Council Data Project Applies Tech to Local Government

You could dedicate a lifetime to sifting through the happenings at Seattle City Hall to stay informed, but you probably don’t have the time. The Council Data Project (CDP) is here to help; CDP makes local government accessible to a wider audience by transcribing Seattle City Council meetings and making them searchable. But that’s not all: in the months since their last hackathon the project is pushing that mission even further.

Founder Jackson Brown says “the mission is to modernize interactions and communications with city council. We have all of this technology, why aren’t we applying it to local government?”

The big idea:

Anyone can go to a single website and figure out what was said in a city council meeting and when. Not just for today and yesterday, but for the future as well—continually updating the platform will allow researchers to have an archive of text data with real-world outcomes to study. “These are relevant and specific data points,” Brown said. The implications could be vast; many cities currently have multiple websites and resources for legislative data which makes it hard for general citizens to utilize those resources. We want to unify them all under a single umbrella.”

Volunteering to help

Over the course of many DemocracyLab events, CDP has added UX designers to the team who proposed front-end designs that require more resources on the backend, like thumbnails and faster data retrieval. Previously, the site simply generated transcripts for meetings. Now, CDP is parsing the closed caption files so users can see when a new speaker is talking. Furthermore, journalists (and the rest of us) can link to specific clips that let you see exactly what was said. In the future, they also intend to add a page to the site for each bill’s history, which was a direct request from a journalist. Soon, CDP will allow anyone looking for detailed information on a specific bill easy access to that information.

Council Data Project uses technology to help government transparency.

“Thank you to all the volunteers,” Brown said. “The project has come so far in the past six months because of everyone working on it.” CDP’s next steps are to expand to other cities and dream even larger—with data visualizations, predictive models for decisions and actions, and even summaries of city council members’ positions on each topic. Check out the project profile on DemocracyLab to learn more and see how you can get involved.

Remotely Volunteer

Due to recent events regarding Covid-19,  Democracylab's early 2020 hackathons will be held remotely via Qiqochat - a Zoom Meeting based platform which allows users to easily move between digital rooms.

Hackathons are typically held in person, but many volunteers for Demoracylab's 70+ active projects do so remotely via Google Hangouts, Trello, Slack, and more.

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