My goals

I get this question a lot so…

What led you to develop this tool?

GovTrack.us (2001)

I began working on GovTrack.us in early 2001 after taking a college class that introduced me to the realities of the political system: Policy isn’t developed meritocratically, that is, on the merits, but instead is a result of a process in which groups have unequal (and diverse types of) power. Information asymmetry (groups have different access to information) was a sort of power imbalance that I could attempt to fix, by making information about the U.S. Congress more readily accessible (and actionable) to a wider audience. GovTrack launched in 2004.

POPVOX (2010)

In 2010 I became interested in how Americans share their opinions and knowledge with Congress. Folk wisdom was that signing a petition was an ineffective means of advocacy. What would work better? With two other cofounders, we launched POPVOX.com to a) aggregate and quantify constituent sentiment for bills, and b) improve the way constituents share their rich knowledge about how policy would affect them. I quit the company in 2012.

if.then.fund (2012)

Jonathan Zucker and I began exploring a possible venture in 2014 and launched if.then.fund in early 2015. After more than 10 years of GovTrack, and several years on a second civic technology startup, I was motivated to find a way to make money less influential in policy-making through a means other than campaign finance reform. (I don’t oppose reform necessarily, but I am not a policy guy.) if.then.fund attempts to shift the balance of power away from moneyed interested by making small dollar donors more powerful in elections, by making their contributions more targeted and better aggregated.

What goals do you have with the tool?

GovTrack.us

My goal here is simple: People come to the site seeking information about what is happening in the U.S. Congress, and I try to provide a comprehensive, contextual, and clear answer. Each person that learns something from the website is a success story. I hope to make Americans better equipped to deal with government, or, for users who are legislative professionals, I hope to provide better information and cheaper than they could get the same information from a paid service (namely, free).

if.then.fund

See above. Our goals with this website is to change the way politics is done in America.

What were the challenges encountered and the results so far?

There has only ever been one challenge, and that has been identifying the right product to develop (i.e. the right problem to tackle). There are no easy problems in the civic space, and it takes years to learn how the world works well enough to have a realistic picture of how a new product could find into that world and make a change.

GovTrack.us

The results here have been phenomenal. GovTrack serves around 10 million individuals each year, either through the website directly or through one of the many websites and apps that reuse GovTrack’s open data. GovTrack is regularly cited in the media. And in a recent survey, users reported GovTrack makes them more confident about approaching government.

if.then.fund

It is too soon to know what the results have been so far.

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