I want to be able to follow primary source material on legislation as it develops in my city. I also want to have appropraite context around this legislation so that I can develop my own better informed opinions. Having this ability makes me feel as though I can actually be involved in the process of guiding the city — it opens the black box of how things are done, and makes legislation accessible outside of its consequences.
There are three aspects here:
Subscription: I want to be able to subscribe to legislation as its made available, and to agendas of what's going to be discussed in the future. Councilmatic will provide email, RSS, or SMS subscriptions to headlines that you desire. It will also present updates to your subscribed information in a way that is optimized for your viewing mode, be it web or mobile.
Contextualization: I want to see relevant information around legislation, like the geographical areas mentioned, supporting areas (with councilember as proxy), related legislation, and related information from around the internet. Councilmatic will collect meta-information on legislation such as the words in a bill, and the other bills that it refers to (determined through regular expression analysis). It will also allow users to note areas of the city mentioned in legislation.
Evaluation: I want to see the pros and cons of an issue as discussed by the wider community. Councilmatic will allow users to not only comment on a bill, but also specify whether their comment is is support of or opposition to the bill. Other users will be able to comments according to their helpfulness. Through this system will emerge a set of most helpful supportive and opposing viewpoints on the issues in a bill.
If you want to do these things too, then get involved.
The data on Philly.Councilmatic is scraped once a day (early in the morning) from the Philadelphia City Council's legislation site. On that site, the data is served through an application called InSite. Many municipal legislative bodies use some version of this software. It is possible that the scraper is able to be used for other cities' InSite instances as well.
Since the data comes from another site, the data quality is only as good as its source. If there are empty communications, that is an issue with the source. Also, Councilmatic may not have up-to-the-minute information about the legislation you are viewing, since it scrapes once per day. Each piece of legislation provides a link to its source for reference.
Councilmatic does add some metadata to the source data: The complete list of words that occur in the source title and attachents, as well as which other legislation mentions or is mentioned by a particular piece of legislation.
Councilmatic has been contributed to by many people along the way, including: