Monthly Archives: December 2015

Joining a Global Discussion of Civic Technology in The Hague

A photo of a waterway at sunrise in The Hague taken by Aaron Bartnick.

An American, an Argentine, an Italian and a Kiwi walk into a bar in the Netherlands to discuss civic technology. “Let it Go” plays overhead. Is this the setup to the world’s most convoluted joke, or the future of global policymaking?

A bit of both, it turns out.

This week, I had the pleasure of representing The OpenGov Foundation at a conference convened by the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), a think tank akin to our National Democratic Institute or International Republican Institute that promotes democratic values at home and abroad. As part of their efforts to promote technological innovation in government, NIMD invited The OpenGov Foundation, along with four other civic technology organizations from Argentina, Iceland, Italy and New Zealand, to discuss our work with elected officials and representatives from numerous Dutch and Georgian political parties.

In bringing civic technologists, elected officials and academics together to discuss the role of technology as one group, our inimitable NIMD host, Will Derks, demonstrated a critical understanding of one the biggest issues plaguing our industry: a lack of meaningful dialogue. Too often, civic technologists adopt a “build first, ask questions later” approach to our work: we see obvious technical solutions to seemingly mundane government problems and use our smarts to come up with a better way of doing things. But we forget to ask our users in government (who, by the way, generally got there by being exceedingly bright) why things exist in their current state. And there is almost always a reason. Meanwhile, public officials are often suspicious of outsiders who come bearing technological gifts and too often try to solve problems internally without taking advantage of voluntary assistance from experienced technologists.

But none of this was on display in The Hague. We were treated to a truly global discussion, with civic technologists and public officials representing five continents weighing in on the future role of technology in government.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the conference was the opportunity to learn from my counterparts at Airesis (Italy), Democracy OS (Argentina), Loomio (New Zealand) and Your Priorities (Iceland). The civic technology community is a truly global one and these organizations are some of many doing incredible work around the world.

A photo of the NIMD conference in The Hague taken by Aaron Bartnick.

Our approaches are nearly as diverse as our office locales. Some, like Airesis and Loomio, focus on group consensus building, in contrast to our emphasis on policy making. Airesis and DemocracyOS, meanwhile, have taken the extraordinary step of aligning with or, in the case of DemocracyOS, launching their own political movements. While we have found our apolitical nature to be a key to our success, it is hard to deny the success which organizations like DemocracyOS have had, even competing in national parliamentary elections.

One thing that set The OpenGov Foundation apart, however, was the number of people inside of government using our tools. Political representatives and academics alike were floored to see Members of Congress engaging in constitutional discussions with citizens on Madison. And mentioning that our Madison platform gets Github contributions from users in Mexico’s federal government certainly didn’t hurt. But the greatest use case to emerge at the conference was decidedly local, when representatives from the Dutch Labor Party revealed that they were actively using Madison to draft their party platform. And not only were they using it, they were loving it. One Labor member summarized the party’s reaction to the change: “Finally, we’re going digital!”

One of the beauties of our open source approach is that our work can easily be adopted by anyone around the world. It has been humbling to see our tools used in places like Mexico, Pakistan, the Netherlands, Guernsey and even at the UN. And as policymakers around the world work to better engage with their citizens, we proudly stand ready to assist.

A civic technologist and a politician walk into a think tank. We’re a long way from figuring out how this joke ends, but thanks to Will Derks and NIMD, we’ve got a great setup.

Aaron Bartnick is the Chief Operating Officer of The OpenGov Foundation.

RELEASE: The OpenGov Foundation Receives $200,000 Award from the Rita Allen Foundation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 16, 2015

CONTACTS
The OpenGov Foundation – Nicko Margolies: nicko@opengovfoundation.org – 202-642-4467
Rita Allen Foundation – Molly Sharlach: ms@ritaallen.org – 609-683-8010

Press Release

The OpenGov Foundation Receives $200,000 Award from the Rita Allen Foundation

Funding will support streamlining Chicago’s legislative process and expanding citizen engagement opportunities.

