Why Contests Improve Philantropy

New Report from the Knight Foundation: “Since 2007, Knight Foundation has run or funded nearly a dozen open contests, many over multiple years, choosing some 400 winners from almost 25,000 entries, and granting more than $75 million to individuals, businesses, schools and nonprofits. The winners believe, as we do, that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. The contests reflect the full diversity of our program areas: journalism and media innovation, engaging communities and fostering the arts. Over the past seven years, we have learned a lot about how good contests work, what they can do, and what the challenges are. Though contests represent less than 20 percent of our grant-making, they have improved our traditional programs in myriad ways.
A 2009 McKinsey & Company Report, “And the winner is…, ” put it this way: “Every leading philanthropist should consider the opportunity to use prizes to help achieve their mission, and to accept the challenge of fully exploiting this powerful tool. ” But of America ‘s more than 76,000 grant-making foundations, only a handful, maybe 100 at most, have embraced the use of contests. That means 99.9 percent do not.
Sharing these lessons here is an invitation to others to consider how contests, when appropriate, might widen their networks, deepen the work they already do, and broaden their definition of philanthropic giving.
Before you launch and manage your own contests, you might want to consider the six major lessons we ‘ve learned about how contests improved our philanthropy.
1. They bring in new blood and new ideas.
2. They create value beyond the winners.
3. They help organizations spot emerging trends.
4. They challenge routines and entrenched foundation behaviors. 
5. They complement existing philanthropy strategies.
6. They create new ways to engage communities.
…Depending upon the competition, the odds of winning one of Knight’s contests are, at their lowest, one in six, and at their highest, more than one in 100. But if you think of your contest only as a funnel spitting out a handful of winning ideas, you overlook what’s really happening. A good contest is more a megaphone for a cause.”

Eduardo Paes on Open Government

Mayor, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the Huffington Post: “The Internet revolution has transformed the way knowledge is disseminated and how people unite over causes. Social networks are playing a key role in this movement, just as books and the press have done over the last six centuries. During the recent demonstrations in Brazil, approximately 62 percent of the people were informed of the event via Facebook, a much higher rate than TV, which was first source of information to 14 percent of attendees, according to Ibope Institute. Three out of four agitators used social networks to round up support. As generations succeed and the digital gap narrows, these statistics could possibly rise.
This revolution is also accentuating the imperfections of the representative democracy, the only plausible alternative, as Churchill famously said. We live in an era of “Liquid Modernity” as defined by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, which describes the ephemeral nature of contemporary social interactions. Bauman says that these days society, in a similar manner to liquid, adopts various unstable forms under small amounts of pressure. They are incapable of stabilizing in a consistent form, which results in consequences to social relationships and politics. Meanwhile, political parties, bureaucracy and institutions seem to remain firmly in the 17th Century.
Democracy has to reinvent itself in accordance with this new “liquid society” where collaboration happens between many millions of people directly. Leadership is not vertical, as in the past, but horizontal. Nowadays some say following is more important than leading. Cyber culture understands open code as a principle, something the music industry has reluctantly had to learn. There is no time and space limitation for public accountability on the Internet. Creative commonality is standard and does not resemble the authoritarian style of the dead communist experience. It seems that it is no longer society’s obligation to understand legislation, it is a duty for governments to be understood by their people.”

Open Government is About Raising People’s Opinions

Lucas Dailey, Chief Innovation Officer at political social network MyMaryland.net, in Sunlight Foundation’s OpenGov Voices: “The mechanism for citizen interaction with government doesn’t start and end at the ballot box. An essential goal of our fight for greater government openness and transparency is to give citizens’ opinions greater power. For government to be responsive it must have a fast, easy means to understand how constituents feel about any given issues. Ultimatelogoly, government itself is a relationship between the institutions that constitute a polity and its citizens.

MyMaryland.net wants to bridge the gap between voters and their representatives because we believe people’s voices matter. MyMaryland.net connects verified Maryland voters with their elected officials in democracy’s first 24/7 online Town Hall.

Participation: a two-sided problem

One of the keys to a vibrant representative democracy is an informed and engaged citizenry. Yet only 10% of Americans contact their elected officials between elections. We can do better by lowering the hurdles to participate and raising the political value of opinions.

…Open Government isn’t just about transparency, it’s also about the ability to take action based on what that transparency allows us to learn. The Open Government movement has helped us learn what government does and how it does it. Now it’s your move.”

