Post a Comment
Original Content at
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Associate Member, or higher).

November 16, 2013

Giving Power to Citizens Over Government, Providing Tools to Expose the Secrets of Billionaires and Corporations;

By Rob Kall

Transcript of my interview with transparency warrior Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundations. She answers my questions, such as: How are transparency and power connected? How is secrecy used as a weapon, as a strategy? What's the relationship between secrecy and democracy? How are connections between us tied to transparency? What is transparency, how does it make democracy better?


R. K.: Welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township between metro Philly and South Jersey sponsored by OpEdnews.com.  My guest tonight is Ellen Miller, she's the executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation.  Wikipedia says she's a political activist and advocate for open government to promote the use of technology to increase transparency in government, and she co-founded both the non-profit 501-C3 Sunlight Foundation and its sister political organization, Sunlight Network.   

She's held several staff-level positions in the US Government including House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, and Senate Intelligence Committee.  She's been listed among the most influential women in technology by FAST Company, and among the 15 People the Next President Should Listen to by "Wired Magazine."  She stopped counting after creating eighteen tools and websites a year and a half into the Sunlight Foundation.  I cannot imagine how many there are now.  It has become an incredible enterprise.  I've had a chance to have some contact and work a bit with Ellen Miller over the years and I'm really pleased to have you on the show, thank you.  

E.M.: Well I am delighted to be here, Rob

R. K.: So the reason I wanted to have you on, first of all I think your work is extremely important and essential to the future of democracy and really of America, the way most people think about it.  I call my show the Bottom Up Radio Show because I believe we are in a transition from a top-down to a bottom-up world and I have come to realize that transparency is an essential ingredient in people being able to take bottom-up power.

So I have a couple of questions for you -

E.M.: Sure.

R. K.: - that I will kind of throw at you and you can start the conversation with some basics.  How are transparency and power connected?   How is secrecy used as a weapon, as a strategy?  What's the relationship between secrecy and democracy?

You said connections between us are what are so critically important and how does that tie in with transparency; and the basic questions: what is transparency and why is it important?  You said it is for making democracy better and opening up closed societies, I want to get in to the details.  And then what is the Sunlight Foundation, what is the Sunlight Network, and what is transparency camp?  That's good enough for....

E.M.: Well, let's take them from the top.  I will be glad to try to talk about all of those things but they are all big topics so what should we address first?

R. K.: Okay, so my real goal is to give you a chance to showcase a bit about Sunlight Foundation but I want to get some big picture questions taken care of.  How are transparency and power connected? 

E.M.: It is a really, really good question and I am delighted to start the interview that way.  You know, Sunlight took it's name from Justice Brandeiss's very famous quote that Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants," and so in any society, anywhere around the world where information, data, access to process is kept secret, there is  always the potential for corruption.  There's always a place, it always becomes a place where the powerful makes decisions out of the watchful eye of the public and so the clear relationship between opaqueness - which I would say is the opposite of transparency - and power is, you know, the powerful like that opaqueness, they don't like doing their business in the light of day.  

Therefore, the more open we make government and it's work and the data it collects, the more powerful citizens become because we have access to information.  You know, there is also the old adage, that information is power and that is very much at the heart of Sunlight's world.  We are really interested in accountability of government and it's officials and we use technology as a way to pry open that information and make it accessible to journalists and make it accessible to the average online active citizen, to people who are going to vote and need information, and the reason we do this is because we don't want this information behind closed doors or locked in file cabinets, for people, because they can't get it.  They can't get it on the web, they can't get it on their mobile devices.

R. K.: Now, you have become probably the leading institution in the world for developing technology to enable transparency and access to open government information.  I want to kind of go in a slightly different direction and we are going to get in to that.  How do you work to promote transparency as a value because it seems to me that if you're going to get government people and people in general to demand it and want it and create it, you have to have the demand for it.  So how do you get that, have you looked at it as a value and what are the dimensions of it as a value?

