If you’re a fan of the idea that the government that represents you should be transparent and open, then you’ll be a big fan of the Sunlight Foundation Projects. The nonprofit, nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation has created a number of tools and resources to help citizens access public information, and work to expand the definition of “public information” beyond what governments may want its citizens to know. Sunlight Foundation leverages technology and encourages government policies to provide online information to the public in ways that allow the information to be distributed to a broader community. The idea is to enable easy access to public information as well as training citizens and journalists to use the data in order to become watchdogs over those that govern. As researcher, we may not rise to the level of journalistic watchdogs, but there are a number of resources available that make finding public information easier, and faster.

The four major Sunlight Foundation projects fall under these categories:

  1. Track Influence – Track how money, connections and access influences government officials and policies.
    Political Ad Sleuth
    Checking Influence
    Follow the Unlimited Money
    Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker
    Inbox Influence
    Influence Explorer
    Lobbyist Registration Tracker
    Party Time
  2. The Inner Workings of Congress – Know how to contact members of Congress, along with the ability to see what types of communications they have deleted, presented in speeches, words they use the most, and who works for them.
    Call on Congress
    Capitol Words
    House Expenditure Database
    The House Staff Directory
    Open Congress
  3. Track Legislation and Public Policy – Sunlight Foundatation helps track legislation from State, Federal and even some foreign governments and helps point you through the changes that occur in legislation, how members of the government talk about the legislation in speeches, and even a program set up to train you how to use these different modules and how to use a real-time investigative reporting platform.
    The Open State Project
    Open Congress
    Open Parliament
    Roku Open Government Apps
    Sunlight Academy
    Sunlight Live
  4. Mobile Apps – Sunlight Foundation has worked on a number of mobile applications to provide information directly to your iPhone, Android or Windows 7 phone that helps you track information about Congress while you are on the go.
    Ad Hawk
    Congress for Android
    Congress for Windows Phone 7
    Open States
    Real Time Congress
    Sunlight Health (Android and iPhone)
    Upwardly Mobile (web app)
The idea of tracking data coming out of government institutions may initially make you think about conspiracy theorist, and I’m sure that there are many of those that love what the Sunshine Foundation has done here. However, as researchers, these types of resources are key in helping us find the information we need, and to track changes in government activities that have a direct or indirect effect on our firms’ or clients’ activities. As many of us have discovered, public information isn’t always easy to gather. Resources like these will make that task of finding public information a little easier.