Philadelphia has a new lobbying website that helps make detailed information easier to search, download and reuse. It's a step forward from how this information was previously shared, but there is still room for improvement.Continue reading
On Thursday November 21st, Montgomery County, Maryland hosted an Open Data Town Hall to solicit feedback from citizens about what data they would like to see prioritized for release online under Montgomery County’s open data law.Continue reading
Just over a year ago, Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania signed an executive order creating an open data policy... View ArticleContinue reading
The White House’s new Executive Order may be significantly different than the open data policies that have come before it on the federal level, but where does it stand in a global -- and local -- context? Many folks have already jumped at the chance to compare this new US executive order and the new policies that accompany it to a similar public letter issued by UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010, but little attention has been paid to one of the new policy’s most substantial provisions: the creation of a public listing of agency data based on an internal audits of information holdings. As administrative as this provision might sound, the creation of this listing (and the accompanying scoping of what information isn’t yet public, but could be released) is part of the next evolution of open data policies (and something Sunlight has long called for as a best practice). So does this policy put the U.S. on the leading edge? Continue reading
We found a varied landscape when we explored what cities include in releases of lobbying data and how they release it, but one thing is clear: Disclosing and contextualizing lobbying data can have a high impact on a community. Journalists and other watchdogs who dig into municipal lobbying information have unearthed a wide range of stories illustrating the relationships between money, access to power, and the decisions made by those who have power. Raw lobbying information alone doesn't necessarily make for an insightful story about the world of political influence, but it's a key data set that is essential to revealing these kinds of narratives.
This is especially clear in Philadelphia, where information from the city's lobbying registrations and quarterly reports have been pulled into a searchable, sortable database called Lobbying.ph. Casey Thomas, a Philadelphia developer, was part of the team that created Lobbying.ph at a local hackathon in February 2012, and he expanded on it before joining AxisPhilly, a non-profit news organization, later that year. AxisPhilly now houses and maintains the project.Continue reading
Here’s an appeal for our readers: please help Sunlight spread the news of the great work civic hackers do as far and wide as possible by voting for our storytelling video in the Looking@Democracy contest organized by the Illinois Humanities Council with support from the MacArthur Foundation. (Voting ends May 16.) We couldn’t wait to tell this (previously) untold story through a short video to demonstrate how the nascent movement of civic hackers are creating apps and tools using open government data to make their communities better. These men and women are equipped with laptops, open data and creative ideas to positively reconstruct the way we relate with government.Continue reading
“Consistent” is not the first word one would use to describe the landscape of lobbying data released by municipalities. As revealed by our research, the formats and range of information local governments collect and disclose about lobbying activity varies quite a bit from one community context to another. After exploring the best practices for collecting and releasing this information, we created and recently published a Municipal Lobbying Data Guidebook. This guide addresses not only what kinds of information should be included in an ideal lobbying dataset, but also information about how that data should be collected and shared, regulated, and examples of the impact of having this information made available in an open way. (Something we’ll continue to explore in future posts.)
So how do municipalities measure up to these standards? We took a close look at three cities -- Austin, Chicago, and Philadelphia -- to explore what they’re doing well and where their lobbying disclosure can improve.
WHAT COULD (AND WAS SUPPOSED TO) BEPhiladelphia's online lobbying disclosures were never supposed to look like they do now. When the lobbying disclosure law passed in 2010, the city contracted for software that would utilize electronic filing and share the information in a searchable format -- a requirement under the new law. The city had to cancel that contract, though, when the vendor failed to produce working software for the lobbying portal.
The city's current lobbying disclosure website is a temporary solution. Philadelphia recently put out a notice of intent to contract* for a new website with Acclaim Systems Inc -- the same company working on the state of Pennsylvania's lobbying disclosure system. The RFP for Philadelphia's new website includes a call for the use of unique ID numbers for filers; a way to publish registrations and expense reports "as PDFs and as data to the public searchable site"; user ability to search and download registration and expense reports "easily via the Internet" and to generate PDFs for each of these; and to create an online directory of lobbyists with photos.
The goal is essentially to have Philadelphia's website meet the two stipulations called for in the lobbying disclosure law: e-filing and searchability. The RFP calls for a system "that can be designed and implemented in a four-month timeframe or less," so if the contract receives final approval soon the site could be up this year.Having some information available in the meantime is better than having none at all. We evaluate the current website with this in mind and with an eye toward how the next iteration of the website that comes after this placeholder might look.
WHAT EXISTS NOW
I. What data is available
Philadelphia links to its lobbying information from a webpage on its Board of Ethics site. It makes registration and reporting forms and instructions available. It also posts some completed lobbying registrations and expense reports.
The lobbying registration forms require the date of registration, the lobbyist name, address, and contact information, details about any affiliated political action committees or candidate political committees, and the name, address, and contact information for any principals or lobbying firms. This level of detail is in line with Sunlight’s Guidebook recommendations.Continue reading
On April 27, all roads will lead to Philly for the fifth annual BarCamp NewsInnovation (BCNI) and its third annual News hackathon. BCNI (which is part of Philly Tech Week) is a one-day national unconference on journalism innovation and the future of news as explored by practitioners and others in the same field. Sunlight is one of the sponsors for the event.
BCNI is organized by the good folks over at Technically Media (the company behind Technically philly) and Temple University Department of Journalism. It will bring together designers, developers like myself and an interesting mix of programmers and students.
What: BarCamp NewsInnovation
When: Saturday April 27
Where: Temple University Philadelphia, 2020 N 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19122Continue reading
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.
Pam Selle is a News Apps Developer and Community Evangelist for AxisPhilly, a nonprofit investigative news organization that prioritizes work in the public interest. She is a resident of Philadelphia, speaks at national and regional technical events, and blogs at thewebivore.com. Follow her at @pamasaur.
Philadelphia is known as a leader in the open government movement – the city lays claim to the second Chief Data Officer in the country (Sunlight OpenGov Champion Mark Headd), is a two-time Code for America host city, is home to an active Code for America Brigade and has social good hackathons at least every month, sometimes every week. There’s a strong interest in creating applications to inform and empower citizens with apps such as Lobbying.ph, PhillySNAP and Baldwin using public data for their respective purposes.
In February, the city released the AVI calculator, an online app that helps residents determine real estate taxes under a new policy that went into effect. The city also made the data powering the calculator available as an API. This allowed AxisPhilly, an independent, nonprofit news organization, use the AVI calculator API and transform it from just informational to a discussion tool.
The website appsforphilly.org, which lists open source projects in Philadelphia, lists these two projects side by side. So how did a city government and a news organization end up next to each other on this list of open source projects? What’s the story behind Philadelphia making a web app and releasing the data to enable tools like AxisPhilly’s? For one, both projects are open source and allow for code-sharing. You can access the code for both the City of Philadelphia’s AVI project and AxisPhilly’s map project template on GitHub. AxisPhilly’s project also leverages the property parcels open data set.Continue reading