IRE Commons: Transparency by design
You’ve probably heard this: “We would be happy to give you these records, but our database doesn’t have an export function.” Or this: “We’d love to give you a data dictionary, but our database vendor says we can’t.” Public records law falls apart when proprietary software renders data inaccessible. But what if agencies had to use technology that makes data easy to retrieve when someone asks? That’s the idea behind Transparency by Design, a legislative initiative gaining traction in Oregon. The Oregonian’s Carli Brosseau and Steve Suo will explain how the concept works -- and what you can do to help.
Carli Brosseau is a data reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. Previously, she worked at The Oregonian, the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen. She's on Twitter @carlibrosseau.
Steve Suo is The Oregonian/OregonLive's managing producer for watchdog and data-driven enterprise, a team of investigative reporters and numbers geeks that promotes accountability journalism across the newsroom. As a reporter, Steve's groundbreaking work on the methamphetamine trade made him a 2005 Pulitzer finalist in national reporting and an IRE Phillip Meyer award winner. He shared the 2007 Pulitzer in breaking news with a team of reporters from The Oregonian. He received his masters in public policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Transparency by Design
The problem: Some agencies say their software won’t export data. Others charge tons of money for data, saying it’s complicated to extract. We can fight them by showing that it’s not that complicated. We ask for the agency’s data dictionary or record layout, which is a document describing the table names, field names and field formats in a database, and then we ask for just the tables and fields we care about. But many agencies say the software vendor won’t let them disclose a data dictionary because it’s a trade secret. The solution: Prohibit agencies from putting themselves in such predicaments. Transparency by Design says that any new government technology must offer the ability for an agency to deliver both data and data documentation without restriction.