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OpenCongress

Our flagship project

We created OpenCongress, the most-visited non-profit website for tracking the U.S. Congress. A leading government transparency resource with innovative engagement tools.

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AskThem

Our next major project

Questions-and-answers with every U.S. elected official and any verified Twitter account. Free & open-source, launches Feb. 10th, 2014. Question and petition people in power.

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Crowdsource Q&A

AskThem supports continual questions to public figures & during events. Issue-based groups, use AskThem to contact elected officials at every level of government. Media companies, partner with us to promote popular questions in your area. Elected officials, sign up as leaders in #opengov.

Remix Our Open Code

We're open-source to the core, contributors to the commons, evangelists for open standards, co-framers of OpenGovData Principles, and activists for liberation of public data. See our wish list, join our chats, check out our code, and more.

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We're a tiny team with big goals for participatory democracy. Our limiting factor isn't ideas, or a lack of information to make accessible, but rather money for web development. Your support can build amazing new open-source tools. Get in touch.

Our sibling non-profit is the Participatory Culture Foundation,
working for a fairer, more open, and more democratic media space.

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PPF Blog

PPF at SxSWi 2015

AskThem 2016

AskThem 2016

Check out our two NewsChallenge applications, now live for your applause (button on right-hand side) & comments:

AskThem – crowdsourced questions-and-answers for candidates around debates, elections, and ongoing public dialogue.

Councilmatic – versions of OpenCongress for city governments & local election info – with user-friendly display of city election process, and tools for enhanced local news coverage of city halls.

Both free & open-source & open-data, non-profit & non-partisan for the public benefit & informed communities. Hope you’ll support our proposals and let us know what you think.


Headed now into the vortex of SxSWi for the fourth year of past five. Once more, we play our dangerous game – toting my bindle of open-source web tools for civic engagement.

I’m primarily attending for Sunday’s demo day, a “County Fair”, with the Knight Foundation - RSVP here if you’re in town. Thank you to the awesome Knight team for bringing me down – excited to apply to the current NewsChallenge on elections.

Calling everyone – Monday, all day Victory for the Internet Party (#netneutrality) with our rad sibling non-profit Fight For the Future, headlined by NYC’s Pictureplane and tons of other performers. Info on Facebook, kinda oddly. Come through, I’ll be there most of the day I reckon.

Tacodeli has the crown

Tacodeli has the crown

Here’s what’s in my bindle this year:

AskThem – a free questions-and-answers platform with every U.S. elected official. Our hope is to support crowdsourced debate questions (see for comparison AskAway, in New Zealand, an allied project) ahead of 2016 elections and more city-level public meetings. Hey, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell is a verified responder on AskThem as are 80 elected officials nationwide, especially in NY Council. Also, ask a question to any verified Twitter account – locate by: “their Twitter name”.

Councilmatic – a version of OpenCongress for hundreds of city governments nationwide. Our public proposal to develop the first free & open-source public front end for new city-level open data. More than a transparency resource for all legislative information in hundreds of cities, it’s also an engagement resource for every mayor’s office and city council member. A much-needed and much-asked-for resource for local political media and good-government watchdogs and community groups, to track and comment on their issues. Sign-on to our public proposal through the link above if you’d like to have Councilmatic in your city.


The greatest public-benefit potential I’ve seen in my eight-years in open-government technology: open data standards for more political information. Everyone touts SeeClickFix and comparable services as a success in “thicker engagement”, and I agree they are, but they’re built on the 311 place-based issue-reporting protocol – which can be replicated for everything from petition signatures to questions to expertise testimony. The only reason that your Facebook & Twitter posts can’t be delivered into government entities as petition signatures is the lack of a community-developed open standard. The only reason you can’t write-your-reps effectively from any webpage (say, a GuardianUS article, or a Gotham Gazette article in NYC) is the lack of this open standard to be carried by exciting new tools. With our partner Daniel Bennett of Citizen Contact, we have a draft of this standard that’s already worked with U.S. Congressional offices – help us move it forward and spread open structured data to more realms of political information & ideas.

The greatest product opportunity I see now: open CRMs for government entities. There’s a proliferation of online individual-voting platforms for federal, state and city levels of government – that was even where OpenCongress was headed in version 3, with our unique Contact-Congress and MyOC Groups features – for distributed communities to convey feedback to Congressional offices. Combined with social media and online petition platforms, there’s a ton of public speech flying around. But very little investment is happening in listening tools, in analytics around user-generated data, in native tools for government to be more responsive to constituents in the networked public sphere. There’s a huge opportunity here for leading #opengov offices to liberate their issue queues, move towards a structured public process of responding to (publicly-shared, non-private) issues, and facilitate more peer-to-peer connections (and connections to existing help resources, and relevant community- or issue-organizations). Talk about scaling – we already know code that can serve as the basis for this, and the rich visualizations that would result on constituent priorities (and alert features and engagement tools) would more than recoup the investment in non-profit funding support. It’s a big, rich opportunity for creating & liberating tons more open data in the public sphere, if we can find funding to get started.

We’d love to make open-data, open-source progress on these huge-potential projects for the next several years. Email me anytime for more detailed writeups on how this infrastructure would deepen & widen the entire civic tech field. More posts & links on my admittedly-somewhat-inscrutable-but-nevertheless-maniacally-inspired PPF Blog.


Looking back briefly on the past four years: 2011, our team advanced in the Accelerator contest for OpenGovernment, a front-end for OpenStates data with lots of contextual info and issue-group ratings. There’s still a need for this info-aggregation to make open legislative data as impactful and accessible as it can be.

2013, we demo’d AskThem (then referred to as OpenGovernment) at Knight Foundation booth, before launching in Feb. 2014.

2014, we were there with our just-launched platform, featuring answers from the Mayor of Austin and a couple of city councilmembers  – and a crowdsourced Q&A with Glenn Greenwald, on the Snowden revelations.

And this year I’ll demo AskThem’s full government-data offerings, as well as some new , free question-asking widgets we developed with help from the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund. More info on those to come.

I’m @ppolitics on commercial micropublishing, holler anytime. Let’s have some laughs.

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