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Next Generation Open Government Project

The emergence of the Semantic Web offers the potential to revolutionize the economics of disclosing and accessing government information.  This, in turn, offers the prospect of automating much of the work that investigative journalists and bloggers must currently do manually. 

A variety of ontologies must be developed and implemented for this revolution to occur.  These can be divided into core ontologies and domain-specific ontologies.   Core ontologies are shared widely across domains.

A core ontology may describe who, when, and where.  iSolon.org has focused on a core ontology to uniquely identify who, including individuals and organizations.   The difficulty in searching for the same individual or organization (the who) across hundreds or thousands of online databases it calls "the common identifier problem."  This problem must be solved before domain specific ontologies can maximize their contribution to democratic accountability.

A domain specific ontology may describe such things as legislative proceedings, budgets, and conflicts of interest.  iSolon.org is interested in all three of these domain specific ontologies but has been especially focused on conflicts of interest because it is the least developed of these three domain specific areas and fits closely with iSolon.org's larger concerns with conflicts of interest in the design of public institutions.

Praise for iSolon.org's
 Work on Legislative Information Systems:

Dr. Snider's The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency offers a cogent explication of the inherent conflict between legislators and legislative data, dismantling the mechanisms of legislative information to expose the conflicting incentives often at their core. This argument has assisted me in advocating for bulk access to legislative data, illuminating the need for access to legislators' roll call votes, as well as the widespread failings of legislatures to make this information available.”

---  John Wonderlich, 
Policy Director, 
Sunlight Foundation 

(for more praise,
click here)

An example of a highly successful ontology is XBRL, a  financial reporting language.  Charles Hoffman, a CPA, proposed the idea for XBRL in 1998 and got the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants to create an XBRL standards committee in 1999.  XBRL is now being adopted by financial reporting agencies throughout the developed world.  In the U.S., the SEC mandated the use of XBRL for the largest public companies effective June 15, 2009, with the complete transition to XBRL set for June 15, 2013.

Please note that there is substantial overlap between this project and iSolon.org's Next Generation Checks & Balances Project and Next Generation K12 Democratic Accountability Project.

Publications

Snider, J.H., Government-wide Information Sharing for Democratic Accountability, Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, December 8, 2011.

Snider, J.H., "The Institutional and Technological Foundations of Open Government," presentation at Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Center, September 24, 2011.

[Unique Identifiers Ontology] J.H. Snider, Connecting the Dots for Democratic Accountability: Semantic Web-Based Information Sharing Policy and the Future of Investigative Reporting, working paper released at iSolon.org event with the same name, October 22, 2010, Washington, DC.  The accompanying Powerpoint presentation is here.

[Conflict-of-Interest Ontology] Federal Trade Commission, Federal Trade Commission Staff Discussion Draft: Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism, May 24, 2010, Washington, DC.

[Legislative Procedures Ontology] Snider, J.H., "It's the Public's Data: Democratizing School Board Records," Education Week, June 14, 2010.

[Conflict-of-Interest Ontology] J.H. Snider, Transparency in the Digital Age, presentation at the 2010 Freedom of Information Summit, May 8, 2010, Arlington, VA.

[Government Budgets Ontology] J.H. Snider, Democratize School  Budget Data, Education Week, May 20, 2009.

[Conflict-of-Interest Ontology] J.H. Snider, Automating-Conflict-of-Interest Reporting, presentation at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Workshop on How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?, March 10, 2010, Washington, DC.

[Conflict-of-Interest Ontology] J.H. Snider, Automating-Conflict-of-Interest Reporting, working paper released at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Workshop on How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?, March 10, 2010, Washington, DC. 

[Conflict-of-Interest Ontology] J.H. Snider, Automating Watchdog Reporting, Nieman Watchdog, July 22, 2009.

[Legislative Procedures Ontology] J.H. Snider, Would You Ask Turkeys to Mandate Thanksgiving? The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency, Journal of Information Technology & Democracy, Spring 2009.  This is based on a working paper written for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

Open Government Legislative and Agency Testimony

Testimony of J.H. Snider on Senate Bill 644: Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government Act, before the Before the Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs, Maryland Senate, March 15, 2011, Annapolis, Maryland.

Testimony of J.H. Snider on Senate Bill 740: Public Records Act, before the Before the Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs, Maryland Senate, March 15, 2011, Annapolis, Maryland.

Written Comments of J.H. Snider on House Bill 48:  Open Meetings Act, before the Before the Subcommittee on Government Operations, Maryland House of Delegates, February 17, 2011, Annapolis, Maryland.

Testimony of J.H. Snider on House Bill 37:  Public Information Act, before the Before the Committee on Health and Government Operations, Maryland House of Delegates, February 1, 2011, Annapolis, Maryland.

Presentation of J.H. Snider, Automating-Conflict-of-Interest Reporting, at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Workshop on How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?, March 10, 2010, Washington, DC.