Opportunities for Open Tech in 2017

For the past ten years, our non-profit Participatory Politics Foundation (PPF) has created free & open technology for civic engagement.

From 2007–2013, we built public knowledge on OpenCongress.org and created the Contact-Congress system that has delivered millions of digital messages to Hill offices.

Heading into 2017, we have three major opportunities to build on our open infrastructure for a more responsive and trustworthy democracy.

Can you connect our non-profit with a philanthropist who seeks to increase local engagement during these first two years of the Trump Administration?

First, Councilmatic.org:

The only free & open-source city-level #opengov site. Councilmatic creates unique open city government data, displayed in a mobile-responsive website with local explainers, free email alert features and public comment forums. It’s currently live in NYC, Chicago, and Philadelphia, with more volunteer-led versions in development in major cities.

Who wants it? City politics journalists, community groups, and “interested bystanders” seeking to meet their local information needs. Get in touch to bring a custom version of Councilmatic to your area, with either a charitable grant or as Software-as-a-Service.


Second, AskThem.io:

AskThem is a version of the White House’s “We The People” petition platform, but for every U.S. elected official and more public figures. AskThem can quickly launch a national question-and-answer program that raises your issues for an official response, with compelling social-media tie-ins and free question-asking widgets for media partners.

Who wants it? National advocacy groups, government ethics watchdogs, state-based media partners, public dialogue programs for civic engagement.

Get in touch for strong social-media-driven accountability, from the Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress down to state legislators and city council members.


Third, OpenGovernment.org:

Bringing the popular OpenCongress model of user-friendly transparency to every level of government. OpenGovernment brings together official government info with campaign contribution data, issue group ratings, public comments and more. Want to know, “How much money did [industry or company] donate to [elected official], and where does that stand in context?” That answer is still too complicated and too distant. We can get you closer to what’s known and the crucial connections to investigate.

Our open-source GovKit gem aggregates leading #opengov API’s from around the web to surface the best available info. OpenGovernment makes big-picture issues more accessible for political journalists and citizen watchdogs alike. Millions of dollars in startup funds have attempted to replicate in closed code the open-source infrastructure that OpenGovernment successfully built in 2010 and launched in 2011.

Who wants it? Political reporters, money-in-politics groups, people seeking authoritative information about the news to share over social media.

Get in touch for the real story behind what’s happening in Congress, your statehouse, and your City Hall. It’s a much-needed resource for analyzing potential conflicts of interest in the new Trump Administration and its corporate contributors.


Each of the above projects could be developed by a three-person open-source tech team, liberating open data for the public benefit. By comparison, major for-profit civic startups raise Series A rounds of $9m, Series B rounds of $15m, or Series C rounds of $25m — largely without a transparent product roadmap or institutional commitment to developing value for a wide public user community. For just 1% of that level of investment, non-profit tech projects like ours could provide the foundation for #civictech innovation and steady growth in users and partnerships.

But PPF’s immediate goal for 2017 (and ideally through the 2018 midterms) is more modest: one project manager, just one tech lead, and one community manager. With such a three-person team working full-time at around $25,000 per month (including expenses), $300,000 per year, the result would be a unique non-profit resource for the public commons. And each of the above projects offers a path towards earned-revenue sustainability — get in touch for more details about social impact.

Commercial #civictech has usually sought huge growth in “scale” (defined as emails of registered users or web traffic spikes) at the expense of continual, deeper engagement — e.g., with state media partners for public Q&A on AskThem, or through local email alerts on Councilmatic. Open tech is different, with complementary returns on investment.

Simply email me for one-pagers, two-pagers, three-pagers, etc. on our non-profit projects: david at ppolitics.org, @ppolitics on Twitter. I’m based in NYC, working out of the Civic Hall community space, and easy to reach. We’ve invested in developing all these open-source tools, and now seek to keep running the feedback loops of civic engagement… “with teeth”.