1. KohoVolit.eu this week

    KohoVolit.eu team has posted three times this week, which is really great – the more posts, the better! Today we have learned more about the developments from this week. According to Jaroslav their database of MP’s is almost ready – and all they need to ad now is documentation:

    The database represents constituency areas as simple inclusion and exclusion of administrative areas. Employing Google Maps API to translate the typed address to administrative areas it is located in, we have a very elegant way of finding the appropriate representative without necessity of a database of all addresses and their respective representative. Besides to be rather huge, such database is not publicly available. I guess, that approach will be really useful for WTT in other countries as well.”

    The team is currently finishing work and will need create the documentation of the API for accessing the database:

    “It was more labor to properly comply with the RESTful principle than expected, but it is worth of the effort to use an existing standard rather than inventing a new one. REST (here) utilizes the standard means of the HTTP protocol for the API requests, responses and error handling. The API is not only for other websites interested in our data but it provides the layer the WTT application as well as our other projects will access the database through.”

    Really great to have these insights! Keep them coming!:)

  2. KohoVolit.eu popular on the local daily news portal

    Veronika Sumova has posted a quick update this week about Michal’s recent post published on blog.aktualne.centrum.cz – local news portal. It looks like his post has been rated as number one on the site based on its popularity.

    “Michal is giving tips on how to get the right information… the graph simply consists of several different cities in the region – how much money they give to sport activities in each city. So there is no calcuation, it is just putting the numbers from those cities in the descending order. The problem is that majority of them (8 of 10) don’t have these info on their own site, so for ordinary citizen is hard to get to the data. So further on he is giving tips how to ask for it correctly according the law on information to which the townhalls are obligated to respond and provide the information.”

    Here is the original graph:

    Used with Google translation

    Michal includes an example copy of a request message within his post making it really easy for any reader to copy it and send off to their local institution. The post has generated quite a long discussion and reached 12,643 views within 6 days, which in the region counts as very popular!

    Do you think it is worth using simple examples of processes used within your projects on public spaces to promote your work? Can this approach be a way of increasing civic engagement? I would love to hear your thoughts!

  3. Update on InformataZyrtare.org from Kosovo

    I have posted about this project earlier, but today I had a chance to talk to Valon Brestovci about the recent developments in Kosovo. Looks like the team has experienced some unexpected difficulties in the early stages of their project as a result of the newly introduced Freedom of Information Act. The law introduced about 3 months ago states that all public institutions have to assign a person or a team of people responsible for all matters related to the freedom of information. It is a big shift and InformataZyrtare.org team realised that large amount of institutions do not have people assigned to  those new tasks yet or if they do it is really difficult to identify their e-mail addresses. Valon and his colleagues are now looking at alternative solutions to this new challenge (if you have any tips, please let them know!).

    Second major task is a comprehensive list of all public institutions! Valon’s team has a list they use for a start and work on this, but obviously it will take time to collate all data on it. In response to this particular issue he referred to the possibility of a new project at their partner organisation, FLOSS Kosova. Currently in the proposal stage, the project aims to identify, list and map out all public institutions. Valon is actively involved in the process of proposal writing to ensure that both organisations benefit from this new idea.

    This is the situation in Kosovo for this week. I hope to have the next update around Monday, so stay tuned!

  4. Guest post from Emilis Dambauskas

    Emilis has sent me an update on few interesting activities from Lithuania, I hope you will have your say on this too!

    “Since December there was a big discussion on our Google group (ManoValstybė — My State) about upcoming municipal elections (2011-02-27).

    There was one person who was planning to build a visualization site for election data, but later stopped communicating with us and showing any progress. So our discussion became more heated and people started asking if anything is going to happen.

    As a result I scrapped all of the candidate data from the Centra Electoral Commission. That’s ~17,000 candidates. The data includes their wealth, income, marital status, education, employment, and other stuff (e.g. what foreign languages they speak).

    I published the data in CSV and Excel formats. Someone imported it into Google Fusion Tables:

    Google translation of the original page

    We put a list of political groups sorted by average wealth of its candidates:

    (Google translation of the original page)

    The significance of this table is that before this election there was a big public discussion if non-party candidates should be allowed to participate in the election. Our Constitutional Court ruled that they should be.The table shows, that some of the “non-party” candidate lists are much wealthier than party lists. The first “party” list appears around #10. Thus you can guess that some well standing politicians and businessmen are running for the mandate and using the new system to avoid the legal requirements which apply to political parties. They are also trying to avoid the negative image that political parties have in Lithuania. One of such lists is the list leaded by a controversial former Vilnius mayor Artūras Zuokas.

