Credit: Springfield pinned on a map of USA/Shutterstock

Do you know how to contact your local officials? Maybe you’d like to know more about local finances, or want to get a pot hole filled. What if you need to file a Freedom of Information request? GovBook is your source for local government contact information in Illinois, powered by data from the state Comptroller. It contains self-reported phone, email, address and fax for primary contacts, executives, chief financial officers, FOIA officers, purchasing agents, and even TIF administrators.

Use GovBook to find contact information for officials from 8,527 units of government in Illinois

This is an “early access” project and it’s a minimum honest project more than a minimum viable product. We are confident it’s journalistically valid because we have a reliable primary source. We’ll see if the product is actually useful in its current state and change course if it isn’t. 

The version we are releasing today is a mobile-optimized lookup tool with some key design features:

  • Fast search: There are 8,527 government units in this directory. We want you to be able to narrow the list as quickly and naturally as possible.
  • Bilingual: The app is available in English and Spanish.
  • Offline access: You can add the site to your phone’s home screen, creating the foundation to get notifications when data changes in the future.
  • Infinite scroll: The entire list is available in one view, so you can get through the whole thing by swiping down.

GovBook is also our first attempt at building products that augment journalism with data and encourage journalism as a form of open, social practice. We think this project is a good early step towards our goals because the data is easy to work with and it’s immediately useful. That means we can work in public, focus on the mechanics of publishing, test features, and encourage community contributions. It also touches many of the key initial features of the tools we will build without any of them being a particularly heavy lift.

Alongside the frontend are the data and code. You can view the code that powers this progressive web app  and submit pull requests to improve it. For now, the raw and processed data are simply files under version control. We encourage your contributions to make the project better and plan to teach people around the state how to take advantage of the data and contribute to development.

We believe in shipping and seeing what happens. There’s a lot more ways we want to explore expanding GovBook, including adding other types of government contacts, joining more datasets, mapping, subscription options, better search and sharing tools, and ways for users to contribute their own data. But most importantly, we want to know how you think GovBook could be made most useful. We welcome any and all questions and ideas via Github, email or by commenting below. 

Our metrics for success are based on a single action for now. We define a “successful contact” as any time someone reaches the page for a government unit and then calls, emails, or adds contact information to their address book. The ability to add a contact is planned for a future release.

I’ve said before that we hope to build editorial products that are simple, hot, and deep. This one is certainly simple. It’s hot because knowing how to contact government is important and useful. It’s deep because it’s a platform that we will develop.

David Eads is joining The Chicago Reporter as senior editor of design and delivery. David previously served as news applications developer at ProPublica Illinois and on the visual journalism teams at the...

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