Breakout #10: Working with elected officials to strengthen information projects


Facilitator: Stephen Goldsmith, Director, Innovation in American Government Program, Harvard University Scribe: Angelle Fouther, Senior Communications Officer, The Denver Foundation

Stephen shared that he was the former Mayor of Indianapolis and Deputy Mayor of New York. Started dialogue with three observations on data collection and sharing:

1.     We are going through an inventorying and evolution to use data in more effective ways to complain to government. Something to be said for that, but it is a little short of community engagement.

2.     Some data allows for the private sector to make up for government shortfalls. You can also have a lot of info about how your kids are doing, etc.

3.     Could we actually use info that recognizes the wisdom of the crowd in a format that is rewired to fit the government process?  Professional works in the “vertical.” Public works in the “horizontal.”

Challenges in the data movement

Stephen – Devised a way to get judges in Indianapolis to be more honest and fair. Provided Indianapolis Star News access to government integrated data. Thought it would have a “cleansing” effect. Six months later, through data, investigative reporter found disparity in sentencing black males vs. whites –  longer sentences. Reporter was right and wrong. If you count the prior convictions – no disparity. Transparency made for more engagement, but in the end the movement could be made more collaborative. . .

With bureaucrats, obtaining data is a slow process. For instance Department of Human Services, Medicaid. How to get around? Michael Wood-Lewis, City of Burlington, VT – it’s human nature not to share with the person down the road. Stephen: As Deputy Mayor of NY – saw a lot of gaps in providing of data. Each agency had issues as to why they could not participate. Mayor seriously needs a chief data officer with regular meetings, accountability, responses from the field.  Go up the line.  Elected officials not tech savvy. Stephen’s experiment – took all 311 components – time, locations, etc. and pin mapped them. Hired a woman who went from community to community to teach them how to use the data maps. When residents pinpointed problem clusters, they could pinpoint solutions (horizontal thinking).  But, agency CIOs are the problem (see themselves as protectors). Nonprofits can challenge them.

Mayor Zack Vruwink. Important to pull in data and begin measuring. Big consultants charge a lot to integrate data. Small orgs can do it for a lot less.

Too much info means you can intervene earlier or label early.

Jamila Wilson, Diversity Fellow, Proteus Fund asked: Do we need to amend Freedom of Information Act?

Chicago has been the best in the country for data integration, inside its enterprise, Stephen says.  They have not reached the point that we are talking about today. If you can pay to have integrated info in ways you can use the data that’s good. Otherwise mammoth amounts of info.

Last year’s changes to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Laws affect access to data. FERPA prohibits the funding of an educational agency or institution that has a policy or practice of disclosing a student’s education record” without the consent of the parent of eligible student. Educational institutions can, however, release what is called “directory information”: name, address, telephone, expected graduation dates, etc. without consent.

Success stories with data collection and integration

Everyblock, was a hyperlocal news site which received initial Knight funding and was later acquired by MSNBC(now closed for business). It made data available – police records, etc. pulled into one place. Adrienne Holovaty, founder, moved on. Major impact: gave users a way to pull info in a way that benefited citizens. Data they could use.

Washington D.C. contracted with tech company to grade their customer service. Citizens could tweet back. Grades went from C’s and D’s to A’s and B’s when the mayor published the grades.

Carleen Rhodes, St. Paul –  Chief of Staff for governor trying to create a dashboard that would help create uniform objectives – every department aiming at similar goals. Is there are way for the foundations to be helpful? Stephen: Must measure outcomes not activities. Very few of these programs rise up to citizen satisfaction. In NYC  – a stat program measured success of homeless program by how many beds available, which was actually a measure of failure. You should measure how much homeless is prevented. Minnesota could nominate the most important things to monitor on dashboard and break down by agency. Could be therapeutic.

Ben Wirz, Knight Foundation – Incentives of data keepers are important.  Knowing what your constituents think is a powerful incentive. People should care what they think.

