Category Archives: Blog

Statement on Appointment of Matt Cutts as Acting Administrator of the U.S. Digital Service

CONTACT: Mary Kate Mezzetti, marykate@opengovfoundation.org | +1-508-776-2789

WASHINGTON, DC (January 23, 2017) — The OpenGov Foundation today released the following statement from Executive Director Seamus Kraft on the news that Matt Cutts has been appointed to serve as Acting Administrator of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) in the Trump Administration.  Cutts had been serving as director of engineering for the USDS under President Barack Obama while on temporary leave from a senior position at Google:

“Matt Cutts is one of the best and the brightest engineers to ever serve in the United States Government.  As Washington transitions to a new Administration, Matt’s promotion to Acting Administrator of the USDS is a tremendously positive signal to all those building a better federal government with better technology, data and design: now more than ever, your country needs your talents, creativity and passion for creating modern government that works better for all Americans.

“Cutts’ appointment underscores that the transformational efforts begun under President Obama are working and must continue.  Out-dated and paper-based systems, poor public access and service, inefficient bureaucracy, rampant beltway banditry, billions of taxpayer dollars wasted on bad tech every year— these are endemic government problems that know no party affiliation.  They must be confronted head-on by the best talent our country has to offer, inside and outside government.  Half-hearted half-measures that speak to only half our country won’t cut it, and will only further today’s broken status quo.”

In a blog post announcing the promotion, Cutts linked to a December 2016 USDS report to Congress on what the service has accomplished since forming in August 2014.  He also posted the following recruitment video aimed at inspiring other technologists to step away from profit-driven private-sector work for a period of public service.

USDS-Recruitment-Video-Screen-Shot

Watch: “You’ll Never Be the Same Again”

Kraft continued:

“With Matt Cutts at the helm of USDS, with Gerrit Lansing assuming a top tech role in the White House, and with leaders like Robin Carnahan and Dave Zvenyach and more continuing in senior roles at the General Services Administration and across the federal government, we already have some of the best our nation has to offer signed up and serving.  Yet a vast amount of work remains, with success demanding an equally significant investment from those of us on the outside.  Private-sector tech companies, non-profit tech teams like ours, funders, academic institutions all must step up to support those doing the incredibly difficult work on the inside.  

“Now is the worst possible time to walk away from the civic arena.  Right now, quitting or hand-wringing— whether as a funder or investor or software developer— means giving up and giving in.  That will never happen here at The OpenGov Foundation.  And if folks like Matt, Robin, Gerrit and Dave remain committed to building 21st Century governments that work, I am confident that those on the outside with the talents, the time and the funding America needs will continue to step up at this critical time in our nation’s history.”

###

Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited with Aaron Ogle Joining The OpenGov Foundation

“When I was a Navy pilot back there a thousand years ago, flying in the Pacific in 1944, we had a saying that some pilots still use today called CAVU— Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited. That applies to my life today. I’ve been blessed with so many challenges, failed in some, succeeded in others, but ceiling and visibility unlimited, that’s the way I feel about life itself…”

— President George HW Bush, 2008 Bryant University Commencement Address 


By Seamus Kraft

Imagine our democracy as an enormous airplane. It feels like the last few years have been one long stretch of civic turbulence. Everyone feels a little uncertain, unsettled, upset. No party, no place and no organization has had a bump-free ride. That very much includes our team here at The OpenGov Foundation (OGF).

When life tests us, it is how we choose to respond that matters. Like many in the civic tech world, we’ve had to make some very difficult  decisions. We’re scathed, but standing tall. We believe, like President George HW Bush, that the path before us is clear, and the possibilities at hand are unlimited. Each of us is now stronger, more resilient. Our team— from our staff to our board to our partners and advisors— is stronger too, more energized, prepared and committed to our critical mission of helping communities and residents govern better. This airplane belongs to all of us, and everyone in America deserves a voice in where we’re flying.

At The OGF, we’re rebuilding an enormously  important part of this great airship called democracy: our legislatures, from the smallest town to the Chicago City Council to the United States Congress. We’re doing it while airborne. Yet we can’t land. And we definitely can’t crash. But if we’ve learned nothing else during these turbulent times, it is this: building democracy is a massive undertaking— and The OGF can’t do it alone.

Now more than ever, we need to devote more resources to renovating our legislatures. We need more brilliant, curious, kind and creative engineers redesigning and refitting the engines of our democracy, so that together we can restore the rapidly eroding trust eating away at our communities, our country, and ourselves. That’s the real problem, the real source of the turbulence everyone feels. That is a very special problem that calls for a very special kind of engineer.

Aaron Ogle is that special kind of engineer. More importantly, he’s that special kind of person. He is scathed and experienced like we are, and in the best possible way. He’s been grappling with challenges like ours from the day he walked into the first class of Code for America Fellows as a good developer, walking out as a supremely talented civic technologist. From there, Aaron built and led and nurtured great teams of civic-minded technologists, designers, public servants, as Chief Technology Officer of OpenPlans then as Director of Civic Technology for the City of Philadelphia, PA. Remarkably, throughout Aaron has remained not just enthusiastic, but deeply and contagiously passionate about using his gifts to help people lead better, healthier and happier civic lives.

Today, I am honored to announce that he has joined The OGF team as Director of Product. He will be leading The OGF’s product efforts as we create the open, effective and inclusive legislatures we need, with— not for— the real people living and serving and solving real civic problems in real communities across America.

