Communities can help write legislation with revamped Project Madison tool

Press Release

July 11, 2013

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Knight Foundation funds community organizing campaigns to increase participation

ASPEN, COLO. – (July 11, 2013) – A tool that helps the public collaborate on drafting federal legislation will go local in coming months, enabling two communities to build and shape public policy in concert with government officials.

Project Madison, a project of the OpenGov Foundation, will test and customize its open-source platform at the state and municipal level, with $200,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The platform enables users to comment on, propose changes to and share opinions on draft policy and legislation.

With Knight funding, the OpenGov Foundation will combine the web-based tool with in-person events to rally discussion and action around a specific local policy issue in two U.S. communities where the foundation invests. The locations will be announced in coming months. In addition, Project Madison will expand its recent work on MarylandCode.org, a user-friendly, searchable publication of Maryland state laws. The local version of Project Madison will allow people to contribute to the lawmaking process in Maryland and Baltimore.

Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, OpenGov Foundation founder, launched Project Madison in 2011, to involve the public in the debate over online piracy. Issa successfully used Project Madison to get input on the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN Act), an alternative to the proposed laws known as SOPA and PIPA.

“While the Internet has allowed the public to more easily get involved in policy discussions, no one has fully figured out the next step, how citizens and governments can collaborate to write laws,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation’s vice president for journalism and media innovation. “Pairing Project Madison with solid offline organizing at the community level will allow us to experiment, develop best practices in this area and learn from hands-on experience.”

Maness announced the funding at the Knight-sponsored Forum on Communications and Society (FOCAS) hosted by the Aspen Institute. This year’s forum, being streamed July 10-13 at www.aspeninstitute.tv, examines ways that governments and citizens can connect to build a better democracy.

"Communities work best when citizens and public servants work collaboratively to shape their own futures.  The Madison beta test proved that kind of tech-powered policy cooperation is possible on a national level,” said Seamus Kraft, OpenGov Foundation executive director. “But the most pressing problems we all face are local. That’s why we are excited by the challenge of growing Madison to meet the needs of Marylanders today, and citizens everywhere going forward."

Funding will go to three month-long organizing initiatives in two communities where Knight Foundation invests. The campaigns will involve both customizing Project Madison’s existing beta platform for the local level, and rallying elected leaders and the public to create solutions together.

As the nation’s leading funder of journalism and media innovation, Knight has long supported Open Government projects that involve information access for the press and the public, promoting institutional transparency and accountability.

The funding is part of Knight Foundation’s ongoing efforts to open up government institutions so that they are more participatory, transparent and accountable.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.KnightFoundation.org.

Contact: Anusha Alikhan, 305-908-2677; [email protected]