Tobias Hößl is interested in local political issues, for instance open source programs for the city administration. Even though these issues are being discussed in the local government, they are not always talked about in the media. The current proposals, however, are available on the internet, since the City of Munich has made certain administrative documents publicly available. This is done via a council information system (CIS).
The CIS of Munich has been online for twelve years now. Orders, inquiries, and session papers from the City Council are directly accessible. But what was a well-meaning attempt for more openness in 2003 is now less helpful: the full-text search does not include scanned documents, and it’s almost impossible to follow the decision process of any particular application. In general, the portal is not very user friendly. Tobias had to maintain a list of links as a text file for months just to stay informed. “And that’s the situation in which my ‘inner nerd’ awakened and said, ‘I can do better!'”
Initially Tobias only wanted a small RSS feed for personal use - that’s a service that notifies subscribers of certain changes on a website. “That became more complicated than expected, and after a lot of work had gone in, I thought I might as well make it public so more people can benefit from it.” Gradually, a complete website came to life, functional and beautifully designed. Code for Munich offered manpower and of course, pressure to eventually publish the project.
Their result is impressive. The site downloads all records from the CIS daily and presents them in a clear and workable format. The new platform provides an overview of past and current appointments, and a list of local politicians with their respective social media links. The full-text search now incorporates scanned documents. What’s unique to this system: users can be notified by e-mail of new requests and inquiries that concern them. It also allows them to follow whether and when inquiries were answered, and informs them of existing decision papers. The documents are also displayed on a map, so one can see immediately what is being decided in a neighborhood.
For years Tobias tried to work with the city administration on the project. It was a long and tiring process, and didn’t exactly help with the motivation. Eventually, Tobias decided to stop waiting for the city council: “I should probably have done that from the very beginning.”
To his surprise, however, new employees of the municipality visited the OK Lab Munich one day. This enabled a cooperation between the Lab and the City Council after all. While Tobias applauds this new development, he adds that it is more of a lucky coincidence and certainly not common.
I think that alone is worth something, that such public discussions are better informed through our platform.
The project has contributed to greater transparency in local politics. “Transparency is a prerequisite for effective citizen participation,” says Tobias. Munich Transparent is often linked as a source, especially in blogs and forums where specific local issues are discussed (for example: protection of monuments or bike paths). “I think that alone is worth something, that such public discussions are better informed through our platform.”
For the future, Tobias and his colleagues hope to set a new standard for all German CISs. One example is OParl, which will release its first version soon.