School Helps Create Website About Missouri Legislative Activity

‘Access Missouri’ Provides Comprehensive Data to Help Voters Make Informed Decisions

Columbia, Mo. (Nov. 3, 2014) — For the first time, extensive data about the Missouri General Assembly has been curated and organized into an accessible site as a result of a collaboration between KBIA-FM, an NPR-affiliate station, and the University of Missouri Informatics Institute.

Access Missouri
The Access Missouri website scrapes information previously stored in House and Senate journals – such as attendance history and voting records – and puts it into a profile page for each member of the Legislature.

Missouri School of Journalism students – senior Matt Kalish, Madeline O’Leary, BJ ’14, and Katarina Sostaric, BJ ’14 – took on pivotal roles in the creation of Access Missouri. The project aims at increasing transparency in state government and fostering public understanding of the political process. It also hopes to serve as a source for researchers and journalists. The website launched this week to help voters prepare for the upcoming legislative elections.

Access Missouri scrapes information previously stored in House and Senate journals, such as attendance history and voting records, and puts it into a profile page for each member of the Legislature. Those pages also feature information allowing voters to see campaign contributions and other data that can help voters make an informed decision.

“All of this data is available to the public but rarely in any way that it can be used by the public in any meaningful way,” said KBIA News Director Ryan Famuliner, who led the project. “For instance, trying to get comprehensive data on a candidate’s voting record would require dozens of hours of research. Now, it’s a click away.”

The site offers a window into the legislative process by displaying timelines of activity. A key benefit is that the information will be displayed in one place and in logical ways. Right now, the material is in silos across state government websites. Famuliner said there are plans to significantly expand the project in the future to offer more detailed analysis of this data.

“Knowing which lobbyist a legislator went to lunch with the day before he changed his vote on an important bill can provide insights into behind-the-scenes influence,” Famuliner said.

Famuliner and his team hope to add more advanced data visualization to the site in the upcoming year. One example that’s already part of the site is an influence map that shows the connections that can be made between the main campaign funders for any candidate in the state.

Partners in the project also include Missouri Digital News, the MU Department of Political Science and the Truman School of Public Affairs.

Funding was provided by the University’s interdisciplinary innovations fund, which is designed to encourage departments across the university to collaborate on projects in the public interest.

Missouri School of Journalism students produce stories with audio, video and text for the KBIA website while also producing traditional radio newscasts. The station is owned by MU and is one of the most successful public radio stations in the nation.

Updated: July 31, 2020

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