Author Archive

Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Calls for transparency around German MPs’ extra earnings; Hamburg Transparency Law enters into force

8. October 2012 – 17:33 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

It was all about transparency this weekend in Germany, and here’s why.

German’s largest opposition party, the SPD, has finally decided who their candidate for Chancellor will be at the next elections – and already he is getting into problems due to paid speaking engagements during his time as a Member of Parliament.

Peer Steinbrück stands accused of neglecting his job as an MP and of potential bias in favour of banks that paid him for speaking engagements. He has responded by denying the allegations and promising to publish details of how much he received from whom, and what topic he spoke on, and calling for more transparency around German MPs’ earnings gained from second jobs. Having said that, he asserts that “transparency only exists in dictatorships.”

Abgeordnetenwatch, a German website similar to operated from Hamburg, has weighed in on the argument. Their founder, Gregor Hackmack, called Steinbrück “a black sheep” amongst MPs: “There is a small number of MPs – Peer Steinbrück, Michael Glos or Heinz Riesenhuber – who have earned a particularly high amount alongside their work as an MP and are neglecting their duties,” presumably calling upon figures gathered through Abgeordnetenwatch. This episode could be a boost for the transparency agenda in a similar way to the MPs expense affair in Britain.

Abgeordnetenwatch was also in the headlines over the weekend because the Hamburg Transparency Law entered into force. Along with other campaigners (Mehr Demokratie e.V., Chaos Computer Club, Transparency International) who successfully forced it through, Abgeordnetenwatch celebrated the entering into force of the Hamburg Transparency Law on Saturday. As I wrote previously, the law was suddenly and surprisingly adopted back in June and requires a greater level of transparency by default, including the creation of an information register.

At the event on Saturday, held at Kultwerk West, the portal “Frag Den Staat” was made available to users in Hamburg to coincide with the transparency law. Similar to the UK’s “what do they know”, the website allows citizens to make freedom of information requests in public and post the responses to the website. Ideas for information requests were collected from the audience and some requests were made in order to demonstrate to the audience how the website works.

In the name of transparency, I suppose I should mention that I’m an unpaid team member at Kultwerk West, where the event was hosted.

Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

It’s the taking part that counts, not the minutes – PEP-NET Hangout

28. September 2012 – 15:25 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)
Picture of PEP-NET Hangout

The invisible man

Today we held the second of two Google+ Hangouts with PEP-NET members. No real agenda, open to anyone who was interested, and not quite sure whether it would work. We gave it a go.

From an organiser’s point of view, the best things about doing a hangout rather than a text-based live chat (as we have done before with CoverItLive) is that i) the number of participants doesn’t need to be high for you to feel successful and ii) you can really see who is there and know that people were there for the duration. If I had organised a live text chat and six people in total had taken part, I would have been pretty disappointed.

Rather than writing boring minutes of the conversation, here is a collection of links to projects that were mentioned, as well as the websites or twitter accounts of the participants themselves. After all, it’s the taking part that counts, not the minutes.

Finland: Youth Initiative Channel, a project allowing youngsters to make suggestions/express wishes. Similar to FixMyStreet but about solutions, not problems.
(Some information in 2.3.1. of this report (PDF)), via @nadinekarbach.

Iceland: A group of citizens drafted a new constitution using online collaboration tools and presented it to the speaker of the parliament. Here’s a link that I found about the story, via @nadinekarbach (again)

Finland: The Finnish children’s parliament, via @nadinekarbach. (Now I feel like a kid copying someone else’s homework. Thanks Nadine.)

UK: 38 Degrees: a platform that brings people together to campaign, via @andywilliamson

The Danish Parliament puts videos of all its sessions online, and has made them fully searchable by users. Here’s an article I found about that. Thanks again, @andywilliamson

Gábor Mihucz (Foundation for Societal Participation, Germany/Hungary), @GaborMihucz
Nadine Karbach (YouthPart, Germany), @nadinekarbach
Andy Williamson (FutureDigital, UK/worldwide), @Andy_Williamson
Hans Hagedorn (DEMOS eParticipation, Germany), @haans_en
Rolf Lührs (TuTech/DEMOS eParticipation, Germany), @somed
Peter Sonntagbauer (FUPOL),
… and of course me, @johnheaven
And PEP-NET is @pepnet.

Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Date and time for PEP-NET Google+ Hangouts

24. September 2012 – 16:41 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Last week I suggested we arrange a Google+ Hangout to catch up with each other, especially as we have some new members. Well we had quite a lot of interest, so I decided to hold two hangouts.

