Foodies have Yelp and students have Rate My Professor. But what about constituents who want to know if their local representative is doing their job?
Clout, the winning proposal for a mobile app at the #HackTheVotePA hackathon held last Thursday at the offices of the Philadelphia Media Network (PMN), hopes to empower voters by starting a rating system for these local officials. The event, which was a part of Philly Tech Week 2016 presented by Comcast, had four teams come up with solutions to increase voter awareness and engagement in Pennsylvania.
This is how Clout would hypothetically work: If you see an issue in your community, you’d use the app to submit the issue and it gets sent to the right representative based on location. Others can submit the same issue to increase its visibility, and the app would then track how long it takes a politician to respond to the issue. The sooner and more often a representative responds, the better their rating. (Reminds us of the Philly 311 app but for politicians.)
“It lets them know that people are watching them,” said Brian Adams, software engineer at PMN and one of the minds behind Clout. His teammates, also PMN employees, who won a total of $1,000 in cash, were Jack Chong, product manager; Frank Wiese, director of news experience; and Ben Parker, IT support.
It wasn’t a coincidence for the theme of the hackathon to be timed with the current elections, said Teri Henning, president of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association (PNA), which organized the event. PNA organized another #opengov hackathon during last year’s Tech Week. As a judge, Henning liked the “two-way street” concept of Clout — local voters engaging with their officials and officials responding to their citizens.
Most of the participants had never been to a hackathon, which was what intimidated Kate Landis, manager of member services and meetings at PNA, when she helped organize this one. But she and her team members, Kristin Thompson, a social media researcher, and Matt Caylor, director of interactive media at Mansi Media, learned the event was more of a “sounding board” to hear ideas from different perspectives in the constantly evolving media landscape.
Another project that came out of the hackathon was TotesMaVote. The team thought of a social media platform that would gamify political engagement by awarding points to those who took part in events like rallies. Another way to earn points would be to contact representatives, which would be made possible through API integration from Cicero, the Azavea-owned database of elected official information that sponsored the event.
“Millennials are gonna hashtag the crap out of TotesMaVote … but our end goal is to really give people an idea of who and what they’re voting for,” said Ryan Mellon, website producer for LNP Media Group, who was joined by Aimee Bigham, director of political and issue advocacy at Advance Local; Bryan Speece, CTO of lingerie startup Plush; and Theresa Mueller, director of political and advocacy at the Rubicon Project.
Two representatives from the PA Department of State, Digital Director Thaisa Jones and Director of the Office of Policy Leigh Chapman, were also available as resources on what current efforts the department has been making to increase voter engagement. Their recommendations are what pushed one team to think up of Secure The Vote, a plan to turn everyday laptops into electronic poll books, which are currently not available in PA’s voting locations.
For Jones and Chapman, attending the hackathon was another step in representing the Commonwealth and its hope to incorporate more civic technologies and solutions.
“This is a perfect introduction into that,” Jones said.