Featured OpenGov Champions
In Croatia, there has long been a surplus of voters in the state’s voter files, a problem that everyone in Croatia is aware of. By simply publishing the list in a searchable web site where you could type in any address to reveal fraudulent voter registrations, Marko and his colleagues at his organization Vjetrenjaca (Windmill) were able to define the problem for once and for all. This led the government into being forced to change the constitution and its laws governing voter registration and residency. Now the government has adopted and published their own version of Marko’s site, asking people to use it to clear up the old, messy voter list.
Sandra Moscoso is an OpenGov Champion who works in her local community in the neighborhood of Capitol Hill, Washington DC to open up DC Public School data. One of the issues she is working on is restoring funding for school librarians by showing through data how essential they are. As a mom of two public school students, she is a member of the Capitol Hill Public School Parent Organization (CHPSPO), which looks to improve the local school system by organizing rallies and bake sales, restoring school buildings and talking to city officials. Sandra is often very hands-on in these activities, but her biggest personal mission with CHPSPO has been introducing the use of open government data as a basis in all they do.
Shea Frederick is an open data hacker from Baltimore, MD who creates tools that can help local residents connect with what’s happening around the city, using data released by the Baltimore city government. One of those tools is baltimorevacants.org, a dynamic map that lets you see and search for vacant house and lots in Baltimore. An app called Spot Agent uses Baltimore city parking citation data to warn you if a meter maid might be close by, and another one uses the city’s 311 data to show the most common problems occurring in any Baltimore neighborhood based on words that appear the most in service requests. He does a lot of this work together with a vibrant community of developers and interested citizens at hackathons and other events. Shea even worked with the city to convince them that the data should be updated in real time instead of doing a one-time upload.
The grassroots maps created by Liz Barry and others from The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science became world famous during the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010, being the only high resolution images out in the media at the onset of the catastrophe. These kinds of mapping and other scientific DIY methods are empowering local residents and activists to issue their own data sets to better engage with their local governments in environmental and other issues in their communities. Liz sees this revolutionizing how citizens and governments are able to work together.
When he set out on a mission to open his government, Waldo was only 16. He is the first one to admit that “It was pretty lonely doing open government work in Virginia in the nineties.” Undeterred by the lack of enthusiasm by his fellow Virginians to embrace computer programming as a way to make government more transparent, Waldo worked endless hours and often without pay. In the end, Richmond Sunlight was born. A non-partisan, volunteer-run website, Richmond Sunlight keeps track of the happenings in the Virginia State Assembly and allows users to follow legislation, watch video of floor action and even vote on what they’d like to see in a bill. He may have been a Rolling Stones roadie and named “Champion for Change” by President Obama, but at the heart of Waldo’s passion is the joy of being an open government technologist. In 1999, Forbes called him a “grizzled veteran of the Internet scene” and The Boston Globe called him a “super-blogger.” We are honored to share his story as our OpenGov Champion!
Laura & Chris Amico
Laura Amico is the founder and editor of Homicide Watch DC, a site that uses community-driven reporting to improve the information collected about homicide cases, including court documents, location data, obituaries, social media, and personal stories about the victims involved. Laura, a former police reporter, started the site in 2010 with her husband, Chris, to address limitations in crime coverage, most of which is limited to rehashing press releases from police departments. By creating a repository for hard to reach information from both government and community sources, Laura changed the landscape for reporters and citizens alike. Although similar sites exist in other cities, Laura’s coverage of DC has earned her particular notice, including a MJ Bear Fellowship with the Online News Association.
Jason Williams has been a political activist, blogger and radio host on both national and state issues since 2005. Although he’s roused his fair deal of rabble over the years, in 2011, Jason’s writing was particularly instrumental in driving dialogue and national attention to a rollback of Utah’s Freedom of Information law (“GRAMA”). He shared more details with us on our blog — “Utah Legislator’s Secrecy Grab: Transparency Law Under Attack” — and in person, when we journeyed to Utah during our Open Letter to Governor’s campaign in the summer of 2011. Listen to Jason tell the full story in his own words below.
Quang “Q” Dang is the web manager for saveGRAMA.org, a Salt Lake City-based organization that sprung up to protect and watchdog GRAMA, the Utah government transparency law that came under attack in spring of 2011. Through the efforts of saveGRAMA and others, hundreds of citizens were mobilized in what locals playfully refer to as the “Utah Spring.” Thanks to activists like Quang, GRAMA is still alive and kicking (although she’s getting a facelift). When asked why he chose to participate in the fight to preserve Utahan’s freedom of information Q’s answer was simple: “I’m just a concerned citizen.”
Utah native Bob Aagard has been active in politics for the past few years and has been blogging for more than ten. When Bob learned about the proposed cuts to his state’s freedom of information law, he turned to social media, hoping to find some way to connect with people organizing there. “People were writing, ‘Somebody should hold a rally’…but nobody was really stepping up to throw [one],” Bob told us when we went out to visit him recently. “I heard somebody say once that if you want something done, sometimes you just have to do it yourself. And so, I found myself — [at 2PM] on the afternoon on a Sunday — creating an event on Facebook saying we were going to have a rally at the capitol.” Bob’s rally — the first he’s ever organized — was one of the largest events protesting the rollback Utah’s transparency laws — and was an important part of what made the movement successful.