WASHINGTON, DC (December 16, 2015)The OpenGov Foundation today received a new $200,000 grant from the Rita Allen Foundation to support the ongoing development of a platform to bring Chicago’s legislative process into the digital age over the next two years. Through a partnership with the City Clerk’s office, The OpenGov Foundation is co-creating an open-source system to keep legislation in standardized, accessible formats and allow citizens to better share feedback with their elected officials.

“The OpenGov Foundation’s approach holds great potential for making the workings of government clearer and more accessible,” said Elizabeth Good Christopherson, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Rita Allen Foundation. “By investing in this innovative application of digital tools, we seek to expand possibilities for civic engagement.”

“We believe that communities thrive when individuals have a real voice in their government, and their government has the modern tools necessary to serve better while spending less,” said Seamus Kraft, Executive Director and co-founder of The OpenGov Foundation. “But look around — those tools are lacking, citizens are frustrated and governments continue to delay the inevitable. No more. The Chicago City Council, led by Clerk Susana Mendoza, has joined with us to evolve from today’s paper-based bureaucracy into the first Internet Age legislature in the world. With the support of the Rita Allen Foundation, we have an incredible opportunity to transform governance in Chicago, and across America.”

The OpenGov Foundation is currently building the internal drafting component of the platform with the City Clerk’s office and will be expanding to adapt the Madison collaboration and annotation tool to the city along with improvements to the presentation of municipal laws on ChicagoCode.org. The Rita Allen Foundation grant will further this ongoing work and make Chicago a model for the nearly 90,000 other government entities that could benefit from this digital platform.

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About The OpenGov Foundation
The OpenGov Foundation is a fiercely nonpartisan nonprofit helping people participate in the government decisions that affect their lives. We believe innovative technology and open data can help deliver democratic governments that listen to citizens, operate efficiently and solve our shared challenges the smart way. We believe democracy means everyone should have the chance to be a hands-on contributor.

About the Rita Allen Foundation
The Rita Allen Foundation invests in transformative ideas in their earliest stages to leverage their growth and promote breakthrough solutions to significant problems. It enables early-career biomedical scholars to do pioneering research, seeds innovative approaches to fostering informed civic engagement, and develops knowledge and networks to build the effectiveness of the philanthropic sector. Throughout its work, the Foundation embraces collaboration, creativity, learning and leadership.

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RELEASE: Free Law Founders Expands with New Members from U.S. Open Data and Hypothes.is

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 10, 2015

CONTACTS
The OpenGov Foundation – Nicko Margolies: nicko@opengovfoundation.org

Press Release

Free Law Founders Expands with New Members from U.S. Open Data and Hypothes.is

Waldo Jaquith of U.S Open Data and Dan Whaley of Hypothes.is Join Nationwide Coalition to Transform U.S. Lawmaking and Legal Data for the Internet Age.

WASHINGTON, DC (December 10, 2015)The Free Law Founders (FLF) coalition today announced that Waldo Jaquith and Dan Whaley have joined its nationwide efforts to bring America’s laws, lawmaking and public access to legal information into the 21st century.

Free Law Founders
Visit FreeLawFounders.org to Learn More

“The United States is a nation founded on an open, self-amending document, with thousands of legal codes built atop that core library,” said Waldo Jaquith, director of U.S. Open Data. “This system demands open access to these legal codes, so that anybody can read them, understand them, obey them, and propose modifications, via their representatives. That ideal has largely been ignored, but the Free Law Founders brings together people who uphold that ideal while upgrading it for the 21st century.”

Waldo Jaquith has been an enthusiastic supporter of legal technology for twenty years, beginning with an effort as a teenager to put his city’s laws online. He created The State Decoded, runs Virginia Decoded, and worked in open ethics data at the White House. He serves as the Senior Technical Advisor to the Sunlight Foundation and the Director of U.S. Open Data, where his work is made possible by a fellowship with the Shuttleworth Foundation.

“Opening law is as important to the future of global democracy as any other initiative within the open knowledge movement,” said Dan Whaley, founder of Hypothes.is. “It’s not just about freeing it from those who would extort tolls from citizens for using what’s theirs— it’s also about making it more responsive, more modern and more accountable in its creation to the needs of real people right now.”

