Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

To improve civic participation we need transparency

Feb. 26, 2015, 11:32 a.m., Posted by Chris Gates


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 newschallenge.org.

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?

Teaching residents to walk this way…

Feb. 26, 2015, 9 a.m., Posted by Matt Tomasulo


Photo courtesy of Walk [Your City].

Urban designer Matt Tomasulo is the chief instigator and founder of Walk [Your City], which Knight Foundation supports as part of its efforts to invest in innovators who help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement.

One rainy night in 2012, I hung 27 guerrilla walking signs in downtown Raleigh, N.C., as an experiment: What happens when we show residents how many minutes away on foot neighborhood destinations are in their communities? Three years later, the Walk [Your City] team and I are working to empower pedestrians nationwide with the creation of a “do-it-yourself” walkability toolkit, supported by Knight Foundation.

How did we get from there to here?

While in grad school back in 2012, I was studying the barriers to people walking as part of their daily lives. Studies show that the perception of destinations being too far to walk – rather than the reality of distance – was the main barrier. While living in larger cities such as D.C. and Copenhagen, I had noticed that people walked 12 to 18 minutes, multiple times a day, without even thinking about it. Could we influence that perception in other communities in the U.S. that do not have the density of D.C., New York and San Francisco?

Civic engagement essential to strengthening democracy

Feb. 25, 2015, 2:24 p.m., Posted by Kelly Born

Kelly Born is a program officer for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The original version of this post appeared on the Hewlett Foundation blog.

Even before voter turnout hit a 70-year low in 2014, many of us in the democracy reform field were in conversation about whether and how we might improve voter turnout, and civic engagement writ large. This, in part, is why the Hewlett Foundation recently announced that we will be partnering with Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation on a $3 million challenge to identify how we can better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections.

A recent post here on Knight Blog elaborates on the goals of this election-focused Knight News Challenge: “We are looking for innovative ideas ranging from new ways that news media and others can inform voters, to making voting easy, efficient and fair, to converting election participation into longer-term civic engagement, on the local, state or national level.”