DIY Democracy: Civic Participation for the iPhone

Have you ever heard someone proclaim that if you don’t vote, then you shouldn’t complain? Well, whether or not you vote, we have the perfect iPhone app to make your complaints heard by whatever government official, agency or otherwise – DIY Democracy.

This handy little government 2.0 app will let you make that wheel squeak even louder, all while informing you of your rights. And for the true civic participant on the go, you can even petition to run for office without interrupting your day.

DIY Democracy is a location enabled app that, although currently only fully-functional for California residents, connects its users with all the various levels of government. The app is a project of the Prometheus Institute, a public policy non-profit organization.

The app is divided into four primary categories: Rights & Laws, Representatives, Take Action and Public Forum. Each of the first three are separated into the various levels of government, whether local, state or federal.

The “Rights & Laws” section is a pocket reference to laws concerning all sorts of handy things, like due process or search and seizure. The app not only quotes the law directly, but offers a layman’s interpretation. Of course, this is accompanied by a standard caveat that the information is for education only, but they seem to do a decent job of explaining “how it’s generally applied in real life.” In many ways, it’s like having a pocket constitution, but broken down for easy access.

“Representatives” offers a full listing of government officials, from Barack Obama to your local alderman, and each with contact information such as phone number, email address and website.

The “Public Forums” are just that and, while we imagine the types of people that use this app to be the vocal sorts, we’re not so sure a message forum is quite tailored to the iPhone. That said, the forums are also available on the web, but we question their true utility in this instance.

Moving on, the final section, “Take Action”, is the one that really caught our attention. We reviewed an app yesterday called GoRequest, that offered similar capabilities, but this one seems to take it a step further. DIY Democracy brings the various levels and offices of government to you with pre-formatted, well-written letters for the on-the-go complaint. Whether you want to run for office, contest the validity of a law, or simply report a pothole or road hazard, DIY Democracy is set to connect you with the proper authorities.

It does all of this, of course, with your exact location in mind, so when you report that pothole, or dangerously dangling tree limb, the local department of public works will get exact GPS coordinates in addition to whatever other description you offer.

In addition to GPS coordinates and pre-formatted letter templates, you can of course directly attach both photos and video, making options like “Contact Mayor” seem a little less silly. If an issue is urgent enough, get the evidence and send it off to the officials.

We can only hope to see this app come out for more locations than California. While it’s nifty that it goes all the way to the top, we find that being able to directly interact with your local government and report issues as seen on the ground is probably the more likely use for this app.

DIY Democracy is available for download in the App Store.

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