Posted:March 9, 2010

Citizen DAN LogoHuzzah! for Local Government Open Data, Transparency, Community Indicators and Citizen Journalism

While the Knight News Challenge is still working its way through the screening details, Structured Dynamics Citizen DAN proposal remains in the hunt. Listen to this:

To date, we have been the most viewed proposal by far (2x more than the second most viewed!!! Hooray!) and are in the top five of highest rated (have also been at #1 or #2, depending. Hooray!). Thanks to all of you for your interest and support.

There is much to recommend this KNC approach, not the least of which being able to attract some 2,500 proposals seeking a piece of the 2010 $5 million potential grant awards. Our proposal extends SD’s basic structWSF and conStruct Drupal frameworks to provide a data appliance and network (DAN) to support citizen journalists with data and analysis at the local, community level.

None of our rankings, of course, guarantees anything. But, we also feel good about how the market is looking at these frameworks. We have recently been awarded some pretty exciting and related contracts. Any and all of these initiatives will continue to contribute to the open source Citizen DAN vision.

And, what might that vision be? Well, after some weeks away from it, I read again our online submission to the Knight News Challenge. I have to say: It ain’t too bad! (Plus many supporting goodies and details.)

So, I repeat in its entirety below, the KNC questions and our formal responses. This information from our original submittal is unchanged, except to add some live links where they could not be submitted as such before. (BTW, the bold headers are the KNC questions.) Eventual winners are slated to be announced around mid-June. We’re keeping our fingers crossed, but we are pursuing this initiative in any case.


Describe your project:

Citizen DAN is an open source framework to leverage relevant local data for citizen journalists. It is a:

  • Appliance for filtering and analyzing data specific to local community indicators
  • Means to visualize local data over time or by neighborhood
  • Meeting place for the public to upload and share local data and information
  • Web data portal that can be individually tailored by any local community
  • Node in a global network of communities across which to compare indicators of community well-being.

Good decisions and good journalism require good information. Starting with pre-loaded government data, Citizen DAN provides any citizen the framework to learn and compare local statistics and data with other similar communities. This helps to promote the grist for citizen journalism; it is also a vehicle for discovery and learning across the community.

Citizen DAN comes pre-packaged with all necessary deployment components and documentation, including local data from government sources. It includes facilities for direct upload of additional local data in formats from spreadsheets to standard databases. Many standard converters are included with the basic package.

Citizen DAN may be implemented by local governments or by community advocacy groups. When deployed, using its clear documentation, sponsors may choose whether or what portions of local data are exposed to the broader Citizen DAN network. Data exposed on the network is automatically available to any other network community for comparison and analysis purposes.

This data appliance and network (DAN) is multi-lingual. It will be tested in three cities in Canada and the US, showing its multi-lingual capabilities in English, Spanish and French.

How will your project improve the way news and information are delivered to geographic communities?

With Citizen DAN, anyone with Web access can now get, slice, and dice information about how their community is doing and how it compares to other communities. We have learned from Web 2.0 and user-generated content that once exposed, useful information can be taken and analyzed in valuable and unanticipated ways.

The trick is to get information that already exists. Citizen journalists of the past may not have either known:

  1. Where to find relevant information, or
  2. How to ‘slice-and-dice’ that information to extract meaningful nuggets.

By removing these hurdles, Citizen DAN improves the ways information is delivered to communities and provides the framework for sifting through it to extract meaning.

How is your idea innovative? (new or different from what already exists)

Government public data in electronic tabular form or as published listings or tables in local newspapers has been available for some time. While meeting strict ‘disclosure’ requirements, this information has neither been readily analyzable nor actionable.

The meaning of information lies in its interpretation and analysis.

Citizen DAN is innovative because it:

  1. Is a platform for accessing and exposing available community data
  2. Provides powerful Web-based tools for drilling down and mining data
  3. Changes the game via public-provided data, and
  4. Packages Citizen DAN in a Web framework that is available to any local citizen and requires no expertise other than clicking links.

What experience do you or your organization have to successfully develop this project?

Structured Dynamics has already developed and released as open-source code structWSF and conStruct , the basic foundations to this proposal. structWSF provides the network and dataset “backbone” to this proposal; conStruct provides the Drupal portal and Web site framework.

To this foundation we add proven experience and knowledge of datasets and how to access them, as well as tools and converters for how to stage them for standard public use. A key expertise of Structured Dynamics is the conversion of virtually any legacy data format into interoperable canonical forms.

These are important challenges, which require experience in the semantics of data and mapping from varied forms into useful and common frameworks. Structured Dynamics has codified its expertise in these areas into the software underlying Citizen DAN.

