The Open Data Movement Is Growing
But it will take commitment by officials and demands by the public to transform government.

By Christine Sakuda

http://www.civilbeat.org/2017/11/the-open-data-movement-is-growing/

The data continuously collected and stored by government agencies can become a tool for dramatic positive change, but only if it’s made available to those with the ability to organize it and meaningfully package it.

Once this resource is tapped and packaged, it can be leveraged to improve the quality of life for Hawaii residents, enhance the way government functions and enable citizens to better understand how agencies and departments are operating as a result of improvements in transparency and accountability.

Michael Flowers, the Chief Analytics Officer of New York City, noted that governments have a huge fire hose of information, but a fire hose is only valuable when it’s pointed at a fire. Collecting information about traffic patterns in a file is not helpful by itself, but becomes more valuable when transportation planners use the information to redesign traffic patterns.

This was the Hawaii Tax Department’s receiving and sorting section during tax season a few years ago. The state has made some progress coming into the digital era, but much more work is needed to make public information easily accessible and meaningful.

But what really matters is not the digital file, or the traffic patterns, but the outcomes. Using traffic data in planning can cut down on commute times, reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, even as it’s used to create crosswalks and bike lanes that decrease the incidents of car and truck accidents with pedestrians and cyclists. Using data intelligently can undoubtedly help us live more efficient, cleaner and safer lives.

Open data is the term used to describe making the information collected by organizations available for wider use. It is increasingly being leveraged by state government in Hawaii for the benefit of everyone interacting with government and using the services it provides, from transportation to camping in state parks to monitoring criminal activity near homes and workplaces.

The Honolulu Police Department’s crime map provides a good example of how information can be gathered, organized and put into a graphical presentation to help individual citizens become more aware of risks to their property and personal safety.

The department has taken data on various types of crimes and plotted the incidence of each criminal activity on an interactive crime map, where members of the public can enter a street address, zip code or landmark and see icons representing the crimes that have occurred in the vicinity of any location.

Open data can be especially useful when several agencies are working on the same issue. Too often, government agencies operate in silos. The challenges this creates are exemplified in collaborative planning on issues, like homelessness.

In many states and cities, officials from a variety of agencies interact with the homeless, collecting data about their situations and needs. All too often, these workers are not able to enter that information into a single database as they collect it. Instead, individual outreach workers keep their own files in systems that are not interconnected, as a rule.

A state system that many are familiar with but may not think of as an open-data operation is the Campaign Spending Commission reporting system, which provides transparency into Hawaii political campaigns. The site aggregates data on candidate contributions and expenditures, as well as making public the political donations to and expenditures by campaign organizations. The commission website gives the public access to a database that reveals who is contributing to each candidate.

Since every agency collects and maintains data, open data initiatives can be implemented to provide transparency and accountability by tracking the progress or lack of progress on government activities, from road maintenance and the rail project to education outcomes and reporting on pesticide usage.

The state maintains a website of public dashboards, Open Performance Hawaii, which provides a snapshot of how the administration and state agencies are performing. The site also provides access to data sets behind the dashboards for developers interested in developing apps and additional dashboards.

The State of Hawaii Dashboard on the Open Performance Hawaii website is a necessary step towards providing the public with information that facilitates transparency and knowledge. Unfortunately, most data on the State of Hawaii Dashboard is three to four years old, with original metrics not being updated and goals not clearly stated, making it difficult to gauge an agency’s progress.

According to its own dashboard, the state did not reach its open and transparent data targets and needs to commit more resources and work harder at both providing timely data and public dashboards in order to be truly useful and meet the open and transparent goals it espouses and that the public demands.

This is a beginning that needs to be further developed to provide a comprehensive look at progress in a range of areas.

Open data can address many challenges here in Hawaii, but it will take commitment by elected officials, public sector employees and public demand to transform the way government operates.

About the Author:
Christine Sakuda is the executive director of Transform Hawaii Government, a nonprofit organization focused on modernizing the state government’s aging IT infrastructure.

 

With cybersecurity threats now emerging as a household worry, state government has been opening eyes to the nagging problems stemming from attacks.

