Archive for January, 2010

Digital divide is the new illetrism*

I recently watched this video from the « Forum for the Future of Democracy » which goal was to define democratic process and here are some explanations.


It is a very cheap, very accessible way to enhance participation, to show politicians work, to give more realtime information of better quality and to enlight choices.

e-Democracy will allow -if we allow e-democracy to emerge- to give people real power.

Indeed, people are usually interested in democracy but they are often out of touch and they lack information.Therefore there is an imperative need to rally citizens and spread informations.

The primary obligation of a democratic state is to ensure that lack of access to new technologies does not become a social divide as illiteracy once was.


e-Democracy is creating new ways to engage in democracy: electronic vote, forums, collaborative platforms, etc. These online tools allow citizens to interact, participate and collaborate.

By talking directly to the people, government’s messages won’t have to be transmitted to a third party lile media to spread the word. Citizens become media.

There is by fact a gap between electronic haves and electronic havenots. It is a reality and a threat to democracy and inclusion.


Governments should not wait for citizens to come to them but they should engage and go to the crowd.

Citizens need to trust governments and governments need to trust citizens. Let’s interact, let’s share, let’s collaborate but let’s do that all together.

Generation gaps

There is a gap between old and younger generation in the use of technologies. When youngers are usually more at ease, a real work should be made on seniors use.

In order to fight digital divide, we also need to improve youth involvment by teaching from the bottom. To be efficient, e-democracy classes should be given as early as kindergarden.


In this newtech world, if we want to avoid the creation of a new barreer between people and administrations, we have to engage every citizens to join the move.

*For french readers, french translation of illetrism would be « analphabetisme », not « illetrisme ».

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During a parliamentary question on the French initiatives in the communication of public information, referring to the U.S. plan “data.gov“, French Prime Minister recalled the long-existing french portals access to information :

legifrance.fr for Laws
service-public.fr for Administration
statistics-publique.fr for Statistics
All of these websites make simpler access to still complicated informations -not mentioning the re-looking need. But hey, french Data Publica to be opened in 2011.

When the US “data.gov” (or the newborn data.gov.uk) leads to increase the emergence of new services, France approach leads to increase the yet emerged “bureaucracy”.

Let’s remind:

Vivek Kundra, Obama’s CIO was hired in March 2009 and US Data.gov was launched in May 2009
– “Bureaucracy” is a french word

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This article finds its roots in Alban Martin’s post “Apres data.gov, data.gov.uk ! (on attend toujours donnees.gouv.fr)”

A new website dedicated to making non-personal data held by the U.K. government available for software developers has launched: Data.gov.uk.

Only six months after the U.S. government opened its own Data.gov site, the U.K. site is being slammed with traffic and already has more than three times as much data than the U.S. site offers today. Americans reply:

“The Federal Government does not have a monopoly on the best ideas. We are all part of an increasingly complex network of communities, ideas, and information. We applaud today’s launch of data.gov.uk and look forward to working with the international community to ensure that people across the world are actively engaged in helping find the most innovative paths to solve some of the toughest problems we face.”

As a reminder, Data.gov is the U.S. platform presenting and making available governmental data for all. It was launched after Obama’s directive on Open Governement in 2009 and its purpose is to increase public access to high value machine readable datasets. It offers searchable catalogs that provide access to “raw” datasets and various tools in such formats as XML, Text/CSV, KML/KMZ, Feeds, XLS, or ESRI Shapefile. A catalog of tools links users to sites that offer data mining and extraction tools and widgets.

Now what’s new with data.gov.uk ?

Introduced last week by Gordon Brown’s administration it also provides open source data to the public. Brown  is quoted on his “Digital Engagement” blog:

“We have involved over 2,400 people in our developer community to learn what data they want and how they want to access it; and we have brought together into one place an initial collection of over 2500 datasets from across government which can be re-used freely and easily.”

