Open data to-do list for Arkansas 

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Arkansas needs an open data plan. The Arkansas General Assembly and city and county governments across the state should introduce comprehensive legislation covering what data should be made public, how it will be delivered and how it will become interwoven with existing policy. The Sunlight Foundation offers 32 suggestions for drafting open data policy. One of Sunlight's suggestions — creating an inventory of all information holdings — would make a good starting place. Government tech officers, or newly created transparency advisory committees, should identify what's easily available and what's high value and work until they meet in the middle.

Tranparency.Arkansas.gov needs an update. In July 2012, Arkansas joined a majority of states in providing checkbook-level details of state expenditures and revenues. It's a powerful resource, but it needs to be made significantly more user friendly. For example, visitors can't search the data with a single query. Payments to vendors are included; but to search for actual contracts, you have to go to another state site that's not linked from the transparency site. As much as it might pain them, state officials should look to Texas' transparency portal for inspiration. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group gave Texas' site a 96, the highest score in its report "Following the Money 2013: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data." Arkansas received a 69.

The state needs one data portal. "To me, everybody just thinks of government as government and they really don't differentiate between city, county, state and federal," Arkansas Chief Technology Officer Claire Bailey told the Times. "So we've got to work together, those of us in public service, to make it as easy as possible for people to find information." Hear, hear. Transparency.Arkansas.gov should be the place Arkansans go to learn about how their state operates and where developers go to get datasets and APIs. As more local data become available, it and relevant federal data should be included.

The state should consolidate its information technology infrastructure. Arkansas is one of the few states in the country without one IT department providing support for all state agencies, according to Bailey, who also serves as director of the state Department of Information Systems (DIS). Bailey understands where government needs to move on the web. The state portal, Arkansas.gov, employs responsive design (i.e. it's mobile friendly) and geo-locating features. It's undoubtedly the most user-friendly website in Arkansas government. She also gets the value of open data. "Big data and transparency not only generates introspection into government, it also provides a catalyst for emerging enterprises that can look and think differently about data and put that to use for economic development," she told the Times. As CTO, her job is to consider state tech policy from a macro level and suggest ways to improve. But that's a tall order when many state agencies have their own IT groups and visions. A consolidated system would allow for easier and quicker implementation of open data policy.

The state Senate should livestream its proceedings. Legislative watchers know well the Senate's pitiful reluctance to embrace transparency. In 2011, the House began broadcasting live on the Internet from its chamber and four committee rooms. A big chunk of its initial $400,000 setup fee went to build a sophisticated control room. House spokespeople are too decorous to say so, but the current control room would almost certainly support livestreaming the Senate with minimal upgrades. The cost to outfit House committee rooms ran $65,000 a pop. So cost isn't a reason for the Senate not to join their colleagues. An even worse excuse? Grandstanding. Current Senate leader Michael Lamoureux (R-Russellville) has often said he doesn't support the move because he's afraid his colleagues will suddenly start preening for the camera. Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy), who's in line to take Lamoureux's place, made a similarly lame argument in an interview with the Times. "There's a lot of tradition and some apprehension [cameras] would change it. There's a lot of camaraderie. ... There's not a lot of grandstanding in the Senate. There's not a lot of political posturing on the bills. It's more about the facts surrounding the bills." Those of us who are able to show up at the Capitol know that lawmakers do not need cameras in the room to grandstand. Dismang added that he'd never gotten a request from a constituent. That misses the point: Most people won't watch gavel-to-gavel coverage, of course, but if a few motivated citizens have access, they can spread the word, leading to a more informed and engaged citizenry. It's 2014. Access to the government of the people should not be limited to Arkansans able to go to the Capitol in Little Rock in the middle of the working day.


Speaking of...

  • No sunshine for the Health Reform Legislative Task Force

    May 15, 2015
    Legislative Council today rejected a proposal to livestream the proceedings of the Health Reform Legislative Task Force. /more/
  • The details on the mess at the Department of Information Services

    November 26, 2014
    Here's the complete copy of a special audit of the Department of Information Systems that found millions in overbilling and underbilling, improper travel expenses and failures in management in virtually every area reviewed. /more/
  • Claire Bailey no longer director of state Department of Information Systems

    October 15, 2014
    Claire Bailey is no longer director of the Arkansas Department of Information Systems, the state's chief technology officer. She'd worked for the state since 1991. The department has been the source of some contention of late. /more/
  • It's camera time, state Senate

    February 13, 2014
    As much as Arkansans should take the opportunity to come to the cramped galleries on the top floor of the state Capitol to watch their senators at work, it's simply not feasible for hundreds of thousands of them significantly affected by some of the votes cast there. But because the presence of cameras in the Senate chamber and committee rooms has been fervently resisted, as this publication has noted across the years, Arkansans are unable to see their elected officials at work. /more/
  • The open data revolution is coming

    January 23, 2014
    Arkansas should embrace it for the sake of democracy, improving government services and sparking economic development. /more/
  • Mike Beebe then and now on public-records transparancy

    December 3, 2013
    A local Republican politico e-mailed to point out that then newly elected Gov. Mike Beebe said this in 2007 after releasing the papers of Larry Zeno, a Parole Board member who had jokes and photos of a racial and sexual nature on his state computer:  /more/
  • House committees to vote on live streaming UPDATE

    January 18, 2011
    A number of House committees will likely vote this morning on whether to live stream their meetings. Revenue and Tax, Judiciary and Public Health committees all meet this morning at 10:00 a.m. There has been - unfathomably - a debate over whether to use live streaming technology that was installed in four committee rooms last year at the cost of over $300,000. /more/
  • Smartphone policy not so smart

    January 13, 2011
    Rep. Clark Hall's (D-Malvern) announcement in yesterday's House State Agencies Committee meeting that he would ban the use of smartphones for sending texts, emails or tweets has caused quite a stir. Hall also raised the question of whether the committee's meetings should be live-streamed using technology that was installed last year at the cost of over $300,000. T /more/
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