By Marla Crockett
Can the federal budget be cracked open, translated and visualized online so every American who wants to can utilize the financial data that’s important to him or her? That’s the intimidating assignment before us this weekend at the We Are All Actors Workshop in Austin. A video presentation by former senator Bill Bradley set forth the vision: using a key word search, a user can find out how much is being spent on items like children’s health care, follow links to floor debates, and see the votes and the money influencing them. In other words, connect the dots so the public can be better informed and participate in a re-invigorated debate over federal priorities and processes.
This afternoon attendees will play the roles of stakeholders in skits designed to illuminate the issues and problems inherent in making this a reality. While a lot of the data we’re interested in is already available on the Web, the morning’s discussion yielded a lot of questions nobody has the answers to: How would the information be used? The potential for destruction, conspiracy theories and finer-pointing is strong unless people have context for the numbers. Can we do an end run around federal bureaucracies that speak an opaque language and aren’t always interested in full disclosure? Will this be a tough sell for users? What will motivate non-profit institutions to use the information and stay involved as a counter-weight to lobbyists who are always ahead of the game and in it to win?
Meanwhile, the engineers in the group are wrestling with the size and scope of the project. What problem are we trying to solve? And how can we break it up into smaller pieces? We won’t do it all this in the space of a few days, obviously, but the hope is that through play and serious discussion, the group will form a community, a bond, that’ll keep us together and propel us forward.
Technorati Tags: democracy, forums, League of Technical Voters, Transparent Federal Budget, Bill Bradley, technology, e-democracy, libraries, LBJ Library, Texas Forums, We are All Actors, e-democracy Marla Crockettwaaa2007