Today, Sunlight Foundation announced Chris Gates will take over as its new president in October after co-founder and executive director Ellen Miller said she would step down from eight years at the helm.
“I truly believe that open and equal access to information is the bedrock of democracy,” Ellen wrote in February announcing her departure. “Without it, citizens cannot make informed decisions. With it, citizens learn who and what they can trust. This belief has always been the passion of my life as it will always be the Sunlight Foundation’s goal.”
Because of this belief, everyone in the modern open government movement — from the civic hackers to the federal C-suite to everyone in between who champions the importance of open data — can thank Ellen for being instrumental in driving what is fundamental to civic innovation as we practice and celebrate it today.
I still remember when I first launched GovFresh and, within days, Ellen blogged about it. Having left Washington, D.C. years before for California, I had grown increasingly disenchanted and removed from what happened inside the Beltway. My work with GovFresh has changed that sentiment over the years, and Ellen’s small post was part of the spark that made me think perhaps Washington was getting the disruption it needed, backed less by political mudslinging, and more by a simple, straightforward path to transparency and economic innovation.
Many incredible people in the civic movement have worked under Ellen at Sunlight. From policy to technology, it has become the incubator of open innovation and innovators in Washington, and has produced many people I’ve come to admire beyond just their work there.
The first time I met Ellen was at TransparencyCamp West at Google’s Mountain View headquarters, where I interviewed her about what we then called “Gov 2.0.” I still remember that day well, meeting the Sunlight team, attending my first unconference, and realizing there were now people in Washington “just like me.” If DC was then like it was today, I would probably still be there. For those who consider themselves civic and government innovators within the Beltway, Ellen and Sunlight helped make that happen.
I’m excited about what’s to come with Chris as its new leader, but it’s also bittersweet to see Ellen step down. It’s hard to imagine the open government movement without her but, no matter what she does after, her legacy will continue to inspire the next generation of civic idealists the same way she’s inspired me.
Thank you, Ellen Miller.