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Tag Archive: National Day of Civic Hacking

OpenGov Voices: Hack the Budget! (or try to)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

This is a guest post from Anthony Holley, a member of the intrepid Hack for Western Mass team that spent the weekend of June 1 trying to track money reported in USASpending.gov back to the federal budget. Anthony is a writer living and working in Amherst, MA. He is interested in helping good non-profits grow so that they can do their best work.

Advocacy groups like the Sunlight Foundation and National Priorities Project have long lamented the state of data gathered on USAspending.gov, which remains the key, searchable data repository for those interested in learning about and educating others on our federal spending. Individual federal agencies are responsible for reporting their expenditures to USAspending.gov in the interest of contributing to an open, transparent government. A working group at the Western Massachusetts Civic Day of Hacking sought to reconcile the information on USAspending.gov with the information in the budget appendix, published by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), keeping in mind that true transparency means being able to track expenditures from the budget to USAspending.gov. A group of computer programmers, data managers, and political activists got together to work on this problem over the weekend of June 1 and 2. What we found was that this goal was at least very difficult, and perhaps impossible, to achieve.

We started by looking at the data on the OMB website to see if we could parse it for useful identifiers that we could then match up with the data on USAspending.gov. The data on the OMB website turns out to be particularly user unfriendly for these purposes, presented in XML and PDF formats that are not easy to search by category. Each section of the budget has a Treasury ID, so we took that as our starting point for trying to match expenditures listed on the budget with USASpending.gov.

Hack for Western Mass

Hack for Western Mass team. Photo credit: Molly McLeod

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OpenGov Voices: Keeping Tabs on Your Local City Council with Councilmatic

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any Derek Ederemployee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Derek Eder is a co-founder of Open City, a group of volunteers in Chicago that create apps with open data to improve citizen understanding of our government through transparency, and owner of DataMade, a civic technology and open data consultancy.

City councils shape nearly every aspect of city life, from what kind of canopy you can have on a storefront, to how much we pay in taxes, to the number of cops on the street.

Unfortunately, it is hard for citizens to keep tabs on what their city council is doing. A few years ago, if you wanted to be informed about a city council’s actions, you had to go to the clerk’s office and page through the hundreds or thousands of bills that were added or updated every month.

In recent years, many city clerks have taken a big step forward by publishing this legislation online. However, the current generation of municipal legislative information systems are mainly built to help councilmembers and clerks’ offices manage legislation. They were not built to help the public to understand what their city council is doing.

Well, like so many of our problems, now there’s an app for that: Councilmatic.

Chicago Councilmatic 1

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National Day of Civic Hacking 2013

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This past weekend, over 11,000 individuals connected under the helm of the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH) -- a series of local #HackForChange hackathons, unconferences, and meeting of the minds that engaged local communities with open data, code, and tech.

From what we can tell, the NDoCH events were magnetic, drawing together participation from local (and traveling) developers, government officials (including a few mayors!), community leaders, and even 21 federal agencies. The vibe of this national organization not only encouraged a sort of: "If you can't hack with the city you reside in, hack with the one you're physically located in," but also further encouraged cross-pollination of civic applications from community to community (For more highlights from the national scene, check out this Storify feed.) Although Sunlight wasn’t able to attend every one of the 95 events held this past weekend, the events we did attend taught us quite a bit. Below, we’ve rounded up our reflections, recaps, and geeky highlights from the festivities in Baltimore, DC, Montgomery County, North Carolina, and Western Massachusetts.

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Football and the Art of Civic Hacking

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions Front Cameraof the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Sharon Paley is the "chief operator" at gb.tc (formerly know as Greater Baltimore Tech Council.) Dedicated to helping improve her beloved hometown through innovation and technology, Sharon has been instrumental in building Hack Baltimore, a platform created by gb.tc and the City of Baltimore encouraging every citizen to develop innovative solutions for civic betterment. You can catch Sharon's podcasts and blog posts at gb.tc or follow her @sharon_paley.

I like to take this page from Vince Lombardi’s playbook:

“People who work together will win, where it be against complex football defenses or the problems of a modern society.”

What more modern way to tackle the problems of a society than the civic hackathon. They are great opportunities to learn about how our own government works, develop new tools that enable governments to work better, and make a difference in the community and world we live in.

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See You at National Day of Civic Hacking this Weekend

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This weekend, patriotism gets a technical upgrade as civic hackers and open government advocates all across the U.S. will participate in National Day of Civic Hacking events. At Sunlight, we've witnessed (and encouraged!) the growth of the community of civic hackers, and are proud to sponsor and participate in several events this weekend. Will we see you there?

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OpenGov Voices: Beyond the Big City: Think Federally, Hack Locally

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions headshot-croppedof the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Becky Sweger is the Director of Data and Technology at National Priorities Project. NPP is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to making the U.S. transparent and accessible so people can prioritize and influence how their tax dollars are spent. You can reach her at bsweger@nationalpriorities.org

Hack for Western Mass is happening at UMass Amherst on June 1-2—one of over 80 Hack for Change events happening across the country. We hope you’ll join us at UMass Amherst as we bring the first-ever civic hackathon to Western Massachusetts.

Isn’t Western Mass in the middle of nowhere? Can’t you just hack in Boston?

National Priorities Project (NPP), a national federal budget research organization, has long thought about how our local community can benefit from the open data and civic hacking movements that are quickly gaining worldwide momentum. We attend events all over the country, and as transparency champions, we applaud when DC hacks its municipal code, Philly gets a Chief Data Officer, and Chicago starts posting data on Github.

Participants-HackForWesternMass

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