Of four tech start-ups that won grants from the Knight Foundation this week, two are focused on improving citizen participation in local government.
OpenGovernment is the latest incarnation of the Participatory Politics Foundation’s popular OpenCongress project. Both sites are open-source programs that couple participatory tools with official government data for the sake of providing transparency and free web tools for engaging citizens. OpenGovernment will expand PPF’s coverage from the federal legislative branch to state and local governments, with Philadelphia, San Jose and Washington, D.C serving as the first three test cities.
City governments in particular will demand a different kind of service, according to PPF Executive Director David Moore. How data is sourced, and what information is most important to citizens, is very different than at the federal level.
“It’s less about tracking bills than providing a forum. A lot of the work of city council is meeting minutes, agendas and reports,” said Moore. So rather than limiting its focus to major bills, OpenGovernment will make accessible as many government documents as it can gather from open sources and from the municipality.
PPF also wants to provide a much more comprehensive set of data in cities, including ward boundaries, ongoing conflicts and election info. In the case of Philadelphia, OpenDataPhilly — an aggregate site of more than 100 data sets — will partner with the PPF to consolidate as much data as possible under a single convenient interface.
Meanwhile, Change by Us — the civic idea-sharing website by CEOs for Cities — will incorporate crowd-funding and Facebook compatibility, funded in part by the Knight grant. New York City and Phoenix currently have their own sites, while Philadelphia’s is in beta.
Both OpenGovernment and Change by Us deal with what the Knight Foundation calls “digital citizenship,” a trend that lately has been redefining the relationship between people, government and technology.
“We need more tools with a civic purpose, and technologists with a passion for community, to help deliver on the promise technology has for our everyday lives,” said Paula Ellis, vice president for strategic initiatives at Knight.