Project Madison: Creating community collaboration on legislation

Related Link: “Communities can help write legislation with revamped Project Madison tool” press release dated July 11, 2013.

Last month we announced more than $3 million of investments in Open Gov, through the Knight News Challenge and our Prototype Fund. Our work in the area did not begin and will not end with those investments.

Over the last year, we’ve made grants to Sunlight Foundation, NYU’s Gov Lab, TurboVote and Code for America, and we’ve just closed our Knight News Challenge on Open Gov. Today, we’re announcing a $200,000 grant to the OpenGov Foundation in support of Project Madison. Madison is open-source software that enables citizens to help their governments write and collaborate on legislation. The grant from Knight will enable the OpenGov Foundation to expand Project Madison to the state and municipal level. But beyond that, OpenGov will sponsor activities to get people directly involved in issues that are important to them. It’s already been proven that using technology to help citizens participate in policy discussions is effective. Now, we want to grow and replicate a model for community engagement at the local level.

Project Madison was first used at the federal level by Congressman Darrell Issa to involve citizens in the debate around online piracy. That resulted in the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN)  Act, as an alternative to proposed laws known as SOPA and PIPA. The grant from Knight will enable the OpenGov Foundation to expand on the work they’ve started in Maryland. There, they’ve partnered with 2011 Knight News Challenge winner The State Decoded to involve citizens as editors and commenters on local legislation and policy issues.

We’re announcing the grant from Aspen, Colo.  With the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Communications and Society program (FOCAS), we’ve brought together a group of 40 to talk about ways to improve citizen-government interaction. We first learned about the Madison project at last year’s FOCAS meeting. I’m particularly eager for the discussion we’ll have at 1 p.m. Eastern today about the cultural and institutional barriers to innovation in government.  Among the people joining us are Tea Party Patriots founder Mark Meckler, Obama campaign CTO Harper Reed, Institute of Museum and Library Services head Susan Hildreth, Jessica Lord of Github and several winners of the Knight News Challenge on OpenGov. On Friday we’ll hear from Sir Nigel Shadbolt of the Open Data Institute with an eye towards what we might learn from their model here in the U.S.  You can participate in the meeting at and via #focas13 on Twitter.

John S. Bracken, director of journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation