Local governments affect people’s lives more than any other, yet most people know very little about the beliefs and actions of those who represent them in City Hall. City councils typically meet during the day when most people are working, and publish video recordings of their meetings that are tedious to sift through if someone is interested in learning more about a specific issue. The Council Data Project (CDP) makes local government more accessible by transcribing City Council meetings and making them easily searchable by anyone.

The Council Data Project is about empowering citizens and journalists to make city council activities discoverable and understandable by more than just legislators. Jackson Brown started the project to understand what motivated City Council members to vote the way they do. To do that, Jackson and his team developed a web service that transcribes City Council meetings and make them searchable. After posting the project on DemocracyLab, the CDP team was able to recruit skilled volunteers who built an easy-to-use interface and an enhanced user experience. The CDP works in Seattle now, and is designed to be easily extensible to any city.

At the Hack To Give Thanks, the CDP team built a number of product enhancements and began working to develop data visualizations based on publicly available videos. Though CDP began as a research project, the team has been surprised to find that it appeals to a broad range of people - including journalists, lobbyists, activists and citizens who want to stay more informed about their government.

CDP’s next steps are to publicize the availability of their service in Seattle and to expand to other cities. Check out their project profile on DemocracyLab to learn more and see how you can get involved!