As of last week, we’re collecting current data again for all in-session state legislatures. (This includes 48 of the 50 states, as well as DC and Puerto Rico; Florida begins their main 2017 session in March, and Louisiana doesn’t start until April.)
This isn’t the first time we’ve gone through this massive start-of-session undertaking, but each time we’re floored by the amazing support from our community. We’d like to extend a huge thank-you to everyone that chipped in to get us here: since the start of November, there have been over 300 code commits from a dozen contributors, and we’ve received over $7,000 for our general fund from over 50 donors.
To an outside observer, the period following legislative-session updates on Open States can seem like a lull. However, we perform work year-round to improve scraper reliability, adapt to breaking mid-session changes from the states, and enhance the quality of the data. You can see all this upcoming work on the Open States issue tracker.
In addition, we also have bigger plans for the coming year, and are excited to start sharing them with you today.
The existing Open States infrastructure (the backbone of our data collection tools and OpenStates.org) dates back to 2009, and is in need of some significant upgrades. Our team began this process at Sunlight, where we helped create the Open Civic Data project, and we intend to finish converting Open States to this new tooling.
The design of the Open Civic Data tools were informed by on our years of experience building Open States and modeling legislative bodies. Since then, other organizations have started using the OCD specs, such as Google, Azavea’s Cicero, and DataMade.
Finally moving Open States to this new infrastructure will mean improved data quality, easier-to-maintain scrapers, and a better foundation on which to build new features. It will also mean we’re again actively working on infrastructure that can be reused by projects beyond Open States.
As part of this transition we’ll finally be releasing a new-and-improved Open States API. We’ll also continue to support the existing v1 API for the foreseeable future, and will announce a generous deprecation timeline when we release the new and improved v2 API.
Similarly, OpenStates.org is showing its age; for example, the site was not designed to work on mobile devices. We’re planning to remedy this with a significant redesign over the coming months.
There’s a giant list of other Open States improvements that we’d love to work on, which will be enabled by the new infrastructure. These include:
Legislative Alerts: as part of a user’s Sunlight Foundation account, they used to be able to track legislation of interest to them; we’d like to restore this ability and improve on it, with greater flexibility and ease-of-use
Legislative Analytics: see which bills and legislators are most active, or what the latest action of interest is; we’d like to enhance OpenStates.org to provide more context around the immense amount of data that we offer
Executive Branch Actions: many state legislatures don’t offer information regarding key executive branch actions such as vetoes, so we’d like to fill this gap
Bills and Votes in Context: we’d like to work with subject-matter experts, such as nonprofits and local reporters, to provide notes or summaries regarding contentious or important bills
Of course, these are just a few of our ideas. We’re always open to suggestions and ideas, especially if you’re interested in partnering with us!
As you can see, we have ambitious plans for a new and improved Open States. We’re excited to make Open States an even more valuable tool, for enabling engagement with and reporting on state legislatures in 2017 and beyond.
We’ve had a successful few months fueled purely by volunteer efforts. And our expenditures of your donations have been focused and conservative, only on operational costs. We expect to largely continue in this way going forward.
Additionally, we’re also planning to award small grants to individuals, in order to secure their time in making these challenging improvements to Open States within a timely fashion. It is for this reason that we’re seeking additional funding.
There are a few ways you can support this work:
Individuals: if you’re a supporter and want to see Open States thrive, we’re now set up to receive tax-exempt donations of all sizes. You can continue to donate via our fundraising page or contact us.
Organizations: if you’re part of an organization that uses Open States, please consider donating to help us continue to improve the data and platform. And if your organization values a particular feature or type of data collected by Open States, we’re happy to discuss ensuring that your donation directly supports that work.
Feature Grants: we’re also open to feature-specific grants. Want to see a specific enhancement to OpenStates.org, or speed up one of the features we’ve mentioned in this blog? Wish we had better coverage of a specific part of your state’s legislative process? Want to partner with us in some way? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Stay in Touch
As you can tell we have big plans for 2017 and beyond, keep up to date with the latest developments:
Originally published at blog.openstates.org.