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OpenCongress at Personal Democracy Forum - Europe

October 11, 2010 - by David Moore

Last week Monday & Tuesday, I had the opportunity to represent the OpenCongress team at the Personal Democracy Forum – Europe conference held at the University of Barcelona. PdF is already known as the leading tech-politics conference on the U.S. side of the pond, and they reliably exported their curatorial skills to Spain for the second year in a row, gathering a remarkable group of participants — some open-gov advocates, some media companies, some professional politicians, some netroots advocates. Top-line agenda rundown from Sept. 6 can be found on TechPresident. Thanks especially to Andrew Rasiej & Micah Sifry, PdF’s two principals, for inviting me to speak on the panel and hosting me during my time there. A friendly note of disclosure: Andrew & Micah are senior advisors to the Sunlight Foundation, the founding supporter of OC, and we rent a modest office space from PdF in NYC (specifically SoHo). They’re great friends and we go back, well, more than a half-decade now. Big ups to the extended PdF team, I see you guys, next time hopefully we’ll have more luck in breaking bread at Cal Pep.

More interestingly — check out the full conference agendas for Day One & Day Two. As typical during a frothy PdF conference style, I met a unique swarm of good-gov activists & web/software developers from Europe and elsewhere — if you’re reading this and gave me a business card, I’ll be sure to follow up with you personally over email. Lots more to come on the more-modular version of OpenCongress I mentioned at the conference as a forthcoming piece of open-source software. My specific panel was curated by the indefatigable Jon Worth (who appears to be on a more-or-less sleepless tour of every EU member state), with shout-outs to my accomplished co-participants: Doru Frantescu of; Ronny Patz, Advisor to the Transparency International EU Liaison Office; and Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe. It was a privilege to be able to discuss how the OC user community came together to use our site as a free and peer-to-peer engagement tool around such hot political issues as unemployment insurance & the health-care reform debates. (More details here in our blog post from July 29th.)

With the caveat that there doesn’t seem to be a fast-forward button on the embedded video player, and that the audio on the mic sometimes cut out in the (otherwise extraordinarily beautiful and impressive) venue, if you’re interested, you can watch my remarks on the panel leading off in the video just below. I won’t reiterate my slides’ contents at length except — can’t resist — for a few key points. First, as captured here, I emphasize that for the purposes of universally-accessible civic engagement via the Internet, closed social media services (like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others) are fundamentally incompatible with the open Web. They offer an illusion — i.e., a facade — of transparency, and we should focus on foundational issues of access to raw & primary government data. The question we encourage you to ask is not, “Is my senator on Twitter?” Rather, the question should be, “Can I access the source data of legislation introduced by my senator?” And, “Can I see campaign contributions for my senator in real-time?” (For every single member of the fundamentally broken entity that is today’s deadlocked U.S. Senate, the answer to both of those questions is currently “no”… hence the supremely pressing & acute need for comprehensive electoral reform.) Second, we demand full public access to all legislative information in compliance with the Eight Principles of Open Government Data. Nothing short of this standard is sufficient in our democracy. We’ll continue working to meet and exceed these principles until all of our public data is liberated. (For some slightly-technical-but-not-too-off-putting specifics, see some basic baby-step starter ways THOMAS can improve data accessibility on the Transparency Hub on the OC Wiki.) We look forward to rolling out more user-friendly visualizations and popular articulations of these issues in the months to come, with the goal of building broad-and-deep public knowledge about politics. (More on where we’re headed, with your support of OC.)

Let us know what you think of the presentation. Hit me at david @ opencongress doooot org, or on micropublishing services (well there’s the old Twitter machine, which falls short of meeting standards of being truly open; and then there’s, more open than closed, lovely and preferred). Thanks all for reading and to PdF for the chance to attend a fruitful gathering. Lots more work to do until we have true transparency and real civic engagement with government in our representative democracy… back to it now.

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