E.M.: The answer to that is very early on in Sunlight's history, in fact it might have been right around our launch which was just a little over seven years ago, we did some polling and we asked people what they thought about the necessity for open-information about the US Congress specifically.  It was a bi-partisan poll, it was done by bi-partisan polsters, and every question we asked, "would you like to have this information or that information", received an 80% support level.  So, I think the value of transparency, the value of seeing behind the closed doors and the congress or in the government, at any level, is already of value in the United States and so the challenge is to create a cultural transformation inside government.  A government which generally holds information closely, to create the transformation that we think is actually coming where the default is openness and open data and open access to process rather than a closed one and we see tremendous changes in that regard.  The public is already with us, they get it.  They know if they cannot see something they are very skeptical about what is going on behind closed doors or what is being kept in file cabinets so they are with us.  The challenge is really to get government to do something that it is really not so interested in.  A great example of this, Rob is if you think about the Freedom of Information Act, FoIA we call it.  That has been a terrific law and when it was passed, what it really said was, "if you citizens want something, you have the right to ask government to provide it to you."  In the twenty first century, that's ridiculous.  Government by default should be open and we should not have to ask, to put the burden of openness on the citizen to request it, government should simply be open!  We shouldn't have to need a FoIA, because government should proactively put out the information that can be made publicly available.

R. K.: How about this history of secrecy and transparency?  I always liked to look at Humanity from the big picture; going back to indigenous tribal culture and secrecy in early history, mythic and archetypal aspects of secrecy and transparency.  The Founders... Are there stories?  Are there myths?  Do we have deep history that gives us perspective on this that we can look to?

E.M.: I don't really know the answer to that question, but I think the answer would be quite simple: it is that power resides in the information and so those who are in power want to hold it close and those who are out of power want it open so they have more access to decisions and to participating in decisions and the understanding how decisions were made.  I do not know that there is anything much greater than that in the history, you know?  There is a natural tendency among those who are empowered to want to stay in power.  They know that controlling the flow of information is absolutely one way to do that and so that has been the default of most governments.

R. K.: OK. So, give me some basic definitions.  What is transparency?  What is secrecy?  And then tell me about the Sunlight Foundation.

E.M.: Well again, secrecy are things that are not made publicly available and open government is really sort of the new term rather than -- I mean transparency is the process, it is the "thing," it is not the "why."  The "why" is accountability and open government and a transparent, open government is one that where the data is made freely available, that anything publicly accessible would be online and accessible in  a twenty first century style and for twenty first century modern, using modern technology.  And it is pretty intuitive I think, Rob, as to what openness in government is and how deep it should go and I think, as I said earlier, we are on a process.  We are moving in that direction.  It is actually strikingly quickly that this process is moving forward and we do hit road blocks from time to time and we have to fight our way through them, and one of the other big problems of course is we have to get everything put in to law so that it cannot just be voluntary efforts on government, on behalf of government, you know they could change at the whim of whoever our elected leaders are.  

R. K.: So, tell me about the Sunlight Foundation.

E.M.: The Sunlight Foundation is non-partisan, non-profit, it was founded in 2006.  It really saw the potential of using the internet and the new technologies as a way of engaging citizens to hold it's government officials and government itself, accountable with explicit demand for open data and open information.  We do that through our policy advocacy and we really work at this point at all levels, from the municipal level to state level, to the federal level and we work globally as well.  And we create tools, both global tools and web-based tools.  We do journalism as well and the other thing that we do is we encourage other like-minded young start-ups to get engaged in this kind of work as well.  

So, some specifics, we created and just re-launched a site called open-congress, which receives about three hundred and fifty thousand visitors a month.  These are people who want to know what is happening in congress.  So "opencongress.org" takes the legislative information from the U.S .Congress, makes it easily understandable, easily accessible, and brings together a number of other relevant pieces of information like campaign finance information, like biographical information, like contact information and allows citizens to comment on and become a part of the process of the U.S. Congress.  It is a hugely popular site, we have a mobile app. for that.  The mobile app is used fifty to seventy five thousand times a week by people and this was a great example.  We had no idea how many people would be interested in what the U.S. Congress does.  To our astonishment, frankly, lots of people are very interested and engaged in that.  

We have another site that is very similar, although was more difficult to create called "open states."  For this site we take the legislative information from all fifty states and with volunteer scrapers scraping information and we put it in to a common data format so that at "openstates.org" you can find the information in all fifty states.  You can do your homework and see whether certain pieces of legislation have been introduced in other states and if so whether the language is the same and it basically has the same information as Open Congress does.  It has campaign finance information, the opportunity to participate.  So we constantly create tools where we see or feel or understand there is a demand to be.  

