Articles by Chris Gates

  • Article

    It’s time to bring more data into government decision-making

    September 24, 2015 by Chris Gates

    Video: Knight News Challenge: Data.  

    We can make data work for both individuals and communities by harnessing its power to improve decision-making processes. Data is everywhere from the grocery store to the government, and it’s time to put it to work so that we can make better and more informed choices at every step.

    More and more we’re seeing local governments track the effectiveness of programs and services it offers to its residents. And we at the Sunlight Foundation are part of a major initiative to help them embrace the power of data. This focus on utilizing data and measuring results marks the beginning of a new era in management of local government.

    The 100-year-old movement to improve cities and city governments began in the Progressive Era when reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt and Louis Brandeis worked to end the corruption and bribery that were running rampant throughout America’s largest cities. One of the reforms that emerged during this era was the council-manager form of government, where an elected city council developed city policy and a professional city manager implemented policy.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, a second wave of reform saw cities begin to experiment with bringing public feedback and democratic deliberation into decision and policymaking. By consciously emphasizing the importance of public engagement, cities learned to work alongside their residents.

    If efficiency and engagement were the core values of the first two waves of municipal reform, evidence is now the driving force behind the third. We believe the time to harness the power of data to improve government performance is now.

    The first step toward this goal is to change practice, policy and law to make more government data open and accessible to public. Open data is publicly available for anyone, including citizen activists, businesses, the research community and government employees, to access and use without making a formal request to the government.

  • Article

    To improve civic participation we need transparency

    February 26, 2015 by Chris Gates

    To improve civic participation we need transparency

    Photo by Flickr user Mortimer62

    Chris Gates is the president of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for open government globally and uses technology to make government more accountable to all. Below he writes on voter participation and campaign finance disclosure, inspired by the latest News Challenge from Knight Foundation. Knight News Challenge: Elections asks the question, How might we better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections? Winners will share in more than $3 million. Apply at

    Over the past several decades, we’ve seen a steady decline in voter turnout, and a growing feeling of disconnect from the leaders of our government that exists to represent us. This, despite advances in technology that quite literally have put the world at our fingertips. Why is it then, when technology has made it easier than ever to access information, connect with one another, build networks and communicate ideas, that we’re so disengaged from the political process?

    Rather than engage, more and more people are making an active, and rational, choice to not participate in our political process. The United States has the lowest turnout rate of any industrialized country in the world. Citizens are tuning out and turning away from a system they feel can’t hear them and doesn’t represent them. Are they wrong? Given the state of our political system, who do citizens think their leaders really represent?