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NYC Councilmatic

New York City Council Demystified

Background

The Participatory Politics Foundation (PPF) is a 510(c)3 non-profit with a mission to increase civic engagement. Since 2006, PPF has built free, libre and open-source technology for open government and public accountability. In 2007, PPF’s flagship OpenCongress launched, and over the next eight years grew to become the most-visited non-profit site for tracking the U.S. Congress. PPF brought the OpenCongress model to state legislatures with OpenGovernment.org in 2011, and continual online conversation with the question-and-answers platform AskThem.io in 2014. Now, PPF’s primary project is Councilmatic.org, for city-level open government, with the Chicago-based civic tech company DataMade as tech leads. Councilmatic was created by Mjumbe Poe as a Code For America Fellow in Philadelphia in 2011 as an open-source web app. In 2015, PPF and DataMade re-factored the Councilmatic open-source code to integrate with the Open Civic Data standard, making it easier to set up open-data versions of Councilmatic in more cities.

Description

NYC Councilmatic (http://nyc.councilmatic.org/) is a new website for tracking and understanding what’s happening in the NYC Council. It’s free, open-source, and has generated the first-ever open data on every legislative action in the NYC Council. Councilmatic is a non-profit and non-partisan public resource, from the NYC-based Participatory Politics Foundation. It works for individuals and organization to access official NYC government info, public event schedules, and to hold public discussions about issues in their communities. Coming next: email & SMS alerts for committee hearings and council meetings, including agendas and minutes.

Impact

Councilmatic is currently up in three cities: Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia. Councilmatic is an independent public resource, displaying information in the Open Civic Data open standard. The project has unique areas of impact, as follows:
  • First, it creates new open data on everything in city councils: elected officials, committees, public events, and every single legislative item - all the bills in city councils - with every action and full text and more.
  • A fast, user-focused, mobile-responsive web app
  • Advanced search features to filter keyword searches by type of legislation, sponsor, or more
  • Tracking features to follow legislative actions over RSS - and coming soon, email and SMS and social media
  • Public comment forums (optional) on legislative items, for online discussion of local issues
  • SMS outreach (optional) for wider public discussion of community priorities
  • “How local government works” help context and legislative process explainers
  • Address lookup of local elected officials
  • Maps of geographic locations mentioned in bill text
  • Open-data calendar list of upcoming events, such as committee hearings or council meetings
  • In Chicago, advanced categorization of bills by sub-topic using data analysis of bill text language
  • Filtering options to see not just what bills are introduced or recently active, but which were left in committee - a meaningful, unique view on introduced legislation that hasn’t advanced past committee stages. Useful for journalists and researchers.
  • Forthcoming, free embeddable HTML & Javascript widgets for city elected officials, committees and any legislative item, for digital media companies
  • In NYC, a free, volunteer public dialogue program with “verified” council offices - monthly discussions with participating council office staff, to respond online to public comments. This program is designed, at about one staff per month, to close the feedback loop of civic engagement locally and encourage constituents to post their comments on Councilmatic in order to share the response with their community.