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Municipal government / Nonprofits / Technology

New York City Council adopts civic-tech hack as its own

From here on out, NYC Councilmatic will be a City Council website.

New York City Hall. (Photo by Flickr user sparklykate, used under a Creative Commons license)

New York City Council has adopted NYC Councilmatic as an official outlet for news and information about council proceedings. You don’t see public entities absorb nonprofit civic-tech applications every day, so this seems neat.

For the past three years, NYC Councilmatic has offered a regular email update on the activity of any piece of legislation, legislator or committee a user is interested in.

“I’m really, genuinely happy that Councilmatic was adopted as an official resource and I think it widely increases the accessibility of the information the City Council was already putting out there,” NYC Councilmatic creator David Moore explained by phone.

The story of Councilmatic actually goes back to 2009, when Moore was working on OpenCongress.org, a site that tracked bills and votes in Congress. New York City Councilman Ben Kallos, then still a private attorney, cold-called Moore and told him he should build something like it for New York City. He teamed up with Code for America’s Mjumbe Poe, who built Councilmatic at a hackathon in Philadelphia in 2011, and brought it up to New York to run it here.

Subscribing to NYC Councilmatic in January 2017.

Subscribing to NYC Councilmatic in January 2017. (Screenshot)

But is there danger in what had been a government watchdog of sorts becoming a part of the government itself? Moore says no.

“I’m not worried that the council is going to use our open source software for any transparency ‘theater,'” he said. “I really don’t think this is in any way going to allow them to pay lip service to public transparency.”

What he does think is that it will allow more New York residents to be aware of what their government is doing on the issues that matter to them. Moore, who is also the executive director of the Participatory Politics Foundation, also has some ideas for what he’d like to see built in the future.

“We can add value with better issue frames, with hyperlocal community notifications about zoning or public housing, for example,” he explained.

For now, you’ll be able to track the council at its new web address, laws.council.nyc.gov.

Series: Brooklyn

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