Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Dusting this thing off.

I meant to start writing again this time last year as work began on what would become SB283.  Then I meant to write about the process as SB283 was drafted and passed.  Then I meant to write about the Transparency Advisory Boards new tasks under SB283 and what Open Data (and open data) mean.  Then I meant to write about SB283, Sunlight Foundation's Transparency Camp '13 in DC, Neal Stephenson's "information as power" novels, and what Open Data (and open data) mean.

And somehow it is now September.  You know how it goes.  We can't all be Holly Richardson, who's raised 2,314 children, cans everything that grows, serves on the State Records Cmmte, runs campaigns, and still finds time to write on her blog.  I'd hate her if she wasn't a good person on top of it all.

I've written about it before here but the reverse process from my recent appointment to the TAB, back to passage of SB283, before that the 2011 GRAMA Work Group, and before that the nefarious HB477 is an amazing trip that -- forgive my sappiness -- really reminds you that good things can come from bad, and that overall, Utah lawmakers, legislative staff, and activists alike have common goals.  Differences and disagreements more often come from talking around each other than they do from actually disagreeing when it comes to transparent government.

That's not to say there aren't some who don't care, or even prefer closed doors.  It's not to say there isn't a time to shout "What do you have to hide?!"  Shouting can be useful and fun.  I'm a fan.  But from the stories we heard during the Governor's GRAMA work group to the warm response I've more often than not received from lawmakers to my questions, confusion, and even naivete, it seems like better conversations can and do lead to better things happening.  And as I've also written here before, more members of our legislature are open to that better conversation than not.  None of this would be going forward if Sen. Niederhauser hadn't entertained my half crocked ideas, or if Sen. Henderson hadn't bravely put her name (and patience with me) on this. 

Sometimes, believe it or not, our electeds, cities, and agencies don't want to bury information or access.  They just don't understand what you mean with your fancy JSON files this and your high-falutin' open source that.

I think that's where SB283 and the coming work of the TAB on tackling Open Data Standards comes in.  Utah is already ahead of the curve on technology use and records law.  The board has a lot of ground to cover in an already short period of time.  It probably won't go all of the places I want it to go.  And as Jesse Harris, Phil Windley, Sen. Henderson, Holly Richardson, Patricia "Walking Institution of Knowledge" at the state archivists' office (who's testimony at the GRAMA work group hearings really opened my eyes) and everyone else involved with getting this process off the ground will probably tell you, I struggle with that whole pragmatic thing.  But this board will go some amazing places, and if you take a close look at the final 1/3 of SB283 (the "shall" part), this is just the start of a really important discussion.

I have a lot of things I plan to write about.  Open Data vs. open data.  What the board shouldn't try to do.  What the board is doing (of course).  How this one time I called Sen. Bramble mid-session with a question about my notes from the GRAMA work group and -- get this -- he still hasn't called me back.  Like he was busy at the time or something.  I know, right?!

And one last very important thing for me to get down personally, ahead of what will be my first TAB meeting as an official board member: The Sunlight Foundation.  L(e), Zubedah (The Secretary), "StereoGab," Rebecca with the Cool Last Name, and anyone else near Dupont Circle maybe using a stack of boxes as a desk (by choice) as I type this, this has been a crash course education for me, and you all are great teachers.  The Sunlight Foundation is an understated and irreplaceable resource for cities, states, and even countries working toward healthy government and informed citizenry.  Fun fact: an unexpected meet up and conversation with L(e) thousands of miles from Utah on the Rhode Island waterfront was the first time I'd heard the words "open data standard" and realized how well the very concept answered the questions left in my head after the GRAMA work group wrapped.  How random is that?

I encourage everyone to follow and support their work.  Start with their blog and extensive tools pages.

I never meant to be a "transparency activist."  I was intent and happy with being a loudmouth.  I'm most qualified for the latter, and I honestly have no idea what I'm doing.  But I am really looking forward to writing about and participating in the TAB and the (hopefully) ongoing Open Data Standards discussion.

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