Michael Wood-Lewis– Vermont talked about Front Porch Forum – At first public officials not interested. When constituents began talking about issues and it got out, they became interested. Neighbors talking to neighbors about neighborhoods. Not data. Also, public officials that issue public reports and preview of council meetings in lay person’s terms – more people show up for these meetings.

Baton Rouge Community Foundation – elected official do not have interests in sharing data. How do you make them share?  UK doing extraordinary work in this area, putting pressure on elected officials for transparency. Unblocking services. Breaking down the costs of government services.

Chris Miller, Akron Community Foundation – they do a lot of work with homelessness other social issues. Trouble getting govt officials to recognize homelessness as an issue. Working w nonprofits to look at the problem holistically.  Plan to do data collection to demonstrate need, but not through government. “The government will not solve your problems, figure out ourselves.” Kif Cook, Waccamaw CF, South Carolina – The City of Myrtle Beach, the Community Foundation, and United Way comprise a Homeless Coalition. Many presumed they were duplicating efforts without impact. They collaborated in collecting data along with census info.

Stephen: engaged community probably knows more about their community than the government. If one allocated resources according to 311, may not be the best allocation.

Judy Kleinberg – Former mayor of Palo Alto, Knight Foundation program director  – If your city does not have a city auditor – get one. Auditor hired to work with each department to get information out. In Palo Alto, auditor built trust to not reveal embarrassing info, but framed info to get more support. Auditor appointed by city council and works for them.

CEO of Martin County Community Foundation – county has high illiteracy numbers, and trying to bring in biotech companies. Doesn’t look good. Has a target on the wall and doesn’t discuss the problems. Do their own research in conjunction with Library Association. Brought elected officials in to address issue. Spin helpful.

Tony Shawcross, Open Media Foundation, Denver – hired by Speaker of House to video state legislature. Drive for transparency. Senate and Judiciary slowly came on board. Transcripts and open source tools available as well.  Thirty states now filming house and senate meetings as well. to store the content. Someone can search archives. It will only work if bill number in title, not in body. Working with other Knight grantees on transcribing.  Budget is low. Transcription process hard with no budget.

Myrtle Beach – high population of teens that are homeless. All nonprofits serving one population gather data and put in one place.

Kelly – Grand Forks – Coalition of nonprofits – to build healthy communities. Government was not educated about where Community Block Grants going. Advisory committee formed to inform government to spend money more effectively. Grassroots initiative. Speak same language as them. Most effective.

Stephen: Anyone marched on City Hall with social media?

Utah recently has had issues about the quality of air. Mothers for Clean Air, etc. did social media campaign.

When to march on City Hall and when to be collaborative?  Where’s the line? Stephen: Organize community to be leaders. Fine line. Training folks to make demands. Government agencies often tone deaf.

When everyone has the power to march on City Hall with social media, can it be effective?  Segment geographic areas. Put the budget up and ask community prioritize/rank. 

As bureaucrats become younger and social media more of a norm, will it be more of a respected avenue. Stephen: We still need to find a way to solve the problems before that.

San Jose initiated an Innovation Game – public invited in – told about resource constraints, etc. Constituents came up with plan of action and budget. Mayor adopted the budget based on the game.

Proteus Fund – Western Mass. – participatory budgeting in Brazil – NY City council piloting.  A trend to get more citizen involvement.

Quincy, Mass – provide advocacy dollars for think tanks that have access to data.  To use dollars effectively there must be advocacy. A lot of community foundations don’t spend dollars to support advocacy.  Becomes an issue of “now we have this info, what are we going to do with it?”

Atlanta – fund Voices for Georgia’s Children – they use data to do advocacy work. Have to marry the data with community organizing so people have a way to use the data.

Zack Leverenz, Connect 2 Compete, D.C.  – Where do you start the conversation? Stephen: Take the call center and change it into a center for engagement. Some by phone, some by text. All gets logged into work center. Other community members have experiences. Encourage them to share – maybe tweet. Look at how to aggregate the feedback. Collect, collate, curate data. Invest in those solutions. Social media, effective use of crowdsourcing. – transparent site by Obama administration that tracks funding on federal level.