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San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon on dresses, roses and personal empowerment

Heidi Harmon

San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon has an inspiring interview with the The California Report on her personal style, what it re-enforces and the sense of empowerment it gives her.

Harmon, whose signature attire is “strong but feminine” dresses (reporter John Sepulvado’s words) and a rose accessory — in her hair or pinned to her dress — that pays homage to her Pasadena roots.

Harmon shares her sentiments on not bending to norms once elected, becoming something you’re not, and her attire as a personal statement with intent, despite at times the judgmental feedback she’s received:

“That’s the mistake I think people make. They come into politics probably for really good reasons. They’re probably mostly decent people that really care about something. Something’s impacted them or their families and they want to advocate for a different way, and then they get in and there’s that really strong tendency to listen to the voices that suggest ‘oh, no, no, no, no, you can’t vote that way, you can’t you can’t say that, you can’t dress like that, because you’re not going to get re-elected.’ … For me, I have no interest in presenting in a more masculine way, which has traditionally been the model for women in business. … When I walk into a room, I want it to be really clear that a woman has entered this space. So, to me, it’s a commitment to that more feminine approach, which I think is really important, and a commitment to courage, that I am not going to allow others to decide how I am going to be in this position. … I think there’s always something threatening about a woman who takes her space, and I think this suggests that to some extent. I have something to say. I have people’s voices that aren’t being heard that I have an opportunity to represent, and I’m here to work with you, and I’m also here to take up my own space.”

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Neighborly inspiration from CEO Jase Wilson

Jase WilsonNeighborly CEO Jase Wilson is an inspiring entrepreneur working to change how public projects are funded. I’ve been fortunate to chat numerous time with him over the past few weeks and always leave energized and ready to tackle big problems.

I asked Jase if he could reflect on the past four years building Neighborly and share some advice to others.

What inspires you most about the work you’re doing at Neighborly?

Apart from keeping the company funded, and reiterating the vision until everyone’s sick of hearing it (then reiterating it some more), my job is to seek, attract, recruit, and cultivate unimaginably smart and passionate people. Getting to work with the Neighborly team every day is beyond electrifying.

Also, it’s an honor to be the ones modernizing access to public finance. We’re changing how public projects get created, in an era where cities new solutions to address a growing list of economic and environmental challenges. Our work translates directly into more and better public projects — schools, parks, libraries, and next generation things like neighborhood microgrids and municipal wifi — that contribute positively to the world.

It’s been four years. What’s the status of Neighborly today?

Learning to walk-jog. Patience and long view to make big change in a two century old market.

You studied cities and technology at MIT. From what you learned in academics to what you’ve applied as an entrepreneur, what’s your general commentary on cities and technology today?

The megatrend that gives me the most hope for the future is the rise of the region: urban regions — clusters of cities — continue to emerge as the new units of economic and political power. Within our lifetimes, my guess is that regional becomes the new national. We’re living through the turbulence caused by the evaporation of legitimacy, power, and relevance of the nation level, a unit of organization that no longer really suits the way the world works. We see this unraveling worldwide and in our own nation. It can be a scary thought for many since we as humans tend to be tribal and identify with nationalism in deeply emotional ways. But it’s really not a practical construct anymore. I remain hopeful that what’s emerging is a new model of empowered regions, quilt works of thriving neighborhoods stitched together by geographic proximity and mutual interests, a model in which we can help each other thrive and co-exist as a unified planet.

Tech enables and enhances the concentration of power in this clustered organization in a positive feedback loop that accelerates the transition from strong nation to strong region. Every time we draw a map showing commuter patterns using cell phone location data that could not be analyzed at scale 15 years ago, we’re confronted with how the world really works. When we autonomize commutes, we open all new regional extents via passive door-to-door commutes, furthering the regional trend. Then new high tech intra-regional transport like Hyperloop connects the dots between regions. Farming automation draws even more people from the hinterlands to the urban regions. De-centralizing production, storage, conditioning and distribution of energy and other trends all accelerate the rise of the region. Everything we’re seeing right now plays in to the rise of the region.

All of this means our work at Neighborly is of increasing importance. The public realm — the sum of all the goods we co-create and utilize tends to take place mostly at the local level. Public goods rely on public finance which is currently heavily organized around the concept of nation and states. What’s needed is a more efficient, data-driven mechanism for financing very local public projects global capital. Connecting local public projects directly to a global capital network is Neighborly in a nutshell.

