Madison v1.8 – The OpenGov Foundation’s open source software project that facilitates collaborative policymaking between citizens, governments, and stakeholders — has just been released in beta. This release is The OpenGov Foundation’s first semantic version release of Madison and includes many significant changes to the project, including a complete aesthetic redesign, a move to a single page application architecture, stability improvements, and a significant contribution to the project’s documentation. While the main goal for version 1.8 was the design overhaul, there are many other improvements included in this release as well.  We invite you to play with Madison v1.8 and would love to hear both your feature requests and the bugs you find.  Please open a new issue on Github or drop us a line with how we can make Madison better for the next release.


We gave Madison a much-needed facelift from the ground up with design help from the wonderful John Athayde at Meticulous. It’s a beautiful improvement from the previous layout and will make it much easier to digest and navigate the content in Madison. The homepage has improved from the simple list of documents to include a ‘Featured Document’, a list of recent documents, and more compact lists displaying recently active and most active documents. We’ve also given the document page a notable overhaul by adding paragraph-level annotation anchors, and moving the annotation conversations to a sidebar slider.


Non-developers proceed with caution!

We’ve moved Madison from a hybrid Laravel blade / Angular template architecture to a pure AngularJS application that pulls from the Laravel APIs. There are many advantages to this approach. First of all, it greatly reduces the load time moving from page to page, as each request is only hitting an API and rendering the data instead of a full page load response from the server. The assets are downloaded once, cached, and from then on only small chunks of data are loaded. This makes the UI much more responsive, as often only small parts need to be re-rendered. An important, but less impactful advantage is also the separation of front-end code and back-end code, which makes it easier for specialized developers to contribute. We’ve also cleaned up the theming system quite a bit. By including Bootstrap in the Sass compilation process, it is much easier to customize or extend the default Bootstrap settings. We’ve separated many of the frequently customizable Madison theme options into Sass configuration files for easier theme manipulation. The new designs also carefully lay out the content using a vertical rhythm for ease of reading. Instructions for modifying the theme can be found in the Theming Documentation.


The 1.8 release includes hard version numbers for both Bower and Composer dependencies, so that we’ll no longer be fighting with outdated or out of sync packages. We’re also using a simple build process with Grunt to manage all sass, css, and javascript assets that includes minification, concatenation, and cache-busting. All assets compile down to `app.js` and `app.css` files and include version-specific cache-busting queries in the compiled `index.html` file. This process supports local development environments that pull from the non-minified, non-concatenated assets as well. See the build process documentation for details.


We’ve put a great deal of effort into updating the project’s documentation. This includes installation instructions, instructions for site administrators, and developer/contributor documentation. The documentation can be found on ReadtheDocs, and we encourage (nay, beg) for any and all questions/feedback. Pull requests are always welcome as well!

What’s next?

We’ve laid out the next few versions of Madison as project milestones on Github.

Version 2.0 will be entirely developer focused. We want to make contributing to Madison as easy as possible. This is a major version upgrade, as we will be upgrading the Laravel core framework. These changes will include an upgrade to the latest version of Laravel, replacing the broken Vagrant setup with Laravel’s Homestead, and adding a testing suite. Version 2.1 will merge The OpenGov Foundation’s Drafting Platform into Madison for drafters and site administrators. The greatest benefit of this upgrade will be a drafting environment that is specifically tailored to lawmakers and their staff. This includes suggesting internal edits, document versioning, structure linting, and many other features specific to the legal drafting domain.

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Editor’s Note: The following comes from Daniel Schuman and the Congressional Data Coalition (CDC), which has generously allowed us to cross post from the original.  The OpenGov Foundation’s Executive Director Seamus Kraft is a member of the CDC Steering Committee.

The Tuesday, May 12 #Hack4Congress awards ceremony at the House of Representatives’ majestic Judiciary Committee hearing room was the culmination of a 6 month long effort to engage technologically savvy members of the public with making Congress more open and efficient. The three winners of congressional data hackathons in CambridgeSan Francisco, and Washington, D.C. presented their projects to three members of Congress, a bipartisan array of senior congressional staff, and a packed gallery filled with journalists, advocates, staff, academics, and others.

Hack4Congress Panel

More than 620 people and 16 members of Congress participated over the course of the hackathons, events where policy wonks and technologists who had not previously met developed web tools to address perceived problems with the way Congress works. Participants were challenged to address problems—and were provided suggested topics by members of Congress and non-governmental groups like us—in one of the following five categories.

