Thinking about earmarks and democratisation

Stu Berwick told me about this via Twitter: Stimulus Watch. What Stimulus Watch does is to take the list of “Ready-To-Go” projects published by the US Conference of Mayors, convert them into a wiki and thereby empower readers to comment on the projects, enrich the data, “vote” on the projects.

There’s lots to like about the initiative. The UI is simple and intuitive, at least for me. The projects are actually listed before decisions are made. Descriptions are intelligible in the main, and contain useful information beyond budgets, such as job-creation. In each case the question posed is simple: is the project critical? Here’s an example:

I touched on some of this in my Clay Shirky at the ICA post. One of the key issues that came up that day was the issue of identity, how to make sure that the right person voted, how to make sure that the person voted once and once only. This is not resolved here either. But it can be.

There are a million people out there who will criticise this thing to bits. Let me not be one of them. I like the transparency. I like the fact that someone has invested time and effort to take public domain information and make it more shareable, more enrichable, and as a result perhaps a little more comprehensible. I like the simplicity of the UI, a search-based front and a consumable wiki. I appreciate the existence of an excel file with all the source info, available for download.

For democratised action to have any meaning, citizens need to be informed. The more informed they are, the more likely it is that their action will have value.

The availability of tools like is a good sign. [One of the first things I am going to do is to mutate the tool in order to make it useful for enterprises to prioritise their projects!]. The very existence of the data in a downloadable form allows for mashups to be created with relative ease, particularly those with geographical overlays, as in this example taken from epolitics:

There’s a long way to go, many problems to solve. But there are encouraging signs. Views?

PS it is worth going to just to read Jerry Brito’s paper on Hack, Mash and Peer: Crowdsourcing Government Transparency. You can find it in the About Us section.

8 thoughts on “Thinking about earmarks and democratisation”

  1. You are to be complimented for not joining the chorus of nay sayers who criticize every move taken by others. Additionally, for all the whining that we do about spin, misinformation, misrepresentation, and such, there is truly only one solution: The appreciation and absorption of information through education. Always has been, always will be.

  2. JP, if you are interested in democratisation through data availability for mashups outside of “controlled areas” check this article on Vivek Kundra, DCs CTO and one of Obama’s tech policy adviser (

    He has a very different approach from typical government agencies, like the Apps for democracy contest ( and He has been providing DC government data to be used by any app. Something other public (and private) agencies can learn from.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    Steve BTW I received the CD thanks a lot.
    Paul, I have no further news on the Boris example.
    Ramon, I guess you know that Vivek has been appointed Obama’s CIO?

  4. JP, Considering I posted Wednesday night and Vivek was apointed Thursday morning, either the White House reads this page or I need to buy some lottery tickets… or both.

Let me know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.