What’s your advice to civic-focused startups?

You know why your mission is “civic.” When you’re talking to investors, customers, even potential recruits, be open about how you define your space. Fields like “health” and “finance” are well established industries. Being a tech startup in one of those fields is easy to talk and think about — fintech for example. But “civic” is not a defined private sector field. The term means many things. For many, it invokes ideas of philanthropy, which can create subtle but sometimes strong and entirely unnecessary frictions for you.

Top five books everyone focused on cities should read?

This is tricky and a question I’m often asked. I agree 100% with and defer to the Planetizen All Time Top 20. To it, for civic technologists specifically, I’d add a few —  Citizenville is good, Jane Jacob’s lesser celebrated Economy of Cities, Ed Glaeser’s Triumph of the City, and for thinking really, really big about the future of the city Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks.

The long tail of political mail

Left to right: Eric Jaye, Bergen Kenny, Danielle Winterhalter (Photo: SpeakEasy Political)

Left to right: Eric Jaye, Bergen Kenny, Danielle Winterhalter (Photo: SpeakEasy Political)

SpeakEasy Political wants to make it easier for everyone to run for elected office.

Danielle Winterhalter, SpeakEasy co-founder and director of strategic partnerships, shares how they’re addressing a fundamental aspect of lowering the barrier to entry, especially when it comes to political (snail) mail, which is still more relevant than you might think.

What’s the SpeakEasy Political elevator pitch?

Believe it or not, I’ve actually delivered this in a couple elevators – – it goes a little like this:

Speakeasy is a new tool that leverages technology to cut costs in the creation and distribution of political mail.

Our founding team is group of political consultants who were tired of seeing good candidates and causes priced out of modern elections. So, we built a platform that affords campaigns and organizations the opportunity to use professionally designed, pre-built direct mail templates – paired with their own content and data powered by the VAN & PDI – to produce targeted, persuasive messaging. On time and under budget.

SpeakEasy makes consultant-caliber communication tools affordable for small budget campaigns. By lowering the cost barriers to participation, we provide the working mom running for school board, or the small business owner interested in serving on county commission, top of the ticket resources at a price point that won’t dissuade good people from running for office.

We believe that by cutting the costs of proven voter communication tools, we can amplify the voices of candidates and causes with tights budgets and limited resources.

What’s the back story on why you started?

Our founding team came out of Storefront Political Media, a full service political consulting firm that works with democratic candidates and progressive organizations throughout California, and across the country. We loved the clients we were working with, but we were also in the position of having to turn away a lot of first-time, local candidates who didn’t have the budgets to afford the services of a consulting firm.

As the cost of running campaigns continuously increases each cycle – and as major conservative donors, like the Koch brothers, funnel their dollars into down ballot races – we realized that too many folks weren’t able to get their message to voters, and Democratic candidates and progressive causes were actively being priced out of running competitive campaigns. (Now – there will always be races that need the full court press services of firms like Storefront, but we wanted to create a tool that would help elevate local candidates and budget-conscious organizations.)

Being in San Francisco, and surrounded by the influence of Silicon Valley, Bergen Kenny – our CEO – knew there had to be a way technology could help solve this problem. After her son was born, she was making her baby announcements on  a template based invitation platform called Minted.com and thought – “why the heck don’t we do this for political mail”?

Eric Jaye, the founder and CEO of Storefront Political, helped develop the concept and thousands of hours, and one political cycle later, we’ve  had the privilege of doing work from California to North Carolina and have an established proof of concept as we look ahead to 2017.

Why is political snail mail still relevant?

Eric Jaye actually wrote a great piece in Campaigns & Elections magazine addressing this exact question. As he points out, it really comes down to a couple main proof points:

The limited reach of digital drives use of direct mail

As more campaigns adopt the precision of cookie-matched digital advertising, it’s becoming clear that direct mail is a needed companion to these programs.

Given the limited time frame of most political campaigns, even a strong digital buy only reaches about 70-80 percent of the total available audience. That means, even a well-run, adequately funded digital program might only reach a little more than half the total voter audience.

