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Policies and Guidelines
Research and referencing
If you're new to OpenCongress, a good place to start may be looking up your own members of Congress and reading up on them. You can also check out the OpenCongress Blog to find out what's new or, once you're comfortable with the format, begin contributing. You can also click on Help at any time on the navigation bar on the bottom or use the handy Help box on the right to explore deeper.
All of our articles are covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License, to ensure that they can remain freely available forever.
The Participatory Politics Foundation develops websites that create new opportunities for engagement with government. Voting is important, but we have a chance to go further and create a political process that is meritocratic, creative, and participatory. We believe that the internet opens an unprecedented opportunity to extend and amplify political voices and actions.
The Sunlight Foundation is dedicated to promoting greater examination and awareness of the inner workings of Congress through a combination of grant-making and programs that will stimulate more investigative attention to the institution and its members. It does so by producing analyses, studies, and information about lawmakers, legislation and lobbyists; providing new tools and training to make essential data more easily accessible to reporters and citizen activists; creating an interactive conversation with the public about how Congress does its work; providing grants to writers, media outlets, bloggers and software developers; and establishing awards and incentive grants for investigative reporting on Congress. Sunlight's goal is to change the relationship between representatives and voters, producing greater transparency in how elected officials go about their business and allowing voters to hold their lawmakers accountable for what they do in Washington.
However, the articles in the OpenCongress wiki are released by their authors under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License, so the articles are open content. Therefore, it cannot be said that the wiki is "owned" by Sunlight and PPF. See the articles on Copyrights and the Readers' FAQ for information on how you can use OpenCongress wiki content. (Please note, however, that other sections of PPF and Sunlight web sites remain copyrighted property of PPF and Sunlight, respectively, and should not be used without permission.)
The OpenCongress wiki began as [w:Congresspedia|Congresspedia], a joint project of Sunlight and the Center for Media and Democracy launched in 2006. The purpose of Congresspedia was to give citizens and media the ability to root out corruption and bring transparency to the system. It was based on a set of basic ideas:
- A well-informed public is an essential ingredient of a healthy democracy.
- Most people feel they’re not being well represented in Washington, while "special interests" are. But few people could name the interest groups that support and lobby their own representatives.
- The cost of winning election to Congress has become so expensive that most members raise funds year-round and work hard to maintain good relations not just with their constituents back home, but also with the "cash constituents" who supply the money for their campaigns. We all need to know who those cash constituents are.
- Despite the constant flow of news from Washington, much of what happens in the halls of Congress is not widely known outside the Washington beltway – and plenty of insiders like it that way.
In 2009, Congresspedia merged with OpenCongress. The OpenCongress wiki is designed to be a place where you can get a closer look at lawmakers in Congress and a better understanding of the environment in which they work. Because this site is a wiki, it’s open for anyone to edit or add new information, so you can share what you know with everyone else. To help ensure fairness and accuracy, the project is overseen by a paid editor and staff.
How the OpenCongress Wiki Works
It is an Edited Wiki
A wiki <wick-ee> is a type of website that allows anyone visiting the site to add, to remove, or otherwise to edit all content, very quickly and easily. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for collaborative writing.
Congresspedia started in April 2006 with articles on each senator and representative, but this was intended to be only the foundation upon which citizens would build a vast knowledge base on Congress. Visitors to the OpenCongress Wiki are encouraged to contribute to existing articles, create new ones, and - if they think something that appears here is unfair or inaccurate - edit the contributions of others.
Congresspedia operates similarly to Wikipedia, the best-known wiki (More...). The OpenCongress wiki is different, however, in that they have paid editors. The editors' job is not to monitor and control all of the daily progress on the wiki, but to be a resource to the users, an arbiter of disputes and serve as one of the many fact-checkers and editors on the site (the users are the others).
The OpenCongress Wiki can be seen as complementary to Wikipedia. Since both use the Free Documentation License for articles, parts of them can be easily exchanged, when beneficial.
Fair, Non-Partisan and Accurate
OpenCongress is intended to be a resource for the general public, regardless of their political affiliation. Wikis that deal with political content inevitably run into problems with users trying to manipulate them to fit their point of view (Congressional staffers deleting offensive statements their bosses made from Wikipedia being the memorable example).
Hosting such propaganda for or against a public official is in contravention of the purpose of OpenCongress and, in order to keep this a resource for the general public, PPF and Sunlight will stick to a policy of "fairness and accuracy" as well as non-partisanship. Articles written for OpenCongress Wiki should strive for a high standard, by summarizing all evidence and points of view on a subject accurately and thoroughly. Above all, contributions should consist solely of documented facts that are well referenced. Details on this policy can be found in the official Article Guidelines and OpenCongress Policies pages.
The OpenCongress Wiki is also not the place to air opinions on the merits of the candidacy of any officeholder running for reelection or the candidacy of any challenger (in part because that would violate the non-profit tax status of PPF and Sunlight). Therefore, neither CMD nor Sunlight endorse any candidates for office. (General disclaimer) All contributions from PPF and Sunlight staff, as well as any editing done by them, will follow this philosophy. Expect your contributions to be edited or deleted if they are not in line with these policies. (More on the OpenCongress Editorial Policy...)
OpenCongress Requires Registration to Contribute
As part of the effort to combat vandalism, OpenCongress requires users to register before they contribute (but not to read!) to the wiki. We wish it could be otherwise, but the content of OpenCongress is too prone to controversy and partisans have a record of vandalizing wikis for their own ends. You can register here.
- Participate (New Contributors start here!)
- OpenCongress Article Guidelines
- OpenCongress Help page: How to edit articles and more
- How to document and reference sources in the OpenCongress wiki
- Manual of Style
- Fix a stub
- About Wikis
- Find Senators and Representatives
- How to Research Members of Congress
- Recent changes: See the articles that OpenCongress Wiki contributors are working on
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- Request an article or information
- Help with searching
- OpenCongress Wiki article categories
Errors And Complaints
Complaints can be sent to the Congresspedia editor at ckenny AT sunlightfoundation.com. But why not try to fix inaccurate or partisan content yourself? Start here: Meta:How Fix An Error
- Today: The OpenCongress wiki has 4,502 articles.
- March 1, 2009: Congresspedia merges with OpenCongress
- April 26, 2006: Congresspedia is publicly launched.
- July 3, 2004: SourceWatch is the world's 14th biggest wiki website by mere article count.
- March 10, 2003: SourceWatch is publicly launched.
- January 15, 2003: SourceWatch is first created.
- December 18, 2002: PR Watch editor Sheldon Rampton attends a conference in Amsterdam hosted by World-Information.org and first learns about Wikipedia.