Transparent Federal Budget

1.0 Executive Summary


1.1 Objective

The general public does not have easy access to information about the federal budget or the legislative process. Even issue-oriented organizations that diligently monitor budgets and legislation lack the tools to mobilize their members to act or to collaborate on position papers that would provide valuable guidance to public policy-makers. Our objective is to create technology that will make the budgeting and legislative processes transparent, enable organizations to form social networks for efficient communication, and facilitate large-scale public engagement with public policy.

1.2 Approach

The technology to store and access federal budget data is relatively straightforward. The challenging piece is to populate the database with useful and complete data, and to facilitate effective, widespread activism efforts around the relevant issues.

Social networking will be our approach to facilitating activism. The past few years have seen the birth of the "Web 2.0" technologies, including several successful social networks such as MySpace and Facebook. Although these networks have met with much success, they do not effectively facilitate collaboration on any significant scale. We will create a new social networking platform that builds upon the Web 2.0 model using some upcoming "Web 3.0" technologies and some of our own innovations that will facilitate collaboration.

Our platform will contain two key innovations. It will be "entity-based," meaning that both individuals and groups can be members of the network -- something current social networks do not allow, but which is essential for facilitating collaboration between activist organizations and communities. Our platform will also be based on open standards, which allow interoperability between social networks. Whereas Web 2.0 networks are "siloed," preventing users on one network from interacting with users on another network, all social networks using our open standards will be able to interact with each other, effectively creating a network of networks. This "meta-network" will function as one large community, allowing us to harness the collective power of the activist community as a whole.

As the meta-network forms, we can foster community-driven creation and maintenance of the legislation and budget databases, similar to Wikipedia's community-authored approach. A reputation management system within the meta-network will ensure the quality and accuracy of the data.

As privacy and security are key requirements for the meta-network, we will use open source development. The transparency created by the open source model will ensure software abuses cannot happen without being visible to the development community.

1.3 Technology Components

1.31 Social Network Platform and Meta-network
We will create a social network software platform, which will be "entity-based" as described in section 1.2. As open source software, the social network platform will be available free of charge to any organization who wishes to establish a social network for private or public use.

All installations of our social network platform (and any other social networks who adopt the same open standards) will have the option of interacting with each other. This will allow users on the meta-network to collaborate in ways they would not otherwise be able to. Examples include sharing event calendars, collaborative authoring of whitepapers or other documents, and more.

1.32 Budget and legislation data repository

We will use an online collaboration wiki, similar to Wikipedia, to build a database of budget and legislation information that is relevant to activists. The database will contain not only the raw information and laws and budget funds, but semantic tags to facilitate searchability. The meta-network activist community will be harnessed to populate these databases, with their reputation on the meta-network being used to ensure quality and accuracy.

Several different websites are under consideration to host the data repository, including Wikia, a well-established site that uses the Wikipedia software and has ties to the Wikimedia organization.

1.33 Consensus Wiki

Formal whitepapers, requiring collaborative authoring and organized voting procedures, are an essential part of intergroup communication in political processes. The consensus wiki will be a wiki focused on creating a white paper document that all participants can help review, author, and vote on during its creation. For especially complex whitepapers which need review from hundreds or even thousands of individuals, an online collaboration tool will greatly increase effectiveness.

The consensus wiki is an attractive tool to activist organizations such as Reunitingamerica.org, who are facilitating collaboration between organizations such as Moveon.org and the Christian Coalition. As these sorts of organizations create their own social networks, tools like the consensus wiki will encourage them to use our platform and/or open standards to join the meta-network, benefiting everyone.

1.34 Event calendar

Event calendars will facilitate a wide variety of collaboration between individuals and organizations on the meta-network. For example, a user might notice another user with many common interests, and view their public calendar to see what activist events they attend. A user might also want to search all public calendars for "environmentalist group events in Austin, Texas."

The relationships between individuals in the meta-network can facilitate automatic event sharing -- a user might choose to have all of a favorite non-profit's future fundraisers appear on his calendar. Or, an activist organization might post a "call your representative to lobby about our issue!" event to their public calendar, which could trickle down to subscribers' calendars and facilitate an organized show of support.

1.4 Creating an Open Development Community

Successful open source software development requires a strong community. A strong community will provide more and lower-cost manpower to improve the software, fix issues, understand user needs, and perhaps most importantly, maintain trust and security in the software through transparency. Without a community that is knowledgeable, committed, and engaged, open source software is not much different than traditional software development.

The League of Technical Voters is a non-profit, non-partisan organization focused on motivating technical experts to be effectively involved in the political process, and as such is an ideal impartial organization to create the open source development community for this project. We are committed to creating a strong community from the very beginning of the development process, and continuously fostering it through events such as volunteer code-a-thons that bring the community together in various cities around the world.

The League will use the social network platform we build to establish an official League of Technical Voters social network, facilitating collaboration between technologists who want to become more politically involved. This network will serve many purposes -- a testing site for the software platform, a proof-of-concept to other organizations considering using the platform, an initial seed for the meta-network, and a personally relevant and motivating vision for the developers in the new open source community.

Many open source development projects fail to adequately address issues such as the documentation to make development sustainable, and the training and marketing to build a critical mass within the user and development communities. Our budget proposal addresses these needs with the aim of creating a community that is sustainable for the long term.

1.5 Open Standards: A Collaborative Endeavor

The meta-network is a grand vision of many interoperating social networks that cannot be created in isolation. It will require significant collaboration with other organizations, working together to ensure all parties' needs are met. To this end, the League has been establishing relationships with organizations such as the Craigslist Foundation, which is considering a similar meta-network in the NPO space that could integrate with the League's meta-network. We recognize that creating and maintaining these relationships is a critical piece to creating a successful open standard.