Randy’s dedication to instill passion about government transparency in young people makes him a true OpenGov Champion. Randy serves as a faculty adviser for the Utah Transparency Project, a student-run think-tank that discusses privacy and transparency related issues. As a University of Utah Presidential Honors Professor and lecturer at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, Randy also teaches the Honors Think Tank on Transparency and Policy course. To learn more about Randy’s work read his guest Sunlight blog post, or follow him on Twitter. Way to go, Randy!
Beth reached out to Sunlight in January 2011, following a change in her county’s administration. New officials came to power in Cuyahoga County, Ohio on the promise that they would be more transparent than those who came before them — which wouldn’t be too hard. Previously, the County was besieged with headlines about politicians and civic leaders flouting public meetings laws, trading favors for contracts, taking bribes, and skewing audits. Citizens demanded change, and though newly elected officials said they would give it to them, Beth wanted to make sure they followed through.
In early 2011, Beth reached out to Sunlight’s Organizing team and eventually founded the Transparency Action Plan (TAP) Summit. Inspired by Sunlight-grantee, CityCamp (which took its inspiration in turn from our own TransparencyCamp), the TAP Summit convened in July, 2011, bringing together representatives from every major public sector to discuss best practices in transparency, set actionable goals for the County, and create working groups and other support structures for seeing that these goals are reached. Beth’s efforts were embraced by country officials, including County Executive Ed Fitzgerald, who gave one of the keynote speakers at the Summit, and the County’s new CIO, Jeff Mowry, who plans to continue to work with the civic hackers he met at the TAP event. For more information about TAP and to check in on its continued progress in Ohio visit http://TAPSummit.org.
Mark is a journalist with Technically Philly and a developer at Voxeo Labs, where he helps build open government apps. In addition to being a skilled developer and programmer, he is a go-getter for organizing events and starting conversations to fuel the Open Gov movement. Mark’s early years in open government began with civic hacking and app contests, such as DC’s “Apps for Democracy” and Sunlight’s “Apps for America.” According to Mark, he spends most of his time “helping governments think about how to leverage open data to provide better service and enhance transparency.” He continues to promote civic hacking and entrepreneurship through his project, Civic Innovations, and recently shared his experience and expertise as a speaker at SXSW.
Jerry Couey and Alan Isaacson
Jerry and Alan are both residents of Santa Rosa county, Florida and have fought tirelessly for 5 years to force TEAM Santa Rosa, a publicly-funded economic development organization, into compliance with Florida’s open government laws. They successfully lobbied their state attorney to investigate the TEAM’s sunshine violations and have brought a significant amount of public attention to the issue. Read more about how they made this happen here.
Individually, Jerry’s technology skills spurred changes in email and social networking policies in both Santa Rosa county and Escambia county which in the past had prohibited use of private email and social networking sites for public business. He has also been instrumental in advocating for citizens’ first Amendment rights and was recognized by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors for this role. Get inspired by his story after reading about the award.
Alan volunteered with the Santa Rosa county to streamline requests for public records emails after discovering inconsistencies and back door politics aimed at benefiting specific Political Action Committees in the county. Now he serves as adviser to county boards that are not fully aware of the state’s open government laws. Asked if he would do everything over again Alan says: “I would, but not because I would want to but because in my opinion someone has to. I appreciate the efforts of citizens who will take on the establishment, endure the name calling and in the end, change the process to ensure more open government.”
Although Chase Southard from Lexington, Kentucky makes his living as a biologist, he got turned on to the idea of “civic hacking” after hearing Sunlighter Luigi Montanez’s talk on the subject at a Rails conference in 2008. Inspired by what could be done when developers turned their attention to government data and open source tools, Chase began to find sympathizers and converts in his community. Soon after, he helped found OpenLexington, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that uses technology to promote government transparency and empower citizens through data. OpenLexington has become a hub for the Lexington community, expanding the network of civic-minded technologists, providing consultation and support for local government, and creating educational resources for the less technically inclined. OpenLexington is currently involved in a project with Lexington’s city government to open its data and develop a platform that all citizens can use to access that information. For more information about OpenLexington and to keep up with their efforts, check out: http://openlexington.org.
Adam Friedman and Shauna Gordon-McKeon
Adam and Shauna are two of the organizers of OpenGov Boston, a fledgling local Sunlight meetup. Less than a year old, OpenGov Boston is already hosting regular meetups with a diverse set of activists and civic hackers, and plan to meet with the staff of the Massachusetts legislature to discuss ways to increase transparency in their state government. We asked Adam and Shauna what inspired them to get involved.
“I’ve worked as a full-time web developer for the last five years, and on the side I’ve always volunteered as an election/good government reformer. Sunlight Foundation has provided a first-class model for how to bring those two strands together to create beautiful, compelling public information products that I envision as merely the first prototypes of the new infrastructure of democracy. Let’s keep building and advocating together until public=online becomes government’s institutional guarantee.”
