The Broke Election Database is a tool for the public and journalists to see specific responses from candidates for Philadelphia City Council regarding the city’s economic mobility. The database was put together for Broke in Philly, a reporting collaborative of more than 25 newsrooms in Philadelphia that produces solutions journalism focusing on economic mobility. We leveraged community engagement and crowdsourcing tools to generate eight questions from the public that we then posed to candidates. After fact-checking and ensuring the responses were substantial, we published answers from TK candidates, a TKmajorityTK of the city’s largest city council race in thirty years.
- All City Council members are now aware of the collaborative reporting efforts and focus of Broke in Philly, helping the rest of the collaborative’s work to become a primary news source for elected officials.
- The database now functions as a quick and easy accountability reference for reporters and citizens to see what candidates have promised and compare that to what they are delivering while in office.
- Spotlight on Poverty, a national non-profit forum that discusses solutions to poverty, reached out to learn about how we used community engagement to crowdsource the questions for our survey with the idea of replicating the process for their organization in the 2020 election cycle.
- MinnPost in Minnesota was interested in learning the process behind creating a collaborative election database in multiple languages.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The hardest part of this project was that it could not be owned by one specific newsroom partner in the collaborative, so the resources that newsrooms could commit to producing the database were very limited. This resulted in only having one person to coordinate, collect and then produce all of the responses. Many of our newsroom partners are small hyperlocal outlets, and therefore do not have development teams to specifically help with building the app. The newsrooms that do have development teams could not spare them to work on a project that required working on restricted servers and access (due to the site hosting being done through a specific partnership.) There was also little to no budget to complete the project, so technology capabilities were restricted to what the one person dedicated to the project knew how to do or had the bandwidth to learn.
At one point in the project, we came very close to creating an entirely custom app using React. However, this was a brand new framework for the project lead and there was no time to fully learn how to use React effectively or contract someone to complete the development.
What can others learn from this project?
- How to structure a long-term project related to elections
- How to develop shared journalistic resources among newsrooms