The Challenge5500 followers
eCitizens: Like Google Alerts for Local Gov Docs - using your keywordseCitizens helps local municipal government make their records available, searchable and usable by anyone! We get and store agendas, minutes and reports from America's municipalities and alert you when keywords you care about are mentioned.
eCitizens - the local government information alerting source
Our Mission - To provide anyone the information and tools to become more engaged with their local government.
What we Do - We help local municipal government make their records available, searchable and usable!
The Knight Foundation has supported our current development of this model through their Prototype Fund. We will launch our beta in the City of San Diego by May 2013.
This prototype project is a proof-of-concept phase where we will prove the ability to obtain documents and alert subscribers. Our initial alpha client site is being developed in partnership with the City of San Diego's Mayor Bob Filner, the Director of Open Government, Donna Frye and with technical support from the City of San Diego's IT department. Our secondary focus site will be the County of San Diego.
How it Works - Three Steps
There are three simple steps our users will take to gain access to their local governments. They are:
- Visit our site and enter keywords or phrases of interest
- Specify the individual municipality, group of municipalities or region
- Enter an email address to send the alerts.
Then, when the keywords of interest are found in documents we'll send alerts directly to the user with links back to the source documents.
If users find an issue they want to track individually they can click a link to 'Follow' that item. They will then receive alerts whenever that item is mentioned.
- Our News Challenge Submission
The following is an outline of our plan to scale our prototype across the nation. We also discuss potential features we may develop in the next two years based on our user's engagement, analysis and feedback.
What's the Pain? User's Experience Without eCitizens Tools
- As citizens, we typically learn about government actions through media – after the item has long-passed the time for community input or, has concluded entirely
- We are often unaware when topics of interest surface or understand their historical context such as all the previous work done on the issue
- Many citizens have little understanding of the process of local government, potential alternatives to the declared position of government or if there are any opportunities for participatory engagement.
- Even though citizens could add great value to the conversation oftentimes as subject matter experts we are often avoided by elected officials and staff
- Our newest immigrants and Americans not yet proficiently speaking English miss out on the opportunity to learn about and engage with their community.
- Government staff are typically under-resourced and under-budgeted, overwhelmed with redundant stakeholder requests and in general are very busy dealing with myriad topics and people representing a wide swath of interests.
What's the Result? User's Experience With eCitizens Tools
With the eCitizens alerting tools anyone has the ability to create alerts for their own search terms or, follow individual items of interest. This results in:
- We gain more clarity on issues, actions and opportunities to engage
- We have more time to form more intelligent analysis, structure a positive response, organize support and see desired actions through.
- We experience increased confidence and trust in our elected officials
- Our non-English speaking residents are included inboth the conversation and engagement opportunities with our government until they master our language.
- There is less backroom dealing by government officials and special interests
- Government staffers experience reduction in public records requests, redundant emails and phone calls
- Government is appreciative of more thoughtful collaboration, and positive experiences of citizen-voters
Initially, our primary focus is directed at America’s county, city and town municipal governments. Our secondary focus is on special districts such as school and public safety districts.
Target Documents and Records
We focus on obtaining governance, legislative and department calendars, agendas, minutes, and related documents. When considering a typical municipality the categories of these records will include budgeting and finance, development and planning, public safety, parks and recreation and business development documents.
eCitizens Library – Documents and Video
- We will promote our service to subscriber-municipalities or, and any third-party service provider already in place
- For subscribing municipalities, we will scrape or obtain documents and video via an API
- For non-subscribing municipalities, we will encourage their staff or civic-hackers such as CodeForAmerica Brigades, to push their documents and video to our server at no cost. We will work to convert these municipalities to paying subscribers and will offer various value-added services to incentivize them.
- We are building our system following existing open-source technologies developed by the Sunlight Foundation through OpenStates and Scout. This includes our scrapers, databases, languages and functions. Our intent is to provide a seamless data path by focusing on local government while Sunlight Foundation focuses on state and federal government documents and records.
- We provide open and free access to all source code, scripts, document and video records through our Application Programming Interface (API)
- Upon the conclusion of a five-year window we will transfer the eCitizens Library to a suitable non-profit such as the Sunlight Foundation, that will guarantee open access and perpetual sustainability.
