Monthly Archives: January 2015

Help Bring Congress Into the 21st Century at #Hack4Congress

“In the private sector we’re able to implement solutions, try new things, use open source [technology], whatever we wanted to do . . . Here there’s a very arcane process and it delays technology . . . it really impedes my ability as a Representative to work for the people of the 2nd Congressional District of Colorado.”

–Congressman Jared Polis


“Before I came to Congress I worked in the electronics industry, a place where every day we try to find . . .  [ways to make] products more convenient and easier, and access more natural to human beings. That’s something we don’t find in Congress, but it’s something I believe we can bring to Congress.”

–Congressman Darrell Issa


Congress can do better.

Let’s make it happen.


This weekend over 200 political scientists, designers, journalists, educators, civic technologists, and other experts will gather in Cambridge, Massachusetts to find ways for Congress to operate more efficiently, effectively, and collaboratively.


Proposed projects include rethinking the legislative ideation process; designing modern participatory committee hearings; making the legislative process and legislative text more accessible to the public; and building a database for in-office tracking of policymakers’ actions on specific issues.


The hackathon is one of two events; the first takes place this weekend at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and the second will be in Washington, DC in mid-April. Registration for both events is free.


What Congressman Darrell Issa and Congressman Jared Polis have to say about Hack4Congress:

Congressman Jared Polis on Hack4Congress


Congressman Darrell Issa on Hack4Congress


Why we do what we do

The OpenGov Foundation’s Executive Director said it best on Alexis Ohanian’s Small Empires series:

There are so many people in this country who are brilliant, who have good ideas, who are crying out for government to meet their needs…that aren’t heard because they aren’t rich.  They don’t have lobbyists.  They don’t have influence.  And they don’t get through.  And where technology comes into that is it makes government fundamentally able to listen.” 


Join #Hack4Congress. Help us bring our democracy into the 21st Century.


More information on projects and registration at

Co-organized by Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and by The OpenGov Foundation, the event is co-sponsored by The Sunlight Foundation, Congressional Management Foundation, Microsoft New England, Represent.Us, CODE2040, POPVOX, Capitol Bells, Generation Citizen, and the Participatory Politics Foundation.


Obama for America Advisor Scout Addis Joins The OpenGov Foundation

User-Centered Design Expert Bolsters Board of Advisors



scout.addisWASHINGTON, DC (January 14, 2015) — Executive Director Seamus Kraft today announced that David “Scout” Addis, the Managing Director at experience design agency Mad*Pow, has joined The OpenGov Foundation’s Board of Advisors.  With more than decade of user-centered design and product management experience, Scout will help guide The OpenGov Foundation’s efforts to create a world-class user experience for every citizen seeking a voice in the government decisions that impact their lives.


“Citizens rarely — if ever — enjoy a smooth and satisfying experience when they visit government websites.  We exist to change that,” said Kraft.  “Scout shares our passion for building more engaged, informed communities with user-friendly technology.  I look forward to accelerating our efforts to inject human-centered design and clarity into the often confusing, inaccessible and out-dated way Americans interact with their governments on the Internet.”


“In recent years, technology has advanced so much faster than government’s ability to adapt to those changes,” said Addis. “As a result significant civic innovation is happening outside of government, through the efforts of concerned citizens and non-profit groups, and then pushing its way back in at the city, state, and federal level. Organizations like The OpenGov Foundation and Code For America have proved that tech innovation strengthens democracy in ways that we had never before been imagined…and they are just getting started.”



Seamus Kraft





Opengov leaders: President Obama, use your bully pulpit to promote democracy reforms in the State of the Union

The Sunlight Foundation asked leaders in the open government and civic technology movements what President Obama should say in tonight’s State of the Union address to set the tone for open government policy in 2015. Here’s what our Executive Director Seamus Kraft had to say:


“Open government should mean better government built in full partnership with “We the People.” It should mean better service delivery and easier access for all Americans to the heart of our democracy: our public laws, public officials and a public accounting of where and how every dime of our tax dollars is spent. With a dazzling array of technologies and innovations at our fingertips, truly open government should possible in every state house, city hall and even our nation’s capitol.

