8 Power Tools for Government

We asked Code for America’s geeks about their favorite web tools for productivity. These tools are all easy to use, require no computer programing skills, and free (at least up to a certain usage).

We hope some of these will help make your job easier!

Check them out and let us know if you have favorite tools that you think could help other people in government at the bottom of this post.

1. Map your data! CartoDB

CartoDB is a web app (no installation necessary) that lets you easily put your data on a nice-looking map and share it publicly. It’s as easy as dragging and dropping your data file and clicking some buttons. CartoDB is free for up to five tables and five megabites of (public) data, with reasonable pricing after that.

CartoDB Tutorial: Mapping New Hampshire election results

2 & 3: Easy Web Forms & Surveys: Google Forms and WuFoo

Let’s face it: a lot of what government does is collect structured information from people. A not uncommon joke among the Code for America crowd is that 80 percent of government web problems could be solved with Wufoo. (This is tongue-in-cheek, of course; but barely.)

Google Forms provides an easy way to set up a quick, simple web forms and save the responses into a Google Drive spreadsheet (easily exportable to Excel).

Resource: GovGeek Google Forms Walkthrough

For more complex web forms, another option is Wufoo, which provides many more features for forms, but is somewhat more complicated.

Resource: WuFoo Form Builder Interactive Demo

4. Stop Hating Scheduling: Doodle

Stakeholder management is painful enough; scheduling shouldn’t add to the pain.

Doodle is a dead-simple web tool for doing one thing incredibly easily: asking a bunch of people what times they’re available.

Just create a Doodle, choose some time slots, and e-mail the link.

5. Clean Your Messy Data: Open Refine

Most data requires a fair amount of work before it’s usable for any sort of analysis. You have random leading spaces, name misspellings, and a bunch of other issues.

Open Refine (previously called Google Refine) is a superb visual tool for interactively cleaning up data in bulk.

Resource: ProPublica’s excellent Refine overview and tutorial on how it used Refine to clean doctors’ financial interest disclosure data

6. Never miss a mention! Use Google Alerts

You can keep track of anything on the internet that mentions people, organizations, or topics you care about through email using Google Alerts.

You can easily set your preferences to manage exactly what you’d like to get information about and how often and Google Alerts will compile emails for you so you are always in the know.

Google Alerts website includes instructions and examples.

Resource: Five Creative Uses for Google Alerts by Lifehacker

7 & 8. Work together, better! Collaboration Tools Google Docs & HackPad

These free web tools will help you work on documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and more.

Google Docs are free software to help you create documents, share them with others, and keep track of comments and changes. You can even work on documents together in real time and use built-in chat. Google Drive helps you keep all your Google Docs organized and available from any computer with an internet connection. You must have a google account to use them, but it’s free and easy to sign up!

Hackpad offers a streamlined collaboration experience that lets you easily see which users have contributed what content, embed multimedia like videos, and stay up to date on your projects.

Resource: Google Docs in Plain English collaboration tutorial

Resource: Google’s product page lets you learn tips and tricks and ask questions of other users

Resource: Intro to Hackpad: Hackpad 101

Gov Geeks: We want to hear from you! Use the form below or tweet your favorite power tool with the hashtag #govgeek.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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