Aaron officially started last Monday. The whole OGF team traveled to his home base of Philadelphia to welcome him for his first two days. We were then on to Chicago for the rest of the week, already back to upgrading the engines of democracy in that fine city alongside our expert co-pilots in City Clerk Susana A. Mendoza’s office and on the Chicago City Council. As the Executive Director, seeing Aaron and our developers jump right in with Team @ChiCityClerk was a joyous, affirming and empowering experience for which I would trade nothing on earth. And this is only the takeoff.

Everyone onboard our democracy— you, your neighbors, your elected officials, everyone— wants these turbulent times transformed into a smoother civic flight. Put another way, everyone has a major stake in the successful transformation of our legislatures into the 21st Century governing institutions we lack, and so sorely need. With Aaron Ogle as part of The OGF family, we’re already closer to turning off the seatbelt signs, free once more to move about the cabin so that America can fly faster and truer into the unimaginably bright, clear and limitless future before us all.

Seamus Kraft is Executive Director and co-founder of The OpenGov Foundation.

###

Empowering the Chicago City Council for the Digital Age

Part four of a series examining The OpenGov Foundation’s work with the City of Chicago, City Council and community. Also see: part one, part two, part three.

I am sure you’re familiar with some of the huge challenges facing the great city of Chicago: public safety, education and a looming debt crisis threatening to spread across critical public services. Chicago needs leaders able to confront these problems head on and turn ideas into tangible policies. Unfortunately, the gears of the City Council, and hundreds of other legislatures, are gummed up with paper and a process badly in need of a overhaul for our Digital Age.

At The OpenGov Foundation, where we work to bridge the gap between citizens and government and power lawmaking for modern democracy, we saw an opportunity to build a complete open source operating system for a 21st century municipal legislature – replicable wherever policy is made. We developed a close partnership with Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza and her team, committing to work side-by-side on making the city more efficient and able to serve its residents better.

But when we started work, it wasn’t with software or data, we instead needed to understand the history, culture and systems that exist today. We wanted to walk a mile – or ten – in the shoes of the men and women who make the council run, from the most senior alderman to the newest administrative staffer. Not only do we believe that this is what good partners do, we believe that it would help surface the best possible place to launch this long-term legislative transformation. It’s building with not for.

When we first attended a City Council meeting, it was impossible to ignore the reams of paper schlepped throughout City Hall. We knew all policies start as digital documents when they are written on computers, but we didn’t realize how briefly they exist in that state. Printing, stamping, cover sheets, scanning, formatting and more. It’s only once we witness, record and understand this process that we realize the opportunities. Thousands and thousands of legislative documents follow this inefficient path every year and even small improvements will echo with huge time and cost savings.

The first legislative document type we’re tackling is the humble commemorative resolution, which officially recognize an outstanding achievement, like a victorious youth sports team, or significant milestone, like turning 100, in the lives of Chicagoans. These resolutions are the most straight-forward, least complex pieces of legislation drafted, voted upon by the city council and promulgated to the public. They are regularly created by all 50 aldermen, the Mayor and the City Clerk. Even better, resolutions contain most components included in more intricate kinds of Chicago policy documents – both process and data-wise – but in an easier fashion for a technologist to transform from paper to the digital world.

Transforming these documents into modern open data points offers incredible possibilities for increasing efficiency, effectiveness and citizen engagement throughout the legislative process. Hence, our emerging theory of how to change the culture of government in free societies: data innovation leads to platform innovation leads to policymaking process innovation leads to a government that spends less, serves better and does it all without paying the soul-crushing costs of a paper-based world.

You do not need to be a pundit or a political scientist to see and understand those costs. Alongside the City Clerk’s team, we examined the process of one, non-consequential type of Chicago legislation: commemorative resolutions. In going through the full process, commemorative resolutions go from digital to paper to digital to another type of paper with additional steps where humans manually enter data that once existed digitally. Think about that. Each change of state and re-entered data point means duplicated, wasted effort that happens with every resolution considered by the Council. Here is a simplified view of that process:

Chicago-City-Clerk-Commemorative-Resolution-Process-Visualization

Any change of state is an opportunity for typographic, data entry and other all-too-human errors. This costs precious time and is work that, by and large, simply does not have to happen in the year 2016. Just to move forward in the process, people have to walk paper documents to other parts of City Hall. This is the ultimate cost of our paper-based democracies: needlessly felled forests of trees, wasted human capital, duplicative effort and risks of error-riddled policymaking.

Imagine the possibilities that will open up for the Chicago City Council and the people it serves once this process is digital-first, streamlined and efficient?

Elected officials and staff will be able to spend more precious time helping people, not scanning and retyping and rescanning and worse. Citizens will be able to understand and engage with their government on their own time and on their own terms. Countless more voices will be heard in government.

That is government culture change, guaranteed.


 

This post was originally published on CityMinded.org on June 29, 2016.

Dear Elected Officials of America: Help Is On the Way with Madison 3.0

An open letter to America’s elected officials and staff on the release of Madison 3.0.

Dear Elected Representatives and Staff:

Public service today is no cakewalk. On the best days, it is insanely difficult to work in a legislature; on most days, success is virtually impossible. You and your colleagues signed up to represent the public’s views in government, helping to build a stronger community for your neighbors and a brighter future for your kids. That’s one of the most critical jobs on earth. It is also one of the most difficult.

Ask yourself: do you have everything you need to be the best elected representative possible? Enough staff? Enough time? The best possible systems, tools and technology?

If you answered yes, you are the luckiest elected official in the world.  But if you answered no, then you need to know about today’s release of the new-and-improved Madison online policymaking software.

