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[liberationtech] Open Government Data Standards

Yosem Companys companys at
Wed Mar 20 09:33:30 PDT 2013

From: James McKinney <james at>

I'd like to announce to this group a new community project aimed at people 
creating civic technology and (re-)publishing government data to adopt 
standards for their data and APIs: the Popolo project.

A major barrier to increased re-use of the growing number of open-source 
civic tools is the lack of agreement on how to name things. To give a very 
simple example: if one project's elected officials API calls a person’s 
name "name" and another calls it "full_name", and you're writing a Q&A 
platform to ask questions to these elected officials, you'll need to write 
an adapter for each API. Committing to a standard way of naming things 
would maximize interoperability, reduce wheel reinvention and make re-use 
that much easier.

The project's process is to (1) come up with use cases and requirements 
(for example, find an elected official by postal address), (2) identify 
existing standards addressing those use cases and requirements and (3) 
write specifications for how to combine and re-use those existing standards 
in a standard way, filling the gaps between those standards when necessary. 
The current spec addresses how to store/share information about people, 
organizations and memberships, and will soon expand to areas (e.g. 
districts) and events (e.g. elections).

This is a consensus-based, community-driven project, so we are eager to 
receive your feedback and contributions on the draft spec and for you to 
help define and start work on new specs with the support of the group. A 
W3C Open Government Community Group (CG) has been created to host the 
community around the specs:

Discussions happen through the CG mailing list at:

To be clear, the Popolo project, for which I am responsible, covers only a 
subset of the specs relevant to open government data. Its general scope is 
data relating to the legislative branch. Health inspections data, for 
example, covered by Yelp's LIVES spec, would be out of scope of Popolo. 
Within its scope, its focus is on data that often appears together and that 
multiple sources publish; for example, Open States publishes data on 
people, committees (organizations), bills (documents), votes and events, as 
do many other projects.

In terms of adoption and community, mySociety is working towards aligning 
PopIt (their people-organizations-positions web service) with Popolo. The 
Sunlight Foundation has been providing great feedback already, and there's 
a good chance (though still early) that the next version of the OpenStates 
API will align with Popolo and that the congress-legislators data will be 
available as Popolo-compliant JSON in addition to its current offerings. 
I'm also in discussion with the Google Politics and Elections team around 
these efforts.

Through the CG mailing list linked above, I encourage those of you who 
consume data to submit new use cases and requirements, and those of you who 
publish data to provide feedback on the draft spec. Everyone can help 
decide what new specs the group should focus its efforts on, and to work on 
those following the rough three steps described above.

To be clear, the "Popolo" name is only tied to the spec which I am the 
editor of, and the Popolo spec is just one of the specs that the CG can 
come up with. The CG is meant to be a shared workspace for open government 
data spec editors.

Last few notes:

In order to support the research, development, maintenance and improvement 
of the Popolo spec and the outreach and facilitation of the community 
group, I've submitted the following to the Knight News Challenge. The News 
Challenge is in its "feedback" phase for the next ten days, so I look 
forward to your comments!

The Popolo spec is managed on GitHub where you are welcome to report 
specific issues:

If you will be attending Transparency Camp, please comment and vote up the 
proposed session about data standards at

If you have any questions, please let me know either on this list or the CG 
mailing list at


James McKinney

James McKinney
About/contact James McKinney:
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