The Public Sector Excellence Database

The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the University of Michigan has started a site called the CLOSUP Public Sector Excellence Database, available at This site was designed to provide information on innovative, award-winning programs implemented by a variety of groups including state and local governments.

You can look for the latest additions to the database or you can browse the entire contents, but you can also search. I tried to use the site search for a wide number of keywords, but it kept coming back with no search results. There’s also an advanced search that uses Google, so I did a search for inurl:public-sector-excellence sidewalks. I got six results.

Projects include an overview and summary of the project and information about any awards that it’s won. There’s also contact information for both the project and the award. Among the projects I found here: Residential Sidewalk Partnership Program (municipal and resident partnership for sidewalk repair), Stormwater Labeling and Mapping (storm drain labeling and road sweeps), and Citizen University (an effort to educate citizens about the workings of the municipal system.)

Use the Google search if you want to do serious searching, but the database is small enough that you can also browse fairly easily. I’d like that Residential Sidewalk Partnership Program in my neighborhood…

Topix Adds Election Resource

Topix announced last week the launch of Election 2010: Citizen Sound-Off, at The site is for discussing elections and candidates on a hyperlocal level (by zip code.)

From the front page, enter a zip code to start. Good ol’ 90210 got me the page for Beverly Hills, CA, with several polls on the front page representing state, state/federal, and very local offices. It looks like generally only the Republicans and Democrats are shown (the race for governor was an exception) which is a shame because in some cases a third-party candidate is doing better in the poll then one of the main two candidates (the Green Party candidate for lieutenant governor, for example, is polling better at this writing than the Democrat.)

Each of the polls has a place for comments, but there’s a very active discussion form toward the bottom of the page. There I found discussions on various races, propositions, and campaign-related events (like debates.) These forums were very busy: the forum on candidate for governor had 1,924 comments/posts.

If you want to discuss very local elections, this is great, but it lacks a bit of data. Since it is hyperlocal, I suppose Topix assumes that you’re familiar with the candidates. Looking at the candidates on 90210, I had no idea who Chelene Nightingale was, despite the fact that she was doing so well in the poll. I had to look her up. It would be good if Topix linked to the official candidate Web site, or maybe local news stories or Wikipedia.

Poligraft Gives Your Political Browsing Context

Sunlight Labs launched a new Web site last week. Poligraft is designed to provide context into political stories you read and Web sites you visit. It’s available at

So what exactly does it do? Poligraft comes as a standalone Web site or as a bookmarklet. I’m going to do this writeup using the standalone Web site as it’s easier to show. When you visit a Web page or a news story that contains political content, you can run it through Poligraft. Poligraft will give you the story along with context in a sidebar — which lawmakers have been receiving political donations from whom, where aggregated donations from companies go, etc.

For example, take this article from The New York Times: “Education Department Deals Out Big Awards”. I can take that URL and copy and paste it at Poligraft. (I can also paste the contents of an article if I don’t have access to the URL.)

Poligraft reprints the article, but with an information bar on the left. In this case the information bar is showing where political donations from one individual went, and where aggregated donations from several institutions went — to Democrats or Republicans. The information presented in the bar is just a pie chart, which is a little misleading — you’ll note that all of Cornelia Grumman’s donations were all to Democrats — well, her one $250 donation. Meanwhile Johns Hopkins University has well over a million dollars in aggregate donations listed for the last 21 years, but has the same kind of little pie chart.

Each chunk of data on the information bar has a page with more details. The Ohio State University page shows top politicians donated to, as well as money spent on lobbying and issued lobbied about. Many of the individual names in the report pages are clickable, leading you if you wish down a political wonk rabbit hole.

I myself am enough of a wonk to appreciate this as a tool, but not enough of a wonk to really know how to use it (I had to go through several political stories before I found one that provided a lot of information.) I think as we get closer to the midterm elections it’ll be more useful as there will be more topical stories and more quotes from all sorts of organizations. Sunlight Labs is promising to add more data sets over time, too — look forward to seeing that.

Playing with the National Data Catalog

I first read the announcement about the National Data Catalog over a week ago, but decided to play with it a little before I wrote about it. But first, what the heck is the National Data Catalog? From the site, located at “The National Data Catalog is an open platform for government data sets and APIs, making it easy to find datasets by and about government, across all levels (federal, state, and local) and across all branches (executive, legislative, and judicial).” At this writing data is cataloged from, the District of Columbia, Utah, and the Sunlight Foundation. For once, a site I’m reviewing is not in beta! No no no. It’s in alpha. D’oh!

You can do a keyword search or you can browse the data, and I started with browsing. Just going to browse the data brings about 1485 results, but you can narrow that somewhat by specifying jurisdiction, organization, source type, and release year. Available data sets are presented in a table which includes dataset name and (usually) some kind of description, star rating (if any; the ones I looked at usually didn’t have one), jurisdiction, organization, and formats. I saw all kinds of formats: XML, MAP, CSV, ATOM, XLS, ESRI, etc. (You can download data sets right from the collection browsing if you like.) Collections have their own detail pages, which also allow you to do data downloads and which have a little more information and spaces for comment.

Examples of data sets of I found: School Election Districts in DC, Active Mines and Mineral Plants in the US, and gall bladder removals in Utah hospitals (huh?) It looks like the Federal government has the most data sets here.

While there’s plenty you can do with a CSV file and a spreadsheet, several of these formats require more intense manipulation. As you might expect the National Data Catalog has an API along with a certain amount of documentation. Impressive, but naturally I want more data sets….

UK Election Leaflets

Thanks to reader APS for pointing me to The Straight Choice (, a Web site containing almost 3500 (at this writing) election leaflets from UK general election candidates. The front of the site contains a list of latest leaflets found, the top parties, top constituencies, and campaign “not spots” (sorry, Aberdeen North.) You can also search the leaflets by postal code or browse them by party or category. There’s also a fairly substantial tag cloud of keywords.

I went looking at the parties, and found literally dozens — unfortunately some of the most interesting looking ones had no fliers associated with them. (The Dungeons Death and Taxes party?) I did find one flyer from the “Best of a Bad Bunch” party. The party pages for fliers contain links for getting an RSS feed or e-mail alert, and even embed codes if you want to feature a party’s leaflets on your own site. There’s a little data about where the leaflet came from and when it was uploaded to the site, and a few relevant categories listed.

The image quality of the leaflets themselves varied a lot — visitors are encouraged to scan or photograph leaflets and send ’em on in — but all the ones I looked at were available in a large enough size that they were easily readable. I know this wasn’t the intention, but if you wander through a site with almost 3500 flyer designs you can learn at least a little something about layout.

As long as you’re looking at UK election campaign materials, drop by, which is attempting to document election billboards. There’s a leaderboard where you can get points for taking pictures of and sending in billboards. Billboards have some data about the associated campaign and a map of the area where it was found. At least one billboad I looked at seemed to have suffered a bit of annotation. Not as extensive as the leaflets site but there seems to be more elections data here.