An API for finding and berating your elected representatives

Google’s Civic Information API now includes data on U.S. government officials

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An app using Google's Civic Information API 

Image credit: Bow & Arrow

Seems like everybody here in the U.S. is down on the government these days, and with good reason. Between the NSA-spying-on-us thing, the recent government shutdown thing and the whole HeathCare.gov thing, people aren’t too thrilled with the jobs our leaders are doing. Well, the good news is that civic hackers now have a new way to enable people to find and give their elected representatives a good what-for.

This week Google announced a significant enhancement to its Civic Information API. The API was launched last year, and has been used to provide information and apps on polling places and election issues. Now, the API includes data on elected representatives in the United States, from the federal government down to local officials (Google plans to eventually collect data on government jurisdictions and representatives in other countries). Using this new data and functionality, developers can, in theory, create apps to let the voters know who their representatives are and to help constituents get in touch with them.

A part of this effort, Google, in conjunction with a number of other organizations such as the Sunlight Foundation, has helped to develop Open Civic Data Identifiers (OCD-IDs). These OCD-IDs are a new open standard for identifying government jurisdictions, people, events, bills, etc. The hope is that governments and developers will start using this standard, which will make it much easier to connect information in different civic data sets. For the Civic Information API, for example, Google used Open Civic Data Division Identifiers.

If you fancy yourself a civic hacker, you can not only use these new data to create great new apps for voters, but you can also contribute your coding skills to the open civic data cause, by creating a new scraper to collect data. Non-developers can also help by manually curating and editing civic data. Governments, of course, can also lend a hand by using these new IDs and publishing data in open formats

Hopefully, all of this will help give the common folk more of a voice in government and help prevent things like a government shutdown. Unfortunately, though, I’m not sure even open civic data can do much to prevent an elected official from going insane. Open data can't do it all...

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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