#Council Connect Turns the Corner at ATX Hack 4 Change

Why can’t following the work of Austin’s City Council be as easy as following your high school friend’s vacation on Facebook? Council Connect, a web app pitched and presented at this weekend’s ATX Hack 4 Change, is a small step in that direction.

A really small step. But one taken with a big idea of what could come next.

Proposed through a brief sketch at February’s Code Across event in Austin, Council Connect wants to facilitate citizen participation in Council decision making while it’s still possible to influence those decisions. The aspirations for the project were expansive but the data was limited. The Council Connect team who picked up the project at this weekend’s hack event refused to let that limitation write the end of the story.

The proof of concept developed by Team Council Connect this weekend represents an opportunity to stare directly into Austin’s ecosystem for civic innovation and ask why a city that has a will for innovation, an energetic entrepreneurial network and a commitment to citizen engagement doesn’t have better civic tools.

Through the limited, first-edition version of the Council Connect app, Austinites could participate in City Council decision-making by receiving notifications of upcoming agenda items through terms they identify as significant while reviewing an archive of previous items. This functionality will enable citizens to keep an eye on the issues that matter most to them. The prototype succesfully delivered notifications via text message this weekend and an e-mail option will be added soon. Future development will include further e-mail integration including the ability to contact selected Council Members and to sign up for General Citizen Communication. The vision behind the Council Connect demo imagines a tool for citizens to receive a notification about an item of interest on an upcoming Meeting Agenda and then to have the option to review that item, to contact a Council Member or to sign up for public testimony directly from that notification.

Moving Forward with Council Connect

Our discussions as a team and the feedback we received from other community members this weekend always led to more extensive functionality. Unfortunately, the data the Council provides requires assigning these items to the wish list instead of the issue tracker. The original idea in February, for example, was more of a legislative tracking app that would make the whole workflow observable from an idea’s proposal to its discussion in committees to its final act on a Regular Meeting Agenda. Other ideas discussed included quick links to search by district numbers or by topics. This functionality would make it possible for citizens to learn more about the Council’s process by following their curiosity about their own district or trending topics.

As much as the Council Connect team would like to deploy a slick new app, the team behind this project also wants to launch a conversation…

What would a citizen’s portal to City Council business look like?

What are the technical requirements of a civic tool Austinites could use to both follow that business and to learn more about how it came to be?

What could we make possible if our Public Information Offices not only published data but imagined the citizens of Austin as their end user?

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