What’s Under the Hood of Google’s New Civic Information Offering

The Open Civic Data Project logo.
The Open Civic Data Project logo. Photo credit: Sunlight Foundation

Exciting news for anyone working on open government technology: Google’s Civic Information API now includes representative data! The API was already a great source of electoral information. Now it can help connect people to the politicians who represent them after election day.

Google’s team has done a great job of acquiring tons of data from a variety of sources and combining it in a simple-to-use API. At Sunlight, we’re proud to have played a part in making it possible to stitch that data together. The heart of this effort is the Open Civic Data Identifier system.

Based on work done by our Open States team and developed in consultation with a number of other organizations, OCD-IDs are a generable standard that can reliably identify political jurisdictions. This might sound simple or boring, but it’s a fundamental interoperability problem in the opengov space — one that gets all the more tricky when you start adding support for levels of government that don’t come with readymade shapefiles. OCD-IDs were designed with that challenge in mind, plus several others (for instance: what happens when a politician changes offices?).

Sunlight has already added support for OCD-IDs to our Congress¬†API, and they’ll be present in a coming revision to our Open States API. Organizations like Granicus and Open North are also adopting the standard. We think it’s going to be an important tool for connecting currently-disparate domains of open data with one another.

We’ve got more great stuff planned for the Open Civic Data project. But for now we hope you’ll check out the Civic Information API and think about whether OCD-IDs could be used to connect your data to the growing open government universe.

Thanks to OpenNorth’s James McKinney for his invaluable contributions to the development of the OCD-ID specification, especially as it relates to the Popolo Project; and to Phil Ashlock for his pioneering work on this problem via Democracy Map.