Structured Dynamics’ principals are also multi-lingual, with language-neutral architectures and code. The company’s principals are also some of the most prominent bloggers and writers in the semantic Web. We are acknowledged as attentive to documentation and communication.

Finally, Structured Dynamics’ principals have more than a decade of track record in successful data access and mining, and software and venture development.

To this strong basis, we have preliminary city commitments for deploying this project in the United States (English and Spanish) and Canada (French and English).

What unmet need does your proposal answer?

ThisWeKnow offers local Census data, but no community or publishing aspects. Data sharing is in DataSF and DataMine (NYC), but they lack collaboration, community networks and comparisons, or powerful data visualization or mapping.

Citizen DAN is a turnkey platform for any size community to create, publish, search, browse, slice-and-dice, visualize or compare indicators of community well-being. Its use makes the Web more locally focused. With it, researchers, watchdog groups, reporters, local officials and interested citizens can now discover hard data for ‘new news’ or fact-check mainstream media.

What tasks/benchmarks need to be accomplished to develop your project and by when will you complete them?

There are two releases with feedback. Each task summary, listing of task hours (hr) and duration in months (mo), in rough sequence order with overlaps, is:

  1. Dataset Prep/Staging: identify, load and stage baseline datasets; provide means for aggregating data at different levels; 420 hr; 2.5 mo
  2. Refine Data Input Facility: feature to upload other external data, incl direct from local sources; XML, spreadsheet, JSON forms; dataset metadata; 280 hr; 3 mo
  3. Add Data Visualization Component: Flex mapping/data visualization (charts, graphs) using any slice-and-dice; 390 hr; 3 mo
  4. Make Multi-linguality Changes: English, French, Spanish versions; 220 hr; 2 mo
  5. Refine User Interface: update existing interface in faceted browse; filter; search; record create, manage and update; imports; exports; and user access rights; 380 hr; 3 mo
  6. Standard Citizen DAN Ontologies: the coherent schema for the data; 140 hr; 3 mo
  7. Create Central Portal: distribution and promotion site for project; 120 hr; 2 mo
  8. Deploy/Test First Release: release by end of Mo 5 @ 3 test sites; 300 hr; 4 mo
  9. Revise Based on Feedback: bug fixing and 4 mo testing/feedback, then revision #2; 420 hr
  10. Package/Document: component packaging for easier installs; increased documentation; 310 hr; 2 mo
  11. Marketing/Awareness: see next question; 240 hr; 12 mo
  12. Project Management: standard PM/interact with test communities, partners; 220 hr; 12 mo.

See attached task details.

What will you have changed by the end of your project?

"Information is the currency of democracy." Thomas Jefferson (n.b.)

We intuitively understand that an informed citizenry is a healthy polity. At the global level and in 250 languages, we see how Wikipedia, matched with the Internet and inexpensive laptops, is bringing unforeseen information and enrichment to all. Across the board, we are seeing the democratization of information.

But very little of this revolution has percolated to the local level.

Only in the past decade or so have we seen free, electronic access to national Census data. We still see local data only published in print or not available at all, limiting both awareness but more importantly understanding and analysis. Data locked up in municipal computers or available but not expressed via crowdsourcing is as good as non-existent.

Though many citizens at the local level are not numeric, intuition has to tell us that the absense of empirical, local data hurts our ability to understand, reason and debate our local circumstances. Are we doing better or worse than yesterday? Than in comparison with our peers? Under what measures does this have meaning about community well being?

The purpose of the Citizen DAN project is to create an appliance — in the same sense of refrigerators keeping our food from spoiling — by which any citizen can crack open and expose relevant data at the local level. Citizen DAN is about enrichening our local information and keeping our communities healthy.

How will you measure progress and ultimately success?

We will measure the progress of the project by the number of communities and local organizations that use the Citizen DAN platform to create and publish community data. Subsidiary measures include the number of:

  • Individual users across all installations
  • Users contributing uploaded datasets
  • Contributed datasets
  • Contributed applications based on the platform
  • Interconnected sites in the network
  • Different Citizen DAN networks
  • Substantive articles and blog posts on Citizen DAN
  • Mentions of ‘Citizen DAN’ (and local naming or variants, which will be tracked) in news articles
  • Contributed blog posts on the central Citizen DAN portal
  • Software package downloads, and
  • Google citations and hits on ‘Citizen DAN’ (and prominent variants).

These measures, plus active sites with profiles of each, will be monitored and tracked on the central Citizen DAN portal.

‘Ultimate success’ is related to the general growth in transparent government at the local level. Growth in Citizen DAN-related measures on a year-over-year basis or in relation to Gov2.0 would indicate success.