Dan Whaley is the Founder and CEO of the non-profit Hypothes.is. Their mission is to bring an open, interoperable conversation layer to the world’s knowledge. Many years ago, Dan founded the first travel reservation company on the web, GetThere, which went public in 1999 and was purchased by Sabre in 2000. Today, it is the dominant player in its industry and processes $10B in travel services on behalf of airlines, corporations, and consumers.

“The Free Law Founders will be stronger and more effective with Waldo and Dan lending their considerable talent and experience to our goals to opening laws and legislative data to the public,” said Ben Kallos, New York City Council Member and a member of the Free Law Founders. “I’m excited to see the Free Law Founders grow and look forward to opening our country’s most important data with these new partners.”

“Waldo and Dan have long been on my open government and open source dream teams,” said Seamus Kraft, Executive Director of The OpenGov Foundation and a founding member of the Free Law Founders. “They are not only brilliant technologists, but genuinely awesome people who have much to contribute to the coalition’s important work at all levels of government. FLF members are lucky to have the opportunity to closely collaborate with, and learn from, these cutting-edge civic innovators.”

The Free Law Founders is a nationwide effort of people seeking to improve how we access, produce, and maintain the most important public information in America — our laws, legislation, and legal codes. With over 20 members in cities across the country, the Free Law Founders is one of the leading open legislative data advocacy groups in the United States.

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Statement on U.S. House Chief Administrative Officer Ed Cassidy Retirement Announcement

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 9, 2015) — The OpenGov Foundation’s Executive Director Seamus Kraft released the following statement on the the announcement that Ed Cassidy, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the U.S. House of Representatives, will be stepping down at the end of 2015:

“Ed’s remarkable breadth of experience, institutional knowledge and true love of Congress shine through his work. He will be missed both in the CAO’s office and across Capitol Hill.

“As Chief Administrative Officer and under Speaker Boehner, Ed spearheaded critical initiatives aimed at creating a more efficient, effective and open legislative branch. We’ve been lucky to have the chance to watch and learn up close as he helped steer the historic transformation of our country’s laws and legislation into open data, introducing previously unheard of levels of public and stakeholder engagement to the process. He’s created a fantastic model for those seeking to modernize state, county or local legislatures.

“Ed accomplished all of this and more in a challenging environment, with a knack for always finding a good balance between the best of congressional tradition and the demands of the 21st century. We look forward to continuing to work with the wonderful teams Ed has built as CAO and building on the innovations he’s introduced to the People’s House.”

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RELEASE: Code for Miami & The OpenGov Foundation Launch MiamiDadeCode.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 2, 2015

CONTACTS
The OpenGov Foundation – Nicko Margolies: nicko@opengovfoundation.org
Code for Miami – Cristina Solana: csolana@codeformiami.org, Rebekah Monson: rmonson@codeforamerica.org, Ernie Hsuing: ehsiung@codeforamerica.org
Miami-Dade County Office of the Mayor – Michael Sarasti: sarasti@miamidade.gov

Press Release

Code for Miami & The OpenGov Foundation Launch MiamiDadeCode.org

New Online Legal Resource Makes Miami-Dade County Laws More Accessible, User-Friendly and Interactive for All Residents and Businesses.

MIAMI, FL (December 2, 2015)Code for Miami and The OpenGov Foundation today announced the launch of MiamiDadeCode.org, a free online resource to empower all County residents to discover, access and better understand the laws that govern them. The new website helps non-lawyers understand and interact with Miami-Dade’s most important data set – the County code – without any restrictions, fees or artificial barriers. Miami-Dade is the first county government to open its legal code for citizens on the Internet, joining innovative cities like San Francisco, Chicago and Baltimore, as well as states like Florida and Virginia, in the growing AmericaDecoded network of user-friendly laws and legal codes.

Miami-Dade Code
Visit MiamiDadeCode.org to Learn More

MiamiDadeCode.org is a great example of how Code for America and our local Code for Miami brigade are working closely with us to make government more open and accessible,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez. “I strongly believe that this kind of transparency and engagement is essential to building a World-Class community.”

“The Decoded website is a valuable tool for professionals and the public that makes it easier to access and search through Miami-Dade County’s ordinance code,” said Justin Wales, Associate at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Senior Policy Advisor at Code for Miami. “It is, without question, better than 10 Super Bowls.”

