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Transparent Calendars

2009 May 6

About the author: Jeffrey Levy joined EPA in 1993 to help protect the ozone layer. He is now the Director of Web Communications.

A couple of weeks ago, EPA Administrator Jackson issued a memo calling for maximum transparency in everything we do. The memo put into EPA terms the ideas first espoused in the memo President Obama issued on his first full day in office, saying that government must be transparent, participatory, and collaborative.  The overarching theme is that you, the public, are entitled to know what we’re up to.

Those of us in EPA’s Web community really took notice, because our site and various social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) offer so many ways to serve those goals.  We have several projects underway.

image of a calendar pageOne of the first is that the Administrator publishes her daily working calendar showing meetings with the public.  Next, she directed her senior management team to do the same.

We’re now setting up the process, and you’ll soon be able to see who’s meeting with top EPA leaders.

It occurs to us, though, that we could do better than simply giving you a calendar in table form. What if you could download multiple calendars across EPA and other agencies, and then create mashups as you saw fit?

So we want to publish machine-readable formats, too. And that’s where you can help us. Please let us know what works best: comma delimited, something else?

Also, please help us understand how you’d use the info; that’ll help us figure out how to make it easier.

We’ll be coming back to you to ask for your help on other questions, too, so here’s to a long, collaborative discussion!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. Amanda permalink
    May 6, 2009

    I think CSV are the best way to go for a mass calendar. For me, I use Outlook at work, Google for personal, and my iPhone to merge the two. I’d probably pull a google calendar into my site to pass on the information.

  2. Jeremy Carbaugh permalink
    May 6, 2009

    At a bare minimum, you should provide schedule data using the iCalendar format.

    iCalendar is widely supported by applications such as Microsoft Exchange, Apple’s iCal, Google Calendar, and others. There are also libraries for many programming languages that make it easy to work with the data in the format.

    In addition to iCalendar, other formats to consider include:

    – XML using xCal (
    – hCalendar to markup the HTML page (

    I would actually avoid releasing generic comma delimited data since there are plenty of great formats meant specifically for schedules and calendars.

    Great work, and thanks much for asking the community for suggestions!

  3. Joshua Tauberer permalink
    May 6, 2009

    Besides the choice of data format, one needs to also consider what information there is to be made available and how the public might use it. If there is a calendar of meetings, the public might want to be able to (reliably) categorize meetings by type or topic. In that case you would need to include in the calendar data some normalized values for topics that machines can search and sort, rather than merely having it be obvious to a human reading the free text description of the event, and that may not be possible in all calendar formats. I’m not familiar with how the EPA works so I can’t give good examples. Also depending on how many calendar feeds you create, you may need to also think about aggregating them or listing them in a way that makes it easy for users or web developers to choose the right ones. That is, calendars may also need *metadata* reliably describing what the particular calendar feed is for.

  4. Jeffrey Levy permalink*
    May 6, 2009

    Thanks very much to the three folks who’ve left comments so far. I’ll discuss your thoughts with our folks here. Regardless of what the first version looks like, though, please continue to help us improve.

    And to everyone, please keep sharing your ideas.

    Jeffrey Levy

  5. Michael Hessling permalink
    May 7, 2009

    What Jeremy Carbaugh said, seriously. It’s harder if you don’t yet have a backend powering everything (so you can output into multiple formats), but it’ll be the most machine-readable that way.

    I can see, at a minimum, people pairing the calendar with Dopplr or (or maybe you’ll do that).

  6. Adriel Hampton permalink
    May 7, 2009

    Jeffrey – It is great to see the EPA leading in this initiative! I am going to look at iCalendar, and will be eager to see where you go with this. Wide-scale adoption of public calendars will go a long way to building a better government.

  7. David Bush permalink
    May 8, 2009

    Jeffrey Levy, You post a perfect article on American government. They are always perfect in time. So their calender also transparent.

  8. April 17, 2012

    There are some interesting points in time in this article but I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well

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