Open Government projects receive more than $3.2 million as winners of Knight News Challenge

 

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"Announcing the winners of the Knight News Challenge: Open Gov" on KnightBlog by John Bracken and Chris Sopher.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – (June 24, 2013) – Knight Foundation today named eight projects as winners of the Knight News Challenge on Open Gov, awarding the recipients more than $3.2 million for their ideas.

The projects will provide new tools and approaches to improve the way people and governments interact. They tackle a range of issues from making it easier to open a local business to creating a simulator that helps citizens visualize the impact of public policies on communities.

“While technology has changed nearly every aspect of our lives, it is only beginning to affect the civic sphere,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation’s vice president for journalism and media innovation. “We see a tremendous opportunity in developing new technologies and approaches that can reinvent the way people relate to their governments, provide journalists the information they need and ultimately strengthen our democracy.” Maness announced the winners today at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference at the MIT Media Lab.

Launched in February, the Knight News Challenge on Open Gov asked innovators to present solutions that make public information more relevant and useful, helping journalists to do their jobs and empowering citizens to contribute to community progress.

Each of the winning projects offers a solution to a real-world need. They include:

Civic Insight: Providing up-to-date information on vacant properties so that communities can find ways to make tangible improvements to local spaces;

OpenCounter: Making it easier for residents to register and create new businesses by building open source software that governments can use to simplify the process;

Open Gov for the Rest of Us: Providing residents in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago with the tools to access and demand better data around issues important to them, like housing and education; 

Outline.com: Launching a public policy simulator that helps people visualize the impact that public policies like health care reform and school budget changes might have on local economies and communities;

Oyez Project: Making state and appellate court documents freely available and useful to journalists, scholars and the public, by providing straightforward summaries of decisions, free audio recordings and more;

Procure.io: Making government contract bidding more transparent by simplifying the way smaller companies bid on government work;

GitMachines: Supporting government innovation by creating tools and servers that meet government regulations, so that developers can easily build and adopt new technology;

Plan in a Box: Making it easier to discover information about local planning projects, by creating a tool that governments and contractors can use to easily create websites with updates that also allow public input into the process.

Full project descriptions are below.

Six additional projects, identified through the News Challenge on Open Gov, received funding via the Knight Prototype Fund, which provides up to $50,000 so that innovators can take their projects from idea to demo. The funding underlines Knight’s emphasis on prototyping as a way to encourage experimentation and spur innovation in media. Those projects are also detailed below.

Today’s investments in the open government field further Knight’s mission of promoting information access for both the press and the public. As the nation’s leading funder of journalism and media innovation, Knight has long promoted institutional transparency and accountability, symbolized by its founding of Sunshine Week. More recently, Knight Foundation has invested in a range of projects that help make all levels of government more open and participatory, including more than $14.5 million to the Sunlight Foundation, the Governance Lab at New York University and Code for America.

The Open Gov round is the first Knight News Challenge of 2013. The theme for the second and final round for the year will be announced soon.

Now in its sixth year, the Knight News Challenge accelerates media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Winners receive a share of $5 million in funding and support from Knight’s network of influential peers and advisors to help advance their ideas. Past News Challenge winners have created a lasting impact. They include: DocumentCloud, which analyzes and annotates public documents - turning them into data; Tools for OpenStreetMap, which makes it easier to contribute to the editable map of the world; and Safecast, which helps people measure air quality and became the leading provider of pollution data following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

For more, visit newschallenge.org and follow #newschallenge on Twitter.

2013 Knight News Challenge Winners

Winner: Civic Insight

Award:             $220,000
Organization:  Civic Industries
Project Leads: Alex Pandel, Eddie Tejeda and Amir Reavis-Bey
Twitter:            @CivicInsight, @alexpandel, @maromba, @eddietejeda
Video:               http://kng.ht/13IsIWc

Neighbors, cities, non-profits and businesses all have an interest in seeing vacant properties become productive again. However, a lack of public access to information about these properties makes it difficult for groups to work together on solutions. By plugging directly into government databases, Civic Insight provides real-time information on vacant and underutilized properties, enabling more collaborative, data-driven community development. With Civic Insight, journalists and residents can search for a property on a map and learn about its ownership, inspection and permitting history, and subscribe to receive real-time notifications about changes. Civic Insight grew out of a successful pilot in New Orleans called BlightStatus, which was created during the team’s 2012 Code for America fellowship. It is now available for licensed use by cities nationwide. Knight Foundation’s support will help the team expand the software and test new use cases in more communities.