We have a site called  Scout which enables you to track legislation and regulation from all fifty states and in the federal sites as well.  On Scout there are sort of sub-sections so if you are interested in gun control, you can see all of the information that is coming through, all the legislation that is of interest on gun control and you can create your own curated site.  So these individual project-based or focused tools that we create are really designed to enable the citizens and journalists to have access to information about what they care about when they care about it.  All of this rides on the 24/7 culture that we operate in today and we expect our politicians to respond to us quickly, we expect to be able to converse with them, on Twitter or on their Facebook pages so we are entering in a new era of interactive democracy and that's what is so exciting I think about Sunlight's work, which is that we take advantage of this new technology to engage people.  

R. K.: Tell me about how journalists and activists can and do use the tools that you have created.

    E.M.: Well, one is when we won...; one stunning example which is Sunlight creates lots of data sets itself.  We have data sets of members of Congress and members of state legislature and we are moving in to sort of local official data sets as well and we put technical interfaces on this data so that other people can pick them up and use it, they are called APIs.  Our APIs just reached their one billionth use and so part of what Sunlight does, or  has become, is a kind of infrastructure, in an institution where we make the data available to other people to do what they will with it.  Groups like, people on gun control are using our data, the SOPA/PIPA open internet fight was using Sunlight's data to power that mass movement against those pieces of legislation.  So they are just examples everyday, there are a billion examples out there, I suppose it would be fair to say, on how the work Sunlight has done actually empowers other institutions and other advocacy groups.  Our advocacy group works specifically on transparency.  That is all that we do our advocacy work on.  Opening data, moving pieces of legislation that would require electronic, digitized reporting of either existing data or new data, but the work that we produce actually encourages other people to do this as well.

    R. K.: So who would the Transparency heroes - the friends in Congress and politics who are really helping your cause?

    E.M.: Well there are a lot of people who are helping the cause.  I mean, I would -- when you asked about Transparency heroes I wasn't thinking about Congress to be perfectly honest, I was thinking about the hundreds of thousands of citizens around the country who have, in their own way, jumped on the Transparency and Open-Information bandwagon who are demanding this information, who are creating tools and websites on their own.  To me, that has been, these people are real heroes.  They do this kind of work on a shoestring, they do it because they're interested in different topics.  They spend their Saturdays and Sundays at Hack-a-Thons working on civic data and trying to make that information more accessible to their constituencies.  Those, to me are the real heroes.  

    We do have friends in Congress -- in both the House and the Senate.  They're doing their job to carry legislation forward and to move ideas or executive orders in to law but the real heroes are the people who have been, the teacher in the school system understands why having access to education data is critically important to make sure that their school district is given the kind of money that the district with a wealthier population lives in, ensuring an equity in that kind of thing; those are the real heroes in my mind.  

    R. K.: That is a real Bottom Up answer really which is part of my agenda in having you on the show to explore how Transparency contributes to Bottom Up and apparently Bottom Up processes are what is making Transparency work.  How many people do you have using APIs? 

    E.M.: I don't know what the numbers are, the number of keys.  I mean, I think there are probably something in the range of five thousand registered users.  Or perhaps that is our end-goal for this year, so we're in the range.  That's a lot of people if they are activists.  We require a sign-in but we don't require them to be publicly discussed so the only ones we can talk about are people who said yes we can talk about what our work is because we want to encourage people to do their own work and not feel that they have to be held up to the light of day.

    R. K.: So a little bit more going after the Bottom Up angle of this, how does Transparency empower people from the bottom up?

    E.M.: Well you know if you're standing in your neighborhood with your cell phone and you're waiting for the next bus to come and you go to your app on bus schedules and there are many of these, and you see the next bus is due in fifteen minutes and you wait your fifteen minutes and the bus doesn't come, if you could then also press a button to be in touch with, send an email or a text or an SMS message to your local city council official and say, "My bus is late, it's been late for the last two weeks" or "my bus never comes" that's the kind of accountability that we want to be able to offer to people.  That is sort of still in the dreamlight phase but we are not that far away from that.  So it literally can help people in their everyday lives from "when do I catch the bus" or "why does my neighborhood never get their streets plowed in the winter and other neighborhoods do?" and it's just sort of an every day, in small and big ways.  