  1. Improving the Lawmaking Process
  2. Facilitating Cross-Partisan Dialogue
  3. Modernizing Congressional Participation
  4. Closing the Representation and Trust Gaps
  5. Reforming Campaign Finance

Each of the three winning projects performed an extraordinary amount of work over a short period of time. It is worth checking out the presentations from the winning teams—CDash, CoalitionBuilder, CongressConnect—which are summarized here. To see a demonstration of the projects, watch this video from the awards ceremony.

Several themes emerged from the regional hackathons and awards ceremony.

First, the hackathons illustrated the significant public enthusiasm for using technology to make Congress work better. This enthusiasm for the development of congressional civictech, to use the in-vogue buzzword, should be no surprise to anyone who watches this space closely. The unique levels of complexity and institutional challenges that arise in the federal legislature have long served as a crucible for development of new technologies inside and outside government. Over the last half-decade in particular, the House of Representatives has leaped forward, and the Senate and legislative support agencies have followed, in efforts to make more data available in civic friendly formats, prompted in part by the work of our coalition.

Second, while there’s a lot of talk about state and local governments as civictech innovators, the greatest improvements in public access to information still arise from work done at the federal level. The 2009 Stimulus Act forced the states for the first time to track federal spending, which was then reported on a federal website. Federal civictech websites like GovTrack have served as a model for the updates to THOMAS (now Congress.gov) and the development of legislative information websites in the various states and around the world. The DATA Act will cause the creation of unique identifiers to track the flow of nearly all federal funds. And funding for the Government Publishing Office and its primary website FdSys effects local access to information held at federal depository libraries and online.

Third, even with all the enthusiasm, it was apparent that many people still do not know where to find federal legislative information. That’s no surprise. Publishing of congressional information developed organically, in fits and starts, in different places through the bureaucracy. It was not systematic because it had never been done before. Only in the last few years with the development of docs.house.gov,rules.house.gov, and non-governmental sites like the GitHub United States projectpage, has there been some effort to catalog and publish data in a few central locations. Most people, however, are unaware of these publishing efforts, and more needs to be done to help civic technologists find and make sense of this data.

Finally, civic technologists would benefit from guidance. Many technologists want to build things are useful, but are not sure what that is. Or they don’t understand how Congress works at a significant level of detail. Or they want to build something but don’t realize it already exists. This is where our community can help. We can connect policy experts with civic developers. We can build online resource that identify thetools that exist and data sources, list ideas for what should be built, and help people get connected into the broader community.

The OpenGov Foundation, the Ash Center at Harvard, and their civictech partners should be applauded for hosting an incredibly successful series of events. They dovetail perfectly with the great work the House of Representatives is doing, as showcased at the recent Legislative Data and Transparency Conference. We hope there will be another formal #Hack4Congress next year and we look forward toparticipating.

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At The OpenGov Foundation, we strongly believe in bringing transparency to legal systems that govern us. In keeping with that ethic, we’re also bringing transparency to the rules that guide our organization.

Creating policy documents for a new organization can be a lengthy, expensive process. Over the last two years we’ve been working through this process, using our experience, as well as that of our legal team, to craft the outline of our organization. But in the spirit of openness, we wanted to share our this knowledge with the rest of the community.

Today, we are officially releasing many of our policy and legal documents on GitHub. In this bundle, we’re including our Human Resources Policy Manual, our various terms and conditions for our websites, our contract for external resources, and more. All of these documents are available as Microsoft Word and PDF documents for ease of general use, as well as HTML and Markdown for more technical uses.

All of these documents are being released with open licenses, meaning they’re absolutely free to use. This will allow any person or organization–for-profit or not-for-profit–to copy, edit, rewrite, and distribute them at no cost! The majority of them are Creative Commons CC0 Licensed, dedicating them to the public domain.

Moreover, we want to actively include the community in helping to shape our policies, by helping us improve these documents. We’re releasing them on GitHub, so that anyone can suggest changes, or add new documents and resources to the ones we already have. If you would like to contribute outside of Github, feel to send us an email at sayhello@opengovfoundation.org and include your suggestions. In the near future, we’re also looking to add more ways to allow users to contribute.

Here are all of the documents we’ve released so far:
Human Resources Manual:

  • Our HR Policy Manual (CC0)
  • A list of holidays for days we’re closed (CC0)

Additional Human Resources Documents:

  • A guide to writing effective stand-up/status messages & emails (CC0)
  • How to effectively track time in your timesheet program (CC0)

Website Policy Documents:

  • Privacy Policy (CC0)
  • Terms of Service (CC0)
  • Copyright Policy (CC0)

Work For Hire Contract:

  • Our fork of ContractKiller (by Andrew Clarke) that we use for contract work (CC-BY-SA)
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Moderated by decorated tech journalist Nancy Scola, the discussion will center on the institutional, financial, and cultural barriers to building a legislature that functions in the year 2015 — and what needs to be done to produce a more efficient and effective Congress. A reception will follow.

