Opengov groups call on legislatures around the globe to embrace open data

(via Sunlight)

Sunlight is thrilled to mark Global Legislative Openness Week with our global legislative transparency campaign, which culminated earlier this week in a joint letter from the world’s parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) sent to national legislatures across the globe.

The letter calls for increased legislative transparency and parliamentary open data, and affirms the importance of legislative institutions and NGOs as partners in strengthening democracy. It is also an invitation for increased collaboration, offering help to legislatures in embracing new technology.

In the short time since we solicited endorsements, we’ve been nothing short of astounded by the response we’ve gotten from the community of PMOs throughout the world. In part, that’s due to the unique strength of the PMO network we’ve built along with the National Democratic Institute and theLatin American Network for Legislative Transparency; it also demonstrates NGOs’ appetite for both transparency and for coordinated international advocacy.

One hundred nine PMOs from 54 countries have endorsed the letter, along with a variety of other supporting organizations.1 The letter has also been translated into 14 languages, for a total of 20 translations (including regional variations). With groups’ help from around the world, we have submitted the letter to 191 legislative bodies in 130 different countries and the EU.

Many legislatures are demonstrating an eagerness to respond. Our colleagues at Hasadna in Israel have leveraged the campaign to begin conversations with theKnesset about releasing an API for parliamentary data. TheAl Hayat Center in Jordan had a personal appointment with the Speaker of the Jordanian parliament to hand deliver our community’s demands for openness. These early conversations mark a new opportunity for dialogue between PMOs and members of parliaments, and we expect to hear of many more examples in the coming weeks.

In addition to these governmental responses, we’re also seeing a big response from our broader PMO community. National level actors are customizing the campaign to leverage it in their own context, through activities including organizing a coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) for a strong coordinated promotional push (Spain, Burkina Faso, Croatia), crowdsourcing unique translations based on the national parliamentary situations or cultural nuances (Latin America, Netherlands, Chile) and even hand delivering letters to parliaments when contact information is difficult to find (Kenya).

One development we’re particularly excited about is that our approach to legislative reform at scale internationally is also being translated to the subnational level. Sunlight is leading (and will soon be sending) a similar letter to every U.S. state legislature, and PATTIRO — an NGO based in Indonesia — has disseminated the letter nationwide, reaching out to the country’s 34 regional legislatures.OpenNorth, a PMO in Canada, and Public Policies Lab from Argentina have also sent the letter to local legislatures.

We expect that these stories of direct legislature impact and national CSO activity are just a few of the many to come. To track these initiatives, we’ve put together a public document to help build a repository of success stories for the global legislative transparency community. However, to create a complete and inclusive repository, we need your help. If you know of any updates or activities that have resulted from this campaign on the national level, please add it to our spreadsheet.

Publish the Constitution Annotated as Data

Dear Library of Congress and Government Printing Office,

For decades, you have jointly published a handy compendium that explains the U.S. Constitution as it has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. It took a couple of letters from the Senate (and repeated nudging from the public interest community—20092010,201120122013) to move you to publish the Constitution Annotatedonline more than once a decade, but you still do not regularly publish it online in a structured-data format. Instead, the Constitution Annotated is published as a PDF, which has not been updated in 15 months.

The entire point of the document is to educate the public and Congress about the Constitution. As a technical matter, the Constitution Annotated is prepared as an XML file, published internally to congressional staff as a series of web pages, and updated regularly. You could simply make those pages available to the public and we would all be happy. Instead, the public interest community must keep pestering you, year after year.

Why do we care? Publishing the Constitution Annotated in a structured-data format means that the public can easily reuse the information so that more people can benefit from the knowledge it contains. Structured data makes it easier to embed the information in Wikipedia, or create betterwebsites on the Constitution, and so on. It also means we can do neat things with the contents, such as automatically classifying Supreme Court cases by topic simply by drawing upon the document’s structure.

Publishing the Constitution Annotated in structured-data format is also within your mission. As the respective repository and publisher of government-generated information, providing public access to an authoritative explanation of our nation’s founding document, as interpreted over the years, is the kind of thing you do.

So I ask you, on Constitution Day 2014, let’s get this fixed before next year. We’re happy to help.