Many citizens are not in the know of the happenings within their own community. This could be a lack of resources, public transport, or even time. The Council Data Project in Missoula, Montana, is a new and innovative way to change this and allows for more citizen engagement tools.
In about 20 hours, Smai Fullerton used pre-existing technology to install an instance of the Council Data Project for the city of Missoula, Montana. She did this through the encouragement and backing of Open Montana, a new program of DemocracyLab. This project records and digitizes city council meetings. In addition it allows individuals to search key terms from the transcript of the meeting themselves so they can find the information that has the most impact on them.
This project allows for more citizen engagement because citizens can stay informed whether people are able to go to the city council meeting or not. When asked the question, “What is the easiest way to get this project all across the country?”, Smai Fullerton said we need a great story, more immediate use cases, and the ability to provide examples of its utility.
This technology can also be developed further to be more user friendly and allow for a greater impact. The use of voice recognition to be able to search for specific city council members would be a useful addition so citizens are able to see specific opinions from their community leaders. Some other useful additions to the Council Data Project are: seeing how many times people are interrupted or interrupt someone, a minute count of how much time a member of the city council was speaking, and ability to search for keywords/phrases. The latter of these potential improvements could be the most useful. Vernacular used in a city council meeting versus the way individuals talk to each other and various professional settings are vastly different. Therefore, allowing for a related word search would likely help improve the accessibility for individuals.
Key information to highlight regarding the Council Data Project is its relation with Open Montana which is the maintainer for the Missoula Council Data Project. Though this technology is in more locations than Missoula it is also the same basic infrastructure. This means the “data processing pipelines, the web frontend, and data storage systems all share the same infrastructure specification.”
When discussing the features Council Data Project is planning on creating and implementing, Eva Brown had the following to say: “We have a lot of features in development right now. A whole page just for tracking legislation, an audio-based speaker classification model for annotated speaker names in the produced transcripts, a notifications feature that would work a bit like Google Search Alerts (i.e. "a meeting from June 7 discussed 'missing middle housing'"), and some more that are just getting started.”
All these improvements, though important, are more likely to be seen as part of a long-term plan for this technology and the City of Missoula. The technology of the Council Data Project is very important and with time we expect to see more citizen engagement and will be able to gain personal testimony on how this technology has been useful, and through this, be able to implement it in other cities around the country.