Government Executive OpenGov Foundation Projects Get Big Boost From Knight Foundation by Michael Grass

Government Executive
Government Executive
OpenGov Foundation Projects Get Big Boost From Knight Foundation
Michael Grass
11/06/2014

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced on Thursday that it was awarding the Washington, D.C.-basedOpenGov Foundation with a two-year $750,000 grant to continue its efforts to help governments build better digital homes for their legal codes and get the public to more effectively engage in the lawmaking process through the ongoing development of OpenGov’sAmerica Decoded and Madison projects.

The new funding comes on top of $200,000 of an earlier Knight Foundation grant awarded to the OpenGov Foundation in 2013.

“I couldn't be more honored and humbled by the Knight Foundation's continued support,” OpenGov Foundation co-founder and CEO Seamus Kraft wrote in an announcement released Thursday morning. It's been a great year at The OpenGov Foundation—I can't wait to see what the future will bring.”

As GovExec State & Local detailed this summer, the OpenGov Foundation has been working with fellow members of the Free Law Founders movement in Boston, Chicago, the District of Columbia, New York City, San Francisco and other jurisdictions to create a common easy-to-use, accessible, searchable, linkable and open-source platform that state and local governments can use to host their laws online.

Currently, it’s common for public laws, legislation and regulatory codes in many state and local jurisdictions to be hosted on proprietary platforms that often prevent private-sector groups, non-profit organizations and civic-hacking partnerships from accessing raw legal data to develop apps and other digital tools built on open legal data.

The OpenGov Foundation has a partnership with the American Legal Publishing Corporation will allow for improved access to up-to-date legal data.

The Madison project, which has been tested by members of the District of Columbia Council, aims to create a collaborative online environment where citizens can engage with governments in the lawmaking process.

“Making government data open and accessible aids journalists, encourages civic engagement and contributes to more informed citizens,” John Bracken, the Knight Foundation’s vice president for media innovation, said in a statement. “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.”

From the full press release:

NEW YORK—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.

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 Madisonprojects, 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 onGitHub 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.

(Photo by trekandshoot / Shutterstock.com)

Editor's Note: Due to an error in a press release, this piece has been updated to remove references to the Municipal Code Corporation, which is not officially involved in an OpenGov Foundation partnership at the current time.

Issue: 
Good Government