The Sunlight Foundation launched a new project called TransparencyCorps today. Modeled after Amazon's Mechanical Turk, the project asks visitors to perform small tasks that a human can do better than a machine. The first two tasks include summarizing congressional earmark requests in a form and uploading a photo of yourself calling for increased openness in government.Have you got a few minutes to spare to help make government activities more transparent? Watchdog organization
The innovative system is a pleasure to use and is being open sourced for other organizations interested in crowdsourcing similar tasks. You can honestly do something useful and important in 5 minutes or less on this site.
The earmark summary task starts by running earmark request documents through an automated system to fill out a few key data fields, then asks multiple Transparency Corps users to verify and complete the summaries. Once those fields, like money requested and address of recipient, are filled out - then the data will be available in a structured format. That means it will be easier to search, analyze, visualize and mash-up. That's right - your spare minutes could be turned into structured government data for watchdogs and developers to work their magic with. Structured government data enables all kinds of research to be done, including discovery of patterns of official activity that need scrutiny and change.
TransparencyCorps participants get points for every small task they do and can get themselves on a charming leader board of "transparency leaders." It's all very cute but this really is important work to be done.
We'd love to see an iPhone app to do this kind of work while waiting for the bus or in the line at the grocery store. How about a Facebook app that pushes out notifications to our friends' newsfeeds: "I just took 2 minutes and summarized a congressional earmark request to fund an environmental study of a proposed industrial park!"
Unlike Mechanical Turk, where there are scads of workers because they get paid small sums, TransparencyCorps volunteers are unpaid. Promotion will no doubt be the site's biggest challenge. If ease of use can be maximized and some effective promotion done, we think this could be a really great project.