OpenGov & MIT Center for Civic Media Discussion on Producing Open Data Laws & Crowdsourced Legislation
BOSTON, MA (12/3/13) - On Wednesday December 5 at 12 PM EST, OpenGov Foundation Executive Director Seamus Kraft will lead a discussion at the MIT Center for Civic Media on how the OpenGov team is transforming America’s laws and legislative processes from inaccessible, inefficient, and paper-based into Internet-ready, user-friendly and open-to-all formats with the State Decoded and Madison projects. Click here to watch the webcast and join in the conversation.
The law is the most important data set in every democracy, and making law is the most important civic process. Yet the law is often the hardest information to find, use and build with, while the lawmaking process is often the most opaque and inaccessible to everyday Americans. For example, click here to see the current state of Boston’s laws.
By harnessing the power of open data and open source software, OpenGov has found cost-effective, straightforward ways to break open and modernize both the laws and the way that they are made. In 2013 alone, OpenGov has upgraded access to the law in Baltimore, Maryland, San Francisco and Chicago, with many more on the way in 2014. On the lawmaking side, OpenGov’s Madison platform is powering crowdsourced legislating in the US House of Representatives and the Maryland General Assembly.
Who: OpenGov Executive Director Seamus Kraft
What: “Producing Open Law & Crowdsourced Legislation”
When: Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm EST
Where: MIT Center for Civic Media, Building E15, Room 344.
Watch: The event will be webcast at http://media.mit.edu/events/cfcm/
"…But the USA Freedom Act isn’t finalized yet, and that’s where you come in.
"You can amble to over to Madison, a site designed by the nonprofit OpenGov to let anyone who signs up add comments to any bill that any member of congress deems worth posting. Sensenbrenner’s staff posted the USA Freedom Act up there Tuesday, and OpenGov has already peppered it with footnotes, like justifications for certain wording based on Senate Committee hearings.
"Sensenbrenner’s bill already has a wide range of support, ranging from Internet freedom advocacy organizations like the EFF and Electronic Privacy Information Center to lobbyists with decidedly different aims, like the National Rifle Association."
Click here to learn more
U.S. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “The USA Freedom Act is about accountability and transparency. In that spirit, I’m using Madison to gather as much input as possible from across the political spectrum, listening to the concerns of citizens in Wisconsin’s fifth district and across the country. I look forward to an open and constructive debate, while coming together to strengthen oversight of the NSA, rein in abuse and protect every American’s Constitutional right to privacy.”
OpenGov’s Executive Director Seamus Kraft: “Democracy is all about participation, and everyday Americans have a right to be included – and listened to – by their government. Madison makes that possible, removing barriers that simply should not exist between citizens trying to be heard in Washington, and elected officials trying to discover and implement the best ideas to get our country back on track. We applaud Rep. Sensenbrenner’s commitment to making Congress more accessible, inclusive and user-friendly.”
WATCH: The Making of ChicagoCode.org w/ OpenGov's Seamus Kraft
“The whole point of all of this is people’s daily lives. There are folks out there who need legal assistance, who can’t afford it. Our first users [for sites like ChicagoCode.org] are legal aid folks who work with poor people. They spend all of their day messing with PDFs, messing with big binders of the law. Now, that’s where it matters. Everything we’ve talked about today has been pretty academic. The Clerk’s Office, they’re doing alright. We, we’re doing alright. The people on the front lines aren’t. That’s why we’re doing this.”
“We’re regifting you the law for the Internet Age. Bookmark ChicagoCode.org, because this is your open law website that builds on and extends the work of these fine public servants here tonight, and the thousands and thousands of city bureaucrats, lawyers, people who came before and helped produce and maintain the law before the Internet. Well, the Internet happened and that’s why we’re here today.”
“We took the PDFs [of the law] and transformed those. Now, PDF’s suck. We all know that, as civic developers and hackers. It’s the bane of our existence, but for a very long time, it was the best way to get paper-based laws onto the Internet.”
Opening the massive binder of the City Code, “Don’t you see structure here? All we did was translate that into computer code. It’s the same thing. The source code of any community is the law itself. All we did was update it to how people communicate today, which is digitally and on the Internet.”
