Request for ideas: Crowdsourcing the Evolution of Congressional Websites

Guest blogger Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, serves in the U.S. Congress
on the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

Tim recently asked readers of this blog to help provide me
with guidance on the best way to make
official legislative databases available
to the developer community. The
question, which also made its way onto Slashdot,
led to a wealth of proposals, some of which I am considering developing into
new legislation. Following on the success of that initial conversation, I’d
like to ask for your guidance once again.

can Congress take advantage of web 2.0 technologies to transform the
relationship between citizens and government?
Instead of viewing the public as a customer for services, I believe
that we should empower citizens to become our partners in shaping the future of
our nation.

Sites like,
for example, have shown how the public can advise officials on which elements
of the economic recovery program are most effective in creating jobs and
resuscitating our struggling economy. Together we can identify and cut
ineffective government programs and simultaneously support cost effective
initiatives that maximize Return On Investment.

Websites like these only become possible when government
data (in this case a list of project requests from the US Council of Mayors) is
repurposed to enable public participation. Until more government databases
become available, however, the full potential of web 2.0 technologies will
remain unfulfilled. A dramatic shift in perspective is needed before that need
can be met. Instead of databases becoming available as a result of Freedom Of
Information Act requests, government officials should be required to justify
why any public data should not be freely available to the taxpayers who paid
for its creation.

As one leading
e-government expert recently advised

Free your data, especially maps and other geographic
information, plus the non-personal data that drives the police, health and
social services, for starters. Introduce a ‘presumption of innovation’ –
if someone has asked for something … give them what they want: it’s probably a
sign that they understand the value of your data when you don’t.

My constituents in Silicon Valley understand how opening up data can
catalyze dramatic innovation, and I recently enacted legislation
to provide free public access to legislative databases
with that goal in
mind. It is my hope that this information can foster the development of
initiatives to empower the public to collaborate with and provide advice to
Members of Congress. No longer will individuals simply petition their
representatives – instead you should be our most valued advisors.

Government 2.0 is an achievable goal, and together we can make it a
reality. In fact, I recently began a comprehensive redesign of my website with
the goal of developing new and unprecedented ways of collaborating with my

To solicit ideas for the new website, I sent my Online Communications
Director to a conference to lead a website brainstorming session. That
conversation resulted in several intriguing proposals, including the suggestion
that I post my hearing schedule for the week so that my constituents could
propose questions for me to ask of witnesses.

The success of that session, and the quality of your answers
to the last question I posted here, gives just a hint of the possibilities that
can result from greater partnership between elected officials and the public.
While I may not be able to implement every idea that is suggested, I do plan on
providing a list of the most innovative ideas to my fellow Members of Congress.

What features could I implement on my website to tap
into the wisdom of the crowds?

With your help we can empower the public to partner with
Representatives in improving the policies of our nation. Let’s begin making Gov
2.0 a reality.

– Mike

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