I have already written to those whose email address I have, so anybody else please note the following two times:

Hangout I: 27/9 at 15.00

Hangout II: 28/9 at 11.00

All times are CET. Please add me to a Google+ circle so that I am able to find you quickly and can invite you to the hangout.

I look forward to catching up with you!

Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

And the most innovative e-government project in the German speaking world is …

17. September 2012 – 13:49 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Every year, Bearing Point and Cisco Germany award a project the title of “the most innovative e-government project in the German-speaking world”. This year, the Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein was nominated for their project BOB-SH* in which they implemented DEMOS-Plan, our software for managing spatial planning consultations online. And they won!

So we’ve been feeling a little bit innovative for the past week too. After all, we worked closely with Schleswig-Holstein, giving technical support, training and telephone assistance to the wide range of stakeholders who will be working with DEMOS-Plan.

DEMOS-Plan is an online tool that closely follows the procedure laid down by German law for conducting consultations on a particular type of spatial plan (the “Bebauungsplan”). It allows statutory stakeholders to manage submissions internally by requiring one representative to sign off the submissions from different departments. These submissions can be linked to a particular paragraph of the planning document and/or the participant can draw on a map of the plan.

It’s great for the planning authority, because it saves them the trouble of sending paper copies of plans and collating all the submissions manually: instead, this is done automatically.

We think there are other countries in Europe where DEMOS-Plan could be useful and have been investigating this through the Parterre project. If you were at the PEP-NET Summit, you may have caught Francesco Molinari’s presentation of Parterre. (Hopefully you will also have noticed that the Summit was sponsored by Parterre!)

There will be more news on Parterre soon, so keep your eyes on the blog!

* Bauleitplanung Online-Beteiligung Schleswig Holstein

Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

PEP-NET Hangout – catch up on who’s doing what

14. September 2012 – 16:20 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Several new members have joined PEP-NET recently (see our members page), mainly thanks to the publicity around the PEP-NET Summit in May. I thought it would be a nice time to catch up again and meet the new members. We can’t organise a conference as often as we might like, but we can use Google+ Hangouts to keep in touch.

So if you are interested, fill in this Doodle poll to let me know when you can take part and I’ll publicise the date and time when it’s been decided. I’m hoping to keep it simple, with a quick round-robin of introductions and updates on what people are doing, and then discussion about conferences that people are planning to go to (hopefully people will be able to take the opportunity to meet up with one another in person), and then general chatter about recent developments and co-operations.

Looking forward to chatting!

Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Open by default: Hamburg passes a transparency law

19. June 2012 – 11:06 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)
Daniel Lentfer presents the Transparency Law at the PEP-NET Summit

Daniel Lentfer presents the Transparency Law at the PEP-NET Summit 2012

Campaigners for a local transparency law, the so-called Transparenzgesetz, can look forward to a  summer watching the football with a cool bottle of Astra and a Bratwurst. Expecting stiff resistance from the local authority, they had planned to spend the next few months preparing for the next round of a local citizen’s initiative, which would have required them to collect thousands of signatures in order to force a referendum. But to many people’s surprise, an adapted version of the law was passed last week.

Following negotiations with all parliamentary party groups and the campaign’s initiatiors (Mehr Demokratie, Transparency International and Chaos Computer Club), a text was agreed upon and passed on 12th June. By introducing an inventory of publicly held information, including data, and obliging public servants to open information by default, the law will go a long way to increasing transparency in the local authority. The types of information that are included in the duty to publish are, amongst others, contracts for public services, official statistics, geodata and spatial development plans. Where there are compelling reasons, such as data protection or the protection of sensitive business information, the duty does not apply.

This law supersedes the Freedom of Information Law, passed in 2009. Hamburg’s wide range of instruments for involving citizens extend from citizens’ initiatives on a local level to livestreaming parliamentary proceedings, via the online spatial planning consultation system that TuTech developed with the city. The Transparency Campaign and the Parliament are in agreement that Hamburg is set to become Germany’s most transparent state, its transparency capital. As far as I know, this is the best example of open data and transparency being pushed through by a civil society campaign.

Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Monmouth is the world’s first “Wikipedia town”

25. May 2012 – 13:38 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Mrjohncummings

The Welsh town of Monmouth is to become the world’s first “wikipedia town”. In a project that involves kitting out the whole town with free wifi hotspots and sticking QR codes on all significant monuments and places of interest, “Monmouthpedia” enables tourists to call up community-generated articles on their smartphones.

The project doesn’t simply use QR codes that link to a specific article, but to a wikipedia article in the user’s own language where available. This is enabled by the QR-Pedia website, which anyone can use to convert a link from a Wikipedia article into a QR code that ascertains the user’s language an delivers the article in the right language.

