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Making Government Information Digestible

Greetings all, I’m honored to be guest blogging this month here at FGI.

I’m a web developer at Sunlight Labs, which involves the development of sites and projects that aim to enable citizens and journalists to more easily access government data.

Those of us that spend our days wrestling with government data often spend a lot of time talking about the data that should be available but isn’t. An issue of equal if not greater importance is how to make the already available data useful to a general audience. Anyone that has dealt with raw data from any government agency knows that simply passing government data along is typically not sufficient.

One example of a project done here at Sunlight that emphasizes making some of the complex outputs of the federal government meaningful to the average citizen is Capitol Words – a site that provides a daily and monthly view of what the most commonly used word in the Congressional Record was.

The Congressional Record is the official journal of the daily proceedings of Congress. It is mandated by Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, which emphasizes how essential it is for the people to know what their legislators are up to. It is even published today in a digital format. Unfortunately, today it is far too large to be of any real benefit to the general public.

Capitol Words was born out of a suggestion that it would be interesting to see simply the “word of the day” as a way of getting a sense of what was on Congress’ mind. By giving the average citizen a window into what Congress is doing, it is possible that they will become more engaged then they otherwise might have been. Some citizens may even be inspired to dig deeper and look at the Congressional Record.

Simple presentations of government information such as the popular tag cloud, or even just a simple word, can provide access to data that may be freely available, but is still not accessible to the general public. As great as it is to see more and more government data being made available, hopefully people will also develop new and interesting ways to present government information in a manner useful to all citizens.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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