This is where direct mail can help address that oversight in reach – with mail, you can send directly to the homes of the voters you choose, and according to USPS studies, nearly 70 percent of recipients at least scan-read their mail.

Sure, a piece of mail is more expensive on a per view basis, but nothing is more costly than leaving up to half of your targeted voter universe out of your communications program.

The barrier to entry is low

Cutting a TV ad is expensive, placing a pre-roll buy is complicated, and even the best social media campaigns are managed by professionals – but as do-it-yourself direct mail services come online, it’s becoming cheaper and easier for candidates who don’t have large campaign coffers to reach voters at home.

Our clients can create their professional quality mail piece after their kids go to bed, and instead of having to make a trip to the county clerk or a call to a data vendor – they can choose their voter targets with a few clicks. We think that bringing design and voter targeting together has the power to transform the market, allowing candidates and causes to forgo consultants and run their own programs.

Especially in local races, direct mail remains a salient form of voter communications – we just want to make it more attainable for Democratic candidates and organizations.

Any inspiring examples?

We’re actually incredibly fortunate to be inspired by so many of our clients and organizational partners – we get to work with such talented folks, who are selflessly dedicated to their communities.

One great example of a pretty inspiring candidate is Amber Childress – who is here in the Bay Area. Amber has a busy professional career, but as her young son started in the Alameda School District, she wanted to apply her professional skills to the local school board as a way of being more involved in his education.

Being a working mom, Amber didn’t have dozens of hours a week to spend on the phone dialing for dollars raising the money it takes to hire a consultant to run your mail program. But, after work one day, Amber logged on to SpeakEasy, created her piece, picked her targets, and in just a few hours – we were running it through the production process.

By telling her story to voters, Amber was able to unseat a two term incumbent and won her race by just over 800 votes. I think Amber’s story is so iconic of what we’re trying to do at SpeakEasy – build a tool that allows good folks to tell their story, save their budget, and get more involved with their communities.

What’s your advice to those who want to run for elected office?

Please do it.

Please.

Running for office is intimidating, and scary, and cumbersome – but there are so many fantastic organizations and tools out there to support first time candidates. Groups like Emerge train women to run and win local office, The New American Leaders Project focuses on supporting candidates of color in their campaigns, and local labor organizations and county parties all have candidate training infrastructures to support you in your run. Or call us – we talk to folks all the time who are looking to start their campaigns. Sometimes, a thoughtful conversation about first steps is all you need to get over the intimidation hurdle – and we are more than happy to offer a little advice.

Personally, I think that one of the biggest takeaways of the 2016 election is that we must get more folks involved in the political process, at every level. In order to prevent another presidential election stacked with candidates with terribly low approval ratings – we have to start getting more people engaged in their school boards, county commissions, water boards and city councils. We need to intentionally build the bench in order to instigate greater electoral participation.

So, don’t wait for your neighbor to do it – get involved. Run. We’ll help.

How can others learn more about SpeakEasy Political?

I’m so glad you asked! To learn more, you can visit our website at www.SpeakEasyPolitical.com, connect with us on the Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or shoot me an email at danielle@speakeasypolitical.com. We also have a quick little explainer video here, if you’re curious to the mechanics of the platform.

Phaedra Chrousos retrospects federal government digital service

Photo: General Services Administration Office of Communications

Photo: General Services Administration Office of Communications

After two years of helping lay a new foundation for how the federal government buys, builds and delivers government digital services, Technology Transformation Service Commissioner Phaedra Chrousos announced she is stepping down.

“The creation of the Technology Transformation Service would have not been possible without her vision and leadership,” wrote General Services Administration Administrator Denise Turner Roth. “She helped scale 18F from a “minimum viable product” to an organization that agencies recognize as a critical partner in delivering services to the American public.”

I asked Chrousos to share some parting thoughts.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a startup entrepreneur turned political appointee that came into government for a short tour of duty and has been asked to take on a few different roles and titles along the way – three in two years to be exact! My latest role was helping stand up the Technology Transformation Service and my latest title is that of commissioner of that service.

What is the Technology Transformation Service and why is it important?

TTS is home to an evolving arsenal of products and services that federal agencies can use in the massive undertaking that’s underway to repair, rebuild and modernize the government’s technology.

