01 Oct

Police shootings, pipelines, water, ride-sharing, dropouts…

If you don’t believe local government – from school and water districts to county and city councils, boards and commissions are important to engage with – you’re missing the big picture.

Government starts in our communities yet, oftentimes citizens and civic-stakeholders are either bewildered about the process, don’t have the time and energy to act and advocate, don’t have the money or resources and don’t realize there are many like-minded people who may want to join in and help create change.

We see issue after issue arising in our communities and most people feel they do not make a difference and allow themselves to be governed. We propose government should be collaborative, on a much wider scale. Without that issues like these will continue to roll over communities until it’s politically necessary for government to change:

  • leaded-pipe water crisis in Flint, Michigan
  • hundreds of men of color being shot and killed by police
  • tens of thousands of poor and minority being incarcerated, and re-incarcerated
  • school systems where families are not receiving equal education
  • the Dakota Access Pipeline project
  • water scarcity issues and corporate America’s interest to profit
  • the never-ending flow of drunk drivers swerving through our communities
  • an onslaught of home, auto, transportation sharing-services
  • publicly guaranteed projects like stadiums and arenas
  • asset forfeiture laws, practices and oversight
  • homelessness, and the lack of resources to sufficiently shelter our residents

These are all things that all cities and civic-stakeholders are wrangling with, exacerbated by a shifting economy, polarizing political climate, a high-level corporate consolidation pattern and a increasingly fragmented traditional and online media roles.

In most all of these situations, local governments are dealing with these issues independently – resulting in redundant or completely different laws from city to city, administrative and enforcement challenges and a bonanza for attorneys, courts and the political service industry.

Municipal codes, policies, annual goals, funding considerations, outcome metrics, strategic plans, day to day operational issues are all items local elected leaders juggle to satisfy our educational, public safety, health and welfare – and above all, financial stability – needs. Yet, the people most affected by these decisions are rarely included in the conversations.

Our goal is to help organize records to get them in the hands of people, businesses, advocacy organizations, other governments – any civic stakeholder interested in improving our government. How will we answer this call? Should we wait for government itself to organize, create transparency policies and begin normalizing code, laws, policies and practices? Or, should we begin at the source, our local government meeting rooms?

24 Apr

America’s CivicArchive

20150412_185543_Richtone(HDR)Until a couple weeks ago, my fears of encouraging too-early competition held me back from developing the core of today’s CivicArchive project on an open basis.

That changes now.

While attending a special event in New York City’s CivicHall last week, I had a chance to meet many of the civic champions I admire. Just a few days earlier I met one early champion in Carl Malamud at a GOVLAB Lunch with Leaders event. It took talking with Carl a few minutes to give me the important friendly nudge I needed (thanks Carl :)… which leads me to this post.

I was recently asked to break the CivicArchive project down to a one-pager. I updated that letter and also left out how much funding we’re seeking since there are many to-be-determined variables to consider. Suffice to say if we can raise an appropriate amount we will do a fierce job expanding CivicArchive nationally. That will also give us the ability to collaborate and develop some significantly useful open-based and commercial-based products and services. Top on my list is approaching CivicArchive from a sustainability-focused business perspective, and one that is on a social mission… in that order. More on that later. Here’s our story:

process-mapWe’re on a mission and seeking partners to build America’s first open local-government library of governance, financial, administrative and other key records.

The CivicArchive will include a diverse aggregation of records such as legislative, committee and commission agendas, minutes and related documents and audio/video captions. We’ll also have profiles of elected officials, key staff, and external agencies as well as calendars, organizational charts, policies and processes.

We are cognizant of the many challenges inherent in such a project. Although most records are usable, many are difficult to interpret programmatically due to myriad document structures and types and various technology challenges. The good news is that contemporary indexing and machine-learning technologies powering search allow large collections of disparate records to be made highly usable.

Our solution is timely, financially sustainable and socially focused. We’ll build on a ‘collect it all’ (sic) strategy by harvesting key records, storing them in the cloud and making them available to anyone through a search or API interface. We’ll use and build upon open-source software. Since we’re retaining the primary-source documents and records, as technologies improve, we’ll periodically re-index them to improve search results.

In 2013, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, we built an agenda alerting tool our beta subscribers used to learn when local government was meeting about issues they cared about. We have spent well over two years researching, building and adjusting – and almost every potential user we interviewed told us that their problem is bigger than alerts. That is, many need services like the ability to search a collection of records autonomously or, having timely and curated content on a more widespread, national scale.

The solution we propose opens America’s local-government records collection to the entire community, while also addressing our need to build an active, commercially and socially sustainable enterprise. We’ll use our resources to give back by supporting development of several open-data projects we’ve identified. We’ll also fund programs helping civic entrepreneurs, especially those from and serving under-represented populations, to build their own sustainable businesses. Both of these initiatives will be powered by the open CivicArchive you will help build.

We’re seeking seed funding from interested investors or grantors. This funding will allow us to ideally relocate into a nexus of civic champions within a key information publishing community like the new CivicHall in New York City. By strategically networking with other civic champions, while utilizing the depth of talent and resources there, we’ll launch the CivicArchive library and begin selling our services to a list of clients who want our solutions today.

The status quo is unreasonable. By not having such a library, elected officials, municipal staff, vendors, researchers, media, advocacy organizations, citizen-advocates and every citizen miss opportunities to improve their communities. We can do better.

We intent on the importance of building what will become a pivotal element of the local American community – an open, aggregated, searchable and permanent local archive.

We hope to present a more detailed proposal and begin working together. If you are interested in collaborating, supporting or otherwise getting engaged with this important project please contact Jerry Hall at 858-344-1104 or, via email to Jerry@CivicArchive.com.

Thank you!