The main principles are quite similar to the U.S. version:

– Public data will be available and easy to find through a single easy to use online access point (http://www.data.gov.uk/)

– Public data will be published using open standards and following the recommendations of the World Wide Web Consortium

– Any ‘raw’ dataset will be re-presented in linked data form

– More public data will be released under an open licence which enables free reuse, including commercial reuse

– Data underlying the Government’s own websites will be published in reusable form for others to use

– Personal, classified, commercially sensitive and third-party data will continue to be protected

Available or soon-to-be available datas are:

– Releasing health data such as the NHS Choices data

– Consulting on making Ordnance Survey mapping and postcode datasets available for free reuse from April 2010

– Increasing access to and reuse of public transport data including the National Public Transport Access – Node database, with information available to the development community by April 2010

– Opening Met Office Public Weather Service data to include: releasing significant underlying data for weather forecasts for free download and reuse by April 2010, and working to further expand the release of weather data, while recognising all public safety considerations; and making available more information on Met Office scientists, their work and scientific papers, free of charge

– Publishing, by spring 2010, details of how the fiscal stimulus announced in the Pre-Budget Report 2008 has been spent, disaggregated to local level

– Launching a public consultation early in 2010 to seek views on how we could publish further financial data so that it is user-friendly and accessible, with a view to putting a live system in place by summer 2010

– Integrating ONS data with http://www.data.gov.uk/ from January 2010.


Early comments are positive, when comparing UK gov to its counterpartUS Data.gov. The U.S. version pales in comparison as it’s missing the user-friendly approach. Also, when the U.S. government’s Data.gov site launched, critics pointed out that it was filled with relatively non-controversial data sets, plenty of USGS data but no DOJ or military data. The U.K.’s data site, in contrast, includes 22 military data sets at launch, including one called Suicide and Open Verdict Deaths in the U.K. Regular Armed Forces.

National to local

The national data.gov are also complemented with local platforms such as: Washington D.C, City of New York, San Francisco, State of Utah, State of Michigan… England is following the same path as London launched its own platform too.

If you are afraid to get lost, you can chek out The Guardian Browsing tool to search wordlwide datas: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world-government-data

What about French ? Can they ?

There won’t be any data.gov.fr in France… But there is a national platform in process.

Data Publica is one of the lead projects of NKM call for proposal “Web 2.0”. This project aims to create a national website where public and private actors could publish their API, metadata and licence. This project is being developped by Araok!Nexedi and Talend and shoud be launched by 2011.

Notice that local non-profit groups are also emerging to incite cities to open their datas before that date and liberTIC is one of them.

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European Directive Inspire is one of the most important legislative tools for the “opendata-believers” in the European Union. Specially if you are lacking an active national opendata program.

Here below is a first approach and basic introduction to understand why.

French Inspire case to follow :)

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The United Nations E-Government Development Knowledge Base (UNKB) is a benchmarking tool that provides a comparative assessment for monitoring progress of a country’s E-Government Development from 2003 to 2010. As such it provides an interactive snapshot picture of a country’s E-Government Development in the world.

The UN e-Government survey assesses -almost- annually the eGovernment development of the UN member states according to a quantitative composite index:
– Egovernement development index
– Online service index and its components
– Telecommunications infrastructure index and its components

Egovernement index In 2008

The results of 2008 Survey indicated that governments were moving forward in e-government development around the world. However, given the high demands, progress was slow.

In terms of citizen engagement, the e-participation index indicated a modest upward movement with 189 countries online in 2008 as compared with 179 in 2005.

The United States scored the highest on the e-participation index. This was primarily due to its strength in e-information and e-consultation, which enabled its citizens to be more interactive with their government.
It was closely followed by the Republic of Korea (0.9773), which performed extremely well in the e-consultation assessment, Denmark (0.9318) and France (0.9318) were tied for third place.

In 2010, what changes ?

You can find all results and datas for each index on the UN website.

We’ll soon have more informations on this listing as the whole e-government survey for 2010 is about to be published. Here below is its table of content to be released.

PART I: Leveraging e-government at a time of financial and economic crisis
Chapter 1: Stimulus packages and financial bailouts
Chapter 2: Financial regulation and monitoring
Chapter 3: Public service delivery
PART II: Global e-government readiness
Chapter 4: The state of e-government by region
Chapter 5: The state of e-government by economic grouping
Chapter 6: Access and diversity

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Sometimes, when identifying a case of failure in city infrastructure, people call the city’s general information number and sometimes they get transferred from one department to another only to give up. Now, mobile technology, real-time data capability, and social features have met to turn this frustrated notifier into an empowered citizen.

