OpenCongress: Making political decisions transparent by mashing up all available data

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About a year ago, Participatory Culture Foundation brought us the Democracy Player, a great open source media platform that can do much more than show you some video clips. (Although it’s pretty good at that, too.) The same bunch recently founded another organization, Participatory Politics Foundation (PPF).

PPF now teamed up with the always-impressive Sunlight Foundation to come up with their youngest child, OpenCongress. In the best tradition of Web 2.0, Open Congress mashes up information from all kinds of sources to make U.S. congress decisions more transparent:

OpenCongress brings together, for the first time in one place, all the best data on what’s really happening in Congress:
  • Official Congressional information from Thomas, made available by GovTrack.us: bills, votes, committee reports, and more.
  • News articles about bills and Members of Congress from Google News.
  • Blog posts about bills and Members of Congress from Google Blog Search and Technorati.
  • Campaign contribution information for every Member of Congress from the website of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, OpenSecrets.org.
  • Congress Gossip Blog: a blog written by the site editors of OpenCongress that highlights useful news and blog reporting from around the web. The blog also solicits tips, either anonymous or attributed, from political insiders, citizen journalists, and the public in order to build public knowledge about Congress.
OpenCongress taps into the valuable social wisdom that is available on the web, combined with official Congressional information and features to track what’s hot, to give you a comprehensive snapshot of every bill and Member of Congress. Each page on OpenCongress provides access to the full official details of a bill: the text of the bill itself, its status in Congress, its voting results. At the same time, each page allows you to see the “big picture” behind a bill: recent news analyses of it, what its buzz is on blogs, what industries gave campaign contributions to its sponsors. News coverage and blog commentary are vital to understanding the Congressional process and help to translate the highly technical language of bills into something more intelligible. Future versions of OpenCongress will introduce more new features in this regard, as well as more ways to collaboratively analyze legislation and engage with Congress.

The U.S. and German political systems are quite different, of course, especially when it comes to campaign donations. Still, it’d be great to see a comparable project in Germany, or pretty much every other country so that politicians can be hold accountable for what they do, or don’t.

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