Back in November, I wrote here that PPF was excited to be partnering with the Canadian non-profit Open North, and specifically their E.D. James McKinney, to serve as tech lead in bringing OpenGovernment.org to the city level.
Since then, James & I – and our terrific front-end developer Steven Trevathan of Dobot – have been working part-time on OG app development – thanks to support from the Knight Foundation & the Tech For Engagement initiative. (All free, libre, open-source, open data, and not-for-profit as always.)
Now, as part of our work on OG in particular and local #opengov in general, James has published an important and forward-looking new project:
The Popolo Standard – an open data standard for city government info.
More on GitHub (follow along there & contribute!) – James writes, “Popolo’s goal is to make it easier for civic developers to create government transparency, monitoring and engagement websites.” So it’s a Ruby on Rails engine gem, a community-driven standard, and an API specification. Or, to speak to outcomes: it’s about facilitating truly re-usable, substantively open-source code. Read more from James & Ellie of Open North from last week on the NewsChallenge Inspiration Gallery. (Interesting discussion, there.) (By the way, “popolo” means “people” in Italian, hence the moniker.)
In short, Popolo is our suggestion – primarily James’ vision & heavy lifting, to his credit – for a community standard that will speed the deployment of city-level #opengov apps such as our OpenGovernment.org and others. For the benefits, see the always-pioneering Tom Steinberg’s take last July on MySociety’s component strategy. Tom wrote, “The Components will talk to each other, and to the rest of the web using simple open schemas which will evolve as they are built. Where possible we’ll pick up popular data standards and re-use those, rather than building anything ourselves.” Sounds like a working plan to us.
You may already know we’re launching the new version of OpenGovernment later this Spring for fifty U.S. state legislatures and a new focus on the governments of three pilot project cities – Philadelphia, San Jose, and Washington D.C. We’re building with an eye towards engagement with those Knight communities and we’re excited to get our new work out into the open for question-and-answer discussion with city councilmembers, enabling a more continual & reciprocal process of constituent communication. (More informed, public, and shareable to boot.)
But to be clear, there are at least a dozen other major U.S. cities with some level of open-data offerings that we could publicly display on OpenGovernment as soon as this summer – with additional charitable funding support. That’s not even to mention the ongoing efforts to HTML-scrape more city gov’t activities (agendas, minutes, and more) from a variety of official .gov sources. (More to come on that front.)
If a city formats its data in accordance with Popolo, it’s much easier for us to display that info publicly on OpenGovernment for collaborative watchdogging of city issues. As Ellie wrote in her NewsChallenge idea last week, “This should be easy, but it can only happen if the creators of government monitoring and engagement tools adopt common standards for representing the fundamental entities in government institutions.”
And to be clear – PPF’s public-benefit mission is to create user-friendly Web tools for continual, reciprocal communication with government and public accountability. We believe this happens optimally with truly bottom-up, open-to-everyone, open-source & open-data Web apps. Such tech tools can reform the legislative process in our representative democracy, mitigate systemic corruption in government, and foster new & creative ways for citizens to hold the people in power accountable for outcomes. We won’t be fully realizing the possibility of technology for the networked public sphere if city governments only deploy commercial apps to “check off” an #opengov box on their to-do list, without city services & public engagement actually improving and without empowering real-life communities.
Feel free to get in touch, david at ppolitics.org, and read more about where we’re headed in our non-profit funding prospectus. With more funding support, we can speed the development of the open Popolo standard and also the community of #opengov apps around them that people use every day (as opposed to, say, top-down gov’t websites or closed-off social media services or poorly-designed apps). Tech/gov/data folks, please contact david at ppolitics.org, james at opennorth.ca – and get your hands dirty w/ Popolo – and contribute your experience in schemas to the community effort. We’re hanging in #opengovernment on Freenode during weekdays, catch us there.
For updates with OG development, feel free to join our Google Group, and stay tuned for previews of screenshots. Hey, James & I will be at SxSW Interactive from March 8th-12th, come find us for an alpha preview. Austin is a terrific city, n’est-ce pas? Even during the South By Southwest melee. Excited to share our work with the Knight community and more widely. Remarkable #opengov leverage happening in cities right now, as is known.