A vision for working around legislatures

When I worked around a state legislature…

I spent some time at Missouri’s state capitol as part of my work with Renew Missouri, but more often I heard about the struggles from my colleagues, who at peak times, might have to make the trek to Jefferson City 4 out of 5 business days. And when I went myself, there was always a maelstrom of making appearances in offices, handing out info, calling to get meetings, etc. One colleague had a book of all the officials and would actually take notes in there messily in the margins as we made the rounds. Then there’s my boss who usually just scribbled on whatever piece of scrap paper he had lying closest to him, and sometimes that note made it into Evernote later  — if I could get my hands on it.

It seemed like there was a better way and that perhaps other people and organizations had similar issues with keeping organized and on top of everything at the capitol and with the legislature in general. In fact when I first started at Renew Missouri as an intern in 2010 — one of my first fun projects was asking if my brother could make an app that had all the legislators’ info in it. Well I talked with my brother about it and long story short, we both let that project drop until 2012 when I decided to learn to code and just do it myself. So now I have CapitolBuddy — everyone’s friend at the legislature.

And I think CapitolBuddy could be the solution to a lot of the small but inconvenient struggles of capitol life. I think it could be a hub of communication and a great learning resource for those just getting their feet wet working in the legislature. You’ll still need to know the right people and still need to do the hard work, but in a centralized way. Keep your notes with your legislator ratings and scorecards. Make a count of the votes for an upcoming bill with their past voting history available for comparison. Get important notes on a bill or legislator out to everyone in your coalition, where they can make comments and give feedback. CapitolBuddy can be the place where you do all of those things. [Note: not all of those features are available currently, but they’re in my vision.]

Check the video:

 

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New: Survey for a free state!

Answer ten questions about your work at the state capitol and you can have a one-year subscription to any state of your choice.

Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LX5JXYT

photo of RI capitol

Yes, we’re really looking for people who work at state capitols or in state politics in some way. Those are the people that will get the most out of CapitolBuddy. But if your hobby is taking notes on the legislature, learning about legislators, and general awareness of activity at the state capitol — please take the survey, by all means!

I don’t know how long the deal will last, it depends on how quickly responses come in. We’re looking for another 200 responses, so as long as those last!

Have something in mind that you’d like to have in your tool belt at the capitol? Let us know!

Web App in Development

I’ve created a functional prototype of the web app. I don’t feel like it’s quite ready to share for real and open it up for the public, but there are some screenshots below.

Upon stating what it is that I’m trying to do with CapitolBuddy in last week’s post, I gained some real focus and determination in progressing to the next step of making a more complete capitol advocacy tool.

I mentioned that I wanted this to be a place where users could share notes with constituents too. The way I see that happening is by creating a new role of user that will just have access to read the notes that others have shared with them. For instance, if some related non-profits are splitting the cost of a lobbyist: They can all get logins to go view the lobbyists’ shared notes — for individual legislators, or just all the recent ones, or just all the ones related to a certain bill. And those notes would have comment sections where the non-profit users can give their input/feedback.

The Vote Count feature is the biggest challenge for the online version. In the iPhone app it’s easier to incorporate because of the built in tags to count each category and the swipe recognizers. For the web version, I may take a drag and drop approach to organizing the votes.

Take a look at the screenshots and tell me your thoughts on the whole idea.

Applying to BetaSpring

BetaSpringI’m in the middle of applying to the most important opportunity that I’ve ever had with CapitolBuddy. BetaSpring is a start-up accelerator here in Providence that I’m hoping will give me some mentorship and resources to help the evolution of CapitolBuddy. They also provide some funding and a space to work.

I see what is currently just an iOS app of some states’ legislators transforming into the tool (perhaps the platform) where all capitol workers, from the non-profit advocates to the legislative assistants, can accomplish their work more effectively. Not only will they know everyone in the building better, but they’ll be able to collaborate more, take better notes, and then share those notes with clients and constituents just as easily as you share a Facebook post now.

Speaking of Facebook… please go “like” my application for BetaSpring and make me look impressive.

