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A great new site launched yesterday detailing thousands of projects requesting funding from the stimulus bill. The site incorporates a wiki which encourages citizens around the country, with local knowledge about the proposed projects in their city, to discuss and rate these based on their economic potential and civic worthiness.  This crowd-sourcing analysis has the potential to shed further light on these projects, and provide citizens with an opportunity to voice their opinions on whether these are wise investments.

“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works—whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account—to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day—because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.” (my emphasis) – President Barack Obama in his Inaugural Address

The site allows projects to be searched by Keyword, State/City and Program type. It then allows citizens to enter a general description (there is currently only a one sentence outline for many of the projects), points in favor and points against, for each proposal. Projects can also be voted as critical or not – President Obama has promised to spend stimulus dollars only on critical projects – thus giving citizens an voice in how they think Stimulus money should be spent.

Current status

The site is very well designed and already has a number of very active comment threads about proposed projects. One of the most active projects relates to Doorbells, which is the title of the project as taken from the U.S. Conference of Mayors MainStreet Economic Recovery Report. It’s difficult to fully understand the nature of the project, however, and that’s where the wiki facility has tremendous potential. The means to describe the projects and their pros/cons is necessary to enable an informed debate on the criticality of these investments. There have been tentative descriptions of some projects, but this should increase significantly as the site becomes more popular, and the stimulus package is passed. Only once these are available can an educated discussion really being.

Scraping data

The data for the site was obtained by parsing a report containing more than 10,000 spending proposals from the nation’s mayors. This idea of scraping data from a PDF document and translating it into a more interactive  format is increasing in popularity. Several sessions at the recent UK Government barcamp discussed this in relation to consultations and data gathering.

Putting information like this into a database – as other projects have done – provides a much greater opportunity to visualize, search and interrogate the data. It subscribes to the principles outlined in President Obama’s Memorandum on Open Government and ideally should have been a project undertaken by the Administration e.g. in the same vein as recovery.gov.

The force behind the site, however, is Jerry Brito, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. He developed the site in conjunction with other volunteers.

It’s a really great resource, and it’s potential to inform the debate surrounding stimulus spending is immense.

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