TTS v1.0 is a purposefully experimental organization that permanently houses the Presidential Innovation Fellows, 18F, and the Office of Citizen Services, which holds products and programs like data.gov, the Web Design Standards and FedRAMP. It looks and feels like a startup that’s starting to scale – so it’s always pushing boundaries and feels creatively messy as new processes are continually put in place to support its growth.

TTS v2.0 will be a larger, more powerful, focused arsenal of products and services that are still constantly evolving to meet the needs of chief information officers across federal, state and local governments. Hopefully it will still feel like a startup in spirit, but as an ecosystem it’s reached a certain level of maturity.

Your Twitter bio, “We can’t win the future with a government of the past.” What’s government of the past?

When it comes to technology, it feels like the government of the past is absolutely everywhere.

The invisible infrastructure that supports our government and ultimately serves the American public is very fragmented, mostly clunky, often broken and sometimes insecure. As someone coming into government with no previous knowledge of how it operates behind the scenes, it was not just eye opening, but also quite alarming. Then I caught a glimpse of the $80 billion annual price tag associated with all of it – just for the federal government alone – and basically fell out of my chair.

And government of the future?

It’s pretty simple.

The government of the future is one that leverages technology to provide easy to use, secure and effective services to the American public. It’s a government that uses modern technology methodologies to not only get to better outcomes, but also dramatically decrease the cost of technology for the American taxpayer so that a good part of that $80 billion can be better spent on just about anything else.

Let’s do a retrospective. What are the wins?

The biggest wins are the people that make up TTS – they come in to serve as Presidential Innovation Fellows, part of the 18F tech bench, and product managers in the Office of Citizen Services.

Many incredible, talented technologists and innovators leave their lives behind in both the public and private sector every month to join this ecosystem. They join in large part because their patriotism that inspires them to rise to the government’s mission to serve the American public. They also join in some small part because we can offer them an environment that rewards new ideas and experimentation and feels more like a startup than the rest of government.

They are the ones that move the government forward every day.

What’s the biggest hurdle?

Believe it or not, it’s the government itself.

It’s designed in every possible way to reward risk aversion and discourage any kind of experimentation that by definition requires failing small, fast and often. Of course, that’s probably for great reason – most government organizations and services have not only reached maturity but also have a tremendous amount to lose if something goes wrong.

Unfortunately, the effort to modernize government technology is relatively nascent and needs to go through this very important experimental phase. It’s the only way we’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t.

And how are you addressing this?

We’ve taken a few very thoughtful steps to create a safe, experimental space for the team so that they can feel free to test out new ideas in a way that accommodates for failure.

Things like: standing up a monthly ideation and funding process (“the great pitch”) that anyone can pitch ideas to; creating a regular, transparent and inclusive review process for all our products and services; maintaining a flat organization so that those that are working closest with our government partners are not the ones farthest from the decision making; encouraging people to stand up and participate in thematic learning and working groups.

Finally, socializing the idea that failing small, fast and often is not only ok, but necessary – and doing that over and over again.

Changing the government of the past has to take its toll. Personally, how do you handle this?

There’s something about being on a two year sprint rather than a decade long marathon that has made this all not just doable but very exciting.

I liken it to being on a campaign or launching a startup – there’s a lot of work to be done, a very close camaraderie with colleagues, and if all goes to plan, there is usually a well deserved vacation waiting at the end.

I do really admire those that can go on for longer, and especially those that dedicate their lives to it. They deserve a tremendous amount of recognition and respect for moving the government forward despite extraordinary obstacles to execution.

For those who want to win the future, what can they do?

Come in for a tour of duty in the government – a year, two years, a decade – it doesn’t matter. I would love to live in a world where we ask the people we meet where they did their tour of duty in government with the same frequency that we ask where they went to college.

Connect with Chrousos on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Superpublic wants to supercharge municipal government innovation

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique

Earlier this week, the City Innovate Foundation was joined by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, U.S. General Services Administration Administrator Denise Turner Roth and the U.S. Department of Commerce to announce a first-of-its-kind Innovation lab to solve urban problems and scale solutions at 50 United Nations Plaza — the birthplace of the U.N.

The 5,000 sq. ft. lab Superpublic unites under the same roof for the first time innovation teams from the private industry, federal, state and city government agencies and from universities. City Innovate Foundation staff will coordinate the activity of member organizations and put on programming that builds capacity among members to solve problems, prototype solutions and create innovative approaches to policies that accelerate change.