Madison-Tutorial-Screen-Shot

WATCH: Governing Better, Together, With Madison

Madison is lawmaking for the Internet Age, built by our world-class team of technologists here at The OpenGov Foundation to help you, your staff and your constituents govern better, together.  Madison, first launched in 2011, has already helped the U.S. Congress to protect a free and open Internet from special-interests— SOPA— while helping hundreds of thousands of everyday Americans see, shape and understand it all.  Madison has already helped deliver the first crowdsourced legislation in the history of the U.S. Congress— The OPEN ACT— and first crowdsourced law in the history of the federal government— The DATA Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in May 2014.  Madison has already helped the Obama White House create its playbook for public participation.  Madison has already helped diverse communities from Washington, D.C. — Drafts.DC.Gov— to Wichita, K.S. — Drafts.Wichita.Gov— create smarter laws, working with residents and stakeholders, not in spite of or against them.  

The common thread?  Forward-thinking policymakers and staff like you who understand, to put it lightly, the significant limitations of paper-based policymaking— and who know that there are better ways to get the job done.  Because right now, your entire government, policymaking process and your work as a public servant can only go so far as the paper at the center of it all.  Until your legislature, legislative systems and legislative data are in step with our times— digital instead of paper-based, collaborative instead of combative, efficient and effective instead of gridlocked and always playing catch-up— you, your staff, your community and your constituents will continue to be frustrated.  Stick with your paper-based legislature, and you won’t be able to achieve everything you set out to do when you and your family decided to enter public service. It’s that simple.

Let’s be honest: in an age of Google Docs and the iPhone, paper-based legislatures should be a thing of the past.  And we both know the coming transformation of your legislature— all legislatures, regulatory bodies, and all of the critical information flowing through them— will take a lot of work.  A seismic operational shift like this takes money, know-how, time and trust. Four things that are in outrageously short supply, whether you serve in the United States Congress or a small city council. You need to rebuild your paper-based legislative airplane while it’s flying. But it can’t land and it definitely can’t crash.  You’ll need a lot of help.  With Madison, you can get started upgrading today, for free, with our trusted team, our proven approach and our years of experience working in and around legislatures across America.  

Together, we can modernize and upgrade your policymaking process with Madison in as little as 30 minutes. It really is that straight-forward.  I repeat: say the word and in as little as 30 minutes your community will go from governing like this…

160905-Paperbased-Legislature-at-Work

…to governing better, together, like this.

Madison-3.0

I know you’re busy, so let’s get down to brass tacks: what’s in it for you, your team, your legislature and your constituents?  With Madison and the support of our team at The OpenGov Foundation, you will:

  1. Gain More Support and Visibility for Your Policy Goals — Transforming your legislation into Madison’s modern, Internet-ready and collaborative experience requires just a few minutes. But it turns the hard-to-find, hard-to-share paper-based policies you are working so hard to pass into a digital engagement experience. Your constituents can find it on Google! They can share their views and ideas with a few clicks! Isn’t that how it should be? Madison is a one-stop-shop for you to respond — and show the world you’re responsive — while at the same time building new support, new allies and new contacts.
  2. Not Need to Buy Anything, Bust Your Budget or Hire Tech Teams — Madison is 100% free and open source software. Yes, that means $0 cost. How? We’re an IRS-certified 501©3 non-profit. Our mission is to make your legislature more effective, efficient and accessible for you, your colleagues and those you represent. You have plenty of options, too. We can host Madison for your community. We can set it up on your legislature’s servers, too. Whatever works best for you, your team and your current situation.
  3. Create Smarter Policy, Putting All the World’s Knowledge and Expertise to Work for You — Every day, the issues you have to work on get more and more complex. Delivering the best policy for your people requires a dizzying array of technical, issue-specific knowledge and expertise. You do not want to make mistakes. Opening your policymaking process with Madison opens up all of the world’s knowledge and a virtually unlimited army of experts ready and willing to help you get it right. Look at how Chicago, IL is working with universities, innovators and its residents to craft smart policy on the Internet of Things, or how Washington, D.C. is working with open data experts to build cutting-edge rules for public access to government data. Imagine if you had that intellectual firepower in your foxhole? That’s what Madison can do for you.
  4. Rebuild Trust and Confidence in Your Legislature, Yourself and Your Community — Let’s be frank: you know and I know that you and your colleagues, and every legislator in America, is working with far less public trust than you need. Today’s Gallup polling shows that a paltry 18% approve of how the U.S. Congress is doing its lawmaking job. While you hopefully have a more public support than that, you’ll need a lot more public trust and confidence in order to solve our multiplying challenges. Create your policies with Madison, and the trust in your policies go up. No fear of smoke- and special-interest-filled rooms — you can show your work and your reasoning openly, and stand behind it. No frustrations about not being able to take a day off of work to show up and be heard — your constituents, business and community leaders, experts, everyone can weigh in 24/7. Madison means fewer avoidable legislative mistakes, fewer unintended consequences, and fewer surprises for the people you represent — who will soon decide who will represent them moving forward. You already post your legislation online, albeit in rather inaccessible, paper-based and hard-to-find ways. Why not reap the public benefit and earn the public trust by doing the same thing, but way better, with Madison?

I invite you to see Madison 3.0 in action in real legislative environments, like Wichita, KS and Washington, D.C. Click around to get a feel for Internet Age legislating. Watch a short tutorial video. Read what other elected officials and staff are saying about Madison, and see how Madison has helped other communities like yours.  Step back and compare policymaking with Madison to, well, the paper-based, inaccessible and frankly unworkable alternatives you’re stuck with today.

