Friday, April 15, 2011

Texas bill would require courts, judicial agencies post "high-value data sets" online

Cross-posted to Gavel to Gavel.

Novelist and attorney George Higgins once quipped that "Data is what distinguishes the dilettante from the artist." Whether true or not, the press for data, especially from courts, is an ongoing saga.

Into this comes Texas' SB 701 of 2011. The bill, as approved on a 31-0 vote of the the Texas Senate last week, would require "state agencies" (which for these purposes include any "board, commission, office, department, or other agency in the...judicial...branch of state government") to post high-value data sets online. Said "high-value data" must:

  1. be raw data;
  2. in an open standard format that allows the public to search, extract, organize, and analyze the information;
  3. accessible from the the agency's Internet website home page under a uniform resource locator suffix "data"; and
  4. be not more than two mouse clicks from the agency's Internet website home page

So, what is a "high-value data set"? According to the bill, it includes any information that meets any of the following criteria:

  1. can be used to increase state agency accountability and responsiveness
  2. improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations
  3. further the core mission of the agency
  4. create economic opportunity
  5. respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation
Explicitly excluded is any information that is confidential or protected from disclosure under state or federal law. But things get even more interesting in the other exceptions. Data need be posted if and only if the "state agency":

  1. determines that, using existing resources, the agency can post the data set on the Internet website at no additional cost to the state; or
  2. enters into a contract advantageous to the state under which the contractor posts the data set on the Internet website at no additional cost to the state; or
  3. receives a gift or grant specifically for the purpose of posting one or more of the agency's high-value data sets on the Internet website.

The bill is currently pending in the House but not yet assigned to a committee.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dirty Consultant Tricks

InfoWorld recently published an excellent article titled - 7 dirty consultant tricks (and how to avoid them).  Unfortunately I have seen every one of these done to courts (from afar) during my more than 20 years here at the NCSC.

Conversely, a comment on the article linked to this posting on "8 Client Types That Are Nothing But a Pain in the A**" that contains some interesting observations from the consultant's viewpoint.

My experience is that if the project is poorly defined and/or they want the consultant to be the project leader are ingredients in the "recipe for disaster".  As an FYI, we try to introduce good project management techniques in our Institute for Court Management class , Managing Technology Projects and Technology Resources that is available "in-person" and online.

Please read and learn.  It will help you and your organization to avoid pain in the future.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"E is Okay"

In a release the National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology wrote that Electronic Court Orders are allowable under federal guidelines.  The statement begins:

"The electronic exchange of information between courts and child welfare agencies is a powerful tool that can lessen children’s time in foster care and efficiently provide all parties with the information they need to make timely and informed decisions about child safety, permanency and well‐being.  As an increasing number of States move towards using automated information systems and electronic court orders, questions have been raised about whether electronic records are acceptable by Federal reviewers during a title IV‐E regulatory review.  We are happy to announce, Federal policy under title IV‐E of the Social Security Act indicates that “e” for electronic is okay.

Regulations set forth in 45 CFR 1356.71 govern the review process used to determine a State agency’s compliance with title IV‐E eligibility provisions.  As part of the Federal review process, the child’s service records, including all court orders, are examined to establish that the judicial requirements pertaining to title IV‐E are met.  These include judicial determinations relating to “contrary to the welfare” and “reasonable efforts” for children who are judicially removed and “best interest” for children removed through a voluntary placement agreement.  Chapter 3 of the “Title IV‐E Foster Care Eligibility Review Guide” contains relevant guidance about the use of electronic records in the regulatory review.  The guide states the following:

The State agency may use electronic files to substantiate title IV‐E eligibility. If electronic files are used on site, the State agency should make computers and technical assistance available to the reviewers for viewing the electronic records or obtain hard copies of all the files or portions of the files that contain information relevant to the review. “"

To read the full statement (PDF) click here.