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Policies and Guidelines
Research and referencing
These are the ground rules for contributing to OpenCongress. These rules are designed to help the OpenCongress community collaboratively build a high-quality encyclopedia. If your edits violate these rules, expect that they will be deleted. There are also standard practices you can expect from OpenCongress's staff editors and citizen sysops. If you'd like to get involved in helping administrate OpenCongress, you can become a sysop.
Only documented facts should be added to OpenCongress
- Every factual assertion should have a source. Avoid using sources that are overly unreliable, unverifiable or unestablished. (See the referencing guidelines for more.)
- The opinions of knowledgeable experts are often relevant and illuminating. However, any characterization, opinion or evaluation should be documented as the opinion of a named source, not a fact. Wikifying the source's name or affiliation to their OpenCongress profile is encouraged to give readers more background on the source.
- Additions should be fair and not misleading. Language should be sober and accurate. (More on language and rhetoric on OpenCongress.)
Be fair and accurate
Other information sources strive to be "objective" or "balanced." The term that OpenCongress uses to describe a similar goal is "fair and accurate." We realize that everyone has biases and blind spots (even ourselves), but we can nevertheless make a good faith effort to see beyond our own assumptions.
- Fair means that we try to present all relevant information about a topic, not just the facts that happen to support our personal opinions and leanings.
- Accurate means that we strive to eliminate errors of fact from OpenCongress. If, for example, someone was born on September 1, 1960, OpenCongress should not say that they were born on November 12, 1972. Some facts may be in dispute (and the question of how to interpret known facts is often an even greater challenge), but we should try to be precise and careful both in determining the facts before we add them to an article. We should also be diligent and happy to correct errors whenever they are brought to our attention.
OpenCongress is free – as in speech and as in beer
Free as in speech - OpenCongress is free for anyone to participate in editing as long as they follow these rules. Its articles are not meant to be authoritative or have a "balance" – its biases inevitably reflect those of its staff and citizen editors – but as long as all the information is fair and sourced, it will serve as a useful resource for readers. The staff editors, however, will endeavor to add, organize and contextualize content in accordance with the article guidelines.
- You are even free to edit articles about yourself or people or organizations you are connected to. Just make sure to disclose your relationship and yield to the judgments of others (more).
Free as in beer - OpenCongress is free for anyone to read or use. Any ads on OpenCongress are moderated by outside brokers (and not controlled by the Center for Media and Democracy) and do not cover the costs of running the site – the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation are non-profit organizations, and will never make money off the OpenCongress project or charge for access. (More about the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation.) Further, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, you can use OpenCongress content, for free, to produce other commercial and non-commercial works, as long as those works are also free for others to use and OpenCongress is acknowledged as the source. In order to stay this way, content added to OpenCongress needs to be available through "fair use" or under other "copy-left" licenses.
Be constructive, not destructive
- OpenCongress is a collaborative project of researchers, journalists and "regular" citizens. Make sure your edits add to the informative value of an article; i.e. do not remove content that is accurate, sourced and relevant, even if you don't like it. It is fine to contextualize or reorganize content or move it onto sub-articles or related articles, but the reorganization should in accordance with the article guidelines and should not be used to de-emphasize content you don't like.
- OpenCongress does not have a neutral point of view. Your additions to OpenCongress do not have to represent the facts behind all sides of a debate. This bias of content will hopefully be corrected by the additions of other editors, but you are free to only add content to articles that supports your own point of view.
Keep it relevant
OpenCongress is an encyclopedia of public affairs that documents the people, issues and groups shaping the public agenda both locally and globally. It is meant to help citizens worldwide discover the connections, money and agendas behind pundits and organizations; learn more about important policy and political issues; and hold public officials accountable by documenting their actions and statements. Edits to OpenCongress should reflect this. For more on what is and is not relevant to be on OpenCongress, read the full purpose statement.
OpenCongress is a collaborative project of researchers, journalists and "regular" citizens. Certain practices allow us to work together better:
- If editing existing content (as opposed to adding new content), leave a note on the article's discussion page explaining your reasons. It is also helpful to leave a message on the talk page of the user whose content you are adding alerting them to the note on the article discussion page. (More on using discussion pages.)
- Don't engage in name calling or profanity when talking to other users and try to assume good faith in everyone.
- Don't be disingenuous or refuse to engage in discussions when having a disagreement with another user.
- When all else fails, appeal to one of the managing editors for assistance.