This Thanksgiving holiday, we’re asking you to join Sunlight in helping create open data about your local government. Over the last year and a half, we have been working hard to architect and implement new tools and data specifications to work with state and municipal data; ultimately, we want to make it easier for you to better know how your local-level elected officials are creating laws that will affect you in your hometown. This is all part of our new [Open Civic Data](http://opencivicdata.org/) project.
Imagine getting a push notification letting you know when your city council is taking up legislation to improve bike lanes in your neighborhood, and then being able to easily call or email your council member to weigh in on the ordinance. Or being able to enter your zip code on a website to find out who your representatives are — from your town to state capitol to Congress — and seeing what bills they’re voting on and how you can get in touch to have your voice be heard?
This can all soon be a reality — but we need your help to make it happen.
We’re asking all of you (yes, you!) to try [Open Civic Data’s spreadsheet collection tool](http://opencivicdata.org/upload/) to bring your hometown online. It’s very easy to do, and we hope you’ll also consider recruiting three friends and/or family members to do the same when you get together for Thanksgiving. The best way to get started is to [download our template](https://s3.amazonaws.com/opencivicdata/house-of-cards.csv), [read the guide](http://opencivicdata.org/upload/guide/) and replace the example data with real information for your city. After the sheet is all filled out, you can send us the data by uploading it through our [brand new upload tool](http://opencivicdata.org/upload/).
In the spirit of ensuring that we end up with a tool that fits the actual use of those who are interested in data collection, we’re asking that folks take a look at this tool before we’re actually finished with it, so please report any issues you have with the tool to us as soon as you find them. As a result of releasing this early in the process without extensive user testing, you may find bugs – this is normal, and not your fault. Reporting bugs as you encounter them is one of the best ways to ensure we end up with something that becomes as easy as we want it to be, so be sure to report them!
We’re also asking interested technical folks to consider trying out the [Open Civic Data API](https://api.opencivicdata.org/), utilizing the API directly, or with our new [python-opencivicdata-api](https://github.com/opencivicdata/python-opencivicdata-api) bindings. Your existing Sunlight API key (if you don’t have one, now’s a great time to [register](http://sunlightfoundation.com/api/accounts/register/)!) will work against this API, so feel free to get started today! Documentation on the endpoints is available as part of our [Open Civic Data documentation](http://docs.opencivicdata.org/en/latest/api/overview.html), and a list for folks interested in new features and development announcements should join our [Open Civic Data Google group](https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/open-civic-data).
Our state and municipal team took the lessons learned from the development of the [Open States](http://openstates.org) specifications, along with existing work from [Open North](http://opennorth.ca/)’s [Popolo](http://www.popoloproject.com/) project, and developed tools to create, curate and distribute the data in a common and flexible way. This has taken the form of [scraper infrastructure](https://github.com/opencivicdata/pupa), an [API](https://github.com/opencivicdata/imago) and a tool to [upload spreadsheets of data](http://opencivicdata.org/upload/) to the Open Civic Data database.
One of our biggest focuses was to create a system where non-technical users are able to contribute to the data collection effort in an easy and effective way. In particular, we wanted to enable the collection of municipal data in a format that was easy to understand, and build tools to translate this into the full Open Civic Data format.
We sincerely appreciate your help to ensure we all have access to free and open data about our representatives from the local level on up. Together, we can create more ways to hold our government accountable.
If you need help, have feedback or otherwise want to say hi, please send mail to [firstname.lastname@example.org](mailto:email@example.com). Thanks for your help and have a happy Thanksgiving!