What a surprise to write this post this afternoon. If I hadn’t done my mindfulness practice this morning, I’d be tempted to post the cheesy Jerry Maguire “flip out” clipÂ on a social media service, you know, as a lighthearted joke.
Friends at Sunlight: my offer stands, to maintain OpenCongress as a non-profit, open-source public resource, offeringÂ complementary info to GovTrack and OpenSecrets and others. Would welcome the chance to share our dev plansÂ for publishingÂ unique info in more detail.
OpenCongress was the focus of my professional life for more than six years, so of course upon seeing Sunlight’s decision today to retire it, I have to firstÂ regret the lost value – all the SEO of nine years, over 100 million visits, 200k+ registered users. And I have written pretty extensiveÂ thoughts on what’s still missing from the civic engagement landscape, even after all these years.
Rather, I’d like to emphasize that what made OC so successfulÂ can be replicated, better & smarter, and point to the open-source tools that our non-profit maintains for civic engagement. That’s the beauty – open-source lives on, our OC Blog content will hopefully live on, and there’s so much to do.
OpenGovernment.org – based on the OpenCongress model – brings together official legislative data on the same page with campaign contribution info, issue group ratings, and public comments.
One keyÂ function of OC that was deprecated after ’13 was foregrounding money-in-politics info, exactly on bill & member pages –Â where visitors landed to search for official info – hugely valuable info from OpenSecrets & MapLight reaching millions of people annually.Â In addition to the OC Wiki (RaceTracker), more of OC’s unique value: our daily OC Blog published customÂ summaries of hot bills and explained the legislative process through lobbying & issue areas.
People viscerally seek the real story behind what’s happening in Congress, andÂ that means a huge demand persists for accessible info about how campaign contributions shape the boundaries of what’s legislatively possible (think big pharma, big banks, big defense, big oil). Understanding campaign donation data in real-world contextÂ is a general need that could be better served by non-profit sites. Help us reboot this open-source site and the GovKit gem, and we’ll pick up where OpenCongress is leaving off. See more about OG on our Projects page.
AskThem – for continual conversation with elected officials and candidates, and open data on constituent communications. Public comments on OC bill pages (found via search engines) organically became peer-to-peer organizing forumsÂ – that’s made possible because we’re a non-profit, and our mission is to connect site visitors to the best available resources, not to capture their email for lead-gen revenue and fundraising. AskThem carries that goal forward, for continual discussion and accountability with people in power – in the 2016 federal elections, and especially in city governments, with unique access to data for 142,000 elected officials nationwide. We’ll help site visitors with similar questions connect with each other first, peer-to-peer, then organize between themselves second (e.g. on Action Network), introduce legislative textÂ and schedule district meetings third, and then point to outsideÂ issue-relevant organizations fourth. It’s a pretty significantlyÂ different model than commercial engagement platforms that have so much capital.
X11 – PPF created the Contact Congress project in 2011, along with MyOC Groups – the first open-source tool for digitally transmitting a message through to Congressional webforms. It’s now been used to deliver hundreds of millions of messages through to Congressional webforms by dozens of advocacy groups (shouts EFF et al). Now, we can take that open-data advancement further – X11 is one name for a simple data standard for digital messages into Congress. If a government entity supports X11, an email or an e-petition can be delivered into an office, acknowledged, scheduled for a public response, analyzed for public knowledge, and shared socially at every step along the way. To be clear, civic-engagement platforms could immediately support this open standard, and gov’t could choose to accept it, but no one’s funded it, because shared infrastructure doesn’t offer a huge return on investment. But e-petitions and public questions can work just like 311 issues, and the benefits for open data and civic engagement would be massive. AskThem in particular can carry this standard forward – a question that reaches the threshold of support could be delivered with the X11 standard, and its receipt publicly acknowledged, while everyone who signed-on in support would be notified of its status. In the process, X11 can even turn Tweets and public Facebook posts into petition signatures, located in a government jurisdiction. Get in touch to help us spread X11 across our networks.
Councilmatic – for city government open data, legislative tracking, email alerts and local engagement. The only non-profit site with info on every city legislative item, council member, committee, public event and more. Open-source as always, so local groups can stand it up and remix it without anyone’s permission. Also built on the Open Civic Data standard, so more engagement and alert apps can re-use this open data and spread from city to city. Next: alerts, over email and social media, so it’s easy to stay in touch with what’s on the agenda in your city and how it affects your neighborhood and the issues you care about locally.
Hereâ€™s the deal. Weâ€™re a tiny 501(c)3 non-profit (annual budget: just $75,000, probably about two percent of Sunlight’s, less than one full-time employee). We make hugely popular web resources for â€œinterested bystandersâ€ and issue activists,Â filling a need for open infrastructureÂ for civic participation and closing the feedback loop of local engagement.
But we donâ€™t have core funding support, full-timeÂ project funding, major philanthropic donors, regular earned-income revenue, a wealthy Board or a fundraising Advisory Council. So we seekÂ charitable funding to maintain open-source, open-data resources such as Councilmatic, used by thousands of people in eachÂ city where itâ€™s up every month. Supporting our proven, popular work with a charitable donation can make the projects above happen, open-source and for the public benefitâ€“ we have virtually no overhead, so your tax-exemptÂ donationÂ goes to the project. Just doing the open work. Get in touch, email me: david at ppolitics.org.