Meet James McKinney, OpenGovernment’s new technical lead

PPF is pleased to announce that we’ve teamed up with Open North, whose tech lead, James McKinney, will serve as tech lead for this next phase of OpenGovernment.org’s open-source development. Open North is a Canadian nonprofit that – like PPF – builds online tools to make democracy better.

"Open North"

Open North's homepage - check out their terrific work

I’m excited to work with James and to have him steering OG’s open-source development process and our GitHub account. If you’ve ever met James at a conference or seen one of OpenNorth‘s terrific projects, you can hopefully see how this is a natural fit. Let’s run it down – James brings skills & expertise in at least the following, covering the field: free & open-source Web tools, Ruby on Rails, #opengov website user experience, tools for increased community self-determination, legislative transparency, open government APIs, open city-council-district-mapping, tracking activities by elected officials, open civic data standards… it’s as simpatico as could be.

To our mutual benefit, James has been following OpenGovernment’s development since we started back in 2010, and he forked our open-source GovKit gem for Canadian government. Most importantly, we share a vision of making OpenGovernment as modular and community-driven as it can be in its open-source development. (More to come on that as we build towards the next OG release in late Spring 2013, with previews along the way of course.) Just to be clear, while PPF continues to own & operate OG, we’re very glad to have OpenNorth as our technical partners in this effort – and James & his team’s ideas will be going directly into the mix.

I’ll hand it over to James to introduce himself, but in short, his priorities are ramping-back-up development as we work to bring OpenGovernment local, in partnership with the Knight Foundation National Program. (More background from Knight: Tech 4 Engagement.) Broadly, James is already fixing any tests for GovKit that are failing, bringing in fresh data from the Open States API (of awesome Sunlight Labs team), and evaluating new city government data sources (e.g. OpenDataPhilly). Check it, he’s even (separately, as an Open North project) collaborating with the Open States development team.

"MaMairie OpenNorth"

Screenshot of MaMairie, Open North's government tracking site for Montreal - in active development

To follow our progress, the best way is to join our OG G-Group for development updates (w/ the delivery settings you prefer, you know, so as not to be a distraction), and don’t forget to follow James on GitHub in add’n to the OG project. Come chat in IRC – we hang out all day in #opengovernment on freenode.net. If you’re into the micropublishing service, you can follow @opennorth & @mckinneyjames, plus of course the main project handle, @open_gov (& @govkit, why not). He’ll have an announcement soon about GovKit, and for questions you can reach us over email at david at ppolitics.org and james at opennorth.ca.

A few major thank-you’s are in order in the OpenGovernment orbit ::

  • To Damian Thorman, Paula Ellis, and the Knight National Program, for supporting this new work on a user-friendly web app for engaging with city councils in an open public forum. We’re so glad to be part of the dynamic Knight community.
  • To Doug Cole (@dougcole), a friend-of-PPF who generously volunteered his time in consulting with me on technical candidates and interviews – thanks Doug, appreciate it.
  • To Carl Tashian, PPF’s former Director of Technology, who worked hard to design OG’s technology from 2010-2011, and is now with a startup worth checking out in S.F. called Yerdle. (He’s a co-founder & VP, in fact.) Thank you Carl.
"Knight OpenGovernment PPF"

Knight Foundation profile page for PPF's OpenGovernment.org - #tech4engagement

Last, one must mention – we’re a small not-for-profit project, all-in for the public benefit. With more charitable funding support, we could improve OpenGovernment and accelerate our planned expansion to more cities – for starters, think most of the cities mentioned on the CfA wiki with #opengovdata activity. And more, sky is the limit – that’s the beauty of #opengovdata & open-source Web apps.

Please take a look at PPF’s non-profit funding prospectus, and circulate widely. Individual donations are tax-exempt; major philanthropic donors, get in touch about where we’re headed with OG for civic engagement. We’re working to enable the public to convey their ideas to people in power, all in a user-focused Web app providing easy access to official government data. Help us grow and help Open North & PPF & our user community scale OpenGovernment to states, counties, cities, internationally, and other localities. Thanks for reading.

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