Talking about Women and Civic Participation

Friday, July 25th, 2014

By Monika Shepard & Christina Crawley

Earlier this week, we hosted a conversation at the OpenGov Hub with a panel of experts, leaders and advocates on their respective experiences and work on women and civic participation and how environmental, economic and cultural norms affect the gender balance, both in the United States and abroad.  

The session was introduced and moderated by Nathaniel Heller, Executive Director at Global Integrity, who spoke about the OpenGov Hub’s interest in playing host and being involved in future discussions around the intersection of women, technology, and politics.  The floor was then given to the panel, which contributed very unique perspectives and approaches to the issue of greater gender equality within the civic space for women. The panel included the following speakers:

A key topic raised during the discussion was that the issue should be treated as a gender issue rather than a women’s issue. In order to drive change, we must look at both sides of the coin and include men, as well as members of the LGBT community, in the conversation. If framed as a women’s issue, men may feel excluded and choose not to be present in shaping the solution. That said, in some environments it is also important to have seperate safe spaces for women to share their ideas freely.

Another key theme from the conversation, especially in the case of women in developing countries, was that outsiders should not assume women want help or want to be engaged in the political process nationally or locally. If basic survival needs are not met, in the context of war-torn countries for example, it might be the case that women are focused on ensuring they and their families are first taken care of, and being engaged doesn’t fall high on their list. In some cases, competition between women can be a challenge as well, in that making sure one’s family and personal situation may outway the camaraderie of women who support one another.

Furthermore, we need to build up the confidence of women, starting at an early age, to understand that they can be leaders in civic activities. According to Clare Bresnahan from She Should Run, one in four girls below the age of 18 in the USA don’t believe they have what it takes to be a leader.  If only 25% of girls think they can be leaders, how can the rest of the population help support these girls as they grow up to be women in leadership roles? The pipeline of mentorship and funding also need to be there to assist in creating the women leaders of tomorrow. Currently it takes over $200,000 to run for a local election in the state of Maryland. Not an easy task, especially without the proper training or support to understand how to raise funding from small donors. Politics and "active" civic engagement take time and a lot of money, a gap that continues to grow.

Based on this conversation, we know there is a lot to follow up on. We encourage anyone interested in the topic, and would like to work with use to co-host another discussion, to contact us at info[at] A particular request goes out to journalists who are writing about, describing, and depicting women’s engagement in the US and abroad.

Life After Reports Published in Locked PDFs

By Christina Crawley

Friday, July 25th, 2014

The slowly becoming (in)famous World Bank report that admits that no one actually downloads or reads their PDF reports has been a hot discussion topic over the last month here in Washington, DC, a city full of non-profits, think tanks, foundations and international organizations who spend a lot of time on producing reports - many of them in PDF. 

In the open government space, we are surrounded by OGP action plans where countries include the steps they will take to get rid of PDF documents, and make their information more open and accessible. Because of this, we are used to giving anyone a hard time for continuing to publish in this format, yet the way in which we should publish isn’t always so obvious. Yes, we need to publish digitally in HTML, but how in order to make sure people access and read it?

Last week, we brought together a panel of speakers at the OpenGov Hub to discuss this topic. From publishing larger amounts of historic content with Jocelyn Blakely-Hill from the National Archives, to getting the word out from small news shops with Bill Gray from the Pulitzer prize-winning Center for Public Integrity, and making sure design plays a role with Kurt Voelker from Forum One Communications, it was great to delve further into the issue.

A few interesting observations thrown out during our discussion:

  • PDFs are 300% less usable than HTML
  • Even coders can be lazy and publish content in PDF instead of HTML
  • If you do a one-page impact report for each report you produce, you will lose your mind
  • Even Pulitzer Prize-winning content doesn’t get downloaded if it’s in PDF
  • People have a lower tolerance for sloppy digital printing than print material
  • Search engines love HTML, not words trapped in PDF

And a few helpful tips we all learned:

  • Think digital first and foremost when publishing content
  • If you absolutely must publish in PDF, have an accompanying HTML text
  • More interesting that ‘who’ your audience is, is ‘where’ are they coming from, and how are they getting to your online content
  • Gateway pages need to die. Take your users from the title to what they want to read in HTML
  • Perfectly tweetable takeaways at the beginning and throughout your content go a long way
  • If your report or story is important enough, don’t just make it a blog series: make it its own website

While we looked at a number of good ideas and examples of how to publish large amounts of content in an attractive way, the biggest thing that struck me was that people simply don’t read long content. They never have. It's only thanks to analytics that we now have the proof. Regardless, it does suggest that we really need to reevaluate how we publish content to make it catchier and to the point. And as for our long in-depth pieces of work: we must ensure that people can link to sections within them, and that the sections themselves have some tailored design.