    Of course we think all of this is really important when it comes to election time and making sure people have the information that they need to decide who they want to vote for.  And putting this information in a place where people have access to it, on their mobile phones or on the web is a terrific, terrific asset.  We actually created a website and a protocol for people who don't have access to mobile phones and that's of course fewer and fewer people but some people don't, so that you can actually call in to our databases and we advertise this basically to our public libraries and it had some pretty interesting pick-up.

    R. K.: Interesting pick up?

    E.M.: Yes, the people were using this site, the numbers were not dramatic but as best we could tell they were really people who might have been handicapped in some form or fashion or they were older and not familiar with the technology.

    R. K.: Ok great.  Just getting it out there more and more accessible

    E.M.: And that's what the technology does.  It allows us to contact more people who are not in the normal, what we think is normal, the normal supporters of something like Accountability which sounds very grand and policy-oriented.  These are just ordinary people who have cellphones and you can engage with them in ways that were never before possible.  

    R. K.: You said, and I quote, "connections between us are what are so critically important."  Now I believe we are in the midst of a connection revolution.  Can you talk about the tie between connections and transparency and secrecy?

    E.M.: Sure.  I mean I think it's fairly obviously, Rob, that we are more connected through the various social media that so many millions, tens of millions participate in.  I know not everybody does but in some fashion it does connect us in at least cursory ways with a lot more people.  We have relationships with people we've maybe even not met and so become the networks and the networked world we live in become a way to spread the information, the knowledge that we have, and becomes a way to not only inform our family and our friends, but also people that we are not that closely connected with, so the technology becomes a tool to create a demand for more transparency.

    R. K.: You just talking about it as you did made me think of Edward Snowden and NSA and all of the ways that it's looking at all the connections between people.  I wonder if an enormous amount of the technology that you're trying to create has not already been created by the government as part of their spy apparatus and it could be that maybe all we need to do is get them to turn the lights on and let us see what they know about so much of this stuff.  

    E.M.: I think the likelihood of that happening is, ah, small.  The issue I think is to create tools that people want to use, that will give them the information and so Sunlight has turned in a substantial direction this year into actually asking people, "Take a look at this website" "What's easy to use?" "What do you like about it?" "What would you wish you had?" "What kind of information would you like to have?"  It's a whole field called human-centric design, and it's not that the tools themselves have to be so sophisticated, it's really what people want and being more responsive to their design ideas and thoughts than just being very academic or policy-wonkish about what we do think people need to know.  Let's just go out and ask them what they want. 

    R. K.: Okay.  This is Sunlight Foundation and this is Sunlight Network and this is Transparency Camp.  Can you talk about Sunlight Network and Transparency Camp?

    E.M.: Sure.  The Sunlight Network is our associated 501 C4 Organization which is essentially defunct.  We used it a few years ago to run a campaign to ask members of Congress to sign a pledge to publish their official calendars online but really 

    R. K.:  Good idea!

    E.M.: since that time we haven't done any of that kind of political work at all.  So that it really doesn't have a director.  It does not have any income.  We are not using that in the political sense at all, or any sense frankly.  

    The Transparency Camp, it has become Sunlight Foundation's major annual gathering and this is an "un-conference."  Last year we had I think five, six hundred people registered for it.  It now has an international component as well so this is a weekend in the spring, usually early in May in which people come together without a conference agenda and we allow people to ask and to say what they want to talk about.  They create their own sessions.  The participants, everyone is equal, everyone can decide if they want to do a session if they want.  There's a big board and everybody puts their ideas up on the board and then the conference begins, basically.  But it is created in real time, in a real place.  The composition of the conference usually includes a lot of technologists, a lot of people who work for government, a lot of people who are in the non-profit space as well, and who are interested in both talking about what work they're doing and figuring, or identifying other potential collaborators for their work.  

