High-traffic sites shed light on the key to citizen engagement: Fundacja ePaństwo

Posted April 23, 2014 at 11:32am by danswislow

This is part three of a three-part series. You can view the first part with a brief introduction at this link, and part two here.

Experimenting with new technologies to engage citizens in Poland

In March of this year, the Polish organization Fundacja ePaństwo re-launched their popular parliamentary monitoring platform Sejmometr as mojePaństwo, or “My Country.” Like Parliament Watch and Congreso Visible, a desire to continue to broaden the organization’s reach to everyday people in Poland has pushed ePaństwo to experiment with entirely new strategies.

imageThe alpha version of mojePaństwo was recently launched to replace Sejmometr.

The process to redesign the platform started two years ago, when the organization realized that although they had been widely successful in creating a site that engages citizens with information about what is happening in their parliament, traffic to the site had stagnated after two years at about 150,000 people per month. Traditional methods to improve the site—search engine optimization, simplistic designs, traditional media partnerships—weren’t working. At the time, ePaństwo chief operations officer Jakub Górnicki penned an article at The Huffington Post asking if gamification might be the answer to getting more citizens interested, which is the route they eventually took.

Click here to read more.

High-traffic sites shed light on the key to citizen engagement: Parliament Watch

Posted April 22, 2014 at 4:30am by danswislow

This is part two of a three-part series. You can view the first part with a brief introduction at this link. Check in tomorrow for part three.

Moving from information to advocacy in Germany

One of the most highly trafficked parliamentary monitoring sites in the world is or Parliament Watch. As detailed in’s case study, in addition to collecting and organizing basic parliamentary information, Parliament Watch creates a platform for citizens to pose questions to their members of parliament and for MPs to answer them. The site, which sees more than 350,000 unique visitors every month, has had more than 160,000 questions asked, with about 130,000 of them answered by MPs (as of the beginning of the year)—an 81% total response rate.

Parliament Watch’s founder Gregor Hackmack says that “the challenge of a PMO to be really effective is to drive traffic. The way you drive traffic is you need to stay in the public discourse. It’s not just enough to offer information, you need people to engage with that information and see its political significance.” But, he says, “Information is the first step, but it’s not enough to stay in the discourse over a long period of time.”

imageParliament Watch includes pages for each member of Germany’s Bundestag.

Hackmack describes the evolution of Parliament Watch as having taken place in three stages. During the first, he says the site was an “engagement platform,” with an aim to give people direct access to information about their members of parliament and to start a dialogue between them. This stage focused on building the question and answer part of the site and was the beginning of partnerships with key media outlets like Der Spiegel.

Click here to read more.

High-traffic sites shed light on the key to citizen engagement: Congreso Visible

Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:30am by danswislow

Over the past few months, I’ve found myself having the same conversation with parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) from countries like Slovakia, Mexico and South KoreaWhat are examples of civic websites that have been most successful at garnering huge traffic around legislative information—and how did they do it? The question actually addresses a more fundamental idea than just how to gain visitors to a PMO website. It goes back to how we get citizens to care about and engage in the political process, taking advantage of new technologies.

I spoke with leaders from a few of the more highly-trafficked PMOs from around the world to try and find a better answer to these questions and I’ll be posting those conversations as a three-part article over the next three days. Two things remain clear: (1) citizens do care about political information, but (2) more experimentation—whether failed or successful—is still needed to help figure out how best to translate that into effective civic engagement.

Leveraging academic and media relationships in Colombia

In the weeks leading up to the March 9 parliamentary elections in Colombia, Congreso Visible was seeing more than 120,000 visits to their webpage per day, a huge number for a civic site—or any site. This is especially true considering the relative simplicity of the platform: a traditional parliamentary monitoring website focused on providing citizens with some of the most basic information about the makeup and activities of the Colombian Congress. The organization has not only been successful in providing that information, but in getting people to seek it out. 

Over the years, Congreso Visible’s key strategy has been to attempt to leverage partnerships with national and regional newspapers within Colombia and other traditional media outlets like radio stations. For example, the group’s alliance with El Espectador, a newspaper in Bogotá, allows the newspaper to include a widget developed by Congreso Visible on the webpage of every article that mentions a member of congress. Congreso Visible takes no profit from this arrangement, allowing the newspaper to use the widget to display information about representatives, including how many years they’ve been a member, how they’ve voted recently, or how many bills they’ve passed. If someone is interested in learning more, they can click the widget in order to visit Congreso Visible’s website.

Click here to read more.

OpenParl News Brief: April 16, 2014

Posted April 16, 2014 at 12:59pm by posonmn4

News from the community:

In Portugal, a petition that began to circulate in March calls for more comprehensive information access on the voting records of Members of Parliament on the parliament’s website. While the website currently holds a record of activity for each member, determining how an individual votes for a particular measure can be difficult. The initiative is similar to another petition, that would create an electronic registry on the votes of each representative in the National Assembly. Transparencia Hackday, a Declaration endorser, has supported these measures.

In the United Kingdom, mySociety interviewed Flavio Zeni about the Akoma Ntoso metadata format for the recently launched SayIt platform (for more on Akoma Ntoso implementation around the world, see Robert Richards’ list here). mySociety reviewed the UK Parliament’s online services last month (report available here), while recently provided a look at technology in the British Parliament, including widening access to parlaimentary information (H/T Robert Richards).

In Hungary, the Public Policy Institute (PPI) released its report on parliamentary activities in 2013, drawing attention to several important issues, including the quality of projects initiated by parliamentarians, chronic absenteeism, abuse of tacit adoption procedures, failure to exercise legislative power to rein in the executive branch, and encouragement of political migration by some parties.

