Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Call To Gov 2.0 Drupalers

Upstairs at Drupal4Gov2013 there were donuts and coffee aplenty to fuel the work going on downstairs, where the Drupal community is working on a way to help government agencies post open data sets quickly, easily and consistently. Photos by me.

It's Day 2 at Drupal4Gov 2013 and one of the most important sessions taking place today is not actually a session but rather a collaboration aimed at helping federal agencies post their data sets more easily on the free, open-source Drupal website platform. 

The all-day event is called "Project Open Data Code Sprint" and it was led by some Drupal community volunteers who also work at Acquia, who apparently brainstormed with New Amsterdam Ideas (no endorsement etc. etc.) All are welcome to help out, whether onsite today or virtually tomorrow or anytime.
  • The goal is to create a "module" (building block) in Drupal that agencies can use to catalogue their data sets to meet the requirements outlined in the May 9, 2013 White House Executive Order and accompanying OMB memorandum. 
  • The benefit for the many federal agencies that use Drupal is that such a module would make life much easier as they could simply snap it into their website (like a Lego piece, as someone said) and start adding information about the datasets.

How will the module work? Very simply, easily and at no cost. It will have standardized fields that meet the government's requirements for the kind of information that has to be catalogued and released. It can do this in one of two ways:
  • If it has a data catalogue function already: Simply add on to an existing Drupal site.
  • If it does not: Add it, but connect the new module with the old system using a "bridge" module that allows them to speak to each other.
If you're not a techie all this sounds like a bit of a yawner but you have to understand the vision to really get excited about it. Because we are looking at true participatory democracy here.
  • In the past the government assumed certain roles on behalf of the citizen and generated data in the process of doing so - then held the data - and it was difficult for the original citizen-owner to get back.
  • In the future the the government will be operating with its intestines literally turned inside-out. Data will be stored with future use and re-use in mind, not just internally but by other agencies, by organizations outside government, and by private citizens.
It gets even more exciting.

Agencies are required to put their own data sets catalogues, and data, on their own pages. But once the information is made available in a standardized way, citizens will not only be able to find datasets more easily and download them. They will also be able to aggregate multiple datasets across agencies to create a comprehensive catalogue.

In the future, we can look for the data itself to become standardized, enabling citizens to compare information across agencies and also create "mashups" comparing different types of data. This will require:
  • Common fields, or information categories.
  • Common taxonomies, or definitions of the same word.
It is an exciting and important project and hopefully there will be people reading this who want to help out. You don't need to be a Drupal genius, just willing to assist. Join the community "sandbox" by clicking here

* This blog is intended for educational purposes. All opinions are my own. No endorsement expressed or implied.