Rethinking Civic Tech

Chris Reed @seereadnow, Super Basic – 2023.01.12 – Google Developer Group Dallas

This talk's promises to you

1. Gain a new perspective on how your work in tech
can affect other people

2. Increase your appetite and ability to engage with

But first – thanks

Luke, Stacy, et al. at GDG Dallas
James Pierce at Super Basic
Fairmount and Fort Worth neighbors
Family and friends

What you are in for...

1. Why develop Legigram?
2. What is it? What does it have to do with civic tech?
4. How does it work?
5. What's next?
6. Q&A

1. Why develop Legigram?

Better access
to city council agendas


...what does city council do anyway?
And what is a city council agenda btw and
why does it matter?

“Time is really of the essence...

If a meeting is on a Monday, and they release agenda info on Thursday or Friday, that doesn’t give people who care about a particular item on council’s agenda much time to discuss with neighbors or discuss with other interested people or groups.

Every moment counts.

– Angelo Trivisonno, author of @CleBillBot, in Neighbor Up Cleveland

Faster review of agendas means...

⬆️ Understanding of legislative process
⬆️ Civic engagement and oversight
⬆️ Better press and better government

Ok – but why?

We have elected reps, videos
and the agendas are online already...

Your city's website ➡️ 🤞 Luck ️➡️ Legistar





Who has time for this?

*h/t to Howard Dierking in Open Government

and apologies to interest groups, journalists, civic society

Access to policy making is critical
for a functional democracy

Why doesn't Granicus/Legistar fix this?

Your persona doesn't matter to GovTech here

GovTech Gap

Layer capture, Moats and platforms, De-facto standards, CivicTech Patches

Legigram's CivicTech "Why"

1. Personal + local motivation
2. GovTech Gap / CivicTech Patches
3. Long tail of interested users
4. Let's make software better for people


Tech solutionism – the old tire swing

GovTech worse?

  • Stakeholder incentives
  • Extension neglect
  • Disparate impact

h/t James Mickens
Security talk at
USENIX Security 2018

Why Do Keynote Speakers Keep Suggesting That Improving Security Is Possible?

The Art of Joining

Tocqueville posited the “art of joining” in voluntary associations as the “fundamental science” of democracy. He famously explained that “Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all minds” learned how to guard against such democratic perils as excessive individualism, the tyranny of the majority, and the stifling effects of administrative centralization simply by “constantly joining together in groups.”

—Olivier Zunz, HistPhil.org

21st Century Joining

How does software fit?

c.f. Change.org, FaceBook, Citizen,

2. So what is Legigram?

Legigram helps you understand and
improve your city's policy-making

Legigram.com provides the fastest review
of government agendas, matters,
and related attachments for over
30 million local constituents across
25 localities...and counting

A facade to the public Legistar API

* Legistar provides council agenda management SaaS
to most of the largest cities in the US.

Some Quick Stats

1+ year old
10s of weekly users, 100s at peaks
25 local government bodies
30 million consituents

How to use Legigram

1. Visit legigram.com
2. Click your city to explore recently updated agendas and matters
3. Filter matters and review attachments
4. Bookmark the page and check it weekly
5. The rest is up to you


Open-minded but skeptical
User and community focused
Fast use, Fast development, Fast iteration

To facilitate engagement

The software is not the solution


👀 legigram.com/places/fort-worth

4. How?

Lean Delivery

Think, make, check
Less work-in-progress
Iterate faster

👀 Accelerate by Fosgren et al.

Legigram's Tech Stack

Next.js: "Meta" Framework
Tailwind: CSS / UI
Cloudflare: Content Delivery Network 🚨
Heroku: DevOps and Hosting 🚨
Redis: Memory Store
Legistar API: Data

Legigram's Operations

Google Drive: Planning spreadsheet
Github: Code Repo and Issues
Email & Twitter: Outreach and Growth 🚨
Funding: Ko-fi ➡️ Patreon
Catch-all directory

Step 5. Joining

Local news and government relations

5. Next

Where does Legigram go?

Increase usage
Find (financial) support
Add features


So what's happening with the pool?

Avoid this 👉

Where is municipal tech headed
and how do GovTech and CivicTech fit?

Race for growth, Platform front-running, Transparency and surveillance,
Complexity vs. innovation

📢 Check out
Full Stack DFW

Advancing the tech community
across the stack & the metroplex

👉 Learn more at fullstackdfw.com

Did we?

Share improved interface for browsing agendas and matters
Articulate a vision for improving municipal tech
Increase your appetite for civic tech as a means for better engagement

Q & A


Rethinking Civic Tech

Chris Reed @seereadnow, Super Basic – 2023.01.12 – Google Developer Group Dallas


c.f. Other Council Agenda Efforts

c.f. Other ~Civic~ Tech Efforts (1/2)

c.f. Other ~Civic~ Tech Efforts (2/2)

At the end of these 30 minutes, you will learn something you don't know about local American governance, civic engagement that will change how you think about your work in tech and make a difference how in you prioritize civic engagement

who has been, how did you know to go?, agenda, existing solution is slow, unusuable, reduces oversight

policy making, permitting, zoning, contracts, operations... bitcoin mining

machine politics, weak mayor, city manager with oversight from council

Can't really search...don't click the body name...agenda PDF just downloads...



needs govtech compliance, business as usual vs. needs civictech: citizen or journalist

$100MM revenue GovTech SaaS with funding from Vista

DM Sans

dorothy debose

why each, fast, but also robust,d accessibility

- Talk, talk, talk to empower individuals and communities - Campaign for Phila, SF, Baltimore - Growth support ideas... - On-premise agenda boards - Vendor product - Power user product - Donations or grants - Improve journalist outreach - Increase community awareness and support - Use AI for entity recognition, summarization

### My background - Full stack dev - 2010s and Civic Data - Moving: Place and Politics - Hurricanes, Winter Storms - Swimming --- ### Some goals - Easier for me to view - Faster, smart UX for journalists and like-minded folks - Low cost - Easy maintenance - Rot resistant - "Progress" --- ### Some Civic Tech Qualms - Believers: idealism - Boondoggles: tech solutionism - Bandwagons: hackathons - Bounty: data - Bitrot: one off --- ![bg contain](./assets/great2.png) ![bg contain](./assets/great.png) --- ![](assets/granicus.png) --- ## Where are the humans in the loop? --- > The ethos of 'new managerialism' is stripping public services of moral and ethical values and replacing them with the market language of costs, efficiencies, profits and competition. Anything which is not easily quantified becomes undervalued or abandoned. > > [OpenDemocracy.net](https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/new-managerialism-in-education-organisational-form-of-neoliberalism/) --- We want to provide concise, accurate information to users. The app avoids creating unnecessary URLs that might create link rot after Legigram ends. To that end, we link to original documents and canonical Legistar views as much as possible. That said, UX and UI are paramount. We emphasize the critical data along each steps of the agenda review process. We use a content delivery network, a memory store for API hits (which also help reduce the load on Legistar), server render components, and expires headers to accelerate page load. We adapt the layout adjust for screen sizes and click/tap experiences so that it's easy to navigate on most devices. The text should be scannable and readable so we picked a typeface, DM Sans, that excels in legibility even on small screens, and we try to rein in the long event titles and filenames. ## What exists to help us get better laws? - Voting - Donations and lobbying - Councilperson comms - Public info sessions - Public meetings, video streams, advance notice - Public comment periods ### Who is in the room? #### Elected Officials #### Staff #### Affected parties #### Interest groups #### Press (?) #### *Commenters