In an effort to keep up with how people get information, Speaker-Designate Will Weatherford of the Florida House of Representatives had a vision for a smartphone app. He wanted it to be available on opening day of the legislative session -- March 5, 2013.
House of Representatives Clerk Bob Ward took the lead in the design of the app in a collaborative process that involved multiple House offices, beginning in fall 2012. As of last week, it had nearly 3,500 active downloads, which means citizens now have easier access to the legislative process in Florida.
Scott McPherson, former state elected official and current CIO for the Florida House, was involved in the collaborative process and thinks the app is a good way to get more people involved.
“We have a real problem in this country, convincing people, especially young people, that their government cares, and is relevant to them,” McPherson said. “One way to get people more involved in this process is to make information available to them in the manner in which they currently consume that information.”
Because social media has become mainstream, the app includes Facebook, Twitter and email integration as well as a feedback button. Users can share or tweet House member information, bill summaries or committee meeting times, and add personal commentary to the links.
According to McPherson, the entire mindset has changed when it comes to “agile” application development. In the beginning, the website was informing the development of the app. Now, the app’s user experience feeds into the website.
In order to develop iOS and Android apps quickly and simultaneously, officials hired a local vendor, settling on Orlando-based Echo. The project came in slightly under the $133,000 that was appropriated, and was complete in just over five months.
McPherson says the Clerk’s Office designed the app's overall appearance. House IT staff created several Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to feed House data into the app in real-time, and the vendor did the rest.
App users can see what upcoming bills are on the calendars of legislative committees and the full legislative body -- essential information for legislators, lobbyists, members of the media, constituents and other interested parties.
The app calendars are updated dynamically, and the app also streams House committees and the Chamber. It takes the feed from The Florida Channel (TFC), a public affairs broadcasting service funded by the legislature that carries live coverage of all three branches of state government. Streaming is also available on the House website, www.myfloridahouse.gov.
“This is a huge win for those who want to see more transparency,” McPherson said. “We have received numerous comments from users who deeply appreciate the ability to be mobile and still be able to watch and listen to the House engage in its business.”
Though the app features numerous photo galleries, the number of photos is limited for faster load times. The photo galleries are digests of the larger galleries from the website -- only the most recent photos are available on the app.
“Speaker Weatherford ‘gets it’ when it comes to the power of mobility and the need to offer information to the citizen and resident in the manner they wish to access that information,” McPherson said.
The "FL House" app is available for iOS and Android devices.
Main image: Florida House of Representatives Chamber, courtesy of j.s. clark/Flickr CC