MiamiDadeCode.org unlocks tremendous opportunities for making the law more useful and understandable for residents and businesses alike,” said Seamus Kraft, Executive Director of The OpenGov Foundation. “Now, the people of Miami-Dade have a flexible, open source option for accessing the legal information they need, on their own time and on their own terms. I’m excited to see this incredible community-based effort grow along with citizens working inside and outside county government.”

MiamiDadeCode.org lifts and ‘liberates’ the County Code by transforming them into user-friendly, modern and interactive website formats. This switch delivers significant results: more clarity, context and public understanding of how the law impacts residents’ daily lives, families and businesses. For the first-time, MiamiDadeCode.org allows unrestricted reuse of county laws by everyday residents so that they can share, comment on and download not only the legal data itself, but also the free and open source State Decoded software powering the website. Even better, these efforts came at $0-cost to Miami-Dade taxpayers.

MiamiDadeCode.org shows how people can make government better — and easier to access — so government can work better for the people.” said Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director of Code for America. “Miami-Dade County is leading among counties in using the Internet to make the law accessible and meaningful to the public.”

“We are delighted at the potential for this tool to empower citizens to get more engaged with local government,” said District 8 County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. “Broadening the conversation to include more ears, eyes and voices strengthens our democracy. The increased accessibility this tool will provide helps build upon the County’s efforts to promote government transparency and public trust.”

“Municode believes strongly in furthering transparency in government and has worked for 64 years to support the efforts of local governments in this regard. As such, we applaud OpenGov’s accomplishments in enhancing transparency and citizen engagement across the country,“ said Eric Grant, president of Municode. “Municode is proud to work with OpenGov and with our 3,750 city and county clients to help make governments more efficient, nimble and responsive. Municode has worked hard to create the nation’s most advanced municipal website, MunicodeNEXT, through which, over 90 million citizens can freely access their codes of ordinances on www.municode.com. Municode is committed to supporting OpenGov’s efforts as we work together to bring democracy closer to the people.”

MiamiDadeCode.org and the AmericaDecoded network are powered by The State Decoded, an open source software platform and API used to display legal codes. The free platform was originally developed by Waldo Jaquith in 2010 for Virginia, thanks to a generous grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Since then, the network of open legal codes has grown to include Maryland and Florida, as well as the laws of Baltimore (MD), San Francisco (CA), Philadelphia (PA), Chicago (IL). Committed to using taxpayer dollars effectively and efficiently, The OpenGov Foundation and State Decoded teams have joined forces to ‘liberate’ the law online in every state, city and town in America – at absolutely no cost to taxpayers.

“Improving the way citizens interact with their governments and with each other is important to building stronger communities and fostering democratic values,” said John Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for media innovation. “Miami stands to benefit from this new tool; it will help put more information into the hands of residents so they can make decisions about their city and their lives.”

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Statement on New Coalition of Publishers Launched to Open Works for Public, Online Annotation

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 1, 2015) — Today, The OpenGov Foundation’s Executive Director Seamus Kraft issued the following statement on the announcement that Hypothes.is has launched a coalition of 40 private and public-sector publishers with the shared goal of transforming all of their publications from inaccessible, paper-based formats into useful, digital and restriction-free data that anyone can interact with, discuss and share online:

“The Internet has changed how everyone reads, learns and shares what they discover. From school books to law books, you see many publishers struggling to adapt to this new digital reality. But these open annotation coalition members are creating an innovative, potentially game-changing new publishing paradigm. It should serve as a model and inspiration for all those who produce or distribute information today.

“Fast and fundamental change isn’t always easy or fun or hassle-free. We see it every day, with government and private-sector publishers alike. But just like the Free Law Founders are transforming lawmaking, Hypothes.is coalition members are choosing to meet change with cost-saving collaboration and openness, instead of expensive paywalls and litigation.

“Today’s announcement is exciting, but only a start. No one knows what publishing will look like in five years. And no one can tell how many life-saving cures or smarter government policies are waiting within this growing trove of accessible data. But I do know that by dismantling artificial barriers placed between people and critical insights, the odds for breakthrough innovations are far greater than when all that human knowledge was reserved for the privileged or collecting dust on a shelf.”

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