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April 02, 2013 10:21 AM Can We Develop New Apps to Make Government Work Better?

By John Sides

I’m a judge in a new competition sponsored by ChallengePost that seeks new “apps to educate people about partisan gridlock and help empower them to do something about it.”  You can see more details at the link.  There is $5000 in prize money at stake.

I’ve put the press release after the jump.  I’m quoted saying:

People hate gridlock and want government to do something. But people also disagree about what exactly it’s supposed to do — which is precisely what creates gridlock. This competition offers an opportunity to address this fundamental tension and generate innovations that can educate and enlighten citizens.

This gets at things I’ve written before, and at some of my frustrations with the new tools that people are creating to encourage engagement with politics.  These tools are often offered up as helping to solve challenges our political system faces—like gridlock or polarization—but rarely do their developers acknowledge that the very people likely to use such tools are the ones who have the sorts of strong opinions that create polarization and gridlock!  In other words, it’s hard to empower the sorts of voices that will militate for moderation and compromise, if that’s your goal.  People tend to militate for the policies they support, but of course other people support difference policies, and we often get stalemate.

Hopefully some creative people can develop apps that navigate this conundrum.  So apply!

ChallengePost and Partners Announce “Apps for Working Government”;

Invite Software Developers to Create Applications to Help Make Government More Transparent and Effective

NEW YORK, MARCH 20, 2013 — ChallengePost, a leading software competitions platform, today launched the “Apps for Working Government Challenge” to highlight innovative apps that make government more transparent and effective.  Along with partners Sunlight Foundation, Personal Democracy Media, The Monkey Cage, and No Labels, ChallengePost invites software developers to enter new or existing applications that can help reduce partisan gridlock and increase legislative productivity at the federal, state, or local level. A total of $5,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to the winning apps.

Software developers, political practitioners, technologists, as well as anyone invigorated by the potential of technology and the Internet are encouraged to share relevant data and solution ideas, and create web, mobile, or desktop apps in one of these two categories:

Educational tools: Apps that visualize or analyze data to illustrate the problem of partisan gridlock, legislative productivity or lack thereof), and/or related consequences.

Solutions & action tools:  Apps that citizens can use to communicate with legislators or mobilize other citizens, or tools that legislators can use to advance collaboration.

We’re excited to introduce this challenge as a way to empower regular citizens to enact change in their government. It really gets to the root of people using their talents and harnessing technology to make government better,” said Brandon Kessler, CEO of ChallengePost. “There are a lot of frustrated Americans who want their government to be more productive. They also want to be able to make informed decisions based on hard data rather than rhetoric or ideology.

People hate gridlock and want government to do something. But people also disagree about what exactly it’s supposed to do — which is precisely what creates gridlock,” said John Sides, Co-Founder and Contributor of ‘The Monkey Cage,’ a blog about political science and politics. “This competition offers an opportunity to address this fundamental tension and generate innovations that can educate and enlighten citizens.

No Labels’ growing citizens movement of Democrats, Republicans and Independents is committed to ending the dysfunction in Washington that prevents our country from solving very serious problems,” said No Labels Co-Founder Jonathan Miller. “That’s why we think this effort to build apps that empower citizens to get involved in breaking the gridlock in our government is so important and exciting.

The Apps for Working Government Challenge is accepting submissions from March 20 to June 19, 2013. Participants who enter an eligible app by May 1, 2013 will receive improvement tips from a panel of experts prior to the final deadline. All eligible submissions will be featured on the challenge website.

For full challenge details, visit http://AppsForWorkingGov.ChallengePost.com.

About ChallengePost

ChallengePost brings software makers and organizations together for online challenges and in-person hackathons that build awareness, solve problems, and spur innovation. ChallengePost also powers Challenge.gov, an award-winning website where citizens and the U.S. government come together to innovate and solve problems. For more information, visit http://challengepost.com.

About the Partners

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan non-profit that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable. Visit http://SunlightFoundation.com to learn more about Sunlight’s projects, including http://PoliticalPartyTime.org and http://influenceexplorer.com.

Personal Democracy Media is a media hub where technology, politics, government and civic life intersect. For more information, visit http://personaldemocracy.com.

No Labels is a group of Republicans, Democrats and Independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving. We welcome people left, right and everything in between so long as they are willing to work with one another to seek shared success for America. That new attitude is what No Labels is all about. Visit No Labels at http://www.nolabels.org.

[Originally posted at The Monkey Cage]

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John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.