Civic Commons Takes Off

A few weeks ago, we wrote about several of OpenPlans initiatives graduating from the internal new project incubator that is our “Civic Works” group.  OpenPlans is fertile ground for new civic technology and media projects — from urban policy media outlets like Streetsblog, Streetfilms and GothamSchools, to public technology projects like Open311, all the way to mature open source software organizations like OpenGeo — and it is always exciting to see our initiatives grow and expand.  Today, I’m happy to say that one of our initiatives, Civic Commons, is taking a big step forward in terms of funding and leadership.

With our partners at Code for America, we are proud to announce a $250,000 grant from the Omidyar Network for Civic Commons.  Together, Code for America and OpenPlans have been developing Civic Commons for the past year, and we are very proud to have Omidyar’s support as we move forward.

We are also very excited to be welcoming Andrew McLaughlin as Executive Director of Civic Commons.  Andrew was most recently the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the United States, advising President Obama on internet, technology  and innovation policy (including open government and open technology platforms) and before that the Director of Global Public Policy for Google, and the Vice President at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN – the nonprofit that manages internet domain names).  Needless to say, Andrew has a strong background in government technology and the internet, and we’re proud to bring him on board to lead Civic Commons.

For those of you unfamiliar with Civic Commons, it is a new non-profit effort to help governments use shared and open technologies for the public good. In Andrew’s words:

We believe that governments — especially the cities, towns, and counties that are on the hook to deliver public services every day — can now take advantage of the same technologies and techniques that have generated such enormous efficiencies and enabled such impressive new services by private enterprise. In a digitally interconnected world, cities don’t have to operate in isolation.  They don’t have to reinvent (or re-procure) the wheel every time they face a problem that technology could help address. Cities can pool their resources — their talents and ever-shrinking budgets — to build shared technologies. Just as open standards (e.g., the Internet protocols), shared infrastructures (e.g., cloud computing), and collaborative software (e.g., open source projects like LinuxMozilla Firefox, and Apache Hadoop) have powered astonishing advances in personal and enterprise computing, it is now time for governments to put them to work for the public good.

We believe that governments can now build and deploy shared technologies — open standards, common infrastructures, collaborative projects, and open source software, together with proprietary systems — to improve public service delivery, transparency, accountability, public participation, and management effectiveness, all while spending less.

In sum, Civic Commons is built around two central convictions: first, that wave after wave of innovation is delivering amazing new capabilities to the people and organizations that can take advantage of them, and second, that, with a little help, governments can absolutely understand and seize the opportunities created by the rapid evolution of information technology.

You can also see some of the ideas behind Civic Commons in this short video:

The notion that the internet and shared, open software tools can change the ways that citizens engage with their governments and each other is central to OpenPlans founding goals, and we are very excited to see these ideas get a big boost with this next step for Civic Commons.

The full press release about Civic Commons’ leadership and funding can be found here.