If you’re ready to learn more or get rolling, all you have to do is get in touch: You can email us by clicking here. You can click here to Tweet us @FoundOpenGov. You can call me directly at any time on +1-760-659-0631. Our team is on stand-by, and will help get you and your community governing better, together, with Madison.

I can’t promise Madison will make everything in your legislature and your life easy overnight. But I can guarantee governing with Madison, and working with The OpenGov Foundation, will make policymaking a lot easier, a lot more productive, and help you make a bigger difference in your community.

Isn’t that why you signed up to serve in the first place?

Sincerely,

Seamus First Name Only Signature

Seamus Kraft

Executive Director & Co-Founder

The OpenGov Foundation

###

Madison 3.0, and all of the work of The OpenGov Foundation, is generously supported by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Shuttleworth Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, the Consumer Technology Association, and the amazing men and women with whom The OpenGov Foundation partners in communities, governments and civil society organizations across America.

Madison 3.0 would not be possible without seriously talented people who deserve our thanks: The OpenGov Foundation’s world-class developers and designers, past and present.  On the development side: Seth Etter, Tanner Doshier, Bill Hunt, Chris Birk, Ross Tsiomenko, Sean Keefer, inSourceCode, and all the open source contributors listed here.  On the design side: John Athayde, Scout Addis, and Bryan Connor.  On the operations and engagement side: Meag Doherty, Aaron Bartnick, Nicko Margolies, Leili Slutz, and Mary Kate Mezzetti.  All rockstars. All civic innovators.  All amazing people who made Madison 3.0 possible.

 

 

Dear Civic Technologists: Madison 3.0 Is Here to Help Your Community Govern Better, Together

Dear fellow civic technologist,

My name is Seth Etter, and I’m writing from The OpenGov Foundation development team with some exciting news, and an awesome opportunity to help transform and upgrade your local legislature with free and open source software called Madison.  

As one of the developers behind it— and as the co-captain of my local Code for America Brigade, Open Wichita— I wanted to let you know about today’s Madison 3.0 release, which makes it a lot easier to go from 0 to to governing better, together, with Madison.  

Communities like Washington, D.C. and my hometown, Wichita, KS, are already making smarter policy with Madison, joining a diverse community of users ranging from Chicago, IL and the Obama Administration to the United Nations and U.S. Congress.  

Our team is excited about the work that’s been done to help you help improve your city and state legislature.  I hope you are too!

Madison-Tutorial-Screen-Shot

WATCH: Governing Better, Together, With Madison

Governing Better, Together, with Madison

Madison is software for public engagement on draft legislative documents. It allows citizens direct access to the work of their elected officials through direct engagement on their proposed policies.  This short tutorial video will give you a taste of of just how easy it is to bring democracy and civic engagement in your community into the Internet Age.

For citizens, Madison offers an online, easy-to-use platform for expressing their views to their elected officials. For elected officials, it offers a way to more effectively represent the views of their constituents.  Simply put, Madison takes the most important function of government-making, passing and enforcing the laws that govern us- from this…

160905-Paperbased-Legislature-at-Work

…to this.

Madison-3.0

Even better, Madison 3.o is 100% free and completely open source. To us at The OpenGov Foundation, part of Madison being freely available means making it easy to setup and manage your own instance. Lowering the barrier for cities to have their own way for facilitating public engagement has been a key focus in this newest release.

Now is the time to bring the benefits of Madison to *your* city!

Why now? Here’s a quick overview.

The primary goals of Madison 3.0 were rethinking some of the underlying infrastructure in the project that lead to previous issues with deployment, upgrading, launching your own customized instance, etc.

We want to make it as easy as possible for anyone to get started with Madison, and we believe we’ve made significant strides to that end with this release.

Here’s the tl;dr on Madison 3.0–

  • New file structure – We’ve separated the client and server code! Part of this was for a more isolated build process for the client side code. We’ve also identified that a lot of outstanding issues are due to client side code, so the separation will prepare us to better tackle them going forward.
  • Customizability – We want to make it easy to customize your Madison instance with your own look and feel. Until this release, your best bet was having a separate code base that maintained your customizations. Now you can use provided custom CSS and locale files! Keep pulling updates from our master branch while maintaining your own custom overrides.
  • Improved client build process – Previously, it was required that you build your client side assets locally, commit them to the repo, and then deploy them. This goes against conventional web application standards, so we’ve removed that practice and made asset building part of the new and improved deployment pipeline!
  • Easier deployment – It’s important to us at OpenGov Foundation that it be as easy as possible for anyone to find Madison and launch an instance for their city or other legislative body. We’ve adopted both Chef and Capistrano to make this process possible with a small set of commands.

If you’re ready to get your community rolling straightaway, check out our deployment documentation on Github. This contains information on using Chef to install all the necessary dependencies on your server, and Capistrano for deploying the Madison codebase to it.

But wait, there’s more!

We’ve done a handful of other great things with this release. Check them out on Github in the Madison 3.0 upgrade documentation. We’re excited to make it easier for you to get Madison into the hands of your local elected officials, government staff, stakeholders and all residents like you. If you have any questions about Madison 3.0, how we can work together to put Madison to work in your city or state legislature, get in touch today.  You can email us.  You can Tweet us.  You can call or text us any time on +1-760-659-0631. Or you can jump in directly on Github.  We can’t wait to hear from you!

All the best,

Seth Etter and The OpenGov Foundation Team

###

Madison 3.0, and all of the work of The OpenGov Foundation, is generously supported by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Shuttleworth Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, the Consumer Technology Association, and the amazing men and women with whom The OpenGov Foundation partners in communities, governments and civil society organizations across America.

