Civic Hall launches Rethinking Debates; donates millions to racial justice movement; and more.

  • Debates 2.0: Welcome aboard Christine Cupaiuolo, our new Civic Engagement Fellow, who will be leading our Rethinking Debates project. She’ll be reporting on how political debates around the world are using innovative formats and social media, focusing on examples that help make these crucial public events more informative, engaging, and responsive to the concerns of voters. Here’s her first post.

  • This is civic tech: Writing for Medium’s Backchannel, Susan Crawford reports on a pioneering open data project in Louisville, Kentucky, where the city’s commitment to make all municipal public information “open by default” combined with a local business focused on serving the blind and the local Civic Data Alliance produced a drastically improved version of Open Street Map that can now support many new third-party apps and services.

  • Columbus, Ohio, is the home of the world’s first “B-celerator,” reports Susan Post for Metropreneur, where David All and Christine Deye of Civic Hacks are focusing on helping new businesses through the process of becoming certified as B-corporations. (Yes, that’s the same David All who was once Rep. Jack Kingston’s communications director and the vanguard of a pod of young Republicans who pressed their party to embrace technology before it was cool.)

  • There’s a lot of nascent civic tech in this new round of Knight Prototype Fund grantees, each of whom is getting $35,000 in support, design training, and peer networking opportunities. The winners include Billcam (which aims to add transparency to the legislative process), CityGram (which makes it easier for local governments to connect with citizens), the U.S. Vote Foundation’s local election dates and deadlines API, IdeaMapr (which helps communities understand and join in on local government decision making), and @Stake by Emerson College’s Engagement Lab.

  • Bryan Breckenridge and Anne Maloney of have authored a useful whitepaper on why it’s important to “fund tech for nonprofits.” They note that currently, most nonprofits spend no more than 10 percent of their budgets on tech, and many large NGOs allocate only 1 percent – 2.5 percent of their annual income to tech. They add:

    For many organizations that do fund tech, they’ve limited it to the “sexiest” areas of program-side investment while ignoring an organization’s need to shore up its foundational data and content collection, management, analytics, and sharing layer… the “plumbing”: ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), CRM (Constituent Relationship Management), ECM (Enterprise Content Management), Identity Management, communications systems, productivity and collaboration tools, grant management, etc. and the headcount and know-how to run them well. Underinvestment and lacking capacity in plumbing are two of the main reasons organizations struggle to scale overall and rise and crash in a highly turbulent project-to-project life cycle.

  • Speaking of which, is giving $2.35 million to community organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area that are on the forefront of the racial justice movement, Jessica Guynn reports for USA Today. The funding includes two grants of $500,000 to the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, one to support Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter, and another to support a worker training program.

  • Our troubled times: A new study from Common Sense Media finds new evidence of the digital divide’s impact on young people. As Natasha Singer of the New York Times writes, “Only one-fourth of teenagers in households with less than $35,000 in annual income said they had their own laptops compared with 62 percent in households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more, according to the report.” Try typing a homework essay on your smartphone, for one reason why this matters.

  • Micah Lakin Avni, whose father Richard Lakin was stabbed to death by Palestinian attackers in Jerusalem three weeks ago, calls on Facebook and other social network platforms to do a more pro-active job of removing “blatant incitement” from their sites before waiting for complaints to arise.

  • If you are wondering why Twitter’s decision to replace the “favorite” star with a “like” heart has created such tumult in the Twittersphere, read this august piece by technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci about the problems with Facebook’s “like” button. As she writes, “Not everything in life is ‘like’-able. We cannot like refugee kids wading among dead bodies. And we cannot directly tell Facebook’s algorithm that we still care about this, or find it important.”

  • Tech and campaigns: Civic engagement start-up Brigade tested an interactive ballot guide for voters in the Bay Area and Manchester, New Hampshire, yesterday, and as Dawn Chmielewski reports for Re/Code, the company’s engineers are hoping to learn if that made its users more likely to pledge support for candidates or recruit friends as a result.

  • ActBlue, the Democratic online fundraising hub, gets a glowing profile in the New York Times from Eric Lichtblau and Nick Corasaniti.

  • Chris Gates of the Sunlight Foundation offers a useful list of questions for the 2016 presidential candidates, all pertaining to measuring their commitment to “a more open and data-driven government.”

  • Today in snake oil sales: Apparently polling and data science isn’t enough for some political consultants; now they’re selling “neuropolitics,” reports Kevin Randall for the New York Times. As he reports, “According to campaign records, the campaigns of presidents and prime ministers on at least three continents have hired science consultants to scan voters’ brains, bodies, and faces, all with the aim of heightening their emotional resonance with the electorate.”

  • Take note: Our friends up the block at the Data & Society Institute are looking for their next group of fellows, for the 2016-17 cycle. Apply here—the deadline is December 1.