by Derek Eder
Dec 16, 2011 – The winners of the Apps for Metro Chicago Grand Challenge were announced today at Excelerate Labs in Chicago. Chicago Lobbyists placed 13th out of 20.
The overall winner was SpotHero, a website that connects parking demand to parking supply by allowing parking spot owners to earn income by renting their spot when it’s unoccupied. Congrats to them and all the other winners!
by Derek Eder
The RFP’s objectives are for an outside contractor to build a system that will
- enable lobbyists registered with the City to file, on line, all required registration documents and activity reports.
- enable the Department to review and approve these filings as quickly as possible and communicate with lobbyists who must and have not completed their filing requirements.
- make data compiled from all lobbyists’ filings publicly available on line in various searchable, queriable reporting formats.
Because of the work we have already done, and our goal to help bring openness and transparency to the City of Chicago, the people who created Chicago Lobbyists have decided to respond to this RFP.
Responding to an RFP for the City of Chicago is a herculean task. In the 152 pages, in addition to the usual cover letter, cost proposal, timeframe, etc, the responder must provide
- a project management/implementation plan (including org chart, all software and third party products used, etc)
- audited financial statements for the past 3 years
- an economic disclosure statement and affidavit (EDS)
- proof of $500k workers compensation and employers liability
- proof $2 million in professional liability insurance
Needless to say, this approach to an RFP results in proposals from one type of contractor: firms that are very large and able to jump through all the hoops that the City has to ensure the minimum amount of risk and liability for the City itself. The idea is, if they remove all apparent risk in the selection process, no one will be to blame if the project fails since they vetted the options so thoroughly. What the contractor actually builds and how they plan on going about it is completely secondary. This type of process rarely provides high quality products at a reasonable price, especially in software development.
As a group of volunteers working in our free time on this project, we are not what this RFP is targeting. We are, however, very competent developers and designers and have become experts on this lobbying data and how to display it. If the third objective of the RFP (above) sounds familiar to you, that’s because you’ve been to ChicagoLobbyists.org. We have already met objective 3.
Despite not being able to fulfill most of the requirements of the RFP, we went ahead and responded anyway. We expect the city to pick one of their usual contractors, but hope that they will consider us as additional consultants for the design and front end development.
Download our proposal (PDF)
In the proposal, besides showcasing the work we have already done, we offer to do the following:
- Design research, initially involving interviews with lobbyists entering the data, with the public that views data visualizations, and with city personnel charged with carrying out the ordinance
- User interface design and HTML/CSS
- Usability testing
- Web strategy
- Adapting ChicagoLobbyist.org design and code under a new city-controlled URL to fulfill the public facing website requirement
- Creating an interoperable API for exporting data in a normalized format
We also advocate releasing as much code and design as possible as open source:
We suggest that, whenever possible, the code, data schemas, and designs should be released as open source. Chicago has a unique opportunity to set an open standard for lobbying data structure, collection, and display—so other municipalities can use it. This will also set a good example for government-related projects that it makes sense to share.
Moving from proprietary systems to open source makes collaboration and sharing easier and gives access to a wider pool of highly skilled talent. Examples of successful projects include Open 311, which the city plans to implement in 2012, and Open Street Maps, a viable alternative to Google and Bing Maps.
We will have more updates the next few days. For more background information on government procurement, check out this informative article on The Information Diet: Procurement is America’s Big Problem and CivicCommons’ wiki on Legal and Procurement Issues.
by Derek Eder
Dec 14, 2011 – Last night, Apps For Metro Chicago announced the 20 finalists for their Grand Challenge and Chicago Lobbyists was one of them!
The winners will be announced on Dec 16 at 10:30am. The Grand Challenge winner will be awarded $10,000. More on the awards here. Good luck to everyone!
Judges’ Picks (5)
- Chicago Lobbyists – Chicago Lobbyists is a web based app that is an open data, open government, and open source project intended to improve the transparency of interactions between the City of Chicago and lobbyists and their clients.
- allSchedules – AllSchedules gives you access to a huge collection of transit schedules, for different transport modes (bus, metro,train, tram ferry, etc.), in multiple cities around the world.
- OwtSee – OwtSee is an Android based and a web based application that presents information about the Chicago parks and community events in one convenient place.
- Spot Hole – This app is a tool that improves the process of citizens reporting potholes and helps the city clarify and address those concerns.
- Transit Stop: CTA Tracker – This mobile app gives you quick and easy access to bus and train (‘L’) arrival time estimates for every Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus and train stop.
Public voting picks (5)
- Taxi Share – Taxi Share is an application designed to increase efficiency, reduce CO2 emississions and cut down on already congested streets and highways. The app allows users to find each other and share a cab to popular destinations around the city and to the major airports.
- Crime Alert – Crime Alert is a cross-platform web application, resource page, blog, and SMS service that serves to alert users of crime in their community and surrounding area as rapidly as possible user-inputted addresses, and heavily customizable filters so that users only receive information that they believe to be relevant to their lives.
- MassUp.us – is Chicago’s "Social Cycling System. " It’s a Web App comprehensively meeting the needs of urban bicyclists. It features maps, directions, compass, ride recording, calorie counter, speedometer, weather and much more.
- Make Green a Habit – This is a green social network with a simple goal: to inspire people and organizations to create a greener and sustainable habitat. Ghabit uses social media technology to allow users to create an online green community, track and compare green habits, and much more!
- TreKing – The only Android app to support all four major transit systems in Chicago.
Winners carried over from previous rounds (10)
- iFindit Chicago – An android app that is designed to help low income and homeless residents connect with critical resources such as medical clinics, food pantries, shelters etc.
