The following piece first appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

PolicyPulse tests Web app aimed at giving citizens more political clout

Dallas Morning News, dallasnews.com, June 27, 2012

In the Mobile Age, people have become adept at using phones and other devices to search for information, reserve a lunch table or buy shoes.

Now, Dallas startup PolicyPulse aims to use its Web app to empower residents to participate in civic issues in their neighborhood, strengthen community ties and hold government more accountable.

PolicyPulse plans to publish the voting agendas of city governments and public agencies, let citizens share their opinions and notify city leaders, using social gaming techniques. Such agendas are open to the public, but many people don’t know that or don’t know how to access them, said co-founder Andres Ramos.
“We want this to be a new way in which people govern their neighborhoods,” said Ramos, an East Los Angeles native who after college joined Teach For America in San Juan, Texas, in one of the nation’s poorest counties. “We want to turn regular people into citizen lobbyists.”

PolicyPulse just began a pilot test of the second phase of its Web app, starting with the Dallas Independent School District. A full launch is scheduled for July 11. Ramos hopes to develop a mobile app, too.

People are increasingly using Web and mobile apps to strengthen their civic engagement, take part in cultural conversations and express political views. New York residents have reported street problems on mobile devices to city agencies, and a project in San Francisco spread information about sexual health issues via text messages. Internationally, people from Egypt to Spain have used mobile phones to organize rallies or expose government abuse of citizens.

In May, PolicyPulse tested part of its platform at “From Your Block to the Boardroom,” a Southern Methodist University symposium on the community’s role in public education. Nearly one-third of the 300 SMU attendees registered to use policypulse.com.

“Our goal was to find a way to start a conversation here and continue,” said Candy Crespo, assistant director of SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, a sponsor of the forum. “The platform with the community posing and answering questions was fantastic.”

The latest pilot program is focused on specific agenda items, such as approvals of budgets, contracts and software purchases, related to today’s DISD board meeting. PolicyPulse describes each proposal, its financial impact (if any) and other details.

Here’s how it works: PolicyPulse highlights public agenda items up for a separate vote. Users can voice how they feel about an issue and interact with others. PolicyPulse aggregates responses using a crowd-tilt method, meaning the site will notify officials after 20 people or more vote one way.

The platform will be free to users. Revenue will come from sponsorships, analytics and group licensing.
Last year, Ramos and friend Krishanu Sengupta, an SMU law student and a former Houston City Hall fellow, came up with the idea for PolicyPulse. They brought in local entrepreneur Miles Bacon as a partner.
PolicyPulse got into Tech Wildcatters’ current 12-week startup camp, which included $25,000 in seed capital.

The partners also have invested up to $10,000 in the venture.

Similar startups have attracted the attention of venture capitalists. Last year, New Haven, Conn.-based SeeClickFix landed $1.5 million and Los Angeles-based CitySourced received $1.33 million.

“People are already comfortable building a social brand online,” Ramos said. “Now they’re becoming comfortable building a sociopolitical brand.”

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