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Vote for our Knight NewsChallenge proposal:

March 15, 2013 - by David Moore

Our tiny non-profit team was plainly excited when we heard that the Knight Foundation NewsChallenge had an #opengov theme, viz.: How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact? Good Q! 

After all, not only is our non-profit PPF developing a new version of for engagement with state & city government; and not only are we building it as part of the Knight Foundation’s Tech For Engagement initiative, in free & open-source code as always… but also, it’s exactly in-line with our public-benefit mission. We’ve been proposing this since ’09 and before! Using technology for a more continual, reciprocal relationship with government. Elections every couple of years between the two major parties (both saturated with corporate cash) are necessary but not sufficient for a functional representative democracy, one with widespread trust in the politcal process, mitigated systemic corruption, and public accountability “with teeth”. 

On OpenCongress, we’ve succeeded in facilitating engagement with the arcane, despised, gridlocked U.S. Congress through free participation tools (to track & share bill info), public comment forums (for peer-to-peer social sharing of the best info), and open-source features to email your members of Congress (with our homebrew, unique Contact-Congress message builder). We’ve demonstrated a significant impact: an average of four million site visits per year over the past six-plus years, a user community of almost 300,000 people, and thousands of emails-to-Congress delivered on a shoestring budget (just one full-time equivalent staffperson for OC in 2013!). For well over half a decade, our site pages have been used extensively in the networked public sphere for organizing by unemployed families, immigrant communities, and at its peak, in the stop-SOPA movement last Janaury for net freedom. We’ve supported an average of 11 million pageviews per year – not too shabby for a not-for-profit project. I’ll note we urgently seek additional charitable funding support – foundations and philanthropists, please circulate our non-profit funding prospectus, and get in touch anytime to hear more about our plans to expand the possibilities of grassroots engagement with legislative business in the U.S. Congress.

Unfortunately, since we launched OC in Feb. 2007, we have yet to succeed in securing charitable funding support to really tackle the development of a two-way platform for constituent communication. Our OC version 3 pages featuring email responses from Congress displayed publicly (see examples on the assualt weapons bill), from back in summer 2011, represent a start of what’s possible given the data we bring together on OC and the community of watchdogs & wiki contributors we’ve hosted. But though #opengov awarenss is growing in the foundation space, many traditional government transparency funders don’t provide startup support for building open-source engagement tools with the people who represent us in government and their offices. To be sure, there exists a landscape of commercial solutions with varying degrees of open data offerings (i.e. commercial CRMs & proprietary services & startups), but nothing truly open-source and user-focused and used far & wide in contemporary online activism. Put another way, there’s still no open-source equivalent of the Facebook (ugh – or, say, Netflix-y) user experience for following & sharing with everyone who represents you in government, despite our best efforts. We have big plans in this area, but in the shorter term, towards a healthier relationship of continual grassroots “touches” with government in cities where we live our lives, we’ve submitted the following for consideration & discussion in the Knight Foundation NewsChallenge :: – a version of “We The People” for state, city, and local governments

Our proposal seeks support to roll-out nationally as a free & open-source website for question-and-answer with elected officials and petitions in state & city governments. Please support our pitch – give the page a view, give it some some applause by signing-up to a free IdeaScale account, give it a comment. I’ll pull some quotes ::

“WeThePeople” has demonstrated a significant public demand for open platforms & social sharing of petitions…

And yet, there exists no comparable question-and-answer site for other levels of U.S. government – state, city, and local. In fact, other countries have successful versions of bottom-up, community-moderated question-and-answer sites: ParliamentWatch in Germany, WriteToThem from MySociety in the U.K., and others…

Our new version of will launch publicly in May 2013. With NewsChallenge support, we seek to expand OG’s question-and-answer and petition service, WeThePeople-style, to the following ::

  • All 50 U.S. state governments – legislative branches, via Open States API; executive branches, i.e. governors, via other data sources.


  • Hundreds of U.S. city governments – scraped by where needed and newly standardized; using open data offerings where possible; and in partnership with the in-development Democracy Map API.


  • … and to cover all the bases, federal legislative branch (U.S. House & Senate) via our own API & other data sources. But OG’s emphasis will be on Q&A with city government elected officials, for more-local impact.

… the primary work to be performed is open-source programming & web development time, bringing to more municipalities in coordination with the ecosystem of open-data & open-gov app providers. With Open North continuing as technical leads, and contracting with more programming time, PPF will coordinate with Democracy Map API (which submitted its own NewsChallenge app) and on the open Popolo data standard for city government data, which may be adopted by several other #opengov non-profits…

… this year, is poised to bring question-and-answer forums to the state, city and local levels. Questions & feedback welcome, email me anytime, david at or davidmooreppf on AIM/Skype, I’m easy to reach & eager to talk.

… hope you’ll support our NewsChallenge proposal and share it widely. And check the sneak previews of our clean new site design in this post. Thanks for using OC…. and coming soon, OG, to effectively communicate ideas to people in power.

… here’s a sample Facebook or Twitter update you can share :: 

Vote for in the #NewsChallenge – “We The People” petitions for every level of government:

… to stay up-to-date with OG and the Knight NewsChallenge for #opengov, follow us on social media ::

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