Code for DC launches OurDCSchools.org, an open government platform for proposed school policy

ourdcschools

Parents, students and other members of the public can now easily see the effect of a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/dc-releases-proposed-school-boundaries-and-far-reaching-student-assignment-policies/2014/04/05/368521e0-bc46-11e3-96ae-f2c36d2b1245_story.html”>new proposals for elementary school boundaries and far-reaching student assignment policies in the District of Columbia using a civic app called Our DC Schools.
The new website, built by volunteers at from Code for DC, a local open government group, makes it easier for the public to understand how important changes to the boundaries of DC school districts would affect a given address, rate the assignment policies proposed by the DC government, and forward that feedback to the Deputy Mayor for Education.

According to Code for DC, their team will published all responses collected, after the street addresses are excluded, on OpenDataDC, “a public catalog of civic data built by and for the people of Washington.”  The group will continue to collect responses until mid-May 2014, sharing them with the Boundary Review Advisory Committee, the relevant government entity entrusted with working on the proposals. You can find more a bit more context about the app and the issues at WAMU.org.

Our DC Schools builds upon the data behind the Washington Post’s interactive news app, which also enables people to perform a similar geographic search, and then goes one step further than the newspaper, giving people tools to rate proposed changes and send it on to local government.

 

code-for-dc-logoAccording to Code for DC, the idea for the civic app came from Chris Given, when he saw how much data was available regarding the issue

“I attended a public working group meeting at Dunbar High School and while I was impressed by the dedication of the Deputy Mayor for Education and DC Public Schools staff, I was just bowled over by the scale of the challenge of getting meaningful feedback from everyone these policies affect,” said Given, in a statement. “I wanted to create an on-ramp for engaging with a really complex issue.”

In personalizing and visualizing the school district changes, unpacking these proposals for assignment and connecting feedback concerned citizens affected by the proposals to policy makers at local government, these volunteers are demonstrating how open government data and the World Wide Web can inform residents and stimulate citizen engagement in matters of great public interest.

Notably, the civic app came to life through a collaboration between Code for DC and the office of the district’s Deputy Mayor for Education (DME). It’s an effort to use modern technology to better engage the people of DC in their government.

“The Our Schools DC app is an example of what can be achieved when government collaborates with citizens to find solutions to common problems. In addition to providing valuable information, it’s a means of public engagement that will help city leaders better meet the educational needs of communities throughout the district,” said Traci L. Hughes, Director of the District of Columbia Office of Open Government, in a statement.

 

Historic lows in trust in government creates icy headwinds for U.S. open government policies

Open government advocates in the United States can expect to find public support for more accountability on a host of federal programs and policies among an electorate deeply distrustful of the White House’s commitment to more transparency regarding them. Anyone interested in engaging the public regarding rules, regulations and proposed laws, however, should take note of the tenor of the comments on the coverage of the second United States National Action Plan on Open Government. They are a bellwether for the degree of damage to public trust in government that now persists in the United States.

If you feel like reading through the comments on “White House promises more transparency in second Open Government plan” at The Verge or “White House announces second open government plan” at Politico or “New White House plan reaffirms commitment to open data” at The Washington Post, you’ll find anger, disbelief and mockery.

gallup-polls-trust-government

I couldn’t find a single positive or even neutral comment on any of the stories. Considered in the context of the current political climate in the United States, that’s not surprising.

Gallup polling data from September 2013 indicated then that the trust of Americans in government had now fallen to historic lows.

After the government shutdown this fall and the messy rollout of the Affordable Care Act over the past two months, including a high stakes Internet failure at Healthcare.gov, I suspect that a Gallop poll taken today would find that even fewer people trust that the executive or legislative branch of the federal government of the United States.

If my own article on the White House’s second open government national action plan gains more attention, I expect to find similar sentiments from people who choose to comment.