CitySourced” is an example of this government 2.0 movement which point is to use technology such as social media and wireless communications to make governments more efficient in delivering services where they’re most needed.

Citysourced quote“CitySourced provides a free, simple, and intuitive tool empowering citizens to identify civil issues (potholes, graffiti, trash, snow removal, etc.) and report them to city hall for quick resolution. […] The app on your Blackberry, Android or iPhone lets you take a picture of the infraction. The app detects your location via GPS and once the image is loaded and approved, you are brought to the reporting screen. You can then identify what the problem is, add comments, and Tweet the problem out from your Twitter account.”

Most cities already have their own systems for sending reports to different departments but CitySourced has developed software that formats the data properly to work with those systems.

“We provide a system that works with what they already have and charge a subscription fee” he says.
Several cities in the US have developed similar efforts, most of them using the iPhone.

New York City recently launched an iPhone application that enhances its report-problem service
Washington, D.C. residents can report problems via its DC report app (311)
Boston offers an iPhone app called Citizens Connect iPhone-using Pittsburgh residents use iBurgh
San Francisco residents can send direct messages via Twitter to the city of San Francisco, @SF311

Some of these sites are tied into local “reporting problems” systems, other aren’t. Some only e-mail back citizen reports and other are responsible for fixing it. Some of the systems are more transparent as to the disposition of reported issues than others and some are more advanced, technically than others. Some other parents: SeeClickFix or FixMyStreet

One question comes up: Why pay a fee to a private firm for a service a city might develop itself ?

Citysourced answers:
Cities that have built their own application have been known to spend as much as $80,000 doing it. We can do it for less. Plus, there’s a benefit that comes with having numerous cities share information on a large network. We can detect trends that are affecting lots of cities. We get better with every city that gets added.
The reports can also be a source of data used for other city services. A surge in graffiti in a neighborhood is often an early indicator of gang activity and can be used to alert police to bolster their patrols.

Smartphones are surely great tools to make cities better places. But are all the cities able to use effectively great tools ?

One unknown is how city service advisories are handled. Does this new service include new jobs or existing-job adaptation ? The second big unknown is how responsive the service can be and how will cities deal with new and fast upcoming feedbacks: more cleaning, more replacing, more work… less incomes ?

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This is a mash up of different articles-


Real Time Congress is a fast and free app to access real-time information about U.S. Congress on iPhone.

Lobbyists have spent lots of money to get access to real-time information on Congress, and it’s a divide that helped them be more powerful than most citizens. Now, the Sunlight Labs new Real Time Congress App put Congress informations into anyone’s hands all the time, making public empowerment real.

« Our goal at the Sunlight Foundation is to change the way that citizens collect information about their government, and then help them to use that information to change the way they interact with their government. This new app shows how powerful new programs and smart phones can accomplish that goal. »

Real Time Congress for the iPhone – and assimilated “Congress” for Android – are two examples of how powerful mobile applications can be in shifting the traditional balance of power.

« We want to make data about what’s happening inside Congress more available to the public. It isn’t just who your member of Congress is that matters, but also what they do. It’s also important to see what they’re reading and who they’re listening to, and what the process looks like.

The app displays an up-to-the-minute feed of updates from the House and Senate, notices, and key government documents as they are released with features such as:

  • Updates from the House and Senate floor as they happen.
  • Critical reports and memos as they are published online by officials
  • Daily and weekly notices
  • Schedule of upcoming committee hearings from House and Senate

Brad Bauman, a former congressional communications director, wrote:

« The Real Time Congress application will keep journalists, Hill staffers, bloggers and interested citizens up to date on what is happening in Congress, in real-time. Its ease of use and sleek design promise that end users will continue to go back to the app for unfiltered information on Congress so they can make their own informed decisions on what is happening in the Capitol. »

For now, all this information is displayed quite simply. There is no deep personalization, no search features and push notifications. Sunlight Labs will continue to improve on the app with user feedbacks.

Still, this kind of app will definitely change the way citizens collect information about their government – and maybe how they are able to use that information to engage with government in new and more effective ways.

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In a soon future, there will be no more wanderings, no more waiting line, no more dial, no more credit card…

If you don’t believe it, check out Taxi Magic.

