UC Berkeley alumni behind Politfy create new public policy tool

Nikita Bier/Courtesy

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During last year’s election cycle, a small group of UC Berkeley undergraduates developed a groundbreaking web tool, Politify, that allowed Internet users to see the impact of each presidential candidate’s economic plan on their households.

The creators of the site have expanded their vision into a new tool called Outline, which would allow anyone to visualize how public policy changes affect them at the state level.

The website is currently in its early stages but will publicly launch within the next few months. By next quarter, Outline expects to be working with three state governments, including Massachusetts.

According to co-founder Nikita Bier, Outline will clarify the relationship between government and the people and optimize government function.

“A big problem we saw while we were developing Politify is that most people were deciding on candidates using criteria that weren’t relevant, (such as) emotions, religion and rhetoric,” Bier said. “Outline assesses government in an empirical way.”

Outline uses data made public by the IRS, U.S. Census Bureau and other sources, including how much every household makes and what government services they use. The information will allow Outline users to change the parameters of government policies to visualize how they could be affected.

Using Outline’s intuitive interface of sliders and buttons, users will be able to measure the effects of any change from an increase in education spending to a tax cut. Users will also be able to interact with lawmakers, according to Outline’s website.

“This will usher in a new wave of transparency,” said co-founder Jeremy Blalock. “On our platform, voters will be able to understand the objectives of any policy and the impacts on their well-being.”

On Sunday, Outline and seven other startups were awarded grants by the Knight Enterprise Fund, which invests in companies that promote public awareness and engagement. Grants ranging from $220,000 to $620,000 were awarded to encourage the companies to develop new approaches to improve the way the public and the government interact.

Bier says the undisclosed grant funds will be used to hire a designer and an additional developer when Outline moves back to Berkeley from Boston, where it is currently based.

According to Blalock, the funding will also boost Outline’s public profile and “catalyze connections in press and government.” Bier says they are hoping to make their visualizations embeddable into news websites soon.

“We’re trying to make as big an impact as possible,” Bier said.

Contact Madeleine Pauker at [email protected]