Madison 3.0 would not be possible without seriously talented people who deserve our thanks: The OpenGov Foundation’s world-class developers and designers, past and present.  On the development side: Seth Etter, Tanner Doshier, Bill Hunt, Chris Birk, Ross Tsiomenko, Sean Keefer, inSourceCode, and all the open source contributors listed here.  On the design side: John Athayde, Scout Addis, and Bryan Connor.  On the operations and engagement side: Meag Doherty, Aaron Bartnick, Nicko Margolies, Leili Slutz, and Mary Kate Mezzetti.  All rockstars. All civic innovators.  All amazing people who made Madison 3.0 possible.

 

 

What They’re Saying About Madison: Elected Officials, Civic Technologists, and Community Leaders like you

What They’re Saying about Governing Better, Together with Madison

With the release of Madison version 3.0, it just got a whole lot easier for you, your legislature, and your community to go from 0–today’s painful paper-based policymaking–to governing better, together with this proven, 100% free, smarter approach to making laws, legislation, rules and regulations.

Madison-Screen-Shot-Alternate

VIDEO: See What Madison 3.0 Looks Like

So what do members of the Madison governing community have to say?

From Chicago…

  • “Madison is a technology platform that lets residents dive into a proposed policy’s language and make specific suggestions… It also compliments other important modes of civic engagement and feedback collection like public meetings and traditional comment processes. Using Madison to collect public input on the Array of Things governance and private policy aligns with Smart Chicago’s dedication to civic engagement with and through technology.” -Kyla Williams, Interim Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, June 13th, 2016

…To The Obama Administration…

  • “One of the most unique aspects of the engagement is that the playbook was built using the same inclusive principles that it champions. In developing this new resource, the team opened three comment periods for anyone to participate. Using the Madison platform, hosted by the OpenGov Foundation, more than 100 contributions were reviewed in the first week alone…stakeholders from inside our government are encouraged to continually offer new insights–including new plays, the latest case studies, or the most current performance metrics–to the playbook.” – The White House Blog, February 3rd, 2015

…To Wichita, KS…

  • “The process of creating an Open Data Policy within Madison has gone very well. [It captured] many comments, edits, and annotations about what people wanted to see in the policy and what areas they felt were important.” -Michael Mayta, Chief Information Officer for the City of Wichita, April 13th, 2016

…to the Netherlands…

… to Montgomery County, MD…

  • “Madison is another step forward in the County’s pursuit of greater transparency, accountability, and effectiveness.  Madison makes it easier for residents to interact directly with policymakers and other stakeholders on issues they care about. I am excited to be working closing with The OpenGov Foundation to bring the legislative process even closer to the public…Madison has the potential to increase public engagement in the Council’s work and importantly, bring new people into the process.” – Hans Rimer, Montgomery County Councilmember, June 17th, 2015

… To Washington, DC.

  • “As we encourage more public engagement in the legislative process, I hope D.C. residents will take a moment to log onto the Madison project… I look forward to seeing the public input on my proposed bills.” -David Grosso, DC Councilmember At-Large, May 16th, 2014

Now, with the release of Madison version 3.0, you can upgrade how your community’s laws, policies, and regulations are made in as little as 30 minutes. The OpenGov Foundation team is here to help get you on the path to governing better, together, with Madison. Email usTweet us @FoundOpenGov, or call +1-760-659-0631 to get started today!

###

Madison 3.0, and all of the work of The OpenGov Foundation, is generously supported by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Shuttleworth Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, the Consumer Technology Association, and the amazing men and women with whom The OpenGov Foundation partners in communities, governments and civil society organizations across America.

Madison 3.0 would not be possible without seriously talented people who deserve our thanks: The OpenGov Foundation’s world-class developers and designers, past and present.  On the development side: Seth Etter, Tanner Doshier, Bill Hunt, Chris Birk, Ross Tsiomenko, Sean Keefer, inSourceCode, and all the open source contributors listed here.  On the design side: John Athayde, Scout Addis, and Bryan Connor.  On the operations and engagement side: Meag Doherty, Aaron Bartnick, Nicko Margolies, Leili Slutz, and Mary Kate Mezzetti.  All rockstars. All civic innovators.  All amazing people who made Madison 3.0 possible.

ICYMI: Chicago City Council Honors Winners of Envision Chicago

“Citizenship is verb. It’s an act of participation.”

– Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel congratulates winners of Envision Chicago

On Wednesday, July 20, the Chicago City Council passed a commemorative resolution honoring the winners of Envision Chicago and the civic engagement made possible by ChicagoCode.org.

The Envision Chicago pilot initiative taught civic engagement to public high school students by directly connecting them with the city laws and their representatives in city hall. The four winning students earned scholarships and spent the day meeting with their Aldermen, City Clerk Susana Mendoza, members of The OpenGov Foundation and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. See the quotes from participating Aldermen and watch the full presentation in the City Council meeting below:


“I wish we had many many more [programs] like this where we can encourage our young people. It can show the ones that are breaking the rules that there is another way. They can become a part of the fabric of this city and not tear it apart.”

— Alderman Carrie Austin

“I want to commend City Clerk Mendoza for having the vision to bring this program to the city of Chicago and to The OpenGov Foundation for making it possible for our students to be able to learn about the process of how we create laws in the city of Chicago.”

— Alderman Roberto Maldonado

“This is the type of project I love to see in our ward and in every ward where we are actually going out to the children and saying, hey, why don’t you become a part of what we’re writing in our laws.”

