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Tools for a Networked Public Sphere

Just now, House GOP reversed its course to kneecap the Office of Congressional Ethics. Lots of background on my Twitter lists for #opengov and #political-science.

Since last night, this was all-hands on deck for #opengov & #goodgov non-profits, Congressional watchdogs, and political journalists. And fight will continue, it’s definitely not all-safe for this 114th U.S. Congress – dynamics with PEOTUS Trump are complicated, and his Tweet earlier today explicitly did not support the OCE on principle.

What happened? Effective constituent calls to Congressional offices, a fledgling public whip count, and a section of House GOP’s strange political strategy misjudgment:

But we’ll take it, one small fortunate victory for basic independent ethics:

For ten years, our non-profit has worked for free tools and libre info to build this kind of popular support and public accountability, in a field with non-profits such as the Sunlight Foundation and LittleSis.org. We seek charitable funding support in 2017 to replicate this call-to-action, make it part of everyday & continual political life, and enhance it with more engagement tools at every level of government:

First, PPF’s (uniquely open-data) OpenGovernment.org would bring together official Congressional actions with campaign contribution info, issue group ratings, and public comments. Watchdogs in every Congressional district and all 50 states can be alerted automatically – and in events like OCE, in timely ways – to closed Congressional meetings & closed-door amendments. Plus, we’re starting from a base of 200,000 registered users, all with ZIP codes for targeted updates and calls to action.

Second, our (uniquely non-profit) AskThem.io takes a single constituent’s public question and throws it into the social media universe for sharing & building support for an official response – see Prof. Yochai Benkler’s groundbreaking “networked public sphere” paper from 2013. This middle-layer will connect good-government & advocacy groups with new supporters in all Congressional districts, not just CA & NY, through partnerships with regional media partners – see our embeddable question-sharing widgets, seeking development support.

Third, much of the above is still digital actions, clicks and emails and shares – but you’ve probably been following since at least Nov., as the vast majority of political observers are calling for deeper engagement. PPF proposes a new (uniquely open-source) tool, building on the above user bases, to schedule & build support for regular watchdog meetings with Congressional staffers and political bloggers – get in touch for more info, email: david at ppolitics.org. It would essentially be a stand-alone version of what we developed in ’11 as MyOC Groups in every Congressional district, state, and by general political issue area, for peer-to-peer local organizing.

For the past five years, the major commercial civic tech companies haven’t developed this much-needed tool because its revenue is likely modest (“Don’t take capital unrealistically for 10x return on investment, deliver 2x return and everyday real-world use” is my typically-overlong mantra). But its need is a huge argument for non-profit #opengov tech tools. Fund open-source towards scale, not just typing on social media to the same communities of political junkies. New tech hacks, creative human messaging, and reaching mass audiences through “civic features” can still widen the universe of people who will actually get motivated to vote on #opengov and ethics.

Fourth, we propose: a contemporary knowledge base for sharing case studies of “what works” for state & local engagement, with a catalogue of free & affordable tools. Rebooting the much-missed Civic Commons and spreading best practices for continual, deeper engagement with Congressional offices, governors’ offices, state elected officials and city council offices – emails + e-petitions aren’t the solution for accountability in current political time. We have the longtime community to build and maintain this public resource.

Get in touch, simply email david at ppolitics.org – would be pleased to share a one-page funding prospectus in more detail. PPF is a tiny non-profit but with a track record of delivering user-friendly tools that get picked up organically (via SEO & more), used heavily (like the Contact-Congress system) by interested bystanders, walking them up the chain of engagement. Much of our infrastructure & nationwide community is there, ready to be fired up again for #opengov and public accountability under President Trump’s Administration.

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