The Republic of Choosing

William H. Simon in the Boston Review: “Cass Sunstein went to Washington with the aim of putting some theory into practice. As administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) during President Obama’s first term, he drew on the behavioral economics he helped develop as an academic. In his new book, Simpler, he reports on these efforts and elaborates a larger vision in which they exemplify “the future of government.”
Simpler reports some notable achievements, but it exaggerates the practical value of the behaviorist toolkit. The Obama administration’s most important policy initiatives make only minor use of it. Despite its upbeat tone, the book implies an oddly constrained conception of the means and ends of government. It sometimes calls to mind a doctor putting on a cheerful face to say that, while there is little he can do to arrest the disease, he will try to make the patient as comfortable as possible.
…The obverse of Sunstein’s preoccupation with choice architecture is his relative indifference to other approaches to making administration less rigid. Recall that among the problems Sunstein sees with conventional regulation are, first, that it mandates conduct in situations where the regulator doesn’t know with confidence what is the right thing to do, and second, that it is insufficiently sensitive to relevant local variations in taste or circumstances.
The most common way to deal with the first problem—insufficient information—is to build learning into the process of intervention: the regulator intervenes provisionally, studies the effects of her intervention, and adapts as she learns. It is commonplace for statutes to mandate or fund demonstration or pilot projects. More importantly, statutes often demand that both top administrators and frontline workers reassess and adjust their practices continuously. This approach is the central and explicit thrust of Race to the Top’s “instructional improvement systems,” and it recurs prominently in all the statutes mentioned so far.”

Participatory Democracy in the New Millenium

New literature review in Contemporary Sociology by Francesca Polletta: “By the 1980s, experiments in participatory democracy seemed to have been relegated by scholars to the category of quixotic exercises in idealism, undertaken by committed (and often aging) activists who were unconcerned with political effectiveness or economic efficiency. Today, bottom-up decision making seems all the rage. Crowdsourcing and Open Source, flat management in business, horizontalism in protest politics, collaborative governance in policymaking—these are the buzzwords now and they are all about the virtues of nonhierarchical and participatory decision making.

What accounts for this new enthusiasm for radical democracy? Is it warranted? Are champions of this form understanding key terms like equality and consensus differently than did radical democrats in the 1960s and 70s? And is there any reason to believe that today’s radical democrats are better equipped than their forebears to avoid the old dangers of endless meetings and rule by friendship cliques? In this admittedly selective review, I will take up recent books on participatory democracy in social movements, non- and for-profit organizations, local governments, and electoral campaigning. These are perhaps not the most influential books on participatory democracy since 2000—after all, most of them are brand new—but they speak interestingly to the state of participatory democracy today. Taken together, they suggest that, on one hand, innovations in technology and in activism have made democratic decision making both easier and fairer. On the other hand, the popularity of radical democracy may be diluting its force. If radical democracy comes to mean simply public participation, then spectacles of participation may be made to stand in for mechanisms of democratic accountability.”

Governing Gets Social

Government Executive: “More than 4 million people joined together online in December 2011 to express outrage over the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill Congress was considering that would have made content-sharing websties legally responsible for their users’ copyright violations, with punishments including prison time.
Experts called the campaign a victory for digital democracy: The people had spoken— the ones who don’t have lobbyists or make large campaign donations. And just as important, their representatives had listened.
There was a problem, though. Through social media, ordinary citizens told Congress and the president what they didn’t want. But the filmmakers, recording artists and others concerned about protecting intellectual property rights, many of whom supported SOPA, had a legitimate beef. And there was no good way to gauge what measures the public would support to address that.
A handful of staffers in the office of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., thought they might have a solution. As the debate over SOPA rose to a boil, they launched the Madison Project, an online forum where users could comment on proposed legislation, suggest alternative text and vote those suggestions up or down. It was a cross between Microsoft Word’s track changes function and crowdsourced book reviews on Amazon.
Not all examples of this new breed of interactive social media happen at the macro level of legislation and presidential directives. Agencies across government have been turning to the platform IdeaScale, for instance, to gather feedback on more granular policy questions.
Once an agency poses a question on IdeaScale, anyone can offer a response or suggestion and other discussion participants can vote those suggestions up or down. That typically means the wisdom of the masses will drive the best ideas from the most qualified participants to the top of the queue without officials having to sift through every suggestion….
What many people see as the endgame for projects like Madison and Textizen is a vibrant civic culture in which people report potholes, sign petitions and even vote online or through mobile devices.
The Internet is great at gathering and processing information, but it’s not as good at verifying who that information is coming from, says Alan Shark, a Rutgers University professor and executive director of the Public Technology Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on technology issues affecting local governments.
“Star Trek is here,” Shark says. “We have these personal communicators, their use is continuing to grow dramatically and we’re going to have broader civic participation because of it. The missing piece is trusted identities.”

A Smarter, More Innovative Government for the American People

Steve VanRoekel and Todd Park at the White House Blog: “This morning, the President held a meeting with his Cabinet and senior officials to lay out his vision for building a better, smarter, faster government over the course of his second term. During the meeting, the President directed Cabinet members and key officials in his Administration to build on the progress made over the first term, and he challenged us to improve government even further….
This morning, the President stated, “We need the brightest minds to help solve our biggest challenges. In this democracy, we, the people, realize this government is ours. It’s up to each and every one of us to make it work better. And we all have a stake in our success.” Read the President’s full remarks here, and see all the graphics from his speech below.”