— Alderman Anthony Napolitano

““I think the great part about this partnership is that it’s not just bringing technology and linking that with students. It’s not just helping, it’s involved with government and driving government and public policy.”

— Alderman Ameya Pawar

Watch the passing of the commemorative resolution and accompanying speeches during the Chicago City Council Meeting:


What We Learned: Array of Things Engagement Event in Chicago


(Madison tutorial video on YouTube)

On June 22, Meag Doherty and I, representing The OpenGov Foundation, rolled into the Harold Washington Public Library to participate in an important public engagement session. The topic: two policies governing Chicago’s new “Array of Things” (AoT) urban data collection initiative. For AoT to work, Chicagoans must understand it, feel comfortable with it and agree to the rules governing this watershed implementation of the Internet of Things (IoT). This is a perfect use-case for the free and open source Madison online policymaking platform our team is the lead on developing.

Smart Chicago is running point on gathering resident input on the city-wide AoT effort to create a municipal “fitness tracking” sensor network. According to a September 2015 release announcing AoT, a $3.1 million dollar National Science Foundation grant to the University of Chicago will fund:

“…[the installation of] 500 Array of Things (AoT) nodes [that] will measure data on Chicago’s environment, infrastructure and activity to scientifically investigate solutions to urban challenges ranging from air quality to urban flooding. The ultimate goal of this innovative community technology platform is to help make cities cleaner, healthier and more livable.”

It was Meag’s first-ever public engagement experience as a member of The OpenGov Foundation team. And it was my first on-the-ground software observation session in Chicago. In this post, I will share our goals heading into the event, what we saw and learned, an example of our notes, where you can learn more about all of the above, and how you can get involved.

Goal #1 — Watch and Learn from Smart Chicago

Heading into the public library, our goals were twofold. First, do whatever we could to help our friends at The Smart Chicago Collaborative. This singular outfit was founded in 2011 by the City of Chicago, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Chicago Community Trust. Daniel X. O’Neil, was the organization’s first Executive Director and literally wrote the book on civic user testing.

Goal #2 — Test New Ways for Chicagoans to Govern Better, Together

Our second goal was to learn how to best prepare for the next chapter of our public-private-partnership with the Chicago City Council and City Clerk Susana Mendoza. Together, we are building the first Internet-Age legislature and legislative operating system. We’re calling this end-to-end system AssemblyWorks. It will give Chicago — and any legislature — the crucial ability to move off paper-based systems and instead pump out 100% digital, open legislative data. It will allow any legislature to move off expensive, proprietary and ineffective systems, and instead run on free and open source software. It will empower any citizen to see, shape and understand the laws that govern their lives, their families and their businesses from the comfort of their home, office or mobile phone. No more days off of work to visit your elected officials, fewer frustrations and less anger over unaccountable and opaque government actions.

A photo of a Chicagoans discussing the Array of Things initiative on June 22, 2016 at the Harold Washington Public Library.
(Chicagoans discuss Array of Things initiative)

Over the past year, we have gained a good grasp of how to transform Chicago’s paper-based legislature, legislative information and legislative process for the public officials and staff working on the inside of the City Council. Now we are turning to the even larger, more difficult, and to us, more fundamental questions of what needs to be built, adapted and implemented in order for AssemblyWorks to deliver Chicagoans the most inclusive and accessible, accountable and understandable, effective and user-friendly legislature on Earth.

3 Madison Takeaways

Over the course of the 90-minute session, our team learned a great deal about civic engagement — conceptually, and as applied to the “Array of Things.” We took home valuable insights to apply to our ongoing development of the software, data and process innovations under construction with the City Council. And we left with even greater respect and admiration for Smart Chicago’s incredible people, for their powerful approach to civic engagement, and for the forward-thinking local leaders committed to harnessing modern technology to build a more informed, engaged community. Our top three takeaways from the June 22, 2016 public meeting?

  1. Madison Already Helping Residents Govern Better, Together…But Much Development Remains — The current technical foundation for smarter Chicago civic engagement is strong, but there remains a mind-boggling number of questions to answer, engagement strategies to develop, and features to build into AssemblyWorks. Madison, the public-facing participation layer to the free and open source legislative operating system, is clearly improving access and engagement for certain types of users — for example, tech-savvy people who know a lot about the IoT; however, there remains a great deal of research, testing and development do before AssemblyWorks/Madison can meet the needs of the approximately 2.7 million people who call Chicago home.
  2.  

  3. With Tech-Powered Civic Engagement, the “On What” Matters as Much as the “How” — One of biggest observations was the complexity of the content running through Madison during this public engagement session. To meaningfully engage in a conversation, you need to understand the fundamentals. And to understand the fundamentals underpinning Chicago’s AoT initiative are, you need to know more than a little about the IoT. What is it? Here is how Forbes explains IoT:

    Internet of Things (IoT) or Internet of Everything (IoE) refers to devices or objects that are connected to the Internet, like your smartwatch, Fitbit, or even your refrigerator. These devices are able to collect and transmit data via the Internet, contributing to our big data world.

    The concepts behind AoT, it is safe to say, rest on rather advanced, cutting-edge technical knowledge. It took a full 70 minutes of the 90 minute session for the presenters to simply explain AoT. And of the remaining 20 minutes, all but five were devoted to basic questions. That points to highly complex concepts communicated with highly technical language that demands of residents a highly advanced reading level to understand. Complex language makes it more difficult for a broad audience to provide feedback. It’s also worth mentioning that privacy experts have criticized the AoT policy for being too short and not going into enough detail about the type of data collected or what will be shared.