 

Multiple workshops throughout October have been devoted to alerting the public to the menacing ways of cyberattacks. Examples include cyberattacks taking down internet service for the U.S. mainland’s East Coast and becoming a scourge to various businesses across the nation.

 

Drawing statewide attention to these and other familiar threats has been a key focus of “Cyber Security Awareness Month,” which was proclaimed in early October by Gov. David Y. Ige.

 

Hour-long cyber safety sessions at public libraries and shopping centers have focused on a wide range of topics, including malware protection, passwords and wi-fi usage. Among other topics were online shopping, banking, scams, phishing, data backup and social media.

 

“Educating our community about cyber security issues and how to protect themselves in our technology-driven world is vital,” said State Librarian Stacey Aldrich. “The Hawaii Public Library System is happy to be a part of this important learning opportunity.”

 

Others that have been raising awareness about cyber safety throughout the month include the Hawaii Department of Defense Office of Homeland Security and local nonprofit Cyber Hui.

 

For cyber safety tips and other resources, visit the state Office of Homeland Security’s newly launched Cyber Awareness website (ohs.hawaii.gov/cyber).

Photo Credit: Viridian Weapon Technologies

 

A small police department in Minneapolis is adding an increasingly popular transparency tool to its ability to protect and serve the public.

 

The West Hennepin Public Safety Department, based in the Minneapolis suburb of Independence — a city with a population of about 3,500 — will soon be among the first in the country to test gun-mounted cameras on its 10 officers.

 

But don’t expect to see this high-tech solution in Hawaii any time soon. “The Honolulu Police Department has no plans to adopt gun-mounted cameras,” said Michelle Yu, spokesperson for the department.

 

In Minneapolis, the police department’s decision to experiment with body-worn cameras comes with the risks associated with being an early adopter as it expects to soon begin testing the cameras, which mount on firearm rails.

 

The gun-mounted cameras are advertised as lightweight — they’re about 3 ounces — and cheaper than body cameras. Their cost is projected to be about $500 per unit for five years of use by an officer, compared to an approximate $3,000 projection for a body camera within the same time period.

 

The technology is also being touted as a means of circumventing one of the biggest technical challenges surrounding body-worn cameras, which create data management issues by constantly racking up thousands of hours of footage that is subject to public data requests, and requires departments to procure specialized redaction software and data storage.

 

Another key benefit of gun-mounted cameras is that they’re not as likely to have their view blocked by an officer’s arms or other obstacles, though this and other functionality is expected to be proven out in the department’s testing. The department is expected to test a variety of scenarios, including low-light, no-light, bright light, and cold weather.

 

In a potentially significant step, the top executive at Transform Hawaii Government has a major new platform to get key messages across for her non-profit organization.

 

Christine Sakuda, who has been at the helm of Transform Hawaii Government since May, will be contributing periodic columns to the “Community Voices” section of the Honolulu Civil Beat.

 

Her columns will appear about five times a year and focus on ensuring that Hawaii officials are embracing the digital age with a renewed sense of urgency.

 

Hawaii is at least 20 years behind other states in its business process and information technology (IT) capabilities. Current systems were designed at a time when the personal computer was a new invention and have outlived their usefulness and life cycles.

 

Among the expected topics for the column will be to call on the state government for a commitment to consistently make the investment necessary for it to better engage citizens and businesses in this technology-driven world. That number comes out to at least 1 percent of the state’s annual budget over the next 10 years, which is about 2 percentage points below the investment other states typically make in their IT systems.

 

“Happy you guys want to contribute to Civil Beat,” said Editor Patti Epler. “I think it would be great to have Community Voices on this topic.”

 

The column will be the latest communications channel for Transform Hawaii Government. Others include Facebook, website and a newsletter.

 

The column will be written at a time when the state is taking steps to modernize its aging IT infrastructure. Examples include going paperless, consolidating nine different email systems for state employees and modernizing payroll and tax technologies in state government.

 

From Transform Hawaii Government’s perspective, all would be innovative solutions that could transform the way state government does business.