In Nigeria, CISLAC outlined various advocacy positions and strategies for engagement during the recently convened National Conference. CISLAC emphasized that beyond discussing contentious historical issues at the conference, the government needed to set the agenda “inclusive, participatory democratic governance beyond 2015.”

In the United States, the Sunlight Foundation analyzed the White House Office of Management and Budget’s opposition to portions of the DATA ACT and changes to the Senate version of the bill which weaken the bills data standardization provisions. It also has continued a webinar series on enhancing transparency in political finance, with past webinars viewable here. Elsewhere, GCN profiled the GovLab and its new public interest lab network.

Click here to read more.

Big Step for Public Access to Legislation

Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:01am by gregbrownm

This post is by Daniel Schuman, Policy Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Earlier today, the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee made a major move towards improving public access to legislative information. In layman’s terms, the committee said that by the beginning of the next Congress information about the disposition of bills—where they are in the legislative process and who authored or co-sponsored the legislation—will be published in a way that computers can easily process, and thus can be easily reused by apps and websites.

U.S. Code

Americans access legislative information through third-party sites. This change in publication policy will help guarantee that accurate, timely, and complete legislative information is directly available from the official source. Congress already publishes the text of legislation in a structured format that is downloadable in bulk.

The committee specifically directed the Clerk of the House to work with the Librarian of Congress and the Public Printer to publish bill status information for bulk data downloads by the beginning of the next congress. This has been a long-standing request of the public interest community and was the subject of a recent letter sent by CREW and on behalf of the newly formed Congressional Data Coalition.

The report language came at the behest of Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), who recommended the committee adopt this language in its report. His recommendation was the culmination of many years of hard work by legislative transparency advocates in both parties, including (but not limited to) Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Mike Honda (D-CA), and Ander Crenshaw (R-FL).

In June 2012, Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, and then-Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw issued a letter on the occasion of the establishment of a Legislative Bulk Data Task Force charged with looking into improved public access to legislative information, stating “our goal is to provide bulk access to legislative information the American people without further delay.” Rep. Issa had offered an amendment to put that requirement into law, but withdrew it pending the report of the Task Force. In its December 2013 report, the Task Force recommended ”that it be a priority for Legislative Branch agencies to publish legislative information in XML and provide bulk access to that data.” While the issue was not raised during the recent Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearings, Ranking Member Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) singled out Rep. Quigley at the full committee hearing for making the recommendation.

With the report language in the final committee report, it is unclear what additional action, if any, is necessary to put it into effect. The House Appropriations Committee has tremendous sway over legislative branch agencies, who may spring to comply even in the absence of floor action in the House. The Senate, in its own committee report, may not address the issue (thus perhaps giving tacit approval) or may expressly agree or disagree to bulk publication of bill status information. Indeed, the Senate’s Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee is still reviewing its appropriation bill, having met just yesterday.

Regardless, today’s action in the House is a significant win for transparency. Public interest advocateshave been fighting for bulk access to legislative information at least since May 2007, and the House has now put its full weight on the side of legislative transparency.

Here is the report language:

The Committee request that the Clerk of the House, the Librarian of Congress and the Public Printer work together to make available to the public through or FDsys bulk data downloads of bill status by the beginning of the next Congress.

Mexican Congress announces a landmark Open Parliament Alliance

Posted April 3, 2014 at 5:16pm by danswislow

Thanks to Greg Brown for his help in putting together this post.

In March, the Mexican Congress hosted the first Transparency and Open Parliament Week (Semana de la Transparencia y Parlamento Abierto). With assistance from Fundar, Transparencia Mexicana, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Congress convened a week-long series of meetings and panels focused on parliamentary transparency and access to information.

The week of events brought together parliamentarians from the national and subnational level, public officials, civil society representatives, academics, journalists, and other interested citizens—giving a platform to many different voices and opinions from Mexico and the international community.

During the week, the Mexican Congress made two landmark announcements. The first was the establishment of a bicameral commission on parliamentary transparency—showing a new commitment by both legislative chambers to providing citizens with the information they need to evaluate and analyze the performance of their government.

In addition, the Congress announced the creation of an Open Parliament Alliance, a formal partnership between civil society and the Congress that will work to develop commitments and tools that can be adopted to increase legislative transparency, jointly undertaking this new openness agenda. This new initiative mirrors the Mexican government’s involvement in the Open Government Partnership (OGP), and comes as the Mexican Congress begins to engage as a principal member of OGP’s Legislative Openness Working Group.

Click here to read more.

Case Study #10: Team POPONG’s Pokr Project

Posted April 2, 2014 at 2:18pm by arianatuckey

Organization: Team POPONG

Project: Pokr - Politics in Korea

Country: South Korea

Government Level: National

Overview: Pokr (pronounced pōker) — short for “Politics in Korea” — was designed and developed by Team POPONG, a non-profit organization from South Korea. Team POPONG’s goal with Pokr is to organize Korean political information and make it universally accessible and useful. The website allows users to search for any official or candidate; proposed bill; political party or administrative region in South Korea.

Background: Team POPONG (POPONG: Public Open POlitical engineeriNG) is a Korean nonprofit, nonpartisan group founded in 2010 that aims to make politics easy and fun via technology. They value political neutrality, process automation and reproducibility, open source and open data.

The team initially created a platform called Korean Political Dictionary that compared candidates standing for election in the National Assembly.  At the time, there was very limited amount of information available on public candidates. POPONG began to find this data and, with the use of APIs, organized the information within a single source. This project turned into Pokr when the team decided to also provide information on bills and the inter-election season in which they were proposed.

Click here to read more.