In a world where content is being published and shared every second of the day, getting one's own stuff read will continue to be a challenge. But if we can think digitally for the really important highlights and messages, maybe we can make more sense of it - and make more time for it.

The session focused on publishing large amounts of content, i.e., long reports. Stay tuned for next time when we focus on the best ways to publish large amounts of data points.

Upcoming BBLs: Publishing Content + Women and Civic Participation

We've got two upcoming Brown-Bag Lunch (BBL) sessions that you should definitely join us for. 

  • Wednesday, May 16th, 12.30-2pm: Publishing Content: If not in PDF, then what? It is widely agreed that publishing in PDF is the wrong way way to go; however, the right way is not always as clear. Long HTML pages? Blog series?
  • Wednesday, May 23rd, 12.30-2pm: Women and Civic Participation. What are the existing challenges and opportunities for women to become more participatory in the civic process? How does the legislative process affect women? 

And remember, they are BBLs, so don't forget to bring your lunch.

Accountability Lab’s Executive Director wins Echoing Green Fellowship

We are excited to announce that Accountability Lab's Executive Director– Blair Glencorse– has been selected from among thousands of applicants as an Echoing Green 2014 Global Fellow.


Through its fellowship program, Echoing Green seeks to unleash next generation talent to solve the world’s biggest problems. Over the past 25 years, it has invested over $31 million in seed funding in nearly 600 social entrepreneurs (Echoing Green Fellows) and their innovative organizations across the globe. The program has provided critical, early-stage support to acclaimed organizations, such as Teach for America and Citizen Schools, and we are happy to see that this leader in the social enterprise field has added accountability to its agenda.

Accountability Lab believes that a lack of accountability is at the root of all development challenges—including poverty, exclusion and instability. 2.6 billion dollars (more than 17 times what the world spends on international aid) and countless opportunities and lives, are lost each year due to corruption. The Lab works to empower citizens to change the status quo and build tools for integrity and anti-corruption in their communities.

The Lab's small but committed team looks for innovative local change-makers (or as we call them “accountapreneurs”) and provides them the catalytic support they need to develop low-cost, high-impact ideas to hold power-holders accountable. Recent initiatives include the development of the first ever film school in Liberia; and a popular portal to crowd-source information on public services in Nepal. Last month, the Lab also led the development of an OpenGov Hub in Nepal to encourage a collaborative movement for change. In addition, the Lab is reinventing the way that organizations can function through radical transparency; oral reporting that fits the context; creative outreach campaigns; and alternative revenue models.

During the two-year Echoing Green fellowship, Blair will receive $80,000 in funding to support the work of the Accountability Lab, participation in leadership development gatherings, and access the powerful network of Echoing Green Fellows, partners, and friends. This support will allow the Lab to scale-up existing initiatives in Liberia and Nepal; expand to other contexts in West Africa and South Asia; build out earned income streams to support sustainability; and improve monitoring and evaluation processes. We are excited to see the growth that this fellowship opportunity will bring.

As Blair notes, “recognition from Echoing Green shows how far our work has come, but we have a long way to go. This is only the beginning of our efforts to build a movement for accountability around the world.”

Huge congratulations to Accountability Lab and to Blair! We're so happy to have you here at the OpenGov Hub.

Triangulating the OpenGov and Social Innovation Communities

By Christina Crawley

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

The open government and social innovation communities have a lot in common - so we’ve decided to bring them closer together. 

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As of today, the OpenGov Hub and the Centre for Social Innovation are teaming up to provide traveling workspace for their members across all locations. Individuals and organizations working out of the OpenGov Hub’s Washington, DC or Kathmandu, Nepal spaces, or any of the Centre’s locations in Toronto or New York City, can now benefit from a number of free workday passes at each other’s community spaces.

Based on the great karma and connections we’ve been able to cultivate at the OpenGov Hub with our 29 groups in Washington and 5 groups in Nepal, we’re excited to see what further connections, collaboration, and inspiration we can gain from the Centre’s members in New York City and Toronto. And to boot: we’re looking forward to hanging out at each other’s very cool digs!

More about our communities:

The OpenGov Hub physically collocates historically distinct but like-minded communities of practice under a single shared physical workspace in downtown Washington, DC and Kathmandu, Nepal. The OpenGov Hub is the day-to-day home to a range of people and organizations working on the open government agenda while also serving as a community gathering point for open government learning and networking activities.

The Centre for Social Innovation is a social enterprise with a mission to catalyze social innovation with locations in Toronto and New York City. It is a coworking space, community, and launchpad for people who are changing the world –providing members with the tools they need to accelerate their success and amplify their impact. Together, the Centre is building a movement of nonprofits, for-profits, entrepreneurs, artists, and activists working across sectors to create a better world.