Google Targets Open Data With Donations

Google has donated a total of $3.7 million (£2.3m) to two organisations seeking to make government data more open, available and transparent to citizens around the world. has awarded $2.1 million (£1.3m) to the non-profit, non-partisan Sunlight Foundation in the United States, and $1.6 million (£1m) to mySociety, a UK-based group, according to a 16 January post by Matthew Stepka, vice president of, on the Google Public Policy Blog.

Open Data

The donation to the Sunlight Foundation is aimed at helping the group to “grow their programs for open government data, with a focus on making civic information for US cities transparent, available and useable,” wrote Stepka. “By opening up information at the city level for developers as well as citizens, Sunlight is creating opportunity for new ideas that can have an impact in local markets.”

The donation to mySociety is aimed at building “a global platform to equip developers with tools and resources – such as open-source code – to more easily and quickly launch new civic apps and services,” wrote Stepka. “This initiative can promote collaboration between civic-minded technologists, regardless of geography. For example, a civic app created in Finland might be easily replicated 9,000 miles away by a developer in Chile.”

The money is meant to foster the open availability of information so that people can be better informed, according to Stepka’s post. “Both organisations are working to bring together a larger community – governments, developers, companies, non-profits and citizens – with an interest in improving societies. By creating these open platforms today, we can open doors to ambitious new solutions in the future.”

The Sunlight Foundation’s Website says it works to use the power of the Internet to push for greater government openness and transparency, while providing new tools and resources for media and citizens. “We are committed to improving access to government information by making it available online, indeed redefining ‘public’ information as meaning ‘online, and by creating new tools and Websites to enable individuals and communities to better access that information and put it to use,” the group says on the site.

World Citizen

The group mySociety says on its Website that it “works to help people become more powerful in the civic and democratic parts of their lives, through digital means.”

The donations are being made through Google because “the Internet is redefining citizenship in the 21st century,” wrote Stepka. “Technology is helping people to connect, engage, and contribute to society and each other like never before.”

One place where that has been visible recently is in elections around the world where software developers have used Google’s Civic Information API “to bring election data to citizens in new and exciting ways,” wrote Stepka. “Our live election results maps have been viewed by billions around the world, bringing real-time transparency to elections in Egypt, Mexico, Ghana and more. Last week, we launched the Kenya Elections Hub for citizens to access the latest news and resources for the country’s presidential election.”

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said that Google’s funding is very welcome in this endeavour.

“I think it’s wonderful to have more and more use of technology to promote information about politics and government around the world,” Madonna told eWEEK. “In the last 10 years, there’s been a renewed interest around the world in American politics. I regularly meet with people from British, Japanese and other embassies to talk about American politics. We are no longer disconnected as nations. We are all part of a huge international community.”

That means that finding new ways to engage the world’s citizens is critical, he said.

“So the approach is literally that one of the only ways you can reach hundreds of millions of people almost immediately is through the use of these technologies,” he said. “So what’s not to like about that? We can learn more about the international community, and they can learn about us. It promotes the understanding of international culture.”

Election Involvement

Google has been very active in disseminating information about elections, polling places and other civic information in the United States in the last few years.

In October 2012, Google released a new Voter Information Tool Website to help voters find information about just about everything they need to know about the last year’s general elections in the United States. The site included information about where voters could register, where they could cast their ballots and about the candidates on the ballots. The tool allowed users to enter their address to find information on their polling place, early voting locations, ballot information with links to candidates’ social media sites, and voting rules and requirements in their voting districts.

It’s not the first time recently that Google has come up with cool innovations aimed at the nation’s upcoming 2012 elections.

Also last October, Google created the ability for online users to hold virtual presidential debate-watching parties that allowed them to “watch” one of the debates between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney inside a Google+ Hangout where their friends could also gather. The Oct. 16, 2012, event, which was created by Google’s YouTube unit, allowed groups of friends to watch the event live while sharing snarky comments online.

The first presidential and vice presidential debates were both streamed live on network television as well as online, including on YouTube’s Election Hub site.

The virtual debate-watching parties came just two months after YouTube unveiled its YouTube Elections Hub, where voters can visit to view streaming video of the candidates and races through Election Day on 6 November, 2012. The site covered streaming video of both the Republican and Democratic national conventions and included videos of a wide range of political events since the conventions.

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Originally published on eWeek.

Todd R. Weiss

Freelance Technology Reporter for TechWeekEurope and eWeek

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