    The results of a readability score of the Array of Things policy document.
    (Average reading level of all AoT text)

    We put a pin in the AoT language for further research, though as support players in this engagement round, we cannot change the content itself. However, we can run the content through a tool to determine the rough readability of the AoT documents as currently drafted. We used Readability-Score.com and found the average document readability translated to a second semester college sophomore. The introductory text is an average reading level of a high school senior, but the policy itself came in at the level of a first semester college junior. According to the Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease score, the introductory text is 40% easier to read, but still outside the “easy to read” zone.
     

  4. No One Really Knows (Yet) What Online Public Engagement with a Legislature, Legislators or Legislation Itself Should Look Like — If we learned anything, it was that we are standing far closer to the beginning than the end of the journey towards building legislatures that are fully accessible, understandable and open to online public engagement. Leaving the AoT event, we took home way more questions than answers. But to us, that is progress. We cannot wait for the next research round to begin.

Next Steps

While this resident input round has concluded, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to learn alongside Chicago’s civic engagement gurus. We are thankful for the chance to get our on-the-ground engagement feet wet to prepare for what lies ahead on the AssemblyWorks 1.0 roadmap. But above all, we are excited to help the Chicago City Council — and our other awesome partners in Cook County, IL, across the United States and around the world — answer the critical questions that democratic governments of all shapes and sizes must confront today if they expect to thrive well into an increasingly digital, mobile and on-demand future.

The OpenGov Foundation’s Meag Doherty excited to be observing new users try Madison.
(Meag excited to observe Madison users)

What does productive Chicago public engagement look like on education policies, or the city budget, or on the rules governing Uber, Lyft and AirBnB — very hot topics in Chicago right now? How can we harness digital strategies and smarter software to include those who are not already participating in the decisions that impact their lives? What does a non-native english speaker need in order to secure their right to be heard by their local legislature? How can we efficiently and effectively demystify a legislative process, providing hands-on civic education that scales?

No one has uncovered data-driven answers to these kinds of questions. No one has done much more than scratch the surface. But we could not be more excited to be on this quest for insights and actionable results. The future of democracy in Chicago — and in every free society — may just depend on it.

What do you think about AoT, governing together with Madison and Chicago-style civic engagement? We would love to hear from you, work with you and stay in touch. Find The OpenGov Foundation on Twitter, send us email or join the developer conversation on Github.


Observation of a New Madison User at the Event

  • Software Tested: Madison
  • Document Tested: Chicago’s “Array of Things” Privacy and Governance Policies
  • Time: 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. CST
  • Location: Harold Washington Public Library Multi-Purpose Room
  • Guide: Meag Doherty, The OpenGov Foundation
  • Documentor: Seamus Kraft, The OpenGov Foundation
  • User: Woman in her mid-twenties, wearing reading glasses.

Test Function 1. Create a User Account
Observation: User was able to quickly create an account without any instructions or assistance. She found it in seconds. Signed up rapidly. She appeared to be a really savvy, tech-literate person who is used to platforms like this.

Test Function 2. Verify User Account
Observation: The banner telling the user to verify her account disappeared way too quickly (before she even saw it). We told her what to do at this point in order to proceed with the test.
Idea: In-platform instructions that each user needs to see need to actually be seen. Leave this one up or have a pop up that cannot be missed? Github issue opened here.

Test Function 3. Log In to Madison
Observation: User was able to log back in after verifying her account. BUT she found the fonts for these instructions “too thin/hard to read.” Github issue opened here.

Test Function 4. Support or Oppose the Document
Did not test this.

A screenshot of feedback on the Array of Things policy document on Madison.
(AoT feedback on Madison)

Test Function 5. Make a Comment on the Document
Observation: User was able to make a comment/annotation fine, but she was really asking a question. She wanted to ask questions and have them displayed as such.
Idea: We could add “comment,” “propose change,” and “ask a question” as the options in the annotator window. Github issue opened here.
Observation: User was squinting to see the little box that pops up when you highlight text. It was not clear what the user’s action should be after highlighting. User: “What is this thing? What do I do now?”
Idea: Need more and more direct/inline instructions on how to do these basic functions.

Test Function 6. Propose a Direct Change to the Document
Observation:User was confused as to what text she was editing. The text she was trying to change didn’t pop up in the annotator to be edited.
Observation:User posted her proposed text change before explaining why she was proposing the change.
Idea:We should make posting the why either mandatory for a change, or have another pop up being like “before you go…why the change?”
Idea:We should make sure the editor automatically pulls up the highlighted text to be edited for redlining.

Test Function 7. Send Feedback on Madison
– Did not test.

General Notes

  • Observation: Users were squinting at the text/screen throughout the testing session.
  • Observation: User was looking for a way to search the document text for specific words/phrases. Since this feature does not exist, user used control-F instead.

    Idea: Add a document-wide search function to each document page, with filters for “all,” “comments,” “edits,” “questions,” and maybe by specific users, i.e. “my feedback, “User X’s feedback,” etc.

  • Observation: Most of the event was spent with people at the front of the room explaining what IoT and AoT are conceptually. Most of the citizen feedback came in the form of questions.
    Idea: Add an “Ask a question” option to each document page.
    Idea: Create a feed of user-generated questions AND administrator-generated FAQ-type questions, along with the responses from the administrator and other users.
  • Observation: Array of Things is very complicated document related to a very complex policy (IoT). It appeared that most of those in the room had trouble following the conversation.
  • Observation: It appeared that there was a significant number (approximately ¼ to ⅓) of people in the room that were NOT native English speakers.

Links to Learn More and Get Involved

###


Seamus Kraft is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of The OpenGov Foundation.
 