- Mi Parque – is a bilingual participatory placemaking web and smartphone application that helps residents of the community contribute and share their vision for the future of Little Village’s new park. Community members can submit ideas about how to make this park, and other open spaces in the area, safer, greener and healthier places that meet community needs
- Chicago Local Guide – is an android app is meant to help local people as well as tourists find: interesting places and points-of-interest near them; locate specials and promotions from local businesses; updates on cultural, social, and technology events around Chicago; and breaking local news.
- OkCopay – A comparison search engine for medical care that allows users to search for the procedure they need, compare local providers, and view their actual prices.
- Fixit! – A mobile app that allows Chicagoans to report issues, like public property damages, that require city attention.
- SpotHero -Spothero efficiently connects parking demand and parking supply. We allow parking spot owners to earn income by renting their spot when it’s unoccupied
- FasPark -Faspark helps drivers find street parking in real time.
- InThirty – Use InThirty to see the Chicago city resources that you can access within a thirty-minute train, bus, or walk.
- TrailBlaze Chicago – TrailBlaze Chicago records and anonymously reports your bicycle tracks, allowing you to vote for new paths simply by carrying your phone while you bike.
- GoChicago – With GoChicago, users can make a list of the places in Chicago they’d like to see, view directions to each place on a map, or call the place for more information.
by Derek Eder
Dec 2, 2011 – We just rolled out a new version of Chicago Lobbyists last night. Thanks to our meetings with Chicago CDO Brett Goldstein and the efforts from his staff, we now have the ability to show:
- What clients paid to each lobbyist (and how much)
- Which actions clients hired lobbyists to take
- How much money each client spent (total) on lobbyists in 2010
The new data also seems to have been cleaned up and normalized quite a bit (we still had to do some normalizing ourselves – especially with addresses), resulting in a more accurate picture of lobbying activity in Chicago for 2010.
Here is a rundown of the new features:
All detail pages have a summary section at the top, displaying total amounts, number of lobbyists, number of clients, number of firms, and number of actions (depending on what you’re viewing). Here’s an example of each:
Global site search (using Google custom search engine)
Every lobbyist action has a client associated with it
Every lobbyist payment shows the client who paid them
Categorized lobbyist expenditures (office expenses, food, travel, education, etc) are now listed
All detail pages now have tabs for each section so you can see all the rich data, without cluttering the page
All data on the detail pages is sortable and searchable (thanks to jQuery Datatables)
- All detail pages have comments (powered by Disqus)
We’re all really excited about these new updates. We now have the most accurate and detailed visualization of lobbyist activities around. That’s something to be proud of.
by Paul Baker
Dec 1, 2011 – In almost all open data projects, providing raw data is not enough. And it’s not enough to be a good programmer or designer. To be useful, we need to be able to figure out what questions the data might reveal and which of these might be useful for the public to know.
In early July 2011, the City of Chicago released 14 sets of lobbying-related data, including lobbyists, lobbying agencies, gifts to city employees, expenditures, clients of lobbyists, etc. However, an ordinary human being could not make heads or tails of this without some sort of integration.
That’s why we built ChicagoLobbyists.org.
Chicago Lobbyists v1.0
First, we went through each data set, attempting to draw relationships among them by looking for common fields such as clients, lobbying firms, and individual lobbyists. Our goal was to reveal answers to questions such as, “WalMart paid which lobbyist, with which lobbying firm, how much money, to argue on their behalf in front of which department or committee, and for what purpose?”
We soon found out that we couldn’t answer that question. In the above example, we could show which lobbyists Walmart paid, which firm the lobbyist worked for, and which city agencies the lobbyist appeared before, but not which tasks lobbyists were hired to do for WalMart.
Meeting with the City
After the July Google hackathon, at which we built and launched the site, we met with the city’s Chief Data Officer, Brett Goldstein, and some IT staff, and asked:
- Is there a way to determine compensation that comes to a firm versus lobbyist? (We can’t be sure adding up compensation of all lobbyists within a firm is accurate.)
- Is there a way to determine how much a client paid to a lobbying firm or lobbyist?
- Related to the question above, can we retrieve the purpose for a client payment?
- Can we receive data before 2010? If so, what years are available?
- Is there a way to determine which client requested an action in front of an agency? We only know which lobbyist requested an action—see example: Theodore Brunsvold
- Are street addresses available for lobbying firms (some give political donations from many different addresses)?
- Do you have a good state contact from which we could request political donation data?
- Is there a list of all city datasets available (besides those on Socrata)?
- Is there a schedule of when particular datasets are updated (frequency, time period)?
The City responds with updated data
By late August, Brett’s team had collected and posted the data that we had requested. Now, we are able to incorporate the new data and change the site’s design to show more detailed and new views (these changes are coming in the next day or so – stay tuned). Now we can answer most of the important questions.
Next steps …
Our next steps are to incorporate political donations to city officials by lobbyists and organizations. It would also be good to show how elected officials voted on issues of interest to lobbyists who have donated to them and their clients.
The entire 2012 city budget is about $3 billion—all of it paid by residents. Fees paid to lobbyists to influence government decisions will probably be in the neighborhood of $13 million, or about .4% of $3 billion.
We’re the 99.6%. Lobbyists paid by organizations are .4%. Are lobbyists the tail that wags the dog?
An open process
In the spirit of openness, the goal of this blog is to share our milestones, setbacks and thoughts as we continue to develop and expand this project.
Who are we?
We are Open City, a group of developers and designers based in Chicago that build civic-minded apps using open data.
- Paul Baker
- President and co-founder of Webitects
- Derek Eder
- Developer at Webitects and organizer for OpenGov Chicago
- Chad W Pry
- Engineer at Groupon, Code Academy mentor, and all around charming fellow
- Nick Rougeux
- Designer and CSS wiz at Webitects