City Innovate CEO Kamran Saddique sat down with GovFresh to share how Superpublic will work and what’s next for the innovation lab down the hall from 18F.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

Superpublic is a platform for public, private, and non-profit sectors to work together to address the most pressing challenges facing cities.

What problem(s) does Superpublic solve for government or residents/citizens?

To start, we expect to work on three main problems:

Digital services in government: More than ever before, residents now expect services to be available online. The development of new digital services is an opportunity to rethink how we deliver services to ensure every resident has the access they need. The City of SF is looking to replicate the success of 18F and U.S. Digital Service to create new teams within their respective organizations

Smart cities: How we move ourselves and goods around is rapidly changing. We can either embrace and shape these changes or be at the mercy of them. San Francisco has chosen to lead the way by putting people first in developing safer, more equitable and innovative solutions to transportation challenges. The City of SF is working with DOT, DOE, and DOC on advancing smart cities in San Francisco and nationally – specifically on mobility in the near term.

Performance-based procurement: How do we make sure that the money spent by the government delivers tangible results? How can we use procurement terms to cut cycle time and/or improve quality? We will work to advance innovative financing models to increase impact and accountability.

What’s the story behind starting Superpublic?

We were inspired by the example of the Superpublic lab in Paris, which was opened in November 2014 by the 27e Région and a group of innovation professionals (Plausible Possible, Care and Co, Counterpoint), with the City of Paris, the French National State (SGMAP), and a public bank called Caisse des Dépôts.

For us, Superpublic means providing a workspace where city, state, and federal agencies can come together and work on problems facing the Bay Area. San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose are all expected to benefit from the work of Superpublic as are agencies that operate at the county, state and federal level.

Superpublic provides space, curates programming, convenes summits, roundtables, and training programs to build capacity so that all parties to the lab (government, private companies, non profits, universities) can work together better.

Superpublic will open its doors July 2016.

What makes Superpublic different than other innovation labs?

Across the globe, cities look to San Francisco as the “innovation capital of the world” – to quote San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. This is the first innovation lab set up by a city government to solve problems prioritized by the city.

The lab, managed by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, GSA and City Innovate Foundation will break down silos between different layers of government. Superpublic will bring together multiple layers of government in the same location and act as a catalyst for product and service development to drive more responsive and efficient government. Solutions that come out of the Lab will get commercialized by City Innovate Foundation with the objective to be scaled to other cities in the City Innovate Foundation network.

What will a typical day will look like at Superpublic?

The day starts off with a morning coffee session in the community area where new members introduce themselves and open discussions can take place to ensure communication flows freely between representatives from different organizations.

The project teams have dedicated team work spaces which they can configure to their needs to execute their tasks within the overall milestone-based project management method based on Lean Startup for the process and Scrum for technical development work.

The Superpublic Steering Committee through city/state and federal agencies have sourced a list of problem sets through their constituents which get narrowed to a focused list of 3 or 4 problems. These are explored by a taskforce led by City Innovate for a screening process for approval by the Steering Committee. Upon approval, representatives from lead cities, academic, and industry prepare the proposed projects for financial feasibility and scalability to other cities in the U.S.

This now includes formulating the city problem to be solved, developing a user narrative, mapping out the relevant ecosystem, and key skills needed in a project team as well as an estimation of project timeline, cost and possible funding of the effort.

The afternoon will have delegations visiting from other cities to exchange on city problems and discussions how the Superpublic model could be applied to their cities. The approved projects are kicked off by the team taking over their dedicated working space, being celebrated by everybody from the other teams, partners and City Innovate Foundation.

I’m part of an organization that wants to become a member of the Lab, what should I do?

Send an email to concierge@cityinnovate.org stating your name, your organization’s name, and the nature of your interest. A phone number is helpful.

How can those interested connect with you (website, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.)?

You can learn more about Superpublic at www.cityinnovate.org/superpublic and on Facebook and Twitter.

Funding government technology

Govtech Fund Managing Partner Ron Bouganim (Photo: Code for America)

Govtech Fund Managing Partner Ron Bouganim (Photo: Code for America)

I’m always inspired talking and working with entrepreneurs trying to solve big civic problems, especially those who realize much of the challenge lies within modernizing and empowering internal government operations, so it was great to finally meet with Govtech Fund Founder and Managing Partner Ron Bouganim this week.