Congress: Monolithic Mess or Solvable System of Systems?

Cover slide for the 'Five Hacks for Congress' panel at the Legislative Data and Transparency Conference.

(Poll conducted on Cloakroom)

A mere 16% of the American public currently approves of the performance of the United States Congress. And according to a real-time poll of congressional staff conducted this morning seen to the right, the situation is no better for those serving on the inside.

Only when we stop looking at the federal legislative branch as a monolithic broken institution and start viewing it as a system of systems in need of improvement, can Congress start earning back the trust and confidence of taxpayers — and of the legions of overworked, underpaid congressional staff.

Five Hacks for Congress panel.

(Photo from today’s panel)

That was the message delivered by our Executive Director Seamus Kraft at the 2016 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference, held today deep under the still-scaffolded Capitol Dome. Kraft led a lively conversation, titled “Five Hacks for Congress,” aimed at breaking down into solvable problems the seemingly intractable Digital Age institutional, technical and procedural challenges mounting here on Capitol Hill. Top congressional expert Kathy Goldschmidt of the Congressional Management Foundation and Ethan Chumley from the Microsoft Tech & civic Engagement team joined the panel discussion.

Goldschmidt underscored the dangerous impacts made by the ongoing explosion of both the number of constituents per member of the House — from 34,000 in 1790 to more than 710,000 in 2010 — and the amount of communications they now lob at their elected officials thanks to the rise of digital communications technology – from 2002 to 2010, congressional offices experienced an average increase in constituent correspondence of 548%. “Unsurprisingly,” Goldschmidt concluded, “Congress is having trouble turning public demand into satisfactory public policy.”

Without members of Congress waking up to this worsening reality and voting for significant budget and staff increases, the only viable solution is to do more with less. That sounds like a technology challenge becoming a ripe innovation opportunity. “We are continuing to force the men and women serving on our behalf in government to try to tackle our shared 21st century challenges without providing them the basic 21st century tools to get those wickedly hard jobs done,” Kraft said. The current situation isn’t working and so we need to overhaul these systems. If you want to learn more about technology spending in Congress, don’t miss our thorough analysis and recommendations here.

The panel laid out clear options for modernizing congressional systems, data and processes by outlining what cannot be done (unless you’re one of those 535 members):

  • We can’t diminish the role of Congress. It is the first branch.
  • We can’t scrap it and start over.
  • Raising the budget is a non-starter in the current congressional environment.
  • We can’t keep citizens from petitioning government – it’s a Constitutional right and the lifeblood of the relationship between citizens and the people’s branch.
  • We can’t keep technology from marching forward – expectations will only increase over time.
  • We can’t change the fundamentals of the legislative process.
  • We can’t ignore this problem any longer and collectively, we must become part of the solution.

If those options are off the table, what can be done? The panel next explored five cross-cutting congressional hacks, breaking down the monolith into discrete democratic systems on which one can work:

  1. Engagement – delivering informed opinions representative of a member’s constituents, managing communication workflow to reduce quantity and increase quality.
  2. Collaboration – developing public policy relies on relationships and complex workflows, but current disjointed tools and processes make it inefficient.
  3. Capacity to access, understand and act on high-quality, reliable information – improving real time participation for better questions, better amendment and better deliberation.
  4. Spending and reimbursement – overhauling the paper-based accounting system would allow better management and monitoring of limited taxpayer dollars.
  5. Trust – Without improving this nothing else will improve, the public needs to know their government is representing them well. This opportunity covers casework improvement, better transparency in office work and what’s happening in Congress.

The panel closed with a call to remember that, when it comes to modernizing the most important legislature in the history of the world, we’re only just scratching the surface. But as Kraft concluded, if there is any group of people who can create a 21st century Congress, it is the A Team assembled by the Legislative Data Transparency Conference.

What do you think? Tweet at us at @FoundOpenGov or email us at sayhello@opengovfoundation.org with your thoughts.

 

HAPPENING TOMORROW: ‘Five Hacks for Congress’ Panel at the Legislative Data and Transparency Conference

Cover slide for the 'Five Hacks for Congress' panel at the Legislative Data and Transparency Conference.

Tomorrow, The OpenGov Foundation’s Executive Director Seamus Kraft will help lead a panel discussion on creating a 21st century Congress at the Legislative Data and Transparency Conference. The panel includes Kathy Goldschmidt, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Congressional Management Foundation, and Ethan Chumley, Campaign Technology Advisor at Microsoft.

Congress is a system of systems and each of those subsystems are in desperate need of an overhaul. During this panel, we will highlight five large challenges and opportunities for the legislative branch: engagement, collaboration, internal oversight and compliance, capacity to access, understand, and act on high-quality, reliable information, and improving public trust.

For congressional staff facing a growing workload and decreasing capacity, this panel will explore solutions to support your public service. For journalists, this panel will identify where modern technology can improve our most important institution. For the public, this conversation will spark ideas to make sure your voice is heard in the halls of power. Join us to share your thoughts on bringing Congress into the 21st century!

Who:
Seamus Kraft – The OpenGov Foundation
Kathy Goldschmidt, Congressional Management Foundation
Ethan Chumley, Microsoft
What: ‘Five Hacks for Congress’ panel discussion
Date: June 21, 2016
Time: 11:25 a.m
Location: U.S. Capitol Visitor Center – Congressional Auditorium
RSVP: Click here to join the conference.

Watch the live webcast here.

Tweet us at @FoundOpenGov and follow the conference with #LDTC16. Hope to see you tomorrow in the Congressional Auditorium!