“Open government and transparency issues permeate politics and civic life – after all, how can we change our society for the better without knowing what needs changing? And new technology makes this an especially exciting time to get involved, because there are so many different ways to open government up from the local to the national level. Who wouldn’t feel compelled to get involved?”
Of course, we couldn’t agree more! So, if you or someone you know is inspired to get involved, here’s how: Join a meetup near you or create your own at http://www.meetup.com/SunlightFoundation and take the first step to becoming an OpenGov Champion.
Team "Open It Up"
Team “Open It Up” formed at CityCamp Raleigh, a Sunlight-sponsored event in the capital city of North Carolina. On the third and final day of the local government-focused “unconference,” attendees broke into eight small groups, each trying to solve a civic problem before the day was done. Team “Open It Up” decided to take on public school data that could only be accessed through a poor, static website or on a $10 CD in a Microsoft Access database, which is difficult to use and requires expensive software to view. Each team member donated a few dollars, got the CD, and went to work. In just hours, they converted it to an open data format, put it online and created a companion website. That earned the six teammates — Hope Ethington, Kevin Flannagan, Jason Horne, Bryan LeClaire, Kelly Reid and Carlos Santana — a $5,000 prize awarded for creating the best project of the day.
But Team Open It Up didn’t stop there. Several teammates went on to give a presentation to the Raleigh City Council about their work and the value of open data. (You can see video of it here.) And they’ve continued working to make the data more user-friendly and improve their website at http://ncopendata.org.
By day, Stephen is a consultant with an IT firm based in Birmingham, Alabama. By night, Stephen runs http://OpenBama.org, an independent, volunteer-driven website that compiles data on the Alabama legislature from multiple sources to create a single, easy-to-use platform where the public can track and research state legislation. The project began back in 2008 when Stephen tried tracking state legislation on his own, using the Alabama Legislative Information System Online (ALISON). To his frustration, Stephen found that this supposedly “open” site was incomprehensible to the public and nearly unusable, so he decided to do something about it. Stephen began to scrape the data from ALISON and place it into a new platform: OpenBama.org. He thought he was alone in this solution until he happened to come across Sunlight’s Open States Project in 2010. In April, 2011, he attended TransparencyCamp 2011 as the recipient of one of our travel scholarships and connected his efforts with others in the civic hacker community. Now, armed with everything he’s learned from Sunlight and the connections he made at TransparencyCamp, he’s continued his work Alabama and started conversations with members of his state legislature about reforming ALISON and the future of open data in Alabama.
Jennifer Peebles is Deputy Editor at Texas Watchdog, a nonprofit online news site based in Houston. Jennifer hosts their podcast on government transparency and frequently convenes a monthly webinar on using open government laws. Before joining Texas Watchdog, Jennifer served as the Government Editor of The Tennessean, leading a team that uncovered a rash of sexual harassment cases in Tennessee state government, prompting state leaders to change the way harassment cases are reported. She also oversaw an investigation into the Tennessee Highway Patrol that unearthed deep-seated cronyism and a scheme in which troopers were promoted after making campaign contributions to connected politicians. Sunlight first featured Jennifer in our weekly blogger round-up in the fall of 2010 for her critique of public officials who use transparency as a weapon towards their opponents yet fail to be transparent themselves. Since then, she’s been a great resource for us and other local bloggers on state-level transparency, and was very helpful in helping to promote our open letter to the nation’s governors to stop the rollback of transparency laws.
One of our earliest efforts in state-level work was the Statelight initiative — a series on best practices in organizing for state level government transparency and openness. Since watchdog bloggers have been doing this work for years, we celebrated this tradition — and keys to successfully harnessing the watchdog in you — by highlighting Colorado blogger, Wendy Norris. Norris was a 2010 – 2011 Knight Fellow at Stanford University and the founding editor and publisher of Western Citizen, a blog that covers politics and culture in the Rocky Mountains. Wendy encourages bloggers to be curious and follow the leads that data provide: “Luck, coupled with the will to ask provocative, unanswered questions about life in your community can set you on some very interesting journeys.” Learn more about how luck and good journalism chops helped Wendy help her community in her guest post on our blog.
Students, teachers, nurses, writers, programmers – These are our OpenGov Champions.
They are ordinary citizens, equipped with the special power we all share in this country: the power to take civic action to make our communities better. These folks are hard at work every day to make our government more accessible, accountable, open and transparent. They write blog posts, petition their elected officials, talk to their neighbors and friends and engage their activist peers in countless public campaigns or individual missions. They all have a shared goal: to make our government more responsible – and responsive – to those they represent. This page is dedicated to their stories. Get to know them and be inspired – after all, we believe that true change happens when people stand up and demand the changes they want to see in their government.
Nominate and OpenGov Champion
Do you know an OpenGov Champion or want to be one yourself?
Share your story with us. We’ll post selected stories. And if your story is unusually compelling, you may end up in one of our OpenGov Champions videos. Please submit your story here: