Highlights from Open Gov Hack Night

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A look at a few projects presented at this week’s Open Gov Hack Night – a gathering of coders, civic-minded people, nerds and Chicagoans interested in making government more useful and accountable. You can follow the discussion on Twitter via the #ChiHackNight tag.

Expunge.io

Launched a little over a month ago, expunge.io is a website designed to assist Illinoisans who were arrested as a juvenile to determine whether they have a legal basis for expunging their arrest record. In 2012 there were 25,373 juvenile arrests compared with 549 petitions for record expungement, a ratio that the site’s creator Cathy Deng explained is lopsided in part because existing government resources explaining the expungement process are not user friendly.

With a clean and simplified design, the site walks users through a series of questions to help them determine if they may be eligible:

Ultimately, if a user determines they may be eligible, the site puts them in contact with the Legal Aid Foundation through a simplified form and the user’s data is not stored:

Cheng said that so far, 120 people have submitted a form and that the project is planning to offer a Spanish version and potentially try to adapt the app to other types of issues.

Poli.Tips

This project still in beta phase by software engineer and developer Javad Karabi takes big chunks of data about the current members of the U.S. Congress (made available by the Sunlight Foundation on the GitHub repository) and converts them to a graph database format using Neo4j. A graph database, Karabi explained, connects each related piece of data directly to each other, by way of a relationship, which allows for fast traversal of the graph. Here is a small sample of what the graph database looks like in an early visualization using the Neo4J interface:

His current working datasets include each member’s name, their district, how long they have been in Congress, types of bills they have sponsored, gender and personal characteristics and other information, much of it going back to 1993. Ultimately a user will be able to easily query the full database and cross reference any of this information and potentially other data that could be added to the project.. Karabi suggested, for example, someone could potentially see what types of bills a member has sponsored cross referenced with any sort of corporate boards he or she has been on.

istheresewageinthechicagoriver.com

As the URL suggests, this ongoing project notifies users if there is raw sewage being pumped into the Chicago River on a near-real-time basis:

Produced by the group Open City, the web application takes data from the Water Reclamation District showing whether a “Combined Sewer Overflow Event” is taking place or has recently taken place along the river and notifies users of the status.

The project can be accessed at GitHub.

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