Wolfram Data Summit, Thomas Lee of Sunlight Labs: Measuring Influence

Today I will be live blogging from the Wolfram Data Summit. First up is Thomas Lee, Director of Sunlight Labs, Sunlight Foundation, here is an overview of his presentation:

From Dollars to Ideas: New Tools for Measuring Influence

Director of Sunlight Labs, Sunlight Foundation

To date, analytic examinations of the problem of political influence have centered on the flow of money through mechanisms like campaign contributions, contracts, and earmarks. But financial transactions are only one signal that can be used to detect when someone has gained an inappropriate amount of control over our political institutions. The Sunlight Foundation’s Tom Lee will discuss new tools and datasets for tracking the manipulation of government through the systematic use of language and ideas.

Presentation Overview:

Thomas started off by explaining the background of Sunlight Labs and his role, then jumped into the influence portion of the presentation. First up was the Influence Explorer, which shows the dynamics of money and politics. It’s an old story, the tool attempts to measure the connection between campaign money and election outcomes. Thomas expressed the problems of correlation verse causation – many factors that impact a decision to vote for a candidate, not just money. Thomas explained there is a limit to studying campaign earnings and Sunlight Labs wanted to go beyond just how dollars flow.

Sunlight Labs is working on a few things to solve this problem. The first is based on the Congressional Record (newsletter for Capital Hill). Another site that sunlight is offering is CapitolWords, which compares words and frequency of legislators across numerous social media sites. The tool is pretty cool, it has not been released yet, but stay posted – it will be open source and launched in the coming week.

The rule making process was also brought up and regulations.gov. Thomas mentioned that regulations.gov needs some work to be more manageable for users. Hopefully he will find my post and check out the GovLoop conversation on regulations.gov a few weeks ago.

To solve the problem of agencies being swarmed with comments, and finding meaning, Sunlight Labs started using a tool to clusters, segment and group comments. By doing this, Sunlight Labs could find who was sending certain comments and influencing others to act. Thomas brought up a lot of interesting examples, but the clustering shows who is behind actions to push in one way or another. This was one way to being to help with the complexity.

Thomas gave a lot of great examples how Sunlight Labs is working to measure influence, and going beyond basic metrics for measuring influence. For sure an interesting and compelling presentation – stay tuned for more updates.

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