CapitolBuddy started because I was working at a non-profit advocacy group in Missouri where we spent much of our time talking to legislators at the capitol. Our main goal was usually stopping anything bad from happening to the state’s best renewable energy laws. Through all our efforts we always wanted a better way to take notes, share info amongst each other, and simply get the basic info like where a legislator’s office was and who their assistant was.

Eventually those struggles led to my creating the first version of CapitolBuddy. And my heart is still with those small and medium-sized non-profits that need to do work at state capitols to advance their causes.

“I want to help the local Sierra Club’s and the Environment America’s and labor unions and teacher associations. But even more  than them, I want to help the small non-profits I haven’t heard of yet.”

At the moment, I can offer these groups a sweet iPhone/iPad app with a lot of great info and functions. But eventually it will be much more. I plan to extend the service to a desktop web app, accessible from the capitolbuddy.com (as you can see, this option is not there yet). Users will be able to sign up and add colleagues to their team so they can easily share info. And taking it a step further, clients and constituents will be able to access updates from the users that allow it via private access codes. I’d like to even offer live video feeds from the sessions, if I can get the states on board.

It’s all very exciting, and there are so many things to do. But right now, I truly want to focus on the basics of what these advocates need to succeed in their work.

What’s new in CapitolBuddy 1.5

Last week, I released an update for CapitolBuddy that adds some key features. The “News” section is the most obvious addition. But there’s also an updated interface for notes. And Vote Count is a little more sophisticated. See more about each of the big changes below.

News

photo 1

Unread news in in blue

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Click the folder icon at the bottom to save a news link

Read something interesting about a legislator? Go find it in the news section and attach the link to their notes. There are some automatic feeds when you first open the News section, but it is totally customizable if you click on “Edit” in the right, upper corner. Add your favorite political news sites (even if it’s not an RSS feed). Or just search google news for a particular story to add to legislators’ notes.

When you read a story, it becomes greyed out — your unread stories have the “NEW!” label on them.

When you’re ready to attach a link to a note, click the folder-looking icon on the bottom of the news story. Then scroll/search through all the lawmakers to find your destination. Tap their name and choose whether or not to save your link with those notes. See the screenshots from Missouri’s legislators to the left.

Updated Notes

Links, dates, and addresses are clickable in Notes

Links, dates, and addresses are clickable in Notes

Since we’re attaching links to the notes, it’s only right that notes are clickable. Now they are! Links, emails, phone numbers, dates, and addresses are all clickable in the notes view. See the screenshot of Sen. Keaveny’s (MO-4) notes on the left.

Because clicking on the notes might mean you’re trying to click a link, to edit anything, first touch the pencil icon in the corner. Fun, right?

Vote Counting adds some short cuts

New ratings options for organizing vote counts

New ratings options for organizing vote counts

Quickly organize your vote counts by the rating you’ve given someone. And of course if you want to give someone a rating quickly, touch the (i) logo by any legislator to quickly get to their profile, notes, and ratings. See the new vote organizing options on the left.

CapitolBuddy puts legislators in your hand [video]

If you work at a state capitol in any capacity, you likely need to know the lawmakers around you, and you also need to take well organized notes on those lawmakers. CapitolBuddy gives you the info you need to succeed. Take a look at Rhode Island’s info for free by downloading the app on your iPhone or iPad to test it out — and even luckier for you if you live in Rhode Island. Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio are also available for only $24.99 each.

Remember you’re not just getting the info with CapitolBuddy. You’re getting tools like vote counting, note organizing, and a new feature that quickly lets you attach news links right in the app. Stay tuned for more on that soon.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, the new website, or the subscribe box on the right side of this screen.

(Video made with Prezi and iMovie.)

Pennsylvania is for sale

The roll out of new states continues for CapitolBuddy. We’re working to help our state capitol people become more efficient one state at a time. Pennsylvania, you’re up! This new product includes the normal info for each legislator, same note taking, and same vote counting — still only $24.99.

Here's a sample screenshot for a PA Senator.

Here’s a sample screenshot for a PA Senator.

Here’s a list of the info included for Pennsylvania:

  • Photo
  • Name
  • Party
  • District
  • Phone
  • Email (sometimes a web form)
  • Office (capitol room number)
  • Staff (only for the House)
  • Hometown
  • Committees
  • Short Biography