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Bringing Sunlight to State Government Legal Information

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Sunlight by rishibando on Flickr

Enhanced access to historical resources drives the incentives to preserve.

At least that’s the thinking behind the Model Technological and Social Architecture for the Preservation of State Government Digital Information Project. The project, headed by the Minnesota Historical Society with state government partners in Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont, is exploring innovative methods to preserve and provide enhanced access to legislative digital records.

Over the last several decades, local, state and federal government entities in the United States have steadily moved toward more openness and transparency.

State government digital informationThe Minnesota project is leveraging the energies driving government transparency to increase the visibility and usage of state government legislative materials, thereby making a strong business case for the benefits of ensuring access to these materials over the long-term.

The new online resource they’ve developed, OpenGovernment Minnesota, in partnership with the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation, successfully embraces the trends towards more openness in government, while also providing a strategically important model for other states to follow. The project is still in beta development but is available for public access.

Sunlight Foundation logoThe Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan non-profit that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable. They have significant experience developing interactive tools around government information. By partnering with Sunlight, the Minnesota project gets access to timely and resource-efficient technology skills.

At the same time, the project has done extensive legwork building trust with the legislative information community in Minnesota, including their Office of the Revisor of Statutes, allowing them to develop a model of information stewardship (explicated through a series of white papers that runs from creation through access, with the Historical Society occupying an important node.

Open Government Minnesota web page
A screenshot from the OpenGovernment Minnesota web page

OpenGovernment Minnesota is a free, open-source web application that combines official government information with news coverage, blog posts, social media alerts and more to give readers the real story behind what’s happening in government across the state.

The Sunlight Labs Open States project, part of the Sunlight Foundation, developed the legislative backend for OpenGovernment. Supported in part by the work of volunteers, the Open States project’s goal is to collect and scrape legislative data from all 50 state legislatures and make it available online in a unified, developer-friendly format.

The data sources currently available on are: state legislature information, including bills, member listings, official actions, votes and committees; news and blog coverage; campaign contributions; issue group ratings and official member contact information; Twitter mentions; legislator bios and more.

This is truly a model for other states to follow, ensuring that their important legislative information is open and available for years to come.

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