Communities will be able to see, track and participate in lawmaking online with $750,000 in new Knight Foundation support to OpenGov Foundation

Press Release

November 6, 2014

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New plan will bring easy-to-use open-government tools to communities across the country

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Nov. 6, 2014— Americans will soon have a better way to access and participate in the making of state and local law, with $750,000 in new support to The OpenGov Foundation from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Related Link

"The next big thing in Open Gov is a culture shift" by Seamus Kraft on Knight Blog

The OpenGov Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., will implement, test and refine an online and open process for creating new laws. Building on its existing America Decoded and Madison projects, it will allow the public to engage in the full cycle of lawmaking—from suggesting ideas, to drafting bills, gathering public input, codification, and finding laws already on the books. Users will be able to access policy from start to finish; they will be able to read initial drafts of new policy documents, provide comments and suggestions on working bills on the platform where others can read and comment as well, and follow legislation as it becomes part of the law.

In 2013 Knight provided an initial $200,000 to support The OpenGov Foundation’s work opening up legal code and legislation. The OpenGov Foundation leads the development and deployment of the State Decoded open-source software for its America Decoded initiative, which posts legal code online in a format that allows users to search, link and download content. Over the last year, The OpenGov Foundation has used the State Decoded’s easy-to-use, interactive open source platform to bring the laws of several local and state governments online. These include: Baltimore; Chicago; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and the state of Maryland. In addition, the organization built Madison, a collaborative online platform for gathering citizen input on legislation; Madison has since been tested with members of the D.C. Council.

Knight Foundation’s support will allow The OpenGov Foundation to continue its work with The State Decoded. A recent partnership with American Legal Publishing Corporation will allow The OpenGov Foundation to better access up-to-date legal data, easing the process for posting partner city and state laws online.

“Everyone knows there are deep problems with how government works today.  It’s difficult for citizens to get involved, be truly listened to and hold their government accountable,” said Seamus Kraft, executive director and co-founder of The OpenGov Foundation.  “But we believe democracy can work better for Americans outside and inside government.  That’s the ultimate goal of Madison, America Decoded and all we undertake with the support of Knight Foundation.  As citizens, civic technologists and government workers, we have a tremendous opportunity to fix these growing problems, together.”

“Making government data open and accessible aids journalists, encourages civic engagement and contributes to more informed citizens,” said John Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for media innovation. “However, it’s still a challenge to apply this information to help shape laws that impact our communities. We hope The OpenGov Foundation can work to change that by continuing to build strong connections with local organizations and others, while providing people with the tools they need to take action.”

The grant will further fund the release and deployment of the 2.0 version of Madison, The OpenGov Foundation’s flagship project. Madison enables citizens to comment on, ask questions about, and suggest changes directly to policy documents on an open platform; it also allows policymakers to respond directly to citizen input through the public platform.

Additionally, The OpenGov Foundation will continue in its role as a founding member of the Free Law Founders, a national coalition of elected officials, government workers, civic technologists and policy experts opening up the laws, legislation and processes of local governments. The coalition, formed to share resources and expertise, is helping local governments across the country open up their work online. It includes members from Boston; Cambridge, Mass.; Chicago; New York; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.;  and Montgomery County, Md.; as well as experts from the Sunlight Foundation, the Participatory Politics Foundation and MIT Media Lab’s Human Dynamics Group.

“Informing and engaging communities will be a click away through the digital democracy platform that this Knight Foundation grant will help us build,” said New York City Council Member Ben Kallos, who with Kraft is a founding co-chair of Free Law Founders. “The Free Law Founders challenged the world to build a digital democracy platform for drafting, legislating, codifying and verifying the law, and The OpenGov Foundation - with the support of Knight Foundation – is answering that challenge."

In keeping with their mission, everything The OpenGov Foundation creates is open source, cost- and restriction-free. The organization documents all of its work on GitHub for anyone to take, use and build upon. As a small nonpartisan nonprofit, The OpenGov Foundation continues to look for ways to partner with elected officials, foundations and other organizations in scaling its work.

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About The OpenGov Foundation

OpenGov is a fiercely nonpartisan nonprofit helping people participate in the government decisions that affect their lives. We believe innovative technology and open data can help deliver democratic governments that listen to citizens, operate efficiently, and solve our shared challenges the smart way.

We believe democracy means everyone should have the chance to be a hands-on contributor.

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. KnightFoundation.org

CONTACTS:

Seamus Kraft, Executive Director and Co-Founder, The OpenGov Foundation, 760-659-0631, [email protected]

Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677, [email protected]