Open Government: An Overview

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We know that the Internet can be used to donate to political candidates. Or make fun of them. But, with a little help from citizens, it can also make government work better. First, we’ll look at a handful of sites that aggregate government data and present it in useful ways. Then we’ll explore the process of distilling government data dumps and APIs to build our own sites.

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Open Government: An Overview

  1. 1. Hackin’ on Government
  2. 2. “How can the web make government better?”
  3. 3. …what does “better” mean?
  4. 4. My definition:
  5. 5. More transparency
  6. 6. Shorter feedback loops
  7. 7. Better identification of signal within the noise
  8. 8. What has the political blogosphere (ugh) already done for politics?
  9. 9. What suits the web to politics?
  10. 10. It’s great at archiving
  11. 11. It’s easy to reach
  12. 12. It can support greater depth
  13. 13. Examples:
  14. 14. FactCheck.org
  15. 15. PolitiFact: Truth-O-Meter
  16. 16. PolitiFact: The Obameter
  17. 17. OpenCongress
  18. 18. Full text of bills (comment on individual paragraphs!)
  19. 19. The world of government can accommodate more developers
  20. 20. Open-source software advocates will feel at home with the ideals
  21. 21. The public sector doesn’t have the talent or resources to do it themselves
  22. 22. You don’t need anyone’s permission
  23. 23. So how do I build my own?
  24. 24. Getting data
  25. 25. A vast amount of government data is available…
  26. 26. …but it’s sloppy
  27. 27. THOMAS
  28. 28. Enter GovTrack
  29. 29. http://govtrack.us
  30. 30. Makes congressional data machine-readable
  31. 31. XML data dumps
  32. 32. open-source and non-profit
  33. 33. Sunlight Foundation
  34. 34. Sunlight Labs
  35. 35. Case study:
  36. 36. Filibusted http://filibusted.us
  37. 37. The U.S. Senate allows for a stall tactic called the filibuster
  38. 38. To end a filibuster, you need a successful cloture vote
  39. 39. The number of cloture votes is on a major upswing in recent decades…
  40. 40. …reflecting increasing use of the filibuster
  41. 41. Methodology:
  42. 42. Keep a list of current senators (using Sunlight Labs’ Congressional Data API)
  43. 43. Every night, check GovTrack for new Senate votes (http://www.govtrack.us/data/us/111/votes.all.index.xml)
  44. 44. Any new cloture votes? If so…
  45. 45. Get information about the bill and how each senator voted
  46. 46. Put it all on a page
  47. 47. Tweet about it!
  48. 48. Keep stats on senators
  49. 49. Keep stats on the 111th Congress
  50. 50. Present interesting data views
  51. 51. Ingredients:
  52. 52. Rails, a tiny database, and a bit of Ruby for parsing XML.
  53. 53. Read the code: https://github.com/savetheclocktower/filibusted
  54. 54. Now it’s your turn
  55. 55. Data sources:
  56. 56. GovTrack data dumps: http://govtrack.us/data/ The Drumbone API: http://services.sunlightlabs.com/docs/Drumbone_
  57. 57. OpenCongress API: http://www.opencongress.org/api Legislator information, bill trends, most-blogged-about items
  58. 58. Sunlight Labs APIs: http://services.sunlightlabs.com/ Legislator information, campaign contributions, state-by-state legislative data
  59. 59. New York Times Congress API: http://developer.nytimes.com/docs/congress_api Legislator information, nominees, bills, votes
  60. 60. data.gov
  61. 61. Launched in May 2009
  62. 62. Drinking from the firehose
  63. 63. What about state government?
  64. 64. The Open State Project http://openstates.sunlightlabs.com/
  65. 65. Things to consider:
  66. 66. Is it OK to have a point of view?
  67. 67. (of course)
  68. 68. Everyone has bias
  69. 69. Data-based methodology can defend against accusations of bias
  70. 70. Your conclusions may be opinionated, but the underlying data isn’t
  71. 71. Argue in good faith and play devil’s advocate
  72. 72. User participation?
  73. 73. sure, but be careful of:
  74. 74. 1. spam
  75. 75. (you'll get spammed, even if you rel='nofollow', and even if you escape HTML)
  76. 76. Use Akismet or something like it
  77. 77. 2. sampling bias
  78. 78. Who visits web sites about government?
  79. 79. OpenCongress’s page for the HCR bill:
  80. 80. Don’t use data from your users to draw conclusions about the general public
  81. 81. 3. vitriol
  82. 82. anonymity + political passion = angry rhetoric
  83. 83. About the HCR bill:
  84. 84. Be tolerant, but know what you’re in for
  85. 85. “ Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. ” — Max Weber

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