Bringing Portland City Council Agendas to Web 2.0

Chris Smith

There's a fortuitous convergence happening right now at the City of Portland. The Bureau of Technology Services is in the process of providing a new system to the Auditor's office to manage City Council agendas. At the same time, many of the same folks on the technology team (Portland's IT department) are working on the City/Regional Open Data initiative and CivicApps community effort.

Today at the CivicApps hacking event at the Open Source Bridge conference, I sat in on an effort to brainstorm what could be done with agendas. Some of the ideas include (some could be provided by the City, others by community members building apps based on open data):

For all of you activists out there who follow City Council issues, what would make the agendas more accessible to you? I'll pass your comments back to the Technology Services folks and the people working on CivicApps around the agenda data.

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    Great ideas. I'm interested to see what is done with the agendas. Maybe then I can point to Portland as an example and get some changes made to Gresham's system as well.

    I was really hopeful when they contracted for a web overhaul, but saddened to see things became harder to find (you have to figure out if what you're looking for goes under "work", "live", or "play" for instance). I would have thought there would be at least a drop-down menu to go with them to help you out.

    There are a lot of us who want to stay informed and be active, but for various reasons (work, school, family obligations, etc.) just can't make the meetings and aren't available when they show on tv. Having things easy to find makes for much more informed people. And when you're informed it is a lot easier to be involved.

    Has anyone looked to see if there are any cities, counties, etc. out there who are already successful with some of this?

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      I got the following note from Laura Bridges-Shepard, communications manager for the City of Gresham, and she asked me to post it here:

      The city of Gresham has been providing RSS feeds of minutes and agendas from since December of 2009. We also provide streaming and on demand video of council meetings to accommodate people who want to stay involved but can’t always make it to our council meetings. We also use Twitter to help residents to be a part of the conversation during council meetings. I am going to brag a little and share that we just won the ClearMark Award from the Center for Plain Language for best Public website. I would encourage folks to look east and see what Gresham is doing.
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    Note sure how relevant it is to this specific effort/project, but how about streamlining (perhaps via a simple wiki-like mark-up) contextual linking to supporting documents, the city code, published regulatory documents, data-sets, and so on, within the agenda (and all web published materials from the city actually).

    This idea could hopefully grow to include everything form press statement, meeting transcripts and minutes, etc.

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    I like the RSS (I'm subscribed to a lot of blogs and check RSS feeds several times/day). I also like the public comment thread. I agree with Jenny's perspective, some of us aren't able to attend meetings and the ability to submit comment on an agenda item via the web is very much appreciated.

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    There ought to be an easily accessible public web archive of the full text of every resolution and ordinance passed on The documents associated with each agenda item should stay posted, along with the agenda, permanently on portlandonline. The transcripts of the City Council meetings should be posted, with links to them on the archived agendas. I have occasionally stumbled upon the transcripts -- I know they exist -- but in my experience they're difficult if not impossible to find on portlandonline.

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    It's not a concern to anybody that the city is pouring resources into efforts that will further marginalize those living in poverty who can't afford Internet access? I know many who's only source for this kind of information is the county library system, and the computers there are still stuck on IE6, which Microsoft is phasing out and which don't work right with many of these "social media" tools. Google Reader, for example, has dropped support, and Facebook & Twitter are barely operable.

    I think the city's focus should be on ensuring access to this information for all citizens, not just the comfortably middle-class who can afford iPhones.

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      Arguably, this is exactly what this policy does. The old fashioned policies, where someone had to travel downtown, photocopy materials, or take time out of a busy day to know what is going on in City government, closed access.

      Putting city information in an easily accessible form on the Internet makes it far more widely available.

      BTW you should check your numbers; the digital divide is narrowing every year.

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      As Paul Gronke noted, the digital divide is decreasing more and more each year. But that aside, are you seriously arguing the city should be paying for county library equipment?

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