Transparency ideas abound at 'Ideathon'

Global Integrity

'Ideathon' hosted by Global Integrity addressed transparency, governance. (Photo courtesy Global Integrity)

In one corner of the new OpenGov Hub shared workspace in downtown Washington D.C., a small group of idea-laden Millennials listens intently to a young, bespectacled government intern discuss how he hopes to use crowdsourcing to speed up congressional legislation.

A few tables down, a local research consultant fleshes out a plan to meld big data with governance to create an interactive dashboard that works like a stock ticker, measuring government transparency and accountability in real-time for the world to see.

“It’d be like a stock ticker for governments,” said Jeremy Flattau, pitching his idea. “At any time, you could view how governments all over the world are handling democracy, political participation and freedom."

Flattau was one of about 30 people who attended a Nov. 1 “Ideathon” hosted by Global Integrity, a nonprofit group looking to invest in new ideas that diagnose or mitigate the challenges of government transparency, accountability and corruption – including U.S. government at the federal, state and local levels. The RSVP list included staffers from USAID, the Food and Drug administration and other agencies, though actual turnout was significantly lower than organizers had hoped.

Global Integrity has organized what is essentially an ideas contest, accepting idea submissions online through Nov. 16, before a panel of judges in a variety of fields assesses them. Executive Director Nathaniel Heller said the nonprofit plans to invest in 10 to 15 of the best ideas, allocating up to $10,000 per idea from its innovation fund and potentially providing idea-makers assistance seeking further funding.

“We want to see if we can find very different, disruptive ways to do things,” said Heller, noting the contest was “borne out of the frustration” experienced through exploring traditional avenues of change.

Global Integrity examines and reports on government transparency and corruption in the United States and more than 30 other countries, and is one of the anchoring institutions behind OpenGov Hub, a shared workspace for nonprofit organizations clustered on the second floor of the Organization of American States’ General Secretariat Building on F Street.

“We expect the vast majority of these idea submissions to fail or not work, but we think maybe we’ll stumble across something really interesting,” Heller said. Potential ideas need not be buttoned up, but they do need to be new and innovative, and “address a specific problem and present a clear theory of change,” according to Global Integrity projects manager Nicole Anand.

“We want your wild and crazy ideas,” she said. “We want to concentrate on the theory of change, we don’t care as much about sustainability. Have an end goal and know the steps to take to reach the end goal.”

For many who attended the Ideathon, fleshing out an idea that could lead to grant money was enticing, but it paled in comparison to the chance to bond with like-minded advocates of government transparency, and the chance to brainstorm and critique each other’s ideas.

“I like to see what other people are thinking, what they want to do,” said Renato Busquets, a consultant at World Bank. “It is inspiring to hear ideas coming from others.”


About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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