Team: Eddie Tejeda is a web developer and former Code for America fellow who brings 10 years of experience working on open-source civic projects such as Digress.it and Littlesis.org. Tejeda is engaged in the Open Gov movement in his home city of Oakland, where he co-founded  OpenOakland and serves as a mayoral appointee to the city’s Public Ethics Commission, which oversees government transparency.

Alex Pandel is a designer, communicator and community organizer. Before her 2012 Code for America fellowship with the City of New Orleans, Pandel was engaged in public-interest advocacy work with CalPIRG, as well as designing print and web solutions for organizations like New York Magazine and The Future Project.

Amir Reavis-Bey is a software engineer with experience building client-server applications for investment bank equities trading. He also has web development experience helping non-profits to collaborate and share resources online to promote human rights activism. He spent 2012 partnering with the City of New Orleans as a Code for America fellow.

Winner: GitMachines

Award:              $500,000
Organization:   GitMachines
Project Leads: Greg Elin, Rodney Cobb, Ikjae Park, Terence Rose,
                           Blaine Whited and John Lancaster

Twitter:            @gregelin
Video:               http://kng.ht/13IsLRT

Governments are often reluctant to adopt new software and technology because of security and compliance concerns. GitMachines allows developers doing civic innovation to easily build new technology governments can use faster, by offering a grab-and-go depot of accreditation-ready servers that support their projects. Unlike traditional servers that can take hours or days to set-up, GitMachines can be up and running in minutes and are pre-configured to meet government guidelines. This makes it easier for governments to adopt open source software, and will help government agencies adopt new technology more quickly in the future.

Team: Rodney Cobb is a mobile developer and data analyst working in Washington D.C. Through his previous work with Campus Compact, Cobb has worked on several projects combing civic engagement/service learning and virtual interaction.  Cobb received a bachelor’s in political science from Clark-Atlanta University and his master’s in politics from New York University. 

Greg Elin has spent 20 years developing easy-to-use information tools and helping organizations embrace disruptive technologies. In 2006, Elin created the Sunlight Foundation's Sunlight Labs. Previously, he was chief technology officer at United Cerebral Palsy before entering the civil service in 2010 as one of the first chief data officers in federal government. Elin has been leading the Federal Communications Commissions' efforts to lower data collection burden and improve data sharing with modern web service APIs. He was a member of the White House Task Force on Smart Disclosure exploring machine-readable data as a policy tool and citizen aid. Elin has a master’s in interactive telecommunications from New York University's Tisch School of Art.

John Lancaster has bachelor’s degree in computer science, a minor in studio art and is studying for his master’s of information systems technology. He has worked as a technology consultant the past four years at the Department of State where he builds mission critical websites that reach a global audience in over 60 languages, and manages the server infrastructure that supports the entire operation. 

Ikjae Park is an expert in software development and system administration working for a government contractor and has developed enterprise JAVA applications at Salesforce.com, among others. He is passionate about development and making a simple workflow process for the community.

Terence Rose is a senor business Analyst with MIL Corp., currently leading the content development and user experience for high profile Department of Commerce projects. He previously worked as a technologist on contract for the Office of Head Start.

Blaine Whited is a programmer and systems administrator with a bachelor’s in computer science.

Winner: OpenCounter

Award:               $450,000
Organization:   OpenCounter
Project Leads: Peter Koht, Joel Mahoney
Twitter:            @opencounter, @yurialeks, @joelmahoney
Video:               http://kng.ht/ZMzPxB

While entrepreneurs may have market-moving ideas, very few can expertly navigate the local government permitting process that allows them to open and operate. Whether it’s a startup, boutique or restaurant, OpenCounter helps to simplify this interaction with city government. It collects and sorts data on existing regulations while providing running totals of the costs and time involved in setting up shop. A team of Code for America fellows developed and piloted OpenCounter in Santa Cruz, Calif. during 2012. Knight Foundation funds will support OpenCounter's expansion to new communities, including several 2013 Code for America cities.

