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Using APIs to Track Bills in Washington’s Legislature

In our last blog entry on Application Process Interfaces (APIs), we demonstrated how APIs are an important – and often unseen – resource for anyone participating in the increasingly digital world. In many ways, APIs have changed the landscape in which we interact with each other, watch a show or consume content.

For public sector organizations, APIs are integrating business processes or requirements directly with their communications platforms, and are changing the ways that citizens are choosing to engage with them.

The state of Washington is a great example of how APIs are automating the citizen experience. With a population of more than seven million people, Washington’s bicameral legislative body can create more than 2,000 bills each legislative session. This can make it challenging for a citizen to keep track of bills they may be interested in following.

As a result, Washington created a system for notifications on their website where you can query by bill number or topic, and then sign up to receive automatic email notifications when a bill is updated (see what this system looks like in the image to the left).

Brad Ellis oversaw this project at the state of Washington, and when asked why he sought out to develop an API to automatically deliver updates to citizens on bills, he said “We were looking for a solution to create and manage potentially thousands topics for bills created during the legislative session. And, manually creating and managing this large number of topics was not a sustainable solution. Instead, the solution was to write an integration with GovDelivery’s Topics API.”

Brad noted that they wanted to offer topic subscriptions to each of these legislative bills, but due to the volume of bills, the ability of automate the creation of a topic for each bill was a mandatory requirement. Washington used an application that uses GovDelivery’s Topic API to automate the creation of bill topics. While Washington implemented the bill notifications late during the last legislative session, the API still generated more than 400 bill topics.

According to Brad, setting up the API integration was not difficult thanks to the documentation and assistance from GovDelivery’s implementation team. There were a number of communications between Washington state and GovDelivery to better fully understand Topics API features for example enabling Page Watch and Page Watch Auto-send.

Page Watch is a GovDelivery tool used to notify subscribers when content is updated online. The feature ‘watches’ online content  hosted on client servers using HTTP and cues administrators to notify subscribers of any updates to that content.

By enabling Page Watch functionality and integrating it with an API, Washington was able to easily create a system that would better inform their citizens who wanted to engage on bill development.

While the state benefited from automation, the real beneficiary are the citizens who are interested in getting notifications to various bills and were able to stay more informed on the topics they were interested in tracking.

Washington is a strong example of how even the most subtle automation can enhance the citizen experience in big ways, and also save valuable time and resources.