KNC13 OPENGOV | OPENLYNX: Streamlined citizen information tool | Knight News Challenge 2013

One of my entries for the 2013 Knight News Challenge for OpenGov [open government]:

OPENLYNX | Streamlined question, routing and information tool for citizens to get access to public-held information

OpenLynx enables citizens to submit information queries and receive responses via low-bandwidth communication technologies accessible with basic mobile phones — such as text and SMS messages, e-mail and a lean/mobile Web site — to enable everyone to gain access to civic information otherwise unavailable to them.

THE TASK
Access to civic information, resources and services are limited by knowledge of methods, and access technology, which can put government out of reach of some citizens. OpenLynx aims to surmount those barriers by making it easy to connect to government.

SOLUTION
OpenLynx will enable citizens to submit a question or information request, and receive an automated reply with the requested information, or have the request routed to the most appropriate government official for a response. In cases where access to information is restricted, OpenLynx will enable people to submit a freedom-of-information request, or contact a journalist to propose a story or investigation, even from a basic mobile phone.

IMPLEMENTATION
OpenLynx will allow citizens to submit civic information requests via:

  1. Text or SMS
  2. Web
  3. Smartphone app.

All of these modes will be processed through a single engine that will draw on a database of common questions and responses to automatically respond, or pass on the request to a person if the answer is not readily available.

SIMILAR PROJECTS AND COLLABORATION OPPORTUNITIES
A preliminary search has not revealed anyone taking this particular approach to public information requests, although some municipalities have a 311 information service. There are open source dispatch and support ticket software projects that we could build on, but nothing we could use “out of the box” with only cosmetic or minor modification. We anticipate being able to collaborate with the invstg8.net project, which is already building a flat request-and-answer system. We have been in touch with FOIAMachine about collaborating on providing the FOI function, and Document Cloud as another source of information.

CURRENT STATUS
A proof-of-concept of the question submission, parsing, assessment, routing, handling and response engine is in development as part of the invstg8.net project. We anticipate having access to a demonstration version of a proof-of-concept engine by early summer.

TEAM
Saleem Khan: Project leader, journalist [editor and reporter, ex- CBC, Metro International, Toronto Star newspapers; chairman/director, Canadian Association of Journalists]; advisor, University of Toronto ThingTank Lab [Faculty of Information]; founder, invstg8.net.

Collaborators & Advisors:
M. Boas: OpenNews Fellow 2012. Hyperaudio leader, jPlayer HTML5 media library project coordinator, open Web developer.
L. Gridinoc: OpenNews Fellow 2012. Creative technologist specializing in computational linguistics, semantic Web, and visual analytics.
K. Khan: User experience strategist and designer, OCAD University sLab advisor; leader of UXI, Canada’s largest UX professionals group
H. Leson: Director of community engagement, Ushahidi; open source community developer, library and information technician.
M. Saniga, CA: Co-founder, near-realtime business intelligence/data insight generation software firm Quant Inc.; former finance director and manager at Cara, Dell.

SUSTAINABILITY AND FUNDING
We anticipate that OpenLynx will gain interest and uptake among governments seeking to improve engagement with citizens and reduce costs, civic development and open government foundations, news organizations, transparency groups, and any company or organization with an interest in gaining access to government information quickly and easily. We believe the tool would also have application to customer relations and community management by for-profit enterprises, which may lead to customized for-profit versions that could help to fund development of the public-interest tool.

ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY
OpenLynx empowers citizens to gain access to government information and services irrespective of their skill at navigating government channels or access to technology.

LOCATION
Toronto, Ontario, Canada