WATCH: @WaldoJaquith on Powering ChicagoCode.org w/ the StateDecoded
“The State Decoded is software that you feed a bulk copy of a code into - as XML or JSON or you can write a scraper for whatever you need - and in just about 10, 20, 30 minutes it uses that to create a complete, finished website that is beautiful. A responsive website, an API for those laws, bulk downloads, an individual page is established for each law where you can post comments, an internal tagging system to improve search. It’s all backed by a Lucene and Solr search system to support natural language processing for anyone who wants to do real geeky, statistical analysis work . It’s all free and open source software.”
“Laws are interesting to make available to people, but I think they’re more exciting as a platform to do really interesting, innovative things with.”
WATCH: “The Virtuous Pipeline of Municipal Code” by carlmalamud
“What Clerk Mendoza has described is a process of codification that goes on in every city, county, and state in the United States. Codification, and the periodic updates to the codes, is part of a pipeline. The end result of that pipeline has usually been a big thick document you could buy for a few hundred dollars—your municipal code.
“More recently, the codification companies have started selling CD-ROMs and most of them now have a web site where citizens can view their codes. Unfortunately, that pipeline has in the past stopped with these web sites, most of which are frankly pretty bad. Most of them are a frames-based interface. Cross links and navigation and search are sorely lacking. There are no permanent URLs. There is no bulk access facility.
“These code web sites are not valid or accessible, they have not been touched, as surely they should be, by the better angle brackets of our Internet.”
“This law is your law, not some petty profit opportunity. We can send a message to the code people that Chicago cares about code, that this country cares about code, that when it comes to the rules of our society, open source is the only way to ensure the rule of law.
“That is the only way to have equal protection under the law. That is the only way to have due process under the law. That is the only way to ensure access to justice, the right to free speech, and an informed citizenry.”
Municipal Code Production 101 by Julia Ellis, Policy Director for the Chicago City Clerk
“Chicago has made a policy decision, a sweeping policy decision, to say that we are going to pay for the work product in order to get to this very powerful, very valuable tool…and we’re going to give that tool away. And American Legal has a similar philosophy. They say, ‘We are experts in creating this incredibly valuable, legally relevant, tool, and what you do with it is none of our business. We are happy to help you make this available in any way you want to, to whomever you want to.’”
Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza on ChicagoCode.org
“My office wants to open up this trove of municipal data, and turn it into a useful tool for every Chicagoan, be it a community activist, a scholar, or even your neighbor down the block. It shouldn’t be difficult to access information. I want our Municipal Code to be as open, transparent and accessible as possible.”
“We can’t do it all ourselves. We really do need to have an alliance and partners…to make government truly accessible, and useful, to its citizens.”
“When it is easier to decipher the DaVinci Code than it is to find an ordinance that you Alderman introduced, that’s a problem. It shouldn’t be that way. In a way, government has actually wanted it to be difficult for the public to have access to the information that affects their everyday life…You shouldn’t have to have a computer science degree to access that information. Run with it. Hack at it. You’re not going to get a no from me!”
The headline says it all: “City of Chicago and Public-Spirited Hackers Unveil the Chicago City Code.” Team OpenGov recently travelled to the Windy City to deliver this MVG - “minimum viable gift” - of the laws back to its true owners, the residents of Chicago and the public servants working on their behalf.
It is safe to say that ChicagoCode.org was well received. But in that crowded room, crackling with energy, something far greater than a website walkthrough took place. All of the people and organizations required to birth ChicagoCode.org were there. As Carl Malamud put it, the entire end-to-end “virtuous pipeline” of modern municipal code was present and accounted for - hugging, high-fiving and hungry for more access to public data and more opportunities to open government. And everyone was fired up to accomplish these goals together - in productive partnerships that benefit both Chicago’s public servants and her residents. You can’t dream up a better environment in which truly modern, accessible and open government can succeed.
Watch and listen to all the people in the “virtuous pipeline” that led to ChicagoCode.org. The city law starts in Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza’s office, then flows out to the City Council and American Legal Publishing, then flows to Carl Malamud putting it online in bulk PDF form, then on to the OpenGov Foundation for transforming those PDFs into XML and republishing them online in Waldo Jaquith’s State Decoded format. It’s a strong - if early - success for open government, open data, and public-private partnerships formed to deliver both.
We at OpenGov are proud to be a part of this virtuous pipeline, and look forward to “going with the flow” as ChicagoCode.org grows to better serve the needs of Windy City residents seeking access to their own laws on the Internet.