Candidates Questionnaire Project Complete
October 22 2014

Project: Candidates Questionnaire
STATUS: Complete!

Code Island has completed its first project! We created a questionnaire asking the Providence mayoral candidates to go "on the record" with their positions on open data...and they responded. We published the responses, and hopefully, they had an impact on the race.

The What and the Why

Code Island draws together many of Rhode Island's leading advocates for open data and open government. As such, wanted to get these issues into the public debate in the 2014 Rhode Island elections. Like many advocacy organizations, we chose to send candidates a questionnaire.

However, we were late to the party. We began our efforts about two weeks before the mid-September primaries, so we could not impact those elections, which in many cases in Rhode Island, are more important than the general election.

Nor did we feel we could adequately craft highly specific questions for the full range of races in which these issues would be important. Instead, we concentrated on the one election we felt we could influence: the race to replace Angel Taveras as mayor of Providence.

While the Taveras administration has made substantial improvements by prioritizing access to government data, the city still ranks poorly compared to other cities in the US. His administration not only empaneled a mayoral commission (three of which commissioners are members of the brigade, BTW), but they also acted on several of the commission's recommendations. This alone sets this administration apart from all its predecessors.

But still, the city is a laggard compared to its peers. Code Island wants to make sure the next administration works even harder to catch up.

Crafting the Questions

We started by using the questionnaire created by Code for Philadelphia and Open Pittsburgh. But we didn't copy the questions verbatim. Instead, the project lead Shawn Selleck, who is also Code Island's Community Organizer and a civic technology consultant to the city of Providence, dug deep into the nitty gritty to frame each question with specific facts about the status of open data in Providence.

The questions we sent to three major mayoral candidates ranged from the severe underfunding of IT to specific datasets that most cities now provide in open standards format. One question asks if the candidates would require all future vendors to work within open standards.

While we only could influence this one election this year, Shawn's work has provided a strong platform for the future.

We Asked; They Responded

Many civic and advocacy organizations send questionnaires to candidates. Some candidates respond; some don't. But in our case, all three candidates responded, and all of them answered all of our questions.

We think this is meaningful in and of itself. To us, it shows that the issues associated with open data and open government have risen to the level that all candidates feel they must be able to respond to them with specific answers. It's also worth noting that no candidate replied negatively to any question. That is, none of them felt they could say that they are opposed to providing open access to government data.

In 2015, some Rhode Island cities like Pawtucket will hold their municipal elections. 2016 will see elections for all Rhode Island's state legislature seats. 2017 will see yet more municipal elections in cities like Woonsocket. And in 2018, Rhode Island's statewide offices will be up for grabs.

All candidates for major offices would do well to stay abreast of developments in Providence municipal and Rhode Island state governments as they work to improve access to data. And they certainly should expect us to ask them to go on the record about these issues.

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