(An interesting look at some of the data sources around the state. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)
It’s almost 2010 and we are deep in the age of technology, but how is this affecting the California political scene? Sure, you can watch Obama on streaming video and you can find raw data on stimulus spending, but where is the governator posting his videos? And where is the discussion about transitioning California State government from a classic model where citizens find public information by culling through paper documents to a government with information open and easily available? Where is (to borrow the phrase) California 2.0? The answer: we're part way there.
San Francisco, as a city, has made huge progress of late toward providing the public with easy access to information in their beta release of the site datasf.org. There you can find city and county data on everything from the useful (election data) to the almost useless (species names for trees) and everything in between.
The Los Angeles City Council, in a move that is a first of its kind, recently approved a contract with Google to begin using its cloud-based email, spreadsheet and word processor services. While this is not quite Web 2.0, this is a step in that direction. Cloud computing is not only tangentially related to the idea of Web 2.0, there is a key linkage in that they both describe an availability of data. With the new configuration, users of the data are theoretically only a few clicks away from publishing it for the public to view. City policy will dictate how or if data is made available to the public, but the framework will be in place to make public data access an easy and cheap option.
Edit by Brian: See the extended for more on California 2.0!
So, if two of California’s largest cities are opening up, what is the state doing? Well, as it turns out, there is a huge amount of publicly available information out there for us to see and play with, courtesy of Sacramento. Here is a brief rundown:
- Office of Legislative Council Data – thanks to a lawsuit by Maplight.org, we now have ready access to a large archive of data on legislative bill information and more. Because of Maplight.org's demads, the Legislative Council made the database available for download, but that’s only good if you’re interested in hosting your own SQL database. Instead, you can check out Maplight.org’s site where they are hosting the data and making it easily understood. It looks like they only have data available from 2001 to 2004 right now, but they should have information from more recent years available soon.
- LAO Publications– the Legislative Analyst’s Office has their publications available for search on their site. If you’re doing legislative research, this is must-visit site.
- Cal-Access – this is a great site for gathering data on who gave whom money for what. This is the resource people used to figure out who had given donations to the Prop 8 campaign. Not sure if your union is spending your dues they way you want them to? This site can answer that question too.
- Reporting Transparency in Government – this site provides details on state audits, spending and contracts awarded. And as the name implies, this is the site Governor Schwarzenegger made available explicitly for the sake of improving transparency in state government.
The question we can now ask is: is California government transparent enough? To answer that question I tried, as an experiment, to see if I could find out how many of California's tax dollars have been spent on cost-plus contracts. Well, I couldn't answer that question. I even tried to find similar information on the federal government's page on stimulus spending. While I could certainly find more information on the federal site than on the state transparancey site, neither site provided me with the type of information I was looking for (note: I used the federal stimulus spending site here because it comes the closest of the government-run sites to being ideal).
In due time some entrepreneurs will surely put together a nice little gadget that will access these rough data sources for us. And I'm sure that the information I was looking for is available somewhere online, but it's not easy to find yet.What the federal government has put together to provide transparency on stimulus spending is terrific, but even more great is the fact that the raw data is also available and that tech people can access that data and let us view it in different unique ways and make it easier to search for irregularities. That access to data and the opportunity to present it in different viewpoints is Web 2.0, but I hope to see California improve on what it has already put together.
If you know of a gadget or a web service that has gathered state government data into an easy to use interface, such as Maplight.org, please comment with a link to it below.