    R. K.: Okay.  That is exciting because I know it's really grown quickly.

    E.M.: Yeah, it's some, it's a very exciting process.  In part I find it exciting because there is no formal agenda so sessions are not boring.  This is, you know a two day event because the people who are leading the sessions are people who are passionate about their work and they're very hands-on kind of sessions and people are encouraged to come and go in the sessions.  If you find it boring just leave because there will be something else that will be interesting for you. 

    R. K.: Now what about business?  So far you've talked entirely about government.  What about business and business connections?  Is that something else that you kind of exclude from your work or where does that fit in?

    E.M.: Well Sunlight creates, and I haven't really talked about all the data sets that we create, as you know many organizations create data sets about campaign finance or about lobbying or some sites do budget related work and what Sunlight has contributed to the field is the ability to literally mash together these data sets so one of our most popular data sets is called Influence Explorer and this is a data set where you can come to the website and you can type in the name of any company, any individual, any member of Congress, and I believe any state official as well, and then see what the data set creates.  So if you type in "General Electric" for example, what you will learn is that they are the biggest lobbying force in the nation's capital and you can see their campaign contributions at the state level and at the federal level.  Because we bring in other data sets including government contracting, you can see how many government contracts they've received.  You can see whether they've ever been cited on a contract or misconduct data list.  You can see whether they've been, whether they currently serve on advisory committees with the federal government.  So, what Influence Explorer provides is a virtual set of data that is built around corporate names, business names, political names and entities.  So you can see what a profile of individuals and corporations actually looks like.  

    R. K.: Well besides General Electric, what are the next two or three other top lobbying forces? 

    E.M.: I would have to go look at Influence Explorer and tell you that.

    R. K.: Is it easy to find that?

    E.M.: Influenceexplorer.com.  It is and you can look at this by people or organizations or politicians or industries.  We also have real-time Federal Election Commission data there as well. 

    R. K.: And you can sort it based on the most influential...

    E.M.: No...

    R. K.: - and things like that?

    E.M.: That would be a judgment call, "most influential."

    R. K.: Oh really? 

    E.M.: But you can, well absolutely, because -

    R. K.: Yeah that makes sense, sure. So how did you decide, you said General Electric, they're the biggest lobbying force, so what do you base that on?

    E.M.: They actually spend the most money on lobbying.  So they are the biggest lobbyist expenditure -

    R. K.: Okay. 

    E.M.: - in the country. 

    R. K.: What are some of the other ways to look at the influence besides that?

    E.M.: Well what Influence Explorer gives you is sort of a three hundred and sixty degree view of this so I just looked at organizations and the greatest dollar amount during the current election cycle is the National Education Association, but third on the list, interestingly enough is Las Vegas Sands so you'll see some information... 

    R. K.: Wow

    E.M.: " on individual companies like that but what's interesting, you click on Las Vegas Sands, you can see the latest SEC data, you can see the standardized information and you can see state vs federal and how much they spent on lobbying and how much, oh I forgot to mention regulations.  We have another site that monitors all the regulatory activities at the federal level and you can see, they were mentioned six times in six different dockets.

    R. K.: And of course that's Sheldon Adelson 

    E.M.: Yes

    R. K.: [laughs] ties it together in an interesting way.

    E.M.: Yes, exactly.  Exactly.  And so then, you know if you look at the Venetian Casino Resort and you see even more interesting data and so this is an, Influence Explorer is one of these websites and data sets that you can just get lost in, in a positive way, just digging deeper and deeper in to the influence business. 

    R. K.: Fascinating.  Just fascinating.  And you've got literally dozens of these kinds of tools that are available.  What is the best place to go to to find them?

    E.M.: Well "sunlightfoundation.com" is our homepage and on that page what you will see is a list of all the tools and websites that we have.  A lot of this information is built on top of other organizations.  Numbers ; as I said our secret sauce is being able to be sophisticated enough to bring it all together so we use data from the Center for Responsive Politics, we use data from POGO, we use data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics as well as a number of other data sets.  We build these and then we use them ourselves as well to power other websites.

    R. K.: Okay, so I have this theory that one of the best drivers for making change happen is to identify the people who benefit from the changes.  So the change you're looking for is greater transparency and open government.  In terms of profit, in terms of money, who profits from increased transparency and open government?

