When no one in Nick Gaines’ UC Berkeley freshman political science class could answer the question “Who is your state senator?,” he tuned in, dropped out and started GovHub with co-founder Adam Becker. Here, Becker shares more about their pursuit of the American dream and how they want to help citizens better engage with their elected officials.
Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.
GovHub provides a personalized platform for citizens to learn about and interact with their officials in each level of government.
What problems does GovHub solve?
For government officials:
Lack of name recognition
Antiquated, costly public opinion polls
Inefficient methods for communicating with their constituents
Hard to actually find who represents you in each level of government (to find out who my city councilperson is, I have to click through about ten pages on my city’s website, including a 2mb PDF file)
Once you know who represents you, no good way to see what they’re doing in office
Communication with representatives often feels futile and is hard to get a personalized response from
What are its key features?
Enter your address and see the officials that represent you at each level of government.
See their profiles, voting records, social media updates.
Interact with them on our discussion board, which uses crowdsourced moderation to determine the issues that are most important to an official’s constituents. (We have Kriss Worthington from the Berkeley City Council doing our first Q+A on April 12th.)
…and some really neat things planned for the future.
What are the costs, pricing plans?
GovHub will always be free for its users. In the future we plan to charge government officials (and candidates) for the different services that can connect them to their constituents.
Recently launched GovHub is a new ‘GitHub for government’ that aims to be the comprehensive repository for government open source development projects (update: see related efforts such as CiviCommons and forge.mil – HT @digiphile). GovHub will beta test to a select group at the end of November and open up in late December. I asked one of its founders, Greg Lind, to talk more about GovHub’s focus and future plans.
What is GovHub?
The general idea is a collaboration space for local or regional governments to collaborate on software needs with other government agencies as well as the local open source software community. A lot of open source developers in Portland and really all over the world have small get togethers or hack-athon meet ups similar to a user group where they get together and work on civic projects, and almost exclusively use open source tools. These are highly organized and talented groups whose only real goal is to write great software that benefits the end user and the community. We feel like the opportunity right now is to help organize more of these groups as a force to promote open source software as well as community driven development by helping to fulfill specific needs at local government agencies. Anything from exposing useful government data thorough easy to consume data API’s to creating full fledge front end software for use on government or co-branded web sites. A lot of this could be done through refinements to the procurement process that most governments use to be more inclusive of open source solutions as well as organizing open source developers to be able to respond to these RFP’s and provide some intrinsic value for their projects. We see this as one of the biggest hurdles to open source adoption in the misunderstanding the “free” software can not last because they think the developers are working for free or that it is just a hobby.
What the code strategy?
I’m guessing you are referring to our GitHub or GovSource repositories we are planning on hosting. The idea here is to help provide a single place for these smaller mostly Web-based projects with civic or community driven ideals to be found by government and non-profit agencies. We want to help keep these projects sustainable over the long haul by providing free hosting and direct communication with the government agencies who would be interested in them. On the government side, we want to provide easy options for governments to open source their own internal projects as well as share with other government agencies through build in site intergovernmental agreements.
What’s your outreach plan?
The first thing we hope to do is work with a lot of the regional governments here in the Portland area. We have some direct contacts through previous working relationships that we hope to use to get a few started on some regional proejcts and data sharing ideas. The primary long-term goal is to use things like GOSCON and OpenGov West as opportunities to promote our ideas and build momentum. We also think the CivicApps contests that the City of Portland, San Francisco and New York have started could be expanded to other regions and we are working on ways to host contest like this on our own.
Watch GovHub founders’ IgniteGov presentation at GOSCON2010: