PPF Blog

CodeAcross America project idea: get your city gov’t #opendata on AskThem

Questions to NYC's Brad Lander, verified responder, on AskThem

Questions to NYC’s Brad Lander, verified responder, on AskThem.io

This weekend, Maryam & I with AskThem.io will be joining many civic hackers at our local Code Across America event – specifically, with BetaNYC. (Shouts to our longtime friends & allies with Code For America, Sunlight Foundation & Open Knowledge Foundation for supporting the national effort. And shouts to Noel “Noneck“, Ariel & Chris Whong w/ BetaNYC for helping organize the NYC community.)

We just launched AskThem last week, and the reaction so far has been really encouraging. Some great NYC media coverage, and our first-ever official response, from leading NYC Council Member Brad Lander. CM Lander is one of over 66 elected officials nationwide who’ve agreed to respond to popular questions on AskThem, for greater online dialogue with all the people who represent us – check out his AskThem profile page to see all the quality questions (64 of them!) from his constituents – with many that have reached the signature threshold (showing their popular support). It’s a terrific example of how our platform supports continual engagement with city elected officials on local issues.

Brad Lander answered question on AskThem.io

Brad Lander answered question on AskThem.io

This weekend, CodeAcross participants can help our public-benefit project and open-government in general by contributing data on their city councils in open standards, for display on AskThem and across the open web. More technical info on our GitHub page for municipal data.

We already have pages for some cities: Knight Foundation communities, Philadelphia and San Jose; custom scraped data for Chicago & Austin; here in NYC, some of Manhattan & Brooklyn and others. And to be clear, for most major U.S. cities, including about the top 60 by population, you can find your mayor & city council members by clicking the “ask your own question” button on AskThem’s homepage and entering a valid residential street address – so most major cities can ask questions to their city council members now, today, thanks to data from Google Civic Information API. And also, not to confuse, we have access to over 1,200 more mayors and tens of thousands more city council members through DemocracyMap community-tended API, but those pages aren’t fully available yet on AskThem (though with charitable funding support for our non-proft project, we can roll them out faster).

More public questions on community issues for NYC Council Member Lander

More public questions on community issues for NYC Council Member Lander

We’re confident this is a good-sized weekend project for CodeAcross, so help us display information for your city government like we do for the above-listed cities. Here’s how:

  • First, check the Open Civic Data description (to be clear, this is a community effort and can be shared across the web, true #opendata style). Check their municipal scrapers guide on GitHub too, of course, for how-to.
  • Then, create a description of your city data under our municipal-descriptions project. This gives us the basics we need (and others need) to display your city’s data independently. Do the “edit jurisdiction’s metadata step here, into an independent .json file.
  • If you can write a scraper and get the data yourself, you can go further to help display it in our open-source code on AskThem for the public to use – fork our repository, and submit a pull request, and our tech lead Walter will check it out & merge it, piece of cake.
  • More info on our open AskThem GitHub repo, and feel free to come hang out during this weekend’s hackathon in #opengovernment on Freenode in IRC (I’m davidrussellmoor), or ping me individually, davidrussellmoore on Gchat, davidmooreppf on Skype.
Question to verified responder Chris Hayes of MSNBC on AskThem

Question to verified responder Chris Hayes of MSNBC on AskThem

Other ways you can help our non-profit project:

Please encourage any elected official to sign-up with AskThem to respond to one or two popular public questions per month. There’s no cost and no contract. Elected officials can simply register a free AskThem account and then email me, david@ppolitics.org, and we’ll quickly verify their email address in our system. Benefits to elected officials, in addition to a free crowdsourced Q&A platform for their constituents, include our sending email updates from AskThem to users when they respond to a question, and more. For another example of positive local media coverage possible, see Capital New York piece from our launch. We’d love to have more city council members who “get it” on AskThem, and highlight their leadership.

Some of the NYC elected officials with profiles on AskThem, some already committed to respond.

Some of the NYC elected officials with profiles on AskThem, some already committed to respond.

Simply use AskThem to ask questions to your city’s elected officials during #CodeAcross and then share them to demonstrate community support – for example, on whether your city council supports #opendata legislation, on when they’ll be liberating more public data, on gov’t tech procurement reform, or absolutely any civic issue. Just send me an email (david@ppolitics.org) w/ a link to your question and we’ll highlight it on our PPF BlogFacebook page & @AskThemPPF Twttr acc’t. We’re looking to build a cultural expectation that when a significant number of people sign-on to support a question, its recipient in the public arena gives a response, for open online dialogue and public accountability. Questions & feedback welcome, let us know what you think!

(Brad Lander’s question page is really remarkable, please help us spread the word of its success and get more good questions to other municipal elected officials, to secure their participation and generate civic-engagement feedback loops.)

(And AskThem is not just for government – ask questions and start petitions to any verified Twitter account, including government agencies, media figures, companies, celebrities, and more.)

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