Deadline nearing to share ideas for federal agencies on OpenGov Tracker

Friday is the last day to contribute comments or ideas on OpenGov Tracker, a website tracking ideas for federal agencies related to the Open Government Directive. CivSource spoke with one of the creators, Jessy Cowan-Sharp about how the project is going and what she plans to do in the future.

As of this writing, the site has had approximately 8,000 visits resulting in 1,820 ideas, 19,154 votes, and 3,047 comments directed at various agencies in the federal government — an impressive showing for a survey about government that didn’t include the opportunity to discuss legalizing marijuana. At a glance, visitors to the site can see an overview of the top ideas, agencies with the most ideas and those with the least, offering users the lay of the land fairly quickly without forcing them into participation.

Cowan-Sharp noted how the IdeaScale site has driven both passive and active participation, “creativity loves constraint: most of my friends don’t want to know how very many ways there are to participate– they want to know when something specifically related to their interests or expertise arises, or they want to be given a targeted question or challenge. Just saying, “help us come up with good ideas” is really daunting for most of us. In that respect, I think OGT has helped in the voyeurism aspect of feeling aware and involved, and certainly I’m sure that has translated into some additional participation, but, at least for me, it’s brought up a lot of questions as well, about how to truly facilitate participation. ”

For those interested in looking over the data and the results, the creators have added some new ways to view participation over time. The site now has CSV dumps at which show basic summary stats about number of ideas, comments, votes and idea authors over time, updated once per day. In addition Cowan-Sharp notes, “we’ll obviously be happy to give out full database dumps, and maybe post them somewhere like ckan, infochimps, or even I’m not planning anything else in particular– but I’m open to suggestions.”

Cowan-Sharp has been working on open government issues for some time, and recently left NASA to pursue open government projects at Sunlight Labs and work on her PhD. “I want to push at the edges of open government, because, to me, open government is about evolving how society functions and enables us as human beings, in the 21st century.”

In her role at Sunlight, she will be working on the data commons project. A project which she says is, “about understanding influence as it manifests and weaves itself across the government, from financial contributions, lobbying, earmarks, spoken words, laws and bills. The goal is to link together currently discrete data sets by hinging on known entities like politicians and major donors, which appear in multiple data sets– but often in slightly different forms.” In doing that she says, “we can start to explore and follow trails of influence, and improve our understanding of the more subtle workings of government.”

For Cowan-Sharp, open government is more than a series of hacks and data sets, instead its about becoming more aware and effective as society moves forward. “The society that evolves from open government efforts will mean those we settle Mars and other planets with are that much more effective. It’s all different pieces of the same puzzle.”

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