#Hack4Congress Boston took place January 30-March 1 at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
What a fantastic event. We can’t thank you enough for spending your weekend with us, working to find a way to bring Congress into the 21st Century. We were blown away by your enthusiasm, the depth of the projects you presented, and your dedication to building a better government for all of us.
We were also thrilled to see participants from a wide range of expertise coming together around these problems. Civic hacking is not just for technologists (though we love you too, technologists!) — to find lasting solutions to the complex issues Congress faces we need the involvement of experts from all walks of life. Big thanks to attendees as well who traveled from across the country and from Canada to be with us this weekend. In the end, about 150 people came to hack, and the opening panel on Friday night was standing room only.
Help us make Hack4Congress even better:
We’re organizing at least two additional Hack4Congress events this year. Please take a moment to fill out this brief survey to help make these hackathons even better.
Hack4Congress made some waves!
Hack4Congress was covered by:
- The Boston Herald (print and online)
- Government Technology Magazine
- The Harvard Crimson (print and online)
- BetaBoston (online)
- WGBH Boston (video)
You can read three excellent blog posts on Hack4Congress by:
Social media traffic on #Hack4Congress reached 268,814 people through direct posts and an additional 256,897 through re-Tweets and Facebook shares
That’s a great start in building a movement for better government through multidisciplinary hacking. Continue the conversation with the hashtag #Hack4Congress.
Relive the weekend:
You can find pictures from the event here. Videos are coming soon, and will be posted on Hack4Congress.org.
How your projects can live on:
Don’t let your great projects die! Here are a few ways you can keep your projects going:
- Bring your projects to Hack4Congress events in San Francisco and Washington, DC!
- Post your code on GitHub so that others can follow along and get involved.
- Stay in touch with your teammates. Email Hack4Congress emcee Seamus Kraft at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need to find contact information.
- Bring Hack4Congress to your city! Email email@example.com to find out how.
Make sure your elected officials know about Hack4Congress and your project:
If you would like your representatives in Congress to know about Hack4Congress and your project, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the name of your representatives in the email.
Save the date for Hack4Congress San Francisco and Hack4Congress DC:
We’re thrilled to announce that POPVOX will be co-organizing a Hack4Congress in San Francisco along with Harvard’s Ash Center and The OpenGov Foundation. Make sure to mark your calendars for March 21–22. More information coming soon.
The OpenGov Foundation will host a Hack4Congress in Washington, DC April 30–May 1, co-organized with Harvard’s Ash Center. We hope to see you there!
Thank you to our judges, panelists, experts, and sponsors for making this event possible!
Hack4Congress would not have been possible without the support of our co-sponsors, our panelists, our judges, and our expert consultants. Thank you so much for your support!
“In the private sector we’re able to implement solutions, try new things, use open source [technology], whatever we wanted to do . . . Here there’s a very arcane process and it delays technology . . . it really impedes my ability as a Representative to work for the people of the 2nd Congressional District of Colorado.”
–Congressman Jared Polis
“Before I came to Congress I worked in the electronics industry, a place where every day we try to find . . . [ways to make] products more convenient and easier, and access more natural to human beings. That’s something we don’t find in Congress, but it’s something I believe we can bring to Congress.”
–Congressman Darrell Issa
Congress can do better.
Let’s make it happen.
This weekend over 200 political scientists, designers, journalists, educators, civic technologists, and other experts will gather in Cambridge, Massachusetts to find ways for Congress to operate more efficiently, effectively, and collaboratively.
Proposed projects include rethinking the legislative ideation process; designing modern participatory committee hearings; making the legislative process and legislative text more accessible to the public; and building a database for in-office tracking of policymakers’ actions on specific issues.
The hackathon is one of two events; the first takes place this weekend at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and the second will be in Washington, DC in mid-April. Registration for both events is free.
What Congressman Darrell Issa and Congressman Jared Polis have to say about Hack4Congress:
Congressman Jared Polis on Hack4Congress
Congressman Darrell Issa on Hack4Congress
Why we do what we do
“There are so many people in this country who are brilliant, who have good ideas, who are crying out for government to meet their needs…that aren’t heard because they aren’t rich. They don’t have lobbyists. They don’t have influence. And they don’t get through. And where technology comes into that is it makes government fundamentally able to listen.”
Join #Hack4Congress. Help us bring our democracy into the 21st Century.
More information on projects and registration at Hack4Congress.org.
Co-organized by Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and by The OpenGov Foundation, the event is co-sponsored by The Sunlight Foundation, Congressional Management Foundation, Microsoft New England, Represent.Us, CODE2040, POPVOX, Capitol Bells, Generation Citizen, and the Participatory Politics Foundation.
The Sunlight Foundation asked leaders in the open government and civic technology movements what President Obama should say in tonight’s State of the Union address to set the tone for open government policy in 2015. Here’s what our Executive Director Seamus Kraft had to say:
“Open government should mean better government built in full partnership with “We the People.” It should mean better service delivery and easier access for all Americans to the heart of our democracy: our public laws, public officials and a public accounting of where and how every dime of our tax dollars is spent. With a dazzling array of technologies and innovations at our fingertips, truly open government should possible in every state house, city hall and even our nation’s capitol.
“Much work remains to fulfill the heady open government promises made at the dawn of President Obama’s term. We have a long way to go to change the “Culture of Closed” that still reigns supreme. That culture change will only arrive through cooperation and collaboration, two things in dearly short supply in today’s Washington, D.C.
