Connecting state and local government leaders
And with it feed “civic engagement appetites of underserved populations”
Building an open, aggregated collection of searchable local government records nationwide sounds daunting, but San Diego-based CivicArchive wants to make it a for-profit business.
In 2013, the developers created a prototype email alert system for keywords of interest in local government agendas, minutes and documents.
Now they hope to compile records from cities, counties, school and special districts and related agencies and make them for download by individuals and organizational clients in the civic space.
Civic technologist Jerry Hall, CivicArchive’s founder and CEO, wrote recently at Idea Lab:
My personal interests in open government are a result of many frustrations dealing with my city and state governments. I’ve worked for years advocating public safety-related issues, largely around drunk driving and responsible beverage service, and have come to believe that if an issue isn’t sexy at city hall or in state offices, good luck. It’s especially discouraging to be looked right through by leaders without monster organizations or large crowds of voters in tow. They seem expert at working to appease squeakier wheel advocates, regardless of the subject matter. Discouraging as it has been, it has also motivated me to help people become more informed and engaged. I strongly believe that people, if properly informed, will engage but only if they feel they will be heard and that their interests will be acted upon fairly.
Through testing and research, Hall and his team uncovered issues like beta users creating general alerts returning dozens of documents several times a week. A curated content approach was needed to make search results simple and readable.
Hall’s team determined what users from all sectors financial, procurement, planning, media, advocacy, internal government needed was a searchable library—particularly those serving regional and national constituents.
While they’d hoped to gain enough alert subscribers to forgo outside financial support, the new vision is a “robust, socially-conscious” operation developing informational products while using seed money, revenue and venture capital to grow.
CivicArchive aims to ingrain itself in the open community and support entrepreneurs and civic stakeholders “addressing the civic engagement appetites of underserved populations.”
One of the biggest challenges is making sense of what’s in the records programmatically, Hall wrote.
“That being said, the key thing is that we have possession of the primary source documents we glean directly from the municipality’s site or via public records requests,” he wrote. “With those in hand, and as technologies improve, we’ll be able to revisit the records, reanalyze them, and improve the accessibility over time.”