PPF Blog

Let’s Spread Councilmatic to NYC and Nationwide

There’s a huge opportunity to make the work of city governments more transparent and participatory.

City councils and mayors produce tons of municipal legislation and local laws, but as of now, there isn’t a go-to solution for making them open and accessible on the web. In other words, there haven’t yet been a lot of versions of OpenCongress for cities.

Idea: let’s make it far easier to set up an open informational resource for your city government, by adapting the open-source Councilmatic. We’ll launch Councilmatic 2.0 first here in NYC, with our existing ten partners in NYC Council offices (through AskThem), and then work to roll it out to over 130 cities nationwide.

Join us and get Councilmatic in your city! Add your name below to support our public-benefit proposal, so we can roll out Councilmatic nationwide, free & open-source:

Background: Councilmatic is awesome open-source code (Philly version on GitHub), originally written by Mjumbe Poe of OpenPlans during his stint as a Code For America fellow. (Hi Mjumbe!) When Councilmatic was originally developed, the data availability for municipal governments was quite different & more sporadic than it is now. Councilmatic is currently in use in Philadelphia and Chicago, and a couple other U.S. cities started work on a local instance, but it’s not as widespread as it could be – it has the immediate potential to be a widely-adapted and widely-adopted platform for public comment on city legislation.


ChicagoCouncilmatic, by DataMade – let’s bring THIS to dozens more U.S. cities right now

Today, with new open-data sources coming online for city governments, we can spread Councilmatic to dozens more cities in the near future, as an open-government community resource:

First, the leading civic tech developers DataMade will re-write the public-facing Councilmatic code to make it easier to set up a version in any city that looks & feels like their ChicagoCouncilmatic (how nice is that). Derek Eder & Forest Gregg & team will bring their great experience with the code base & scraping as tech leads to integrate Councilmatic with the latest open-data streams in an open-source development cycle.

Second, PPF will launch NYCCouncilmatic.com for NYC, the largest & most influential city council in the country, and use our network of participating city councilmembers on AskThem to intake public comment on city rules, votes and more. Crucially, as a non-profit organization long involved in the #opengov & NYC tech community, we’ll spread it as a free, open-source, and open-data public resource. We can do much, much more to partner productively with our new allies in city governments and demonstrate the value of public input.

Third, other cities will be able to contribute municipal legislative scrapers to Open Civic Data project, including any Code For America city, and then more easily stand up a working Councilmatic. Currently, at least 17 more cities could have local versions of Councilmatic from Open Civic Data (see below), and any Code For America Brigade could write their own scrapers as a relatively-straightforward project.

Cities are where the open-government community can leverage its work for a greater impact:

  • Track and share city elected officials, legislation, votes, committees and more.
  • Create a new level of transparency, with free engagement tools such as public comment forums on city ordinances and issues.
  • Tracking features – useful email alerts for legislative actions and committee agendas, as well as RSS feeds.
  • Robust and user-focused search functions – narrow by topics, e.g. Traffic Signs & Signals.

Help PPF DataMade secure charitable funding support for this non-profit, open-source public resource!

Community signers, as of today – many of us coming out of “Transparency Camp” this past weekend in D.C., where Spike convened a session of Code For America Brigades to discuss:

  • PPF – New York City, members of BetaNYC
  • DataMade – Chicago, members OpenGovChicago(-land)
  • Mjumbe Poe, original creator of Councilmatic (as a CFA fellow), OpenPlans
  • James Turk, Director, Sunlight Labs – previously, OpenCivicData
  • Frank Hebbert, OpenPlans, NYC
  • Ariel Kennan, former Code For America fellow, NYC
  • Spike & Eddie Tejeda, Open Oakland
  • Alan Palazzolo – Minneapolis, St. Paul, 2011 CFA Fellows
  • Jerry Hall, DataJuncture, San Diego, CA
  • Rebecca Williams, former Policy Analyst for the Municipal Transparency Program, Sunlight Foundation 
  • Maria Yuan, NYC startup, IssueVoter
  • Greg Tracy – Madison, WI
  • Rosie Hoyem, civic developer, Minneapolis
  • Juan-Pablo Velez, data analyst & civic technologist, NYC

… we’ll have more supporters listed here shortly from the following: Seattle; Bellingham, WA; SF; Oakland (OpenOakland!); Cleveland; Baltimore; Alexandria, VA; Cambridge, MA; Boston; and many more.

Email: david@ppolitics.org – and contact David there for a copy of our non-profit funding prospectus. Help us build this useful tool in 2014.

Check out ChicagoCouncilmatic, by DataMade – let’s make it possible to build a version of that site in more cities. We’ll document it to make it easier for open-government developers to stand up their own version in their own city. Call it “enhanced-Councilmatic”.

Enhanced-Councilmatic will include at least the following features, with more to come

  • Routine vs. non-routine legislative categorization – for finding important resolutions in the haystack.
  • Built-in social sharing tools, email list signups for elected officials.
  • Participation tools – free public comment & feedback forums, directly on pages for resolutions.
  • Crucially, user-friendly interface & contemporary design compared to official government sites.
  • Notification tools – to get email alerts, and soon SMS messages, on topics you’ve subscribe dd

Questions? Contact David of PPF at (917), then the numbers 753 and last 3462. Skype: davidmooreppf, G-chat: davidrussellmoore.

Contact Derek of DataMade: here. See other benefits in-development in Chicago:

  • More-accessible bill executive summaries.
  • What wards were affected by legislation (doesn’t always correlate to sponsor info).
  • Daily digest, making calendar more intelligible.

Big ups to the open-source developers who built Councilmatic: Mjumbe Poe of OpenPlans, all Code For America contributors, and open government data team behind Open Civic Data, Sunlight Labs et al. Let’s spread Councilmatic far & wide.

Who could use enhanced-Councilmatic? Any municipality or government entity, anywhere, but for starters, in U.S. cities:

  • Code For America cities, past & present!
  • Code For America Brigades, present & future!
  • Any of the 80+ cities listed as Legistar clients, whose public-facing websites can be scraped for public information about municipal legislation.
  • Any city that can offer its municipal data in the Open Civic Data format to be included in their API.

This would cover major U.S. municipal areas:

New York City


Chicago (already using it!)


San Francisco, and many more

Knight Foundation communities:

  1. Philadelphia (already using previous version)
  2. Miami
  3. St. Paul, MN

Active Code For America brigades:

  1. Oakland
  2. Boston
  3. Cambridge, MA
  4. … add your name above!

Previously: support our NewsChallenge entry. Click on the “applaud this” button on the right-hand side – you’ll be asked to login or register a free NewsChallenge account, takes just a minute. Feel free to leave a comment about how you want Councilmatic in your city.

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