Do you see any risk in the development of your project?

There is no technical risk to this proposal, but there are risks in scope, awareness and acceptance. Our system has been operational for one year for relevant use cases; all components have been integrated, debugged, and put into production.

Scope risks relate to how much data the Citizen DAN platform is loaded with, and how much functionality is included. We balance the data question by using common public datasets for baseline data, then add features for localities to “crowdsource” their own supplementary data. We balance the functionality question by limiting new development to data visualization/mapping and to upload functions (per above), and then to refine what already exists.

Awareness risks arise from a crowded attention space. We can overcome this in two ways. The first is to satisfy users at our test sites. That will result in good recommendations to help seed a snowball effect. The second way is to use social media and our existing Web outlets aggressively. We have been building awareness for our own properties in steady, inch-by-inch measures. While a notable few Web efforts may go viral, the process is not predictable. Steady, constant focus is our preferred recipe.

Acceptance risk is intimately linked with awareness and use. If we can satisfy each Citizen DAN community, then new datasets, new functionality and new awareness will naturally arise. More users and more contributions through the network effect are the best way to broad acceptance.

What is your marketing plan? How will people learn about what you are doing?

Marketing and awareness efforts will include our use of social media, dedicated Web sites, support from test communities, and outreach to relevant community Web sites.

Our own blogs are popular in the semantic Web and structured data space (~3K uniques daily); we have published two posts on Citizen DAN and will continue to do so with more frequency once the effort gets underway.

We will create a central portal (http://citizen-dan.org) based on the project software (akin to our other project sites). The model for this apps and deployments clearinghouse is CrimeReports.com. Using social aspects and crowdsourcing, the site will encourage sharing and best practices amongst the growing number of Citizen DAN communities.

We will blog and post announcements for key releases and milestones on relevant external Web sites including various Gov 2.0 sites, Community Indicators Consortium, GovLoop, Knight News Challenge, the Sunlight Foundation, and so forth. In addition, we will collate and track individual community efforts (maintained on the central Citizen DAN site) and make specific outreach to community data sites (such as DataSF or DataMine at NYC.gov). We will use Twitter (#CitizenDAN, etc) and the social networks of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Meetup to promote Citizen DAN activity.

We will interact with advocates of citizen journalism, and engage civic organizations, media, and government officials (esp in our three test communities) to refine our marketing plan.

Is this a one-time experiment or do you think it will continue after the grant?

Citizen DAN is not an experiment. It is a working framework that gives any locality and its citizenry the means to assemble, share and compare measures of its community well-being with other communities. These indicators, in turn, provide substance and grist for greater advocacy and writing and blogging (“journalism”) at the local level.

Granted, there are unknowns: How many localities will adopt the Citizen DAN appliance? How essential will its data be to local advocacy and news? How active will each Citizen DAN installation be in attracting contributions and local data?

We submit the better way to frame the question is the degree of adoption, as opposed to will it work.

Web-based changes in our society and social interaction are leading to the democratization of information, access to it, and channels for expression. Whether ultimately successful in the specific form proposed herein, Citizen DAN and its open source software and frameworks will surely be adopted in one form or another — to one degree or another — in the unassailable trend toward local government transparency and citizen involvement.

In short, Yes: We believe Citizen DAN will continue long after the grant.

If it is to be self-sustainable, what is the plan for making that happen?

Our plan begins with the nature of Citizen DAN as software and framework. Sustainability is a question of whether the appliance itself is useful, and how users choose to leverage it.

Mediawiki, the software behind Wikipedia, is an analog. Mediawiki is an enabling infrastructure. Some sites using it are not successful; others wildly so. Success has required the combination of a good appliance with topicality and good management. The same is true for Citizen DAN.

Our plan thus begins with Citizen DAN as a useful appliance, as free open source with great documentation and prominent initial use cases. Our plan continues with our commitment to the local citizen marketplace.

We are developing Citizen DAN because of current trends. We foresee many hundreds of communities adopting the system. Most will be able to do so on their own. Some others may require modifications or assistance. Our self-interest is to ensure a high level of adoption.

An era of citizen engagement is unfolding at the local level, fueled by Web technologies and growing comfort with crowdsourcing and social networks. Meanwhile, local government constraints and pressures for transparency are unleashing locked-up data. These forces will create new opportunities for data literacy by the public, that will itself bring new understanding and improvements in governance and budgeting. We plan on Citizen DAN and its offspring to be one of the catalysts for those changes.

Posted by AI3's author, Mike Bergman Posted on March 9, 2010 at 11:36 pm in Uncategorized | Comments (0)
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