Team: Peter Koht, a self-described civics nerd, is an experienced economic development professional who most recently worked for the City of Santa Cruz. Koht worked on a number of issues at the city, including leading a regional broadband policy group, opening up city data and spearheading policy initiatives that lowered administrative barriers to job creation. Previous to his public sector role, he worked in technology and media.

Joel Mahoney is a civic technologist and serial entrepreneur. He was an inaugural fellow at Code for America, and served as a technical advisor to the organization. Before Code for America, Mahoney founded several startups, including an online travel site, a genetics visualization tool and an m-health platform for diabetics. His work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

Winner: Open Gov for the Rest of Us

Award:              $350,000
Organization:   LISC Chicago
Project Leads: Susana Vasquez, Dionne Baux, Demond Drummer, Elizabeth Rosas-Landa
Twitter:            @liscchicago
Video:               http://kng.ht/ZMzN94

Open Gov for the Rest of Us is seeking to engage low-income neighborhoods in the Open Government movement. The three-stage campaign will connect more residents to the Internet, promote the use of open government tools and develop neighborhood-driven requests for new data that address residents’ needs. Building on the success of LISC Chicago’s Smart Communities program and Data Friday series, the project aims to spread a culture of data and improved use of digital tools by directly involving residents.

Team: Susana Vasquez is LISC Chicago's executive director. Vasquez joined LISC in 2003 as a program officer and soon became director of the office's most ambitious effort – the New Communities Program, a 10-year initiative to support comprehensive community development in 16 neighborhoods. She has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Illinois and a master’s from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Dionne Baux, a LISC Chicago program officer who works on economic development and technology programs, has worked in city government and for nonprofits for more than seven years. Baux leads LISC’s Smart Communities program, which is designed to increase digital access and use by youth, families, businesses and other institutions. She has a master’s degree in public administration, with a focus in government, from Roosevelt University.

Demond Drummer is tech organizer for Teamwork Englewood, an organization formed in 2003 as part of LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program. Its goal is to strengthen the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Drummer joined Webitects, a web design firm, in summer 2009. Previously, he coordinated a youth leadership and civic engagement initiative in Chicago. A graduate of Morehouse College, he is completing a master’s degree at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Elizabeth Rosas-Landa is the Smart Communities program manager at The Resurrection

Project in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. A Mexico City native, she received a bachelor’s degree in information technology from Insurgentes University and later joined the Marketing and Promotion Company in Mexico. In 2008, she moved to the United States to work with community organizations on technology issues. At The Resurrection Project, Rosas-Landa has implemented computer literacy programs for residents and businesses.

Winner: Outline.com

Award:            *unspecified, through Knight Enterprise Fund
Organization: Outline.com
Project Leads: Nikita Bier, Jeremy Blalock, Erik Hazzard, Ray Kluender
Twitter:           @OutlineUSA
Video:              http://kng.ht/ZMzQS9   

Outline.com is developing an online public policy simulator that allows citizens and journalists to visualize the impact that particular policies might have on people and their communities.   For instance, with Outline.com, a household can measure how a tax cut or an increase in education spending will affect their income. The project builds on the team’s award-winning app Politify, which simulated the impacts of the Obama and Romney economic plans during the 2012 campaign. The Outline.com simulator uses models developed by a team of economists, backed by open data on American households from the IRS, the Census Bureau and other sources. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has hired Outline.com to develop an official pilot. The team is a part of the accelerator TechStars Boston.

Team: Nikita Bier, CEO, recently graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with honors and degrees in business administration and political economy. During his college years, he researched higher education finance, receiving recognition for his insights from the president of the university. While a student, he founded Politify.us, an award-winning election application that received national coverage. Before that, he worked in business development at 1000memories, a Greylock and YCombinator-backed startup.

Jeremy Blalock, CPO, led design and development for Politify.us. He is currently on leave from UC Berkeley, where he studied electrical engineering and computer science.  

