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MyCityHall.ca: Progress Update

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Our crowdfunding campaigns for MyCityHall.ca and MaMairie.ca ended May 1st, short of our goals of $10,000 each. As a result, we could not hire additional staff to help complete the project, but had to make time within our own schedules to do the work. As a small nonprofit with many active projects, this has been a challenge. However, we are getting closer to a beta release, and we want to let you know what to expect.

Scope: What’s In

As we did not hit our funding target, we had to rescope the project for it to be achievable. Of the original primary features, we retain:

  • Receive alerts and email updates when Council discusses issues that matter to them
  • Read explanations on how council works and get advice on how to lobby council

We want to offer a service that provides residents with relevant and timely information that enables them to influence local decisions. However, we recognize that not all residents, once armed with this information, will know how to use it effectively; after all, giving someone a hammer doesn’t make them a carpenter. So, we will also offer context to that information to make it more actionable.

Scope: What’s Out

  • Ask questions and get answers from councillors in public, creating a shared memory for voters so they can better hold politicians to their word

We were really looking forward to the public Q&A feature, but it is not something that is quick and easy to do well. We eagerly anticipate the launch of AskThem.io by the Participatory Politics Foundation, whose initial development we contributed to. We are also monitoring the work of Ciudadano Inteligente on WriteIt, an application for publicly delivering messages to authorities. We are keen to build on these projects in future releases of MyCityHall.ca and MaMairie.ca.

  • Monitor their councillor’s activity, including attendance and voting records

It is easy to build a dashboard of the number of meetings attended, votes cast, words spoken, etc. It is much harder to translate those indicators into an evaluation of a councillor’s performance, or to use those statistics to create the right incentives for better performance. Given our restrictions, we’ve decided to focus more on what’s happening in city hall and less on the people within it; elected officials will be featured on the website, but they will not be in the spotlight.

What’s Next

Our goal is to launch the beta versions of MaMairie.ca and MyCityHall.ca in the first quarter of 2014. We’ve put together what we consider to be an excellent primer to the City of Montreal’s government structure and, in particular, to the levers that residents can use to influence its decisions. We’ve selected which datasets to make more accessible, and we are partway through the work of collecting the data and making it intelligible. Finally, we’ve been contributing to the Sunlight Foundation’s Scout – a service that sends you alerts about issues you care about – to make it reusable outside the United States.

We would like to thank our individual donors, without whom this project would not be possible, and for their patience as we progress towards launch. We are eager to publish the first beta version to get people’s feedback, and to work together to make this a popular and effective tool for tracking city hall.

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