written towards the end of 2012…
I remember from history class, in our studies on American federalism, learning about how the states are “the laboratories of democracy” — but I only just discovered that this phrase was actually coined about one state in particular: Wisconsin. Continue Reading →
Thanks to Code for America for inviting me to submit this paper as a chapter of their new book, Beyond Transparency: Open Data and the Civic Innovation. I’m at CfA’s summit in San Francisco this week, and I’ll be posting here a lot of content that didn’t make it into the text because of space limitations. Below, I’ve reposted the paper and will mark it up with some annotation to additional points and complementary materials.
As I said in my introduction to this issue: I’m actively working on this issue, cooking up some plans and looking for collaborators. If you’re interested in discussing this stuff, let’s be in touch!
Towards a Community Data Commons
You gotta do a lot more, and that’s just how it be…
—Mary J Blige, “What’s the 411?”
The Front Line
Bread for the City is one of Washington D.C.’s largest and most comprehensive providers of human services: an institution nearly four decades old, with four departments offering dozens of services—health care, legal counsel, food provisions, social workers, and the “Bread Boutique” clothing room to boot—in two facilities on opposite sides of the city. About thirty-two thousand people walk through Bread for the City’s doors each year, but out of all of these “walk-ins,” only around twelve thousand people actually become “clients.” The rest may need services that are provided elsewhere, at other non-profits or public agencies, and Bread for the City’s social workers redirect them accordingly.
Finding accurate referral information—specifically, what services are provided where, when, and for whom—takes up hours of these social workers’ time each week. Continue Reading →
Over the past few years I’ve been thinking about what I call, wonkily, ‘the community resource directory data problem’ — by which I mean: information about the services that exist in a community, and the challenges posed by the collection and circulation of this information.
This problem originally caught my attention while working at Bread for the City, where I blogged about it every so often, and eventually convened and facilitated a series of conversations about ways we might address the problem in the District of Columbia.
This year, I’ve had the opportunity to dig deeper. Thanks in part to a fellowship with Provisions Library, I’ve explored a bit of the history of community resource directories and the associated field of “information and referral,” and hashed out a framework for a new approach to the production and circulation of this information. Specifically, I’m proposing that the technology now makes it possible for community resource directory data to be managed as a commons–a resource that is shared by those who use it–and that for us to realize this potential, we will need to design new cooperative solutions.
This week, Code for America is publishing their book about the future of open data, and I’m excited to have a chapter in there called “Towards a Community Data Commons.” In this essay, I consider the community resource directory data challenge from an institutional perspective, and sketch out the parameters of a commons-based cooperative solution. Here, over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share some accompanying materials that weren’t able to fit into the book, including an annotated version of the paper and an accompanying memo that considers the various layers of technology involved and a possible tactical path forward.
The stakes are high and many: helping people access the resources they need, yes, and also enabling communities to know themselves and create new ways to apply that knowledge.
I’m actively working on this issue, cooking up some plans and looking for collaborators. If you’re interested in discussing this stuff, let’s be in touch!
I wrote this shortly after Brian passed away, which was a year ago today. Decided to post it after a celebration of his memory last weekend, on Ontario Road in Adams Morgan. We planted a tree among his ashes. R.I.P. friend.
I’d only met Brian Anders a few times, and each time I’d only spoken with him for a few minutes max, but it didn’t take much more than that to turn him out to a meeting that ran through almost an entire spring Saturday. Turns out this was one of Brian Anders’ natural habitats.
Brian arrived even before the Save Our Safety Net campaign’s strategy session began, and he stayed well past the official end. We were meeting at Bread for the City’s Northwest center, and it was the middle of our campaign. On the agenda: planning a series of direct actions that would pressure City Council to raise taxes instead of cutting social service budgets.
Among the crew assembled at this meeting, Brian was nearly unique: he actually looked like he fit the part of the kind of person who might actually receive help from the safety net—a bald black elder breaking bread with a group that was almost entirely white and trim and under thirty. The truth was, only one or two other people in the room had more than a decade of time in DC under our belts; most had only one or two years. We were so conscious of that, and we wanted to change it, so we’d put the call out far and wide… Brian was the one who showed up.
For my 32nd birthday, I’m giving myself a blog. This is kind of like getting a puppy: it’s gonna be cute, and also messy, and eventually it’s going to end in tears.