Erik Hazzard, CTO, is an active member of the data visualization and mapping communities. He was formerly lead developer at Visual.ly. He is the author of OpenLayers 2.10 Beginner’s Guide. He graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in information science.

Ray Kluender graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin with majors in economics, mathematics and political science. His extensive research experience includes involvement in developing value-added models of teacher effectiveness for Atlanta, New York City and Los Angeles public schools, election forecasting for Pollster.com and studying optimal health insurance design and government intervention in health care at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He will be starting his Ph.D. in economics at MIT this August.

Winner: Oyez Project

Award:            $600,000
Organization: IIT Chicago - Kent College of Law
Project Lead:   Jerry Goldman
Twitter:           @oyez
Video:              http://kng.ht/196Sc3a

The activities of courts across the country are often hard to access and understand. For the past 20 years, the Oyez Project has worked to open the U.S. Supreme Court by offering clear case summaries, opinions and free access to audio recordings and transcripts. With Knight Foundation funding, Oyez will expand to state supreme and federal appellate courts, offering information to the public about the work of these vital but largely anonymous institutions. Beginning in the five largest states that serve over one-third of the American public, Oyez will work with courts to catalog materials and reformat them following open standards practices. In conjunction with local partners, Oyez will annotate the materials, adding data and concise summaries that make the content more accessible for a non-legal audience. Oyez will release this information under a Creative Commons license and make it available online and through a mobile application.

Team:  Professor Jerry Goldman of the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law has brought the U.S. Supreme Court closer to everyone through the Oyez Project. He has collaborated with experts in linguistics, psychology, computer science and political science with major financial support from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Google and a select group of national law firms to create an archive of 58 years of Supreme Court audio. In recent years, Oyez has put the Supreme Court in your pocket with mobile apps, iSCOTUSnow and PocketJustice.

Winner: Plan in a Box

Award:            $620,000
Organization: OpenPlans
Project Lead:   Frank Hebbert, Ellen McDermott , Aaron Ogle, Andy Cochran, Mjumbe Poe
Twitter:           @OpenPlans
Video:              http://kng.ht/ZMA0ZQ

Local planning decisions can shape everything about a community - from how residents get around, to how they interact with their neighbors and experience daily life. Yet information on projects - from new plans for downtown centers to bridge replacements - is often difficult to obtain. This project will be an open-source web-publishing tool that makes it easy to engage people in the planning process.   With minimal effort, city employees will be able to create and maintain a useful website that provides information that citizens and journalists need while integrating with social media and allowing for public input.

Team: Aaron Ogle is an OpenPlans software developer. Prior to OpenPlans, he was a fellow at Code for America where he partnered with the City of Philadelphia to build solutions to help foster civic engagement. He specializes in JavaScript and GIS development and has contributed to such applications as reroute.it, septa.mobi, changeby.us, walkshed.org and phillystormwater.org.

Andy Cochran, creative director, provides design vision for OpenPlans’ projects, building user interfaces for tools that enable people to be better informed and stay engaged in local issues. Cochran has a bachelor’s degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and he has over a decade of experience in print and web design.

Ellen McDermott leads OpenPlans’ outreach to community organizations and cities, to help them be effective in using digital and in-person engagement tools. She also manages operations for OpenPlans. Previously, McDermott was the director of finance and administration for Honeybee Robotics, a technology supplier to the NASA Mars programs. She is a graduate of Amherst College and King’s College London.

Frank Hebbert leads the software team at OpenPlans. Outside of work, he volunteers with Planning Corps, a network of planners providing assistance to non-profit and community groups. Hebbert holds a master’s degree in city planning from MIT.

Mjumbe Poe is a software developer for OpenPlans. Previously, Poe was a fellow at Code for America, and before that a research programmer at the University of Pennsylvania working on modeling and simulation tools for the social sciences.