    E.M.: Well, it's a really good question.  I would say, and there are lots of people working in this field, that there are many opportunities for business, new businesses to be created but old businesses as well to be created out of open data.  So there are new institutions that are focusing almost exclusively on working with businesses to understand how they can use data.  A well-worn example but you might not be familiar with it is weather.com.  Hugely successful commercial outfit that's based on open data.  Open government data about the web, from NASA.  

    So, there are many businesses, Bloomberg Gov, you know which is a very elite service about information, about politics and politicians, it's all based on open data from the Federal Election Commission and many other sources of information.  So, I think that's the economic incentive for people, which is to look and see, you know, what will people pay for?   

    But Sunlight's mission is to make this information freely available because we feel like it's not inherently democratic and I suspect you will agree, that if people want information about their, about politics and their politicians that they have to go pay somebody five thousand dollars in order to do that.

    R. K.: Yeah, it apparently was between Bloomberg Gov and weather.com, and I'm guessing that already the use of the access to this open data has spawned industries in the billions of dollars.

    E.M.: I am sure that's right.  I cannot document that.  And I think, I'm not certainly opposed to that, if we can get business on our side to ask government to keep, to open this data then anyone can make use of it.  We can make it freely available and businesses can find, you know sub-markets which will make them money.  

    R. K.: I would think that if you go to members of Congress and you say, "you do this and it's going to create billions of dollars in new business in the United States, that could be a good motivation for them.

    E.M.: Yes, there are many people who are arguing precisely that.

    R. K.: Yeah?  So we are coming to the end of the interview.  What dreams, that you started with, have come true?  

    E.M.: Wow.  These are great questions [laughs].  I think, for me it's really this cultural transformation, it's that people that, I think that my dream for Sunlight has been that people will be more able and more open to being engaged with government if they feel it is open and transparent.  They will will feel that government is more trustworthy, that they will have more trust in government, that it will enhance participation both in terms of voting and then in many many other ways.  That it will in fact expand the number of ways people do engage with their government, whether it's the local, the state, the federal, or the global level.  

    I think all of that is beginning to happen.  I mean, of course there are one step forward and two steps back with any kind of radical change like this, and it's not just a cultural transformation but for the people to be engaged we have to have that cultural transformation.  

    When we see people, Rob, as cynical as they are about government, I  step back and say, you know, people, that's not really cynical, that's not really cynicism, that's a really honest reaction to what secrecy and closed government means to people; they're suspicious.  So open government is an element in changing that, you know the complexion of what people actually think about government, and I think that's happening.  The technology makes it so, it is the tool that enables us to connect with people who are not like us, who are different, who are across the political and the economic spectrum and to allow them to engage in whatever ways they want with government and their politicians.  And that is also inherently such a democratic ideal, it's such an inspiring direction for us to go with that this work continues to be exciting and we look for new horizons all the time. 

    R. K.: Cultural transformation, which to me means people expecting, that the 

               norm is open government...

    E.M.: Exactly and anything less is unacceptable.

    R. K.: In the world, with all of our rankings of where the US fits in, how does it fit in in terms of transparency and secrecy?

    E.M.: In terms of transparency there was actually an open data in particular, there was a ranking released last week in the global context and we came in actually at number two, under the UK which of course is a much smaller government but has enacted some extremely positive and wide reaching open data policies.  There is an international consortium now called the Open Government Partnership that met in London last week, I'm just back from that and what we see is in the two or three years since the Open Government Partnership has been in existence, it has moved from three governments participating to sixty or so governments participating so this is - 

    R. K.: Beautiful.

    E.M.: - a wide phenomenon.  So yes, it is terrific and I think this work has to be done in collaboration with the civil society organizations.  And so even enforcing that kind of collaboration between civil society and government is a major step forward.  There is so much more to be done but it is definitely the right direction. 

    R. K.: So what can listeners of Bottom Up Radio and the readers of OpEdNews.com do to help you?

    E.M.: Well we would love for people to come to the website and take a look at our tools and give us feedback on it.  That is really one of the most important things that can be done.  That SunlightFoundation.com, the tab right on the front page.  We interact a lot with people who use the kind of information that we present and so we would love for people to come and get engaged.  We also have a number of distributed projects from time to time where we ask people to do research for us and participate because we're very interested in crowd-sourcing some of the work that we have to do.  So, People should come and take a look at what we have and tell us what they think.