I can see this being a success because the QR codes make it much easier to find information about specific objects without having to type in a long, complicated URL, and you have a good idea of what information you are requesting. In many cases, QR codes are used unnecessarily (presumably because they are fashionable) on flyers and posters and link to a company’s website, which would be easier to call up by typing in the URL or searching for it. I also find that you often do not know what the QR code links to, which isn’t a great motivating factor either.

Another innovative example of QR code use is the Korean supermarket in an underground station that consists of pictures of products, each with an associated QR code. Again, the QR code links to a very specific object and it’s obvious what you can expect when you scan the code.

Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Thanks for coming to #pepsum

16. May 2012 – 19:15 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

The past week has seen a feast of eParticipation in Hamburg: the Open Government Stammtisch at Kultwerk West last Wednesday evening, a pre-Summit warm up with Nick Booth at Kultwerk West on Sunday evening, the Summit itself, and the first Hamburg social media surgery on Monday evening. It’s been energising, inspiring, refreshing and exhausting all at once.

Hamburg has a growing network of eParticipation experts/enthusiasts, a community that has been given new life by Government 2.0 Netzwerk‘s efforts to revitalise it by organising regular information meetings (Stammtische), one of which was held here at TuTech. So the idea behind the Summit was to feed this community with new ideas from outside Germany, but also to show the outside world what Hamburg has to offer.

In terms of learning from new ideas, we heard from Nick Booth about social media surgeries and his theory of Zero Expectations; Peter Verhaeghe’s ideas about the role of an architect as a mediator between citizens and politics; Erik Tissingh’s presentation of 3D citizen participation tools. Then there were the informal presentations in the break with presenters from Germany, the UK, Austria, Italy and Denmark.

And on the second point: Hamburg’s campaign for a local transparency law is unlike anything elsewhere in Europe. As far as I can see, it is the only high-profile open data campaign of its type. And with Twitter comments like this —  “Everyone doing participation should have @nexthamburg‘s principles above their desk” — no-one can deny that Hamburg has a lot to say about participation.

Judging by the feedback, we managed to do what we set out to. To organise such an event wouldn’t have been possible without PEP-NET: the contacts, the brand, the publicity tools such as the mailing list and the blog. We got in touch with Peter Verhaeghe thanks to a suggestion from Dieter van de Putte, of PEP-NET member De Wakkere Burger. So with a bit of creativity and quite a bit of work, we made the most of PEP-NET and everyone’s a winner. We had a blast!

For more information about what was discussed, have a look at the full report by Noella Edelmann from the Centre of E-Governance at the Danube University.

Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Today – PEP-NET Summit: Out in the open #pepsum

14. May 2012 – 07:45 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

The day is finally upon us: the second PEP-NET Summit is taking place today at the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg. We will be hearing great examples of citizen participation from speakers representing civil society, public administrations and universities.

As well as the regular panels, there is a chance to get up close and personal during the informal presentations that will take part during the lunch break.

We are looking forward to welcoming over sixty participants from across Europe. If you want to be one of them, you had better be quick! Here is the agenda:

The Twitter hashtag for the event is #pepsum.

Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Hamburg to launch an open data portal

4. May 2012 – 10:58 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Hamburg will become the latest German city to publish government datasets online, with plans to launch an open data portal by the end of this year. Exactly which data will be released, and when, is still unclear.

Hamburg already publishes some data online and is planning to release more, according to the Senate’s (Hamburg’s Cabinet’s) answer to an enquiry from Hansjörg Schmidt, the SPD parliamentary group’s representative on media and online policy.

Schools performance data, information on cancer patients, air quality and water quality are all available online and in many cases downloadable in Excel format. I had a quick look through these websites and it does appear that information in Excel format is relatively easy to get at, although it is questionable whether this is really raw data since it is presented in a non-standard format and appears in some cases (for example the schools data) to have been pre-crunched. In the case of water data, making this data open is a technical challenge — at the moment, only a description of the data is available due to its size.

The city will  also release geographic data at some point, including the location of play areas and police stations. There appears to be no promise that this will coincide with the launch of the portal and no cast-iron guarantees about exactly what data will be made available.

The Senate’s response does not make a clear commitment to launch a portal, but NDR reports that the City has officially announced its intention to do so by the end of the year.

Alongside talk of an open data portal, the campaign for a Transparency Law is making much greater demands. The backers of the law want to go much further and are pushing for a law that will oblige the local government to open all of its data unless there is a compelling reason not to do so. A comment on Hansjörg Schmidt’s blog suggest that some backers of the Transparency Law may see this as an attempt to diffuse their campaign by opening some data. I am sure this will be a hot topic at the next Open Government Stammtisch on 9th May and the PEP-NET Summit on 14th May.