    But this does not mean that all non-party lists are like this. There is also a number of smaller local candidate lists.

    Accidentally as I was publishing this table during my lunch time at work. A co-worker noticed it and got interested in the data. I sent him a copy of the data aggregated by municipality and he sent me back some maps which I published just now:

    Google translation of the original page

    The maps show average candidate wealth, income, etc. in different municipalities.

    Averages are not a very good indicator and some of the values are distorted by local millionaires, but it’s a good start and gives some hints you can investigate and find out about the political elite in the regions of Lithuania.”

    Let us know you feedback – are you working on something similar in your region? How would you promote those maps locally and what significance do they have for the region, not only Lithuania? Let us know!

  5. Rebel MP’s tracking on Sejmometr.pl

    Sejmometr

    Daniel has just posted an update on one of four types of voting calculations used on Sejmometr.pl called “rebel MP’s tracking” which basically stands for tracking of MP’s who vote against their clubs.

    “Nowadays MPs vote just like their clubs almost in every case. In some cases they even got to pay penalty fees for breaking the “club discipline” (is it legal??). Therefore, in my opinion “indivudal MPs voting results” are not so interesting, because you can be 99% sure that the MP you want to check, voted just like his/her club. What’s really interesting about voting data (except the overall result and legislative consequences) is that other 1% MPs that broke club discipline.”

    Now, I am sure you are interested in the way the results are presented and how the tracking works so here is the algorythm Sejmometr.pl is using:

    F – number of “for” votes

    A – number of “against” votes
    Abs – number of absent
    X – number of all MPs in the club

    if( Abs > X/2 ) then assume that club was not present on a voting session, no further calculations – appropriated message will be displayed
    else {

    if( F>A ) then assume that club as a whole voted “for”, mark “against” votes from that club as a rebel votes
    elseif( F<A ) then assume that club as a whole voted “against”, mark “for” votes from that club as a rebel votes
    elseif( F=A ) then assume that club took no decision, no further calculations – appropriated message will be displayed

    }”

    Do you think this is the most important type of voting analysis? Do you have similar solution in your country? Let us know!

  6. KohoVolit.eu this week

    This week KohoVolit.eu team has received the approval of funds from Batory Fundation within the framework of Civic Coalition Program for co-operation planned with another local portal, NasiPolitici.cz [‘Our politicians’]. Veronika Sumova explaings:

    “The biggest goal and challenge of this web-based NGO is to bring objective, complete and accurate information about elected representatives. They do it through complex CVs published on their website which contain information such as education, political parties membership (historical and actual), candidatures, elective offices (historical and actual), proffessional career, commercial ownership or membership in different advisory boards.”

    The two teams work together already when profiling the MP’s (their activities and votings), but there is more in the pipeline:

    “Later on, after Czech WTT launch, we hope in further cooperation within this application as well, probably through widgets or some other means. Lastly, somewhen in the summer we want to use short CVs from NasiPolitici to upgrade our own site and to move it slowly towards what in the end should look like TheyWorkForYou…”

    We will learn more details about this cooperation shortly, so stay tuned!

  7. Sejmometr.pl this week

    sejmometr

    We have two updates from Sejmometr.pl. First of all, as a result of initial nudge to participate in a meeting with representatives of the Polish Ministry of Economy, Daniel and his team will be working closely with this particular part of Polish government.

    “They are building a system for publishing and consulting legislation on a Government level. They want to use Parliament data in their project and because of an impossibility of receiving open data from the Sejm – they came to us! We will release Open Data interface soon and, according to what we’ve heard: Polish Government will be its user.”

    Secondly, the team has implemented the voting data on the platform. Below you can see the comparison of two versions of the voting data (first the Sejmometr.pl one, second the original Sejm website).

    sejmometr2Comparing to the original data view, Sejmometr.pl version is using few additional gadgets.

    • “Interactive Chart – for presenting relative votes distribution
    • Gauges – for presenting absolute voting data values
    • Table – for presenting club and individual results”

    But that is not everything, the list of additional options continues:

    • “Additional visual data presentations (charts, gauges)
    • Sejmometr calculates clubs voting results (as a whole entities)
    • Sejmometr tracks rebels (deputies that voted against their clubs)
    • Tables with club and individual results are sortable by any column.”