Govtech Fund aims to “harness the power of transformers, technology, and capital to help government become more efficient, responsive, and better able to serve society.” Bouganim has raised $23 million to make this happen, and the fund has made five investments to date, including SmartProcure, Mark43, SeamlessDocs, AmigoCloud and mySidewalk (formerly MindMixer), with a sixth soon to be announced.

Bouganim differentiates between govtech and civictech, the former focusing on internal agency technology infrastructure, or the “government operating system,” such as procurement, permitting, GIS and fraud detection, and the latter being citizen-focused services.

What strikes me about Bouganim, besides the fact that he’s helping to build a Mandarin immersion school in San Francisco, is his complete focus to the government technology sector, from educating other venture capitalists on the space to managing deal flow and putting his money where his mouth is.

“This is the last job I’ll ever do,” Bouganim told me.

To learn more about Bouganim’s perspective on funding government technology, read Next City’s profile from earlier this year and watch his 2015 Code for America Summit talk:

Elon Musk as government innovator

President Barack Obama, left, Air Force Col. Lee Rosen, Commander, 45th Launch Group, center, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talk with Dr. John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology during a tour of the commercial rocket processing facility of Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Thursday, April 15, 2010.

Photo: NASA

After reading Ashlee Vance’s new Elon Musk biography, I find myself wondering whether we should really worry about bad government websites, and instead chalk them up as inspiration for those who will change the world.

Musk, after visiting NASA’s website and not finding the agency’s plan for getting to Mars, started inquiring into the state of space in general, and the rest is SpaceX history.

While “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” is about Musk’s multiple entrepreneurial ventures, it’s also an inspiration to those who look to change government from the outside. Often, we hear much about (and from) the innovators within, but Vance does an incredible service chronicling Musk’s evolution from that first visit to nasa.gov to building SpaceX, including out-competing and out-innovating established government vendors, such as Lockheed and Boeing, and eventually working alongside them and NASA to revolutionize America’s space program.

“Elon Musk” is not just for those in Silicon Valley hoping to become the next Elon Musk. It’s for everyone in government who wants to change it from within by understanding how they can better empower those on the outside. The space anecdotes are particularly helpful inspiration in opening the eyes to what’s possible and how government can truly realize its innovation potential.

While not everyone can be Elon Musk, Vance’s insights into how one entrepreneur inspired government (and its entrenched service providers) to innovate are an important observation and lesson to acknowledge, especially for those developing processes hoping to foster government innovation, because often it happens outside the walls of the bureaucracy.

We just need to better enable it.

Thank you, Jake

Jake Brewer speaking at PDF 2014. (Photo: Personal Democracy Media)

Jake Brewer speaking at PDF 2014. (Photo: Personal Democracy Media)

I’m still stunned and heartbroken by the news that we’ve lost Jake Brewer.

Jake and I met six years ago at TransparencyCamp West, where I interviewed him and was able to capture a little bit of how he saw the world, and what needed to be done to make it better.

The last time we communicated was via text on his first day in his new role with the White House and, in between those years, as he has with so many others, he always inspired me with his graceful approach to change and impact.

After I got the news Sunday morning, I started to watch the interview and broke down in disbelief and sadness that I still feel as I write this.

There have been countless, beautiful anecdotes on Jake’s compassion, humility and contributions, and there’s nothing I can add that would do justice to honor the influence he’s had on me other than to say, Jake, I miss you so much, and you will be with me always as I try to live up to the standards you set for those of us still here.

Related: Micah Sifry has a great tribute and excellent anecdote. President Obama issued a statement, and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith expanded with a White House blog post. Friends have set up a memorial education fund for his children.

Thank you, Ellen Miller

Ellen Miller (Photo: Sunlight Foundation)

Ellen Miller (Photo: Sunlight Foundation)

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.

Pete Peterson on public engagement and, literally, a platform for civic innovation

Photo courtesy Pete Peterson

Photo courtesy Pete Peterson

Davenport Institute’s Pete Peterson has spent the last seven years working with local governments on improving their approach to public engagement. Now, he’s running for California secretary of state on a platform centered around civic innovation.

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