Coding for community: the story of an ideahack in Chicago

If you’re following the intersection of citizens, technology and cities in the United States in 2012, the story of Chicago is already on your radar, as are the efforts of Code for America. This month, Code for America rolled out its brigades to start coding across America, including the Windy City.

These “brigades” are an effort to empower civic hackers to make apps and services that help their own communities. In Chicago, they’re calling themselves “IdeaHack.”

Below, I’ve embedded a story of their second meeting.

Can the Internet help disrupt the power of Chicago Lobbyists through transparency?

Civic coder Derek Eder  wrote in this week to share his most recent project: Chicago Lobbyists. “This is probably the biggest, most impactful project I’ve worked on to date,” says Eder.” It has a lot of potential to inform and change people’s perception of government and lobbyists, and best of all, the city is cooperating with us do it.”
Eder and Nick Rougeux, working in collaboration with Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, have earned well-deserved recognition in the open government community for LookAtCook, a beautiful approach to visualizing budget data. Now Eder is onto something new: making the actions of lobbyists more transparent.
“Chicago Lobbyists” visualizes all of the interactions and activities of Lobbyists with the City of Chicago in 2010. Each lobbyist has a profile page that lists clients, fees, expenses, and what they lobbied fo in front of city agencies, including the city council. Eder explains more:
Every company or organization that hired lobbyists (we call them clients) has a profile showing the lobbyists they hired, the actions they hired them to make, and the amount they paid them. Interestingly, the Salvation Army is the number one spender on lobbyists for 2010 at $380,000. All of their money was spent on just 2 lobbyists, and they look to mostly be regarding zoning and land transfer.
Each city agency on ChicagoLobbyists also has a page summarizing the activities of lobbyists them. According to the site, City Council is the most lobbied agency with 152 lobbyists seeking a total of 587 lobbying actions on a wide range of subjects.

Opening Chicago

In 2011, working to open government, the Chicago way now means developers collaborating with the city.
One of the most exciting parts about this project has been our interaction with the city, says, Eder, specifically chief data officer Brett Goldstein.
“After making a rough version of Chicago Lobbyists in late July, we found that a lot of lobbying data was missing from the datasets the city had published,” he said. “We met with Brett and his staff, explained what was missing, and by the end of August, they had updated their data with the pieces that were missing. We then took that new data and updated our site accordingly. With it, we are now able to tie clients to specific lobbying actions and show how much clients paid each lobbyist.”
More information about the project is available on the ChicagoLobbyists blog in “An Open Data Story: and “Chicago Lobbyists V2 Is Here.” Eder
notes that they’ve submitted Chicago Lobbyists to the Apps for Metro Chicago Grand Challenge. If you’re interested in examples of civic coding for cities, there’s no shortage of inspiration there

Opening Chicago: In Year One, Open311 and ‘Apps for Metro Chicago’ will launch

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel released his final 2011 transition plan for Chicago today. Emanuel encouraged his followers on Twitter to visit Chicago2011.org to read a copy of the report (embedded below or downloadable as a PDF) and “share your thoughts” on it.

Of note to open government advocates: Page 14

5. Set high standards for open, participatory government to involve all Chicagoans

Why do this? Without access toinformation, Chicagoans cannoteffectively find services, build businesses, or understand how well City government is performing and hold it accountable for results. How will we do this? The City will pos ton-line and in easy-to-use formats the information that Chicagoans need most. For example, complete budget documents – currently only retrievable as massive PDF documents –will be available in straightforward and searchable formats.

The City’s web site will allow anyone to track and find information on lobbyists and what they are lobbying for as well as which government officials they have lobbied.The City will out-perform the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act and publicly report delays and denials in providing access to public records.The City will also place on-line information about permitting, zoning,and business licenses, including status of applications and requests. And Chicagoans will be asked to participate in Open311, an easy and transparent means for all residents to submit and monitor service requests, such as potholes and broken street lights. Chicagoans will be invited to develop
their own “apps” to interpret and use City data in ways that most help the public.

What will be different?

100 Days: A searchable version of the City budget will be posted on-line, after a full review to ensure that its presentation is clear and easy to understand.

Year 1: Open311 and “Apps for Metro Chicago” will launch. Also a broad spectrum of new information will be made available to residents and business owners to enable them to track lobbying activity, as well as status of permits, licenses, and zoning change requests. Starting with the 2012budget, the budget document will be reformed, simplified, and tied to performance.

It should be an interesting first 100 days. The plan balanced good government, with transparency and accountability driven through technology, with an open innovation approach that embraces Open311 and a focus on open data.

Nick Clark Judd wrote up Mayor-elect Emanuel’s promises to open the #$%@ing government over at techPresident, observing that “Emanuel’s transition team also recommends consolidating city infrastructure — IT, vehicle fleets, et cetera — and collaborate with nonprofits and Cook County, the county that encompasses Chicago, to provide some services. This means the City of Chicago might stop providing some services, directing people to nonprofits or the county instead.”

Chicago 2011_Transition Plan