Editor’s Note: The Millennial Voices series is written by and for Millennials to foster nonpartisan discussion. Kristin Fretz is the Digital Communications Manager at Millennial Action Project. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The final installment of the #Hack4Congress "not-just-for-technologists" hackathon series took place in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC on Tuesday, May 12, 2015.
Millennial Action Project was thrilled to join the Harvard Ash Center, the OpenGov Foundation, and over 100 civic innovators in celebrating the free, open source digital tools created by citizens from all walks of life at the previous hackathons in San Francisco, Cambridge, and Washington, DC.
Over 620 participants, 33 teams, and 16 current and former members of Congress were engaged across the 3 cities to build tangible solutions that could help Congress be more open, efficient, and tech-savvy. The competition resulted in 3 overall winners: CDash (San Francisco), CoalitionBuilder (Washington, DC), and CongressConnect (Cambridge).
Each of the winning teams demonstrated their solutions and received direct feedback from Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), Susan Brooks (R-IN), Darrell Issa (R-CA), and several Capitol Hill digital strategists sitting at the dais.
Collaborating with strangers from 3 different countries, the team behind CDash created a valuable, time-saving search tool for Congressional members and their staffers to easily find public datasets and other metrics important to their district on a wide range of policy issues. CDash hopes their product will "create a safe space for offices to query data, explore the effects of controversial positions, and help reduce the dependence on lobbyists as a source of information."
The team behind CoalitionBuilder created their winning solution in response to a challenge from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who stated he "does not have a good way to see where [his] colleagues stand on specific issues to identify possibilities for collaboration."
CoalitionBuilder streamlines the vetting process for staffers (and eventually advocacy organizations) who want to identify potential co-sponsors for new legislation based on voting records, committee assignments and other factors. Whereas subscription-based services like this already exist from Politico Pro and Quorum, CoalitionBuilder is committed to providing a free, open source tool to lower the barrier of entry for Congress to quickly access this vital information.
Finally, the team behind CongressConnect focused on streamlining constituent services provided by every member's office, such as scheduling meetings to hear concerns directly from citizens. To save time and increase the productivity of these meetings, CongressConnects provides educational resources for citizens to prepare for and efficiently utilize their limited time with their member of Congress.
The #Hack4Congress teams and affiliated supporters brought a refreshing dialogue to Capitol Hill about the need for Congress to be operating in our 21st century modern economy. Transparency, accountability, and access to information are the core values driving the emerging bipartisan "government 2.0" narrative. With the unprecedented amount of data that citizens and institutions are creating and have access to, it is imperative for Congress to also leverage this real-time data to efficiently serve and proactively legislate for the future.
Kristin Fretz is the Digital Communications and Outreach Manager at MAP. A passionate advocate for Millennial interests, she previously interned at think tanks including the Roosevelt Institute and Third Way. Kristin graduated magna cum laude from the University of Delaware with a BA in Public Policy and received the 2014 Outstanding Public Policy Student Award.
As a tax-exempt nonprofit organization governed by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Millennial Action Project (MAP) is generally prohibited from attempting to influence legislative bodies in regards to policy and legislation. It is important to note guest authors frequently take firm stances on issues and policy matters that are currently being debated by policymakers; when they do, however, they speak for themselves and not for MAP, its board, council or employees.