The initial idea for Washington Abstract stemmed from a conversation between Patrick Utz and a friend over the Green New Deal bill. Patrick, a senior computer engineer at LMU, doubted his friend’s claim that the government wanted to ban all aircraft due to “excessive” carbon dioxide emissions, and decided to read the bill on congress.gov for himself.
After investing substantial time deciphering the complex legal language of the bill, Patrick realized that aircraft were mentioned nowhere in the text. Through this exchange, it became obvious that consumable and transparent law remains a major gap in the nation’s civic process.
Shortly after, Patrick consulted his good friends Mo Hayat, senior computer engineering major at Loyola Marymount University, and Matthew Chang, a computer science major at Santa Monica College, and developed the idea for Washington Abstract: a web platform that seeks to increase government transparency and cultivate a more connected, empowered democratic society through the use of modern technology.
Washington Abstract soon became Mo and Patrick’s thesis project for computer engineering in the LMU Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering, and also one of the five startups in LMU’s Incubator led by Professor David Choi. The team grew to six individuals with the addition of three entrepreneur majors: Bronson Whitney, Connor Sobczak, and Jacquelyn Diaz, all LMU seniors. In addition to the new team members, Professor Andrew Forney of the Computer Science Department joined as a board adviser overseeing all technical aspects with a special emphasis in artificial intelligence. Over the course of the semester, Washington Abstract was established as an interdisciplinary collaboration between LMU’s Seaver College and the LMU College of Business Administration.
This LMU startup seeks to provide a data-driven platform that allows users to better understand bills through algorithm-generated summaries, tailored bill updates, open dialogue, and the promotion of legislative action through partnered advocacy groups. More detailed descriptions for each of these features on the proposed website are:
1. Summaries and Updates: The Washington Abstract-tailored algorithm helps users better understand legislation by providing short summaries and relevant content. Users can subscribe to bills, topics, and campaigns they are passionate about. In turn, Washington Abstract sends users live updates on changes made to their pinned bills along with relevant news information;
2. Dialogue: The platform also encourages open dialogue directly on bills instead of merely a forum that is disconnected from the text of legislation. A simple yet intelligent user interface allows interaction with bills, and other users, by allowing them to annotate (i.e., highlight, upvote, downvote, comment) sections they feel are important;
3. Action: Lastly, users can take action on pieces of legislation by contacting advocacy/special interest groups directly through the platform. In addition, users can subscribe to different groups and engage on their respective channels. These groups have the ability to tailor their channels and send updates to their respective subscribers.
To date, the initial version of the Washington Abstract website is currently in beta testing and available to select testers who have signed up to the mailing list here. In addition, the team has completed a wireframe shell website that showcases all of the envisioned final feature sets. This wireframe is currently being used to work with advocacy groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign, to develop features they want to have on their Washington Abstract channels. The team has also established relationships with a plethora of industry professionals, ranging from lawyers to founders of other gov-tech companies,that work with elected officials on a weekly basis. Lastly, Washington Abstract’s social media presence has just started on Instagram and Facebook, but is in full swing on Twitter with more than 600 followers including Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Dean Phillips.
This LMU venture ultimately seeks to promote the transparency of governments across the globe and do so in an ethical and value-centric way. It is through these interdisciplinary values that Washington Abstract will redefine the way we view democracy.