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Tag Archive: Knight Foundation

OpenGov Voices: Data provides constant revelations for central Illinois communities


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight FoundationBrant Houston - professor of journalism or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Brant Houston is the Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the College of Media at the University of Illinois and Editor in Chief of CU-CitizenAccess -- a community online news and information project devoted to investigative and enterprise coverage of social, justice and economic issues in east central Illinois. He can be reached at, an award-winning online newsroom, was launched with public data and it continues to thrive and grow with data about the central Illinois region.

Conceived as a digital platform for university students, faculty and journalism professionals, the project began with a review of basic Census data for the communities of Champaign and Urbana, Illinois in 2008. (Thus, the “C” for Champaign and the “U” for Urbana.) The data revealed what seemed like a surprisingly high percentage of people living in poverty – about 20 percent – in a county that is home to the University of Illinois, a top public educational institution.

But as we scanned the data, we knew there were questions about whether college students, with low earned income, were distorting the numbers. So we looked at the percentage of subsidized school lunches and saw that more than half the school children were receiving lunches. We also read news stories and talked with the staff at the local newspaper and realized there was more than a story to pursue – that there was an ongoing project.

While collecting more data and information, we worked with colleagues to raise funds from a local community foundation, matching money from the Knight Foundation’s Community Information program, and from the University. By the spring 2009, work was underway by Illinois journalism alum Pam Dempsey and Shelley Smithson. In December 2009, the website was up and running and alum Acton Gorton, was helping administer the website while reporting too.

CU Citizen Access
An illustrative representation of an interactive story about the efforts to clean toxic waste from a neighborhood community in Urbana, IL. Image by Acton H. Gorton for

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Announcing a new grant to Sunlight from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation


Sunlight is very proud to share the news that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will award us $4 million over the next three years to increase our ability to make more government data more accessible, especially on the state and local level. With this new support, we will focus more on making more government data accessible to more and more people -- not just journalists and experts. This new funding from the Knight Foundation will undoubtedly go a long way toward giving us more resources to make online government transparency a reality, enabling us to continue to build tools to bring that data to the public and share with the growing open government community lessons learned from our work.

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Get Funded with Sunlight’s New OpenGov Grants


We’re happy to announce our new OpenGov Grants program to help you fulfill your vision of making government more transparent and accountable.

We know how challenging fundraising can be. You start an innovative project using technology to make government more open and accessible and halfway through -- you run out of money. At Sunlight, we’ve been there, and that's why we want to help you out. (Don't be misled by our name -- we’re not a foundation with an endowment, but rather a nonprofit that competes for grants just like any other 501 c3 charitable organization.) Indeed, we know how challenging fundraising can be.

With the financial support of, our new OpenGov Grants program will offer one-time grants in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 to help you achieve your vision of opening up government through creative innovations. OpenGov Grants can support anything from making a cool app to help residents understand how local government works, to creating an open source site to navigate state or local spending data to extending the capabilities of one of Sunlight’s own websites or apps. We’ll give priority to projects that develop open source software or data. (For details on what we will and won’t fund, please visit our FAQ.) Get inspired to apply by watching our video.

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