“Much work remains to fulfill the heady open government promises made at the dawn of President Obama’s term. We have a long way to go to change the “Culture of Closed” that still reigns supreme. That culture change will only arrive through cooperation and collaboration, two things in dearly short supply in today’s Washington, D.C.

“I hope to hear the president tout his incipient open government accomplishments — from the General Service Administration’s crowdsourced development of a civic engagement playbook, to the creation of 18F, to the implementation of the DATA Act. But I also hope to hear a clear commitment to work with the career civil service, the Senate and the House of Representatives to ensure that, when the president rides off into the sunset, these small victories do not disappear, but endure and grow.”


Visit the Sunlight Foundation’s post to see contributions from other open government leaders.

ReImagineSF — San Francisco-Area Students Change City Laws Through Online Comments

“The fact that I changed a law in my city–and my city is an international hub–based on an online comment is pretty amazing.”


I’m speaking via Hangout with Liana Derus, an undergraduate Environmental Science student at San Francisco State University. She’s beaming. About her city government. Let me tell you why.



On April 14, 2014, San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell launched an unusual initiative. The legislator invited university students across the Bay area to use our site,, to peruse the city’s legal code and propose solutions to laws they deemed outdated or ineffective. The Supervisor committed to introducing winning ideas to the Board of Supervisors as official bills. Liana, along with fellow San Francisco State University student Karl Nicholas, won the grand prize.


Liana’s suggestion has now become an official law in San Francisco, launching a new era of civic engagement in the city. She and fellow grand prize winner Karl Nicholas shared their thoughts on the competition earlier this year.


Accessibility — the key to civic engagement


While Liana says she’s not very active online, she quickly understood the possibilities presented by sites like “Accessibility is a major thing,” she said. “Once people can get their hands on this information, they can say, oh, wait, I don’t agree with this one, or we can make this better.” As a leading environmental activist, she needs to stay informed and wants to be involved in local government. But as a busy student, it’s not always so easy. “Time is a really big issue. If I could quickly take my own time to review the law or whatever the plan is at home and then make my comment, that would be a lot easier than going downtown to City Hall, making sure I attend the whole meeting, and then speak there . . .  I’m a student, and I can’t be everywhere at once. That would be very useful for me.”


Expanding perspectives


Liana also highlighted another exciting aspect of online tools like–the ability to see the many, highly varied opinions and interests of other city residents. She wryly admitted that as an environmentalist she tends to look at everything through “green-tinted lenses”, and the contest widened her perspective.  Karl Nicholas agreed. While he enjoyed the site’s browsability and powerful search function, he admitted to initial skepticism when it came to the site’s comments function. But, he admitted, “after I saw some of the comments I warmed up a bit”. Content submissions spanned a range of topics, including animal rights and the use of vacant lots.


The power of open information


Opening up the law online doesn’t just allow more people to participate in the law, it allows for vast new audiences to share, discuss, and discover their laws. To Karl, “The path to success [in civic engagement] is through social media, so if someone sees something they’re interested in they can share it with their friends and it can propagate from there”. Users of America Decoded sites can link directly to specific sections of the law or Tweet them out, getting this important information to much wider audiences than ever before. Getting more eyes on the law means more people can know their rights or identify what to needs to change. And social media played a role in ReImagineSF’s success — Liana found out about Supervisor Farrell’s initiative when a friend posted about it on Facebook.


Civic-sourced laws and the future


Karl made another good point when it comes to citizens getting involved in their laws. “It would be interesting when bills are coming up, when they’ve been suggested, to know what they’re about and make comments at that point . . . once the law’s passed it’s passed, and it seems a comment at that point seems a little too late.”


Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way for San Francisco citizens to comment on draft bills?