New Grant to Open Legislatures, Make Cities More Interactive

By Miranda Neubauer

The people behind OpenCongress will hire a developer to build out a local-government version of their legislative tracking platform and the social network for civic projects ChangeByUs will get significant upgrades as the two biggest recipients of $1.3 million in funding announced today by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

As part of its Tech for Engagement program, Knight awarded $225,000 to the Participatory Politics Foundation for its OpenGovernment.org project, a state-level version of OpenCongress, to be further developed to work for local governments. CEOs for Cities will receive $590,000 for improvements to its Change By US project, which allows citizens to share and suggest ideas for city improvement projects.

OpenCongress developers the Participatory Politics Foundation will use the funding to implement sites that will allow people in Philadelphia, Penn., San Jose, Calif., and Washington D.C. to track city legislation and legislators, send emails to their city lawmakers and connect with other people over bills and laws, explained David Moore, executive director of PPF. In addition, the platform will be rolling out new engagement tools on those local sites.

As an example of the issue the project is trying to address, Moore gave the example of New York City's local government online presence.

"New York City is doing pretty well with open government. The New York City Council website gives some information on bills and who people are," he said. "But it's not easy to get a social sense of what's really happening in the City Council. For that you have to go other places, like a local political blog or an issue group like Reinvent Albany. This information is still siloed, and even when you can understand what's going on, you have to go to a third site to share an update on social media or sign on to a campaign or petition."

What distinguishes the new project from other platforms is that "we're bringing in official government sources and putting a social layer on what's happening in government," Moore said.

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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.