Semantic Analysis, Video Sub-Titling and Language Translation
- We will build and integrate semantic analysis tools to help us identify entities and enhance our search results and offer additional filtering capabilities
- We will develop a fee-based interactive function, supported by another Knight-funded organization Amara.org, to professionally sub-title or, closed-caption video content. This will give us the ability to offer users an alert when keywords are mentioned in meetings and not just when they are found documents.
- We will develop a fee-based system begin building and implementing machine-based and outsourced document and video translation services.
We will target the over two dozen document management systems service providers already serving thousands of America's most technologically advanced communities. We'll partner with them using their open API's or develop scripts that will allow us to more easily scrape all of their municipality sites.
We do not intend to compete with these organizations as we are focused on a narrow facet - documents and records. Our belief is America needs more enterprise-level solutions, proprietary or ideally open-source, to address the entire needs of our municipalities. Our service therefore ties in nicely with existing infrastructure rather than trying to replace this infrastructure at the same time.
We believe we will receive strong stakeholder buy-in and engagement because we are building on an open-source platform and give anyone free access to every document, record, dataset and video we obtain.
Lower barriers of entry for stakeholders will result in quicker pathways to social and economic solutions. The result is more interest from free-market enterprises who will compete, against eCitizens as well as each other, to build the best tools to put this data to use. The winners are citizens, non-profits and organizations working to create a better America. Ultimately, the social and economic value of this information is limitless.
eCitizens was founded by Jerry Hall, a social entrepreneur is on a mission to use his thirteen-year web-development and other business skills to develop creative open-government solutions. Over the past six years Jerry has served his local community on a variety of boards and organizations. He's cut his teeth on organizing various initiatives including community forums, graffiti paint-outs, fundraising for police and fire departments. He currently serves as the President of his local Rotary Club and sits on a county advisory board. Jerry is on a mission to peel back the layers of local government processes, beginning with free and open meeting records, to help every citizen better understand how government works, how they can participate and ultimately how their influence can shape their local communities. You can reach Jerry on Twitter @ecitizensorg or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/datajuncture/
Michael P. Richo is eCitizens newest team member. Michael is an innovative programmer with over fifteen years experience in systems support for commercial, governmental, and academic environments. He specializes in high-level database development, data mining and high-throughput data processing. He has developed sophisticated skills fueled by his passion to build effective tools in new territories. Ever since his first position at an ISP in 1998, Michael has been engaged in data mining activity. Michael shows a love for processing unorganized data into a structured database and making analysis decisions. Michael served as the Informatics Resource Specialist for the Yale Center for High Throughput Cell Biology. While there, Michael developed software for informatics research using advanced data mining and cutting edge high-throughput data processing techniques. Michael's deep understanding of large data concepts and problem solving, as well as his ability to create new solutions was recognized and provided a great resource for the Yale community.
Sameer Suruguri, our newest team member, hails from the Bay area. We're excited to have Sameer on our team because of his unique skills in search as well as product development leadership.
Sameer has extensive experience in the Internet sector, in product management, account management and professional services.
His specialties include product management experience in Web-based consumer and enterprise application companies; adept understanding of social media, content management systems, platform APIs, developer community management, and Internet analytics. He is well-versed in the sciences and applications of knowledge management, text analysis and search technologies and markets; creative writing, acting and directing skills.
Sameer worked for over three and one-half years on the Microsoft Bing development team as a Senior Program Manager focusing on news and multimedia search relevance as well as search quality.
Sameer is interested in leading product teams to building consumer Internet products. We are excited to have Sameer initially on-board as an advisor, and with this funding we anticipate Sameer becoming a more fully engaged partner.
You can catch up with Sameer on Twitter @siruguri and LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/sameersiruguri/
Our prototype-development team consists of Jerry Hall, Jed Sundwall of Measured Voice and Mjumbe Poe of OpenPlans and author of Councilmatic. More about our prototype development team can be found here.
We have several advisors who have agreed to mentor us throughout the development of this business model. Additionally, we have candidates in consideration for longer-term leadership roles. We have not made those decisions until we are more clear on this and other funding opportunities.
We have extensive research and content to clarify the need for or, expand on any of the items outlined in this proposal.
Thank you for your support!
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