The Management Agenda for Government Innovation

Beyond Code in the Tomorrow City

Article in the Next City: “Since 2009, the San Francisco-based non-profit Code for America has embedded its budding techies in one-year fellowships with city halls around the country. The goal: To build apps that make city governments run more effectively and bolster engagement between citizens and civil servants. But even Code founder Jennifer Pahlka — who hatched the idea for her organization over beers in Flagstaff, Ariz. and will soon take a year off herself to serve as a White House chief technology officer — admits that apps alone can’t solve the world’s problems. That might explain why the group’s mission is in flux, with hard questions and new projects pushing the increasingly high-profile group into its own 2.0 moment. Journalist Nancy Scola goes inside the Code for America universe, talking to believers and skeptics alike to find out how the organization is evolving and what that means for the future of the civic tech movement and cities at large.

E-petition systems and political participation: About institutional challenges and democratic opportunities

New paper by Knud Böhle and Ulrich Riehm in First Monday: “The implementation of e–petition systems holds the promise to increase the participative and deliberative potential of petitions. The most ambitious e–petition systems allow for electronic submission, make publicly available the petition text, related documents and the final decision, allow supporting a petition by electronically co–signing it, and provide electronic discussion forums. Based on a comprehensive survey (2010/2011) of parliamentary petition bodies at the national level covering the 27 member states of the European Union (EU) plus Norway and Switzerland, the state of public e–petitioning in the EU is presented, and the relevance of e–petition systems as a means of political participation is discussed….
The most interesting finding is that some petition systems — by leveraging the potential of the Internet — further the involvement of the public considerably. This happens in two ways: first by nudging e–petition systems in the direction of lightweight instruments of direct democracy and second by making the institution itself more open, transparent, accountable, effective, and responsive through the involvement of the public. Both development paths might also lead to expectations that eventually cannot be complied with by the petition body without more substantial transformations of the institution. This or that might happen. Empirically, we ain’t seen almost nothing yet.”

Introducing the 21st-Century City Hall

GovTech: “Here are five platforms that are helping redefine civic engagement.

Neighborland: A new way to rally residents

If you’ve ever tried drumming up support for a neighborhood project, you know firsthand how difficult the effort can be. From diverse work schedules to just plain indifference, capturing a community’s attention and rallying residents on an issue can seem impossible at times. Neighborland was created to make that task easier.
The online social engagement platform helps citizens and public officials connect on ideas and plans for a community. After creating a profile on Neighborland, users can post questions or ideas using words and pictures. The posts can be categorized by topic, and users can suggest related actions such as fundraisers and meetings….

Textizen: An easier way to give opinions

Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, struggled to collect feedback from parents. To simplify the process, the district deployed Textizen, which makes sharing comments and responding to survey questions as easy as sending a text message….

Voterheads: Early warning on important issues

It’s a scenario every local government is likely familiar with: There’s a council meeting and while decisions are being made on behalf of everyone in the area, only a small percentage of the population participates in the process. But once a decision is made, citizens complain about the result….Voterheads, a free online engagement platform that alerts citizens via email when their city, county or school board is discussing a topic that they’re interested in. Using a sliding scale, users indicate their degree of opposition or support of a topic like taxes, at which point the system decides if or how quickly that person should be notified about an upcoming public meeting….

Community PlanIt: A game with real-world results

Eric Gordon, an Emerson College professor, creates games and other digital tools that energize civic participation. He runs the university’s Engagement Game Lab and develops programs to make community planning fun and interactive for citizens.
One of his creations is Community PlanIt, an online game that solicits comments from residents about their neighborhoods. City administrators analyze the feedback to make more informed choices about community development….

Open Town Hall: Letting cooler heads prevail

Democracy is a messy process. James Madison said that faction and discord are “sown in the nature of man,” and have “divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.” Winston Churchill once noted, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”…Peak Democracy’s Open Town Hall moves the public meeting process online, acknowledging some 21st-century realities and offering a few other advantages too….Open Town Hall requires registration, and the topics are presented by the jurisdiction. Rather than restricting input, said Cohen, it broadens the appeal of participation and brings in many more moderate views. Open Town Hall also requires a geocoded address so that input on an issue can be evaluated based on its location. The names and locations view can be turned on or off, depending on the issue and the jurisdiction’s wishes….

3 Platforms to Watch

Placehood.org: Billed as a “virtual place to discuss real places that you want to see transformed,” Placehood connects citizens, developers and city planners. The goal is to repurpose or improve underutilized properties, while letting users comment about a place, post improvement ideas, add images and gather support.
Outline.com: This platform visualizes a public policy’s impact on the state or local economy by simulation. Outline lets citizens perform what-if analyses on budgets and policies and provide feedback to the government. The simulator is being piloted in Massachusetts, and the company hopes to grow the number of users this summer.
PlaceSpeak: Launched in Canada, the online community consultation website connects citizens with local issues. Users’ addresses are verified, allowing the government or organization to specify areas where it would like to get feedback from or generate ideas about.”