Three big open government funders help launch new ideas

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Do you have an idea that has the potential to transform how citizens interact with their government on a local, state, or even national level? Turning that potential into reality is a process that faces many challenges. But first things first: Where will you get your funding?

Fortunately, there are plenty of avenues to explore and organizations to turn to with innovative ideas that will push for openness and transparency at all levels of government. The Sunlight Foundation, Google, and the Knight Foundation are three of the "big guys" responsible for funding the "little guys" in the fight to achieve an open and transparent government.

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The Sunlight Foundation

Access to information keeps government accountable, and the Sunlight Foundation works to make sure citizens get their access. Through the utilization of open data, an independent reporting team and grant programs, they shine a light on government and its agencies so citizens can educate themselves.

By funding entrepreneurs dedicated to keeping government accountable, the Sunlight Foundation turns average citizens into political watchdogs.

The Sunlight Foundation promotes transparency through technology, and some of their success stories include:


The opposite of Big Brother, this nonprofit provides citizens with a map that details the social and political connections between officials and organizations. Littlesis gathers public information in one area so it is easier to track relationships, follow money and increase awareness of connections that might influence important political decisions.


This organization gathers government documents on one website to be viewed by activists, journalists, and anyone else, to ensure these documents remain available to the public for education and accountability. Most of the documents are free and the site will help you file up to five Freedom of Information Act requests for a small fee.


This organization tries to help make voting as simple as possible. The website notifies voters of any rules, deadlines, and forms they need to be able to vote.


As one of the most successful companies in the world, it’s a given Google would be active in the open government scene. The company says they believe open government is the best way to strengthen democracy, and that the Internet can serve as a powerful tool for education and ensuring transparency. Utilizing a variety of Google outlets, the company strives to ensure government is a two-way street by providing access to government officials and information, while also serving as a platform for officials to reach out to citizens.

Though Google funds different organizations, they’ve recently awarded a grant of $1.5 million to Code for America. This nonprofit aims to combine civic coders, open data, and a strong sense of community to help ailing cities across the country develop technology to solve community problems. The grant allowed Code for America to expand from three to eight cities and add to their team of coders.

The Knight Foundation

By engaging citizens at a community level, the Knight Foundation takes a localized approach to improving access to government. The Foundation’s hallmark of a strong focus on journalism and journalistic integrity is blended with new media to ensure access to information.

The funding provided by the Knight Foundation is split up into five categories.

The Knight Arts Challenge provides funding for innovative and interesting arts projects that help improve communities.

The Knight Enterprise Fund recognizes innovation in media by providing early-stage funding for organizations seeking to improve access to information.

The Knight Prototype Fund offers $35,000 to take an idea from a demonstration to a final product over the course of six months.

The Community Foundations Program rewards programs designed to help communities.

Some of the innovations currently being funded by these grant programs are:

  • Capitol Hound: an audio archive and alert system for the North Carolina General Assembly.
  • Geo Data App: a platform that allows users to produce, review and publish geo datasets.
  • GovLoop Academy: a learning platform for civil servants.
  • PressSecure: an application that focuses on gathering citizen media.

The efforts of the Sunlight Foundation, Google, and the Knight Foundation create a culture where open government and innovation go together. When tracking the funding and genesis of efforts to make the government more transparent, these three organizations are good place to start.


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Adam Levenson is the community manager at UNC-Chapel Hill’s MPA@UNC: online Master of Public Administration – a top ranked MPA program. To learn more about Adam and his various passions, you can follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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