The Challenge5501 followers
Make government monitoring projects easier to re-useGroups shouldn’t require a small army of savvy developers in order to launch useful government monitoring tools in their communities. These tools should be designed, documented and shared so as to make re-use easy. Adopt-a-Hydrant, OpenPlans’ Shareabouts and mySociety’s FixMyStreet to name a few.
In the case of government monitoring websites, however, there is relatively little re-use. As Tom Lee of the Sunlight Foundation writes, “the more specific a project's use case, the harder it is to generalize its adoption.” Government monitoring websites tend to be designed specifically for one jurisdiction’s legislature, making it difficult to re-use in others.
However, all democratic jurisdictions have much in common: they have *people* who are elected into *positions* in *organizations* (like a legislature) and who are *members* of other organizations (like a party or committee). The organizations publish *documents*, such as agendas and bills. The organizations have *events* like a meeting or the reading of a bill.
The above entities that make up our democratic institutions are fundamental. It is possible to abstract the common functionality of each. For example, not all jurisdictions have bills with earmarks, but all jurisdictions have a name or label for each bill.
In other words, there can be a lot more re-use of government monitoring and engagement tools than there currently is. Imagine the following possibility:
- A community group without any technical expertise uses mySociety’s PopIt to manually build a database of politicians and their positions in their local city council
- A member of the group visits questions.example.com, an app that allows residents to ask questions in public to elected officials, and that publishes their answers on its website
- They paste the URL of their group’s PopIt instance into a sign-up form on questions.example.com
- The community group instantly has their own Question-and-Answer app for their local council
This should be easy, but it can only happen if the creators of government monitoring and engagement tools adopt common standards for representing the fundamental entities in government institutions.
The idea is to come up with those standards, so that:
- open government groups like the community group above require less technical expertise to deploy useful government monitoring tools
- larger groups who *do* have technical expertise can spend less time reinventing the wheel and more time creating new, innovative tools for citizens