We’re making it easier to access and use Sunlight’s data

By consolidating our tools and projects, we’re going to make it easier than ever to utilize Sunlight Foundation data.

When I started late last year as Sunlight’s new president, I promised to make it my mission to streamline and simplify Sunlight’s focus so we can maximize the impact of our work. Today, I’m pleased to follow up on that promise by announcing a major initiative we’ve just embarked upon to make it easier for you to access and use the data we open up about government and political influence.

In the coming months, we will consolidate our resources and will roll out a flagship suite of websites, mobile apps and a single, unified API with an associated data explorer.

One valuable bit of recurrent feedback I’ve received about Sunlight’s first nine years: Our early experiments in creating branded projects that focused on one dataset resulted in us offering too many different sites. By scattering our efforts across myriad sites and tools, we hid the true potential of the underlying data. As time went by and we launched more and more projects, it created a challenge for you, dear user, to remember where to look to find that critical piece of data that will help you with your news story, civic app, etc. Such an approach also makes it difficult to analyze analogous datasets in one place to detect patterns.

Taking that feedback into consideration, we began a self-assessment to evaluate the effectiveness, uniqueness and usefulness of all of our tools. From that, we immediately began to make modifications to our strategy, and retired about 20 outdated and/or underused projects.

Now, we’re embarking on the next major step to make it easier for you to use and understand our data offerings. It’s our priority to assess how we can best integrate our offerings and organize our work under two major platforms: one focused on the federal government, the other on state governments. This plan allows us to concentrate on making our federal and state offerings comprehensive, more cohesive and easier to use while providing a better entry point to see all of the data Sunlight curates in one place. Given the importance of data about political influence (e.g., campaign finance and lobbying) to Sunlight’s work, we plan to permeate the influence data among these properties to unlock its real potential. And some tools, like our Scout notification service, currently transcend the state and national divide, so their features will be integrated into both platforms.

Both of these flagship products will require the consolidation of the vast majority of Sunlight’s data. This will be a large undertaking that will make our long-desired goal of a single combined API across all this data a real possibility. We will also expand our data offerings by building an enhanced data explorer tool. Such a tool would allow engaged users such as journalists and researchers to execute complex queries across Sunlight’s datasets. This data consolidation will build upon Sunlight’s collaborative work around Open Civic Data, which includes information from the international, federal, state and local levels. Open Civic Data identifiers, which allow civic tech organizations to standardize how they refer to aspects of government like bills, elected officials and votes, are already adopted by outside organizations such as Google’s Civic Innovation team, OpenNorth and OpenElections.

We are excited about instituting these changes to make our tools more helpful to those who currently use them, and more accessible to those who will use them in the future. We’ve learned a great deal in the past nine years, and this is the next step in the work of our organization to provide the tools, data and information that will fuel the movement to make our government more accountable.

As always, we appreciate your feedback and look forward to releasing our new offerings later in 2015.