Winner: Procure.io

Award:            $460,000
Organization: Department of Better Technology
Project Leads: Clay Johnson and Adam Becker
Twitter:           @cjoh @AdamJacobBecker
Video:              http://kng.ht/ZMzZFb

The government procurement process can be both highly complicated and time-consuming  - making it difficult for small businesses to discover and bid on contracts and for journalists and transparency advocates to see where public money is going.  As White House Presidential Innovation Fellows, Clay Johnson and Adam Becker built a simple tool for governments to easily post requests for proposals, or RFPs. Based on its early success at the federal level, the team is planning to expand the software to help states and cities. In addition, they will build a library of statements of work that any agency can adapt to their needs. The goal is to bring more competition into government bidding, as a way to both reduce costs and ensure that the most qualified team gets the job.

Team: Clay Johnson may be best known as the author of “The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption.” Johnson was also one of the founders of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barack Obama’s online campaign for the presidency in 2008. Since 2008, Johnson has worked on opening government, as the director of Sunlight Labs until 2010, and as a director of Expert Labs until 2012. He was named the Google/O’Reilly Open Source Organizer of the Year in 2009, was one of Federal Computing Week’s Fed 100 in 2010, and won the CampaignTech Innovator award in 2011. In 2012, he was appointed as an inaugural Presidential Innovation Fellow and led the RFP-EZ project, a federal experiment in procurement innovation.

Adam Becker is a software developer and entrepreneur. He co-founded and served as chief technology officer of GovHub, a civic-oriented startup that was the first to provide users a comprehensive, geographically calculated list of their government officials. In 2012, he was appointed alongside Johnson as an inaugural Presidential Innovation Fellow and led the development of RFP-EZ.

• Outline.com is receiving funds through the Knight Enterprise Fund, an early stage venture fund that invests in for-profit ventures aligned with Knight’s mission of fostering informed and engaged communities. In line with standard venture-capital practices, the funding amounts are not being disclosed.

Knight Prototype Fund Recipients

Project: Data Docs

Lead: Susan McGregor, Joe Posner, Lam Thuy Vo

To enhance web video as a compelling storytelling tool, Data Docs will incorporate data and interactivity into the video experience through features like live charts and location-based personalization. In the process, Data Docs will maintain the videos’ aesthetic and narrative flow.

Project: Open Source Election Results Reporting Service

Lead: Gregory Miller, Open Source Digital Voting Foundation's TrustTheVote Project

In order to increase transparency in elections, this project will implement new data standards with an open API to provide for near real-time election data access and reporting.  Currently, election data is produced in many different ways, and delivered unevenly. The service will create a visual scoreboard for use in any community that provides a wider array of information - going far beyond precinct winners and losers to include a breakdown of ballots by type and demographics.

Project: Civic Data Standards Study

Lead: Philip Ashlock, Civic Agency

This project will investigate the successes and shortcomings of recent government and civic data standards efforts, which aim to make it easier for people to compare and examine data sets from a variety of sources. The survey will provide case studies of how the standards came to be and a catalog of a broad range of existing standards, with the aim of producing recommendations for future standardization efforts.

Project: Get Outside - A Toolkit for Sharing Parks Data and Maps

Lead: Jennifer Strahan, Tim Sinnott, GreenInfo Network

To help citizens discover the recreational activities that surround them, GreenInfo Network will build an open source template that parks departments can use to create a “What’s Nearby” map.  Residents will be able to search by activity, amenity and location. In support of ongoing work to build a nationwide database of parks and recreational opportunities, GreenInfo's approach will include a process by which park agencies can easily create and share data in a standardized format.

Project: OnBoard

Lead: Emily Thompson, Michigan Suburbs Alliance

To help diversify participation on city boards and draw in more millennials, OnBoard will create a database and website that makes opportunities for public service easy to find. The site will include information on local boards, committees and commissions, and the application and appointment process. OnBoard will be piloted in metro Detroit.

Project: Dat

Lead: Max Ogden, independent computer programmer

Dat seeks to increase the traction of the open data movement by developing better tools for collaboration. A great model of this idea working in a different space is GitHub, which lets software developers find code written by others, adapt it for their own use and make improvements. In a similar fashion, Dat will be a set of tools to store, synchronize, manipulate and collaborate on data in a decentralized fashion, enabling a platform analogous to GitHub to be built on top of it.

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. For more, visit http://www.knightfoundation.org.

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Contacts:

Andrew Sherry, Vice President/Communications, (305) 908-2677, media@knightfoundation.org

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. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.