Minneapolis on road to transparency


Tired of waiting for your city to become more transparent? Tony Webster, John Schrom and Ryan Johnson decided to take responsibility for their city of Minneapolis and create a software platform in order to “open municipal government, encourage clean and information-based elections, track issues and inspire community engagement and public participation.” Their new project is called Open Minneapolis.

Webster, having formerly interned for a city council member in college, had seen first hand how much information never made it to the public or was difficult to access.

Talking with Webster on the phone he explained the rationale behind the project. “There is so much that happens behind the scenes that we don’t know about. There has been a lot of great projects at the federal level, and in some cases state level, but not usually in Minnesota. I really wanted that transparency to come to Minneapolis.”

The project has been active since July 2009 and this week they launched a site listing their goals and showing some fantastic preview images. As a journalist, having worked with numerous city and state websites across the country, I would eat my hat in exchange for this type of data accessibility and clear user interface.

While all the goals of Open Minneapolis are important to me as a journalist and a citizen one is particularly catching my eye: the implementation of a standardized XML format for public meetings.

OpenMinneapolis XMLMunicipal meetings are difficult enough to sit through in person. Waiting to mine a PDF release for the data you need is even worse. With the implementation of an XML format for public meetings analysis of this data will become a breeze.

Imagine visualizations of city council actions going back years or interactive flow charts showing how a particular proposal was fought over. Ideas that are possible now but only with a disproportionate amount of work – an XML standard would make it straightforward and quick.

The team behind Open Minneapolis has formed a charitable non-profit, CivicEquity, that would oversee such a standard as it expanded beyond Minneapolis. CivicEquity would also distribute the software Open Minneapolis is based on: the team will release it as open-source for any non-commercial use!

As the Sunlight Foundation expands its activities into states and cities it is projects like these that will truly make our mission successful.

If you’re interested in policy work, web development, have legal expertise or data acquisition experience head on over to their site and get involved today. The team has a grant application to the 2010 Knight News Challenge – their grant proposal is here – please rate it!