shelter.

Gia Banaag, from the Office of the President of the Philippines, and Kat Borlongan, the co-founder and CEO of Five by Five have joined forces to request a global effort from coders to create life-saving apps right now, today.

If you are a coder, a hacker or a project manager you can help make a difference from the comfort and luxury of your computer. I urge you to check this link to see what’s happening, read this PDF on the projectand to contact Kat (@katborlongan) or the resources listed on the site to volunteer your services.

Coding to make government better is fantastic. Using your skills to save lives is public service in its purest form. Here is ONE of the projects mentioned in the PDF that needs help:

Rescue coordination

This is a big issue with a lot of places that could be streamlined. What was done in the past online for rescue efforts is there were volunteers who manually monitored the hashtag #RescuePH and the latest updates sent on http://rescueph.com/, for calls for rescue. Lists manually compiled to an .xls file from both these avenues is sent to us, and we forward them to point persons in the National Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

  • The lists are compiled manually, and in our experience are not checked for duplicate entries from previous lists, entries with inadequate information, entries with the same information. etc. Maybe a way to help automate cleaning up of data?
  • Those monitoring the hashtag also have a hard time because their feeds tend to be flooded with people reminding civilians to use the hashtags and other posts not actually calling for rescue.
  • There is currently no way (aside from checking manually) that reports of people who are safe already are marked and filtered out of being added to the lists multiple times. We’ve run into problems in the past of calls for rescue being retweeted many times even though they have already been reported, and there is also no way for NDRRMC to get back and mark items on the list as resolved.
  • Because the list is unfiltered it’s given to the National RRMC for notifying of Regional RRMCs, instead of directly to the regional offices, which would be more efficient.
  • Is there a way that calls for help could be mapped so that someone out on rescue could see the nearest calls for rescue near them?

San Francisco: Driving the boundaries of open data

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

During last week’s 2013 Code for America summit at the Yerba Buena Center, officials from cities including Louisville, New York City, South Bend and New Orleans spoke about how open data had changed the complexion of their communities in public safety, citizen services and blight mapping.

Later this month, San Francisco’s Committee on Information & Technology will debate an amendment by City Supervisor Mark Farrell that beefs up the city’s groundbreaking open data ordinance. San Francisco is one of the nation’s most credible and influential voices in the open data movement, which seeks to make all data used by the government public and machine-readable.

This might not sound exciting, but it is a very big deal.

Open data drives economic opportunity, increases transparency and oversight of government activity from the obvious to the arcane. With open data, citizens can see not just how the sausage is made, but how the permits got issued to make it, what the government said about it and how much, specifically, it cost. Without open data, cops in one city don’t know that the guy they just ticketed for an open bottle of beer in the park is a sex offender from the next county who is banned from being in parks, or a wanted fugitive. The list of positive benefits to the broader community goes on.

National implications

The proposed changes provide clearer codification of the city’s open data standards: strengthening citizen privacy protections, setting deadlines for release of specific data sets and creating timelines of accountability. Laws governing technology must be flexible enough to evolve, so not to lag the pace of innovation. These proposals are specific deliverables that comprise evolutionary steps in what must be a living, breathing framework.

They would set concrete requirements for coordination staff, review of all city datasets and publication of catalogs of available data all within six months, and an updated implementation plan presented to the city within one year. These milestones are the very feedstock of a new generation of job-creating small businesses.

These tighter deadlines ensure the city government remains accountable and accessible to the public, so that they and the entrepreneur community are made readily aware of any new guidelines or data sets the city releases.

This has national implications, because it places rational and transferable structure and milestones into the ordinance, to make sure that this and other open data agendas aren’t just something that sound great at a press conference, but which collapse on implementation. This helps not just the 85 cities who sent representatives to the CfA Summit, but all of America’s cities.

Many complain that government is too slow, and that technology outpaces legislation. San Francisco has moved aggressively to set specific policies, milestones and deadlines towards measurable progress in increasing open data access, while maintaining the necessary broadness of legislation which is, in fact, sweeping.

The COIT committee has an opportunity to seize the moment by treating the city’s open data laws as starting points for a policy and culture of open government that includes the vigilant and attentive oversight needed to achieve its goals. We cannot lose the momentum for what can be this generation’s most transformative cultural shift in the very bureaucratic morass it aims to eliminate.