When: April 29, 5:30pm – 7:30pm
Where: Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center, 901 K Street, NW, 11th Floor, Washington, DC 20001


Panelists include:

Joe Trippi, Founder and President, Trippi & Associates
Rob Pierson, Fmr. Director of New Media, House Democratic Caucus
Dave Zvenyach,  18F, fmr. General Counsel for the DC Council
John Sampson, Director of Federal Government Affairs, Microsoft

Register here!

Registration is free, but required. Space is limited, so make sure to RSVP today!This event has been planned to comply with the requirements of the Legislative and Executive Branch gift rules. Executive Branch personnel wishing to attend should consult with their designated Agency Ethics Office.The discussion will kick off #Hack4Congress DC, the third of three “not-just-for-technologists” hackathons to create ways Congress can become more efficient and effective. One winning team from each event – CambridgeSan Francisco, and DC – will present their projects to members of Congress and their staff on May 12.

Share what you think Congress can do better

We’re collecting ideas for what participants should tackle during #Hack4Congress DC.

Maybe you’re a staffer drowning in constituent correspondence, or a policymaker struggling with outdated drafting tools. Maybe you’re a citizen who wants a meaningful way to communicate with your representatives, or a journalist who lacks access to key government data sets.

Whatever the case, we’d love for you to share these challenges with us via our Google form

For examples, check out these already-submitted challenges.

For more information, and to register for the hackathon, visit Hack4Congress.org

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#Hack4Congress SF took place March 21-22, 2015 at Code for America. More information at Hack4Congress.org


Thank you!

Dear Hack4Congress-ers,

It’s been a few weeks since #Hack4Congress SF, and we at The OpenGov Foundation are still buzzing with excitement over all the great ideas we heard and the amazing civic hackers we met on the West Coast. Thank you to everyone who came to #Hack4Congress SF. It was wonderful to see people from so many different backgrounds dedicate their free time to developing ways Congress can become more efficient and effective.


Hack4Congress SF

Photo credit: Wendy Maclaurin Richardson


In the end, nine multidisciplinary teams worked hard through Saturday and Sunday to put together projects spanning five challenge categories.

The winning team, MyCRS, created a dashboard to help Congressional offices sift through important data and discover how legislation will directly affect their districts. The team will present their idea to members of Congress in Washington, DC on May 12, along with the winning teams from #Hack4Congress Cambridge and the up-coming #Hack4Congress D.C.


How your projects can live on 

We were thrilled to see so many great presentations at #Hack4Congress SF. Don’t let them die! Here are a few ways you can keep your projects going:

  • Bring your projects to Hack4Congress D.C
  • 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 seamus@opengovfoundation.org if you need to find contact information.
  • Bring Hack4Congress to your city! Email sayhello@opengovfoundation.org 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 sayhello@opengovfoundation.org. Please include the name of your representatives in the email.


Help us make Hack4Congress even better:

We’re organizing one more #Hack4Congress event this year. Please take a moment to fill out this brief survey to help make future hackathons even better.


Thank you to our judges and sponsors who made this event possible!

We would not have a winner if it weren’t for our dedicated panel of judges. Thank you to Tanja Aitamurto, Razmig Boladian, Miguel Lopez, Sam McAfee, Karina Newton, Steven Rahman, Dr. Larry Rosenthal, Dan Swislow, James Vaughn and Dave Yoon.

A big thank you to our sponsors Microsoft, Splunk, Razmig Boladian, Fwd.us, Lincoln Labs, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation and Samsung. Without your help, Hack4Congress would not have been such a great success. Check out this great blog post on #Hack4Congress SF from Microsoft’s Thea Nilsson!Thank you to our outreach partners at Engine, CITRIS Data & Democracy Initiative, the Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement at the Goldman School of Public Policy, Code for San Francisco, Impact Hub San Francisco and Impact Hub Oakland.

This event would not have occurred at all without the initiative of POPVOX and the hard work of a few dedicated superstars. Thank you so much to Danielle Oliveto, Marci Harris, Marc Brent, and SF volunteers for an amazing weekend!


Save the Date for #Hack4Congress D.C.!

We hope to see you in Washington, D.C., for the third #Hack4Congress, April 29th through May 1st!

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