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Watch TransparencyCamp ideas grow!

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TransparencyCamp has come and gone, but the ideas that sprouted at TCamp are just beginning to come to life.

Steve Spiker from OpenOakland shared his insight about the transparency movement in the TCamp wrap up video below, “We’re saying things need to be different in our country and that’s only going to happen if you care enough to persist on it.”

The transparency community understands that progress starts at TCamp but it doesn’t end when you go home.

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TransparencyCamp 2013: Wrapping Up the Best Year Yet

Every year at about this time -- just days after our hallmark community event, TransaprencyCamp -- we kick up our heels, shake our heads, and think, “That was our best event yet.” But this year, we really mean it. TransparencyCamp 2013 was different from its predecessors. Not only was it our largest TCamp to-date -- with a chart-topping 500 participants from over 25 countries and 33 states* -- but it was also our strongest. More than a reunion of old friends fighting the same fight, this TransparencyCamp was a veritable democratic laboratory, with scientists from different backgrounds, countries and creeds coming together to share their experiments, find collaborators, and bring new ideas back home for testing and tweaking. We’ll have some more reflections and behind the scenes views in the days ahead, but first, we wanted to share with you a closer at the weekend.

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Lodging, travel and dining options for TransparencyCamp 2013

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Washington, D.C. is a hub for political, nonprofit organization and business activity; it’s also well-loved destination for tourists, not to mention the visitors who come to see friends and family. As a D.C. resident, I know the experience of visiting Washington can be expensive, confusing and exhausting. So, to out-of-town TransparencyCamp 2013 visitors next month, let me give you some of the tips I share with friends and family to make your visit as enjoyable and productive as possible. But double-check the decisions you make; we offer these suggestions without warranty and with the understanding that there are many good ways to visit Washington.

Lodging

Assuming you don’t already have a place to crash, your first decision – after registering for TransparencyCamp and making transportation plans – is finding a place to stay. TCamp will take place at the Marvin Center on the campus of the George Washington University at 21st and H streets NW. View Larger Map There are quite a number of nearby hotels, including the Best Western Georgetown and the Melrose Georgetown. Check out Washington.org for more hotel recommendations, often with special rates, from the District's convention and visitors bureau.

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TransparencyCamp 2013: Register Today!

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Registration for TransparencyCamp 2013 is now open, and if you purchase your tickets between now and March 1, 2013, you can get in on our early bird special: $20 for regular admission and $15 for students. TransparencyCamp, lovingly referred to as TCamp, is a community event for those working or interested in open government, accountability, and transparency. This year’s Camp is co-hosted by the George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and will be held the weekend of May 4 - 5, 2013 at the University’s Marvin Center

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International Declaration on Parliamentary Openness

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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness multilingual coversTomorrow morning, I'll be joining a number of other organizations in addressing a broad gathering of parliamentary officials at the World e-Parliament Conference. We'll be formally announcing the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, a joint document prepared and drafted by the growing movement of Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations, or PMOs, operating throughout the world. This is the clearest, most broadly representative effort yet to represent global norms for legislative transparency. It's intended to create common goals and expectations for a representative branch of government that is transparent and accountable, increasingly by using new technology to represent citizens better. Sunlight is participating as both a PMO, since our advocacy, reporting, and technology are so often about political influence and substance in Congress, and also as a convener, joining with the National Democratic Institute and the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency to connect PMOs from around the globe.  We created OpeningParliament.org to serve as a resource for the group and our activities, and since our kickoff meeting in May 2012 (adjacent to TransparencyCamp), the community has grown dramatically, and worked together to shape and sharpen the declaration.  Over 80 organizations have now endorsed the declaration, and we're proud to be presenting it to officials from the world's Congresses, Assemblies, and Parliaments tomorrow.

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The Tech Behind TransparencyCamp

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TransparencyCamp, Sunlight's open government unconference, is one of the few chances the Labs gets each year to go crazy with tech. Our goal is to use technology to enhance the conference experience and set the expectation for the type of "maker" culture we have here at Sunlight. Read on to find out some of the technology that makes TransparencyCamp run.

Web and Mobile Sites

Transparency Camp is somewhat of a hybrid unconference. A small number of sessions are planned in advance and we try to keep the session board as-is once it is initially set. One reason for this is that we have the sessions listed on the web site, mobile web app and screens at the venue. We just don't have the resources to constantly monitor the board for changes and have that reflected on all of the other places sessions are listed.

When someone submits a session, it is manually entered into the TCamp database and a physical print-out is placed on the schedule board. The TransparencyCamp codebase includes an undocumented API that provides feeds of all upcoming sessions as well as the full conference schedule. The backend service also pulls in tweets from Twitter that match event-related hash tags and messages from the official TCampDC account.

The mobile app is an HTML-based site that has been tested on both iOS and Android devices. The app was built on a long outdated version of Backbone.js that gets sessions, tweets and photos from the TransparencyCamp API. The social feeds are updated every minute so attendees can watch the stream as it happens.

Etherpad

Each year at TCamp we want to provide a way for attendees to take notes during sessions. Last year we turned session pages into mini-wikis where users could click to edit the page to add notes. The usage, as we mostly expected, was disappointing. The user would have to click edit, make their changes, hope someone else hadn't saved other changes in the meantime and then hit save. While not the most laborious process ever created, it was enough of a barrier to keep people from participating in note taking.

We've had great success with an internal instance of Etherpad here at Sunlight so Eric suggested we incorporate it into the TransparencyCamp site. If you are not familiar with it, Etherpad is a collaborative document editor much like Google Docs. We used the embeddable view and slapped a collaboratively editable document right onto each session page. Attendees could then immediately take notes without clicking around and without worrying about clobbering other people's changes.

We found that many more people participated in note taking and those that did had nothing but great things to say about the experience. Etherpad really hit the sweet spot of collaboration that a wiki just couldn't reach.

Optimizing Registration

It's the little things that count. Most people, when setting up a 4-lane registration table, would just divide last names by first letter into even groups of four. But what if there isn't an even distribution of last names? Andrew saw this potential inefficiency and sprung into action.

Armed with our list of registrants, he calculated the frequency of the first letter of the last names of attendees. The frequency results were then fed into a script that iterated through the possible partitions of the alphabet, selecting the partition that minimized the standard deviation of percentages of the alphabet of each partition.

View the code on GitHub.

Nicko approves of the optimized registration lanes. Photo by stereogab.

Photo Booth

While not necessarily new, Tim set up another instance of our Sunlight Photo Booth. It's really just an iMac running our web-based Photo Booth software, but use your imagination here. The HTML user interface communicates with the backend over a WebSocket connection, which invokes isightcapture to take each photo. A Python script then uses PIL to add a Lomo-esque effect to each photo and combine them into a single strip. The generated strip is then returned to the web-based UI, uploaded to Flickr and a QR code is displayed that links to photo strip's Flickr page. Whew!

2013?

We've already been discussing ideas for new tech at TransparencyCamp 2013: our own registration and payment processing system, wall-crawling robots to scan the schedule, RFID implants (badges, not people… okay, maybe people) and more. What will make the cut? Stay tuned!

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