“I hope to hear the president tout his incipient open government accomplishments — from the General Service Administration’s crowdsourced development of a civic engagement playbook, to the creation of 18F, to the implementation of the DATA Act. But I also hope to hear a clear commitment to work with the career civil service, the Senate and the House of Representatives to ensure that, when the president rides off into the sunset, these small victories do not disappear, but endure and grow.”
Visit the Sunlight Foundation’s post to see contributions from other open government leaders.
At The OpenGov Foundation, we believe that for the public to secure better outcomes from their government, the technological and cultural “pain points” felt by those serving on the inside must be addressed. As Congressional staffers and contractors, we felt this pain first-hand. Making the daily grind of public service and citizenship more efficient, effective and user-friendly is why we exist.
To better understand the needs of users working at all levels of government, we regularly hold discussions with elected officials, chiefs of staff, clerks, press secretaries, legislative directors and staff assistants. What we’ve learned paints a picture of workplaces — from City Hall to Capitol Hill — struggling to adapt to the Internet Age. But there is hope: many good people are working hard to change the culture of governance and technology from the inside.
In our last post, we talked about how important it is to know how to navigate the political process if you want to be heard by your elected officials. In this final post we’ll discuss a shift in the citizen-government relationship.
Part 3: Technology Is Changing The Citizen-Government Relationship…And Government Can’t Keep Up
Tech Is Changing the Citizen-Government Relationship…
“If access to our legislation increases in a way that the average American can understand then people aren’t as reliant on media sources that are often biased” –Legislative staffer
“The way we communicate with our constituency is unbelievably narrow compared to where we’re going to need to be a decade from now . . . these are the people that are consuming everything in sight but they are also the people that are noisy beyond anything that we’ve ever seen.” –Legislative staffer
“They’re starting to say, ‘let me hand you the piece of legislation. Don’t look at the news report, look at the piece of legislation, and then tell me what you think.” –Legislative staffer
We’re in the middle of a communications revolution. Members of Congress are already branching out onto social media, searching for new ways to communicate with their constituents and each other. As one staffer pointed out, Americans are beginning to turn away from traditional news conglomerates for information, and looking for more direct sources, like streaming video or Twitter. But many elected officials and staffers remain wary of scathing comments sections and the ugliness of anonymous Internet correspondence.
Congress is also struggling to find better ways to understand the American public. Running traditional subject polling still involves using landlines, leaving out an increasingly large swath of the American public.
This raises a whole host of interesting questions on how Congress will adapt for the future, and how the relationship between Congressional offices and everyday Americans will change.
…And Government Can’t Keep Up
“One of the reasons why we have so many problems in America today is that the bureaucracy doesn’t regulate at the speed of technology.” –Chief of Staff
The complicated manner in which Congress creates legislation slows everything down. To some extent, that’s exactly how it should be–the process (supposedly) ensures the proper vetting of legislation. But it’s not just the many ponderous steps from introduction to committee to vote that takes awhile. The process of writing the bills themselves takes a great deal of time and patience. One legislative director mentioned spending a full year on just one bill. After long periods of researching and drafting and editing and collaborating, bills go through evaluation by legislative council. And a lot of this still happens on paper or PDFs.
Bills also typically alter existing laws, which are referenced in the legislative language by official title, and which require constant reference to those laws in order to be understood. One legislative staffer admitted that the time-consuming nature of doing this actually causes him to put off important work. Others admitted that the complex legalese in which bills are written don’t just make them less accessible to the public, they make it harder for those inside of Congress to understand the implications of bills. And altering PDFs and keeping track of changes and versions of documents remains complicated.
The slow movement of legislation through Congress means that our government can’t keep up with the accelerating pace of innovation. The staffers we spoke with worried about the societal implications of government failing to regulate technologies like self-driving cars and drones in a timely manner.
Simplifying legislative language, streamlining the drafting process, or providing better ways to reference and display the laws legislation alters could make small but essential increases in the speed of legislating.
Though the problems we’ve discussed in the last three posts are most obvious at the Federal level, they exist at all levels of government–local, state, and federal. We’ll address local government issues in future posts.
Most problems faced by American government today can’t be fixed with technology alone. But better tools and processes would allow staffers to focus on what matters, and create an effective government, that better understands the needs of the American people, and better addresses the complicated issues of the 21st Century.
In their quest for innovative startups changing the world, Alexis Ohanian and The Verge traveled to Washington, D.C. for the season finale of Small Empires. The episode — on the Capitol Bells app — featured The OpenGov Foundation’s co-founder Seamus Kraft, and look at OpenGov’s Madison open source online policymaking platform, which the Obama Administration is currently using to crowdsource federal agency guidelines for public engagement.
“I get out of bed every morning trying to give people a voice in what happens in their government. Whether it’s state, county, local or federal level. There are so many people in this country who are brilliant, who have good ideas, who are crying out for government to meet their needs…that aren’t heard because they aren’t rich. They don’t have lobbyists. They don’t have influence. And they don’t get through. And where technology comes into that is it makes government fundamentally able to listen.
“The government stems of the people, by the people and it’s supposed to work for the people. and that all adds up to accountability. It was baked into our Constitution, and it’s hard to find around here sometimes today.
“For many, the PDF is the apotheosis of Internet-based document technology. It works, but it doesn’t work as well as it could. Explaining the value proposition behind open data, and all the things it can do [for] you, is the first place to start. I think that the technology community has not done a good enough job telling that story. We can help you, government people, do your jobs for citizens way more efficiently and effectively, at lower cost, with open data and open source software.”
Click Here to Watch the Full Episode of Small Empires: “Can An App Get Americans to Care About Government Again?”