    R. K.: So when you're coming up with -- this is my last question because you're giving me more time then you said you would, I appreciate it, when you're coming up with as big a change as this, when you tell me US is Number 2 in transparency, that tells me the world is really hurting, because it's not really very transparent-

    E.M.: In terms of open data, so it's not across the board evaluation in terms of transparency but yes I would agree with you, Rob.

    R. K.: So the question is, when you're making what amounts to a cultural transformation as you've described it, one of the things that really makes a difference is having graduate studies and having it as a subject to be studied and researched in universities, that gives it a credibility and a depth of, a power, is there anything like that happening?

    E.M.: I'm not seeing anything along these lines.  I mean, I think in this hill that needs to be taught to people who are interested in openness and transparency,  which may seem odd for me to say this, are computing skills,  I mean, having technology literacy, both in how you use and how you build technology and tools, it's really now a part of being literate.  Being able to read and to write and I think that is, you know, those kinds of skills will help people understand and participate in this new society that is developing based on technology.

    R. K.: So, how about any educational approaches to it?  Getting schools to teach about transparency?  Is that happening?  Is it showing up in text books?  This is along the same thing.

    E.M.: Well I think we wouldn't want it silo'ed as transparency, I think we really, all of this belongs in the study of government and society.  What our open societies mean?  What does open government mean?  How should government be responsive?  How should it represent the people?  And so I would hate to see it silo'ed as the study of transparency.  It's really the study of what a democratic society looks like.  It has to be open, it has to be inclusive, it has to offer equal opportunity and so it's really inherent in the liberal arts generally, I think.

    R. K.: So are there graduate programs, are there courses in elementary schools or in high schools about open government, open societies?  Is that being discussed in history books?

    E.M.: Well the answer to that is there are growing interests in this field at various universities, NYU has an open-gov lab now where there's a tremendous amount of work that's being done and so that's one example.  I can't really tell you whether there are other ones but there are certain to be.  There are plenty of academics who are looking at this field and trying to asses, you know the impact of openness and open data on individual's participation as well.

    R. K.: We know that the Koch Brothers and people like that are endowing universities with multi-million dollar grants to fund specific academics.  I know the Sunlight Foundation does endowment and funding so maybe down the road that would be another way to strengthen this as a cultural transformative phenomenon.

    E.M.: It could be, probably not going to come from Sunlight.  We give very small grants, they're called Open Gov Grants and again, your listeners should go to our website for more information about this.  They are really five and ten thousand dollar grants for people who have ideas transformative, civic innovation ideas where we, with our small grants can get some people off the ground.  So those are called Open Gov Grants.  We'd love to have people apply to the process.

    R. K.: And on that, I want to thank you for the interview and for the small Open Gov Grant that you gave to Op Ed News back in 2008.

    E.M.: It's been a long time, it's been a long time.

    R. K.: And we're still using it and we're still updating it with the APIs that you've created so we're on of your keyholders for the API- 

    E.M.: Terrific!

    R. K.: Thanks so much.  You're doing great work and -

    E.M.: It's always a pleasure, Rob

    R. K.: Enjoy your webinar coming up shortly 

    E.M.: Thank you, thank you very much

    R. K.: Bye.

    Submitters Bio:

    Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

    Rob Kall Wikipedia Page

    Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com

    Rob is, with Opednews.com the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.

    To learn more about Rob and OpEdNews.com, check out A Voice For Truth - ROB KALL | OM Times Magazine and this article. For Rob's work in non-political realms mostly before 2000, see his C.V..  and here's an article on the Storycon Summit Meeting he founded and organized for eight years. Press coverage in the Wall Street Journal: Party's Left Pushes for a Seat at the Table

    Here is a one hour radio interview where Rob was a guest- on Envision This, and here is the transcript. 

    To watch Rob having a lively conversation with John Conyers, then Chair of the House Judiciary committee, click hereWatch Rob speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.

    Follow Rob on Twitter & Facebook. His quotes are here

    Rob's articles express his personal opinion, not the opinion of this website.