Taxi Magic for iPhone can:

* Find taxis near you
* Book taxis without waiting on hold
* Remember previously booked locations
* Track your dispatched taxi on a map
* Display your driver’s name and car number
* Quickly pay by credit card

Insight: “Future is here, it’s just unfairly dispatched.”

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With their respective Opendata Directives, Australia, USA and UK took a large step away from France on national transparency. While American Senate makes available all its voting datas, french national assembly still don’t show any informations, leading french citizens and non-governmental organizations to gather and work over getting datas created and usable.

Nosdeputes.fr is a french website willing to emphasize Parliament action. The dozen of democracygeek volunteers working on this project is synthesizing the various legislative activities of the elected officials. Their first work was to get and then make available the datas concerning commission works, speaches, law votes… This action leaded to the publication of the assiduity-graph of french deputies.

Soon came a new challenge.

Assemblée Nationale - Richardying CC

Assemblée Nationale - Richardying CC

After 2009 and a national debate over the lack of attendance of deputies to the National Assembly, internal assembly rules were modified with new amendment stating:

Beyond two absences […], each absence of a deputy at a commission or ordinary session [of Wednesday], gives place to the withdrawal of 25% on the monthly amount of its salary ».

As written previously, the workingday not attended by deputies are not public datas. Presidents of each commissions do have a list but it is not published. So guess what civilians from Nodeputes, under the organization Regardscitoyens.fr just did ?

They used their attendee made-up list to create a mashup to define absences and then published their study.

By calculating how many deputy-related-commissions took place and how many deputies really showed up on the days of commissions, they got the result.

According to the study, the new amendment did led to a higher attendance rate.

On average between the years 2008 and 2009, the deputies thus increased their frequentation of the obligatory meetings of Wednesday of 54%, passing from an average of one Wednesday presence out of three with one out of two.

And this assiduity is not limited to the only meetings of Wednesday: for these three same months, we can observe that the average of presence of a deputy in committee increases by 36%, that is to say the passage of approximately 3 days of commissions per month in 2008 to 4 in 2009.

Deputies attendance (Nosdeputes.fr)

Deputies attendance (Nosdeputes.fr)

RegardsCitoyens.org published the 42 deputies names who did not respect the amendement and their calcul shows 25 433€ shall be recovered from the total salaries but according to the Parliament, no salary deduction was required for the moment. This situation is particularly ironic as the leading-party UMP is willing to suppress welfares to families whose child misses school.

Video showing Assembly data (un)access, in french only

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Techpresident published an article reporting the publication of a new report on digital political engagement by Members of Parliament in the UK.

The Irish House of Commons, 1780 by Francis Wh...
Image via Wikipedia

Entitled “MPs ONLINE, CONNECTING WITH CONSTITUENTS“, the key findings from this research sponsored by Microsoft are:

– 92% of MPs use email

– 83% of MPs have a personal website

23% of MPs use social networking

– 11% of MPs blog

However, the minority of MP’s using social networking do not usually involve intercommunication. Notice final recommendation:

MPs see the internet as primarily a tool to communicate and campaign, however,individual citizens and civil society groups can take the lead, creating engagement tools online and encouraging Mps to then take part.

In the Guardian article “The internet and politics: Revolution.com“, the edito states:

“Following Barack Obama’s successful use of social networking, British parties have redoubled their rush on to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. A few engaged MPs use such sites not only to broadcast their views but also to listen to their constituents. However, too much political effort online simply mimics traditional marketing-driven campaigning – treating voters as little more than shoppers, and policies as slickly packaged products.”

Back to the basics: defining social media.
Social media is media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, a two way effect.

The bad point about using limited version of social media (sic) is the lack of empowerment left to the citizens. Hard to imagine indeed, a collective campaign such as the one launched by the Sunlight Foundation to help lobby Congress vote on S. 482 and pressuring senators by tweeting them, if politicians are not techavailables.

This action seemed efficient as some senators ended up supporting the action but of course in order to launch such civic applications out ouf social media – Hadopi law may be a good test in France- politicians still need to be registered.

Here is “Human to Human” research on french politicians and social networks (in french only) where you learn that ministers may be present on social networks but not all are using the full potential neither. By recently checking out Jean-Pierre Chevenement and his blog with impressive feeds on the right side. -notice the iphone app- I notice that the communication team has corrected the “non-interactivity” issue.

So we are on the way, but it’s a long road.

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