    There is also a major improvement in the way the data in various formats is interlinked within Sejmometr structure:

    “Voting (like any other legislative events) exists in Sejmometr’s database structure as a parts of legislative projects. That’s why for any voting we are able to precisely define concrete projects, documents and debates that were a subject of the voting. Official Sejm website seems to not have these data and for example their voting data pages don’t link  to any documents that were voted. Sejmometr has these data and we will be implementing them this week (empty right side of Sejmometr’s voting data page will be filled by a legislation process browser, which will inform users which projects and in which version are being proceeding in the particular voting).”

  8. KąVeikiaValdžia.lt this week

    KV

    Emilis Dambauskas has updated me this week on few developments from Lithuania. I think we mentioned already that Emilis plans to set up Facebook fan pages for all Lithuanian MP’s. He has started this process with the first 10 pages. Initially the MP’s who have a larger amount of Facebook friends have invited those to the newly set up fan pages, so the response is good. But as long as Emilis does not have the ful set of pages ready, he will not invest in promotion – it will be easier to raise awareness about the idea once all pages are up and running. We will need to wait a little bit to see how successful the idea is.

    Secondly, he spotted in their Google Analytics site a particular regional portal driving traffic to KąVeikiaValdžia.lt. After a quick look at the regional portal, he realised that the policy feed site is basically put into the portal without any technical skill. First thing to do was to contact the site administrators and offer help in adding the policy feed to their site in a proper way, but it did raise a very interesting question. When I asked Emilis if he announced this case to his audience to make sure that other regions use the policy feed in the right way, he responded:

    “I am worried about who is going to use this info so I am not bloging about it too much”

    The worry there is the fact that before the approaching elections the opposition can use the feed to flag up that their opponents do not work as much, as the opposition representatives. What is the main worry there? Emilis respons:

    “We would not want to be associated with that.”

    So is there a need to wait? Can the openness wait for the times after the elections? These are very difficult choices, and they heavily depend on the political landscape too, I believe. But I would love to hear what others think!


  9. KohoVolit.eu this week

    KV

    Veronika Sumova posted an update on the challenges of KohoVolit.eu team when trying to build an intuitive tool for citizens to contact their representatives.

    “The election system to Czech parliament is weird… quasi local based, quazi party based combines regional and state-wide components.

    Basically people vote mostly for parties and their leaders, but they can vote only for candidates in their region. So when they hypotethically want to write to specific MP, they might want to write to one of their regional MPs because they are probably closest to the problem they are dealing with. But they might also want to write to one of the ‘faces’ of the political party, because it was actually him/her they voted for even though not directly. Or they might want to write specific committee (defence, finance, education etc.) even though there is not anyone from their region…”

    Facing the above mentioned challenge the team has decided upon the following:

    “For identifying the region, we decided to use Google maps and the API they provide. This means that when person enters even very incomplete adress we get information about which region or which part of the city it is in. If anyone has interesting experiences with this and want to share, please do:-)

    But the really tricky part comes when discussing when (which step) and where (graphically) put the option for so to say ‘advanced search’ according to parties or committees, so it’s not disturbing those that want to use regional key and it’s easy to find for those that prefer other ways of identifying… comments are welcome:-)”

    Yes, do let us know what you think is the best way forward or get in touch with the team directly on their blog.

  10. Official launch of parasykjiems.lt

    P

    Yesterday we have witnessed the official launch of parasykjiems.lt, Lithuanian clone of WriteToThem. The first launch of the site happened on the 13th of January, though not on its own domain and the site was not fully functional yet. Users could send the requests to their local MP’s but did not receive responses. Now, it’s possible.

    I spoke to Darius Damalakas today about the feedback on the new website. He mentioned writing to his local MP about a street, which required attention of his local authorities. The response he has received was positive, promising to include the street in the plans of street repairs for 2011. So Darius considers it a good sign for the start of the project.

    When asked about promotion, Darius responded honestly. They still need to finish uploading all the data on Vilnius to be able to give the promotional activities a big push. The local Transparency International team has promised support on that. They also plan to use their Facebook fan page for that very purpose.

    Darius is meeting the members of their mailing list tomorrow to discuss the past and the future of their work and to pin down next steps so I am sure we will learn about those from their blog. One major consequence of the launch will be the development of a generic platform to be used by other regions. The details on that development and cooperation between few countries will become clear quite soon and I will share them with you.

    For now, let’s celebrate the new website and please, if you have worked on something similar in the past, do let us know. Darius would love to share experiences and learn from others!