Project with Philly ties wins big at Knight Foundation’s open gov challenge

“Plan in a Box” is a temporary name.

So says Aaron Ogle, the Philadelphia-based Web developer who helped build it.

Here’s the idea

The nonprofit OpenPlans has done a lot of work for big cities, helping the New Yorks and Chicagos of the world craft techy ways to stoke citizen input and foster transparency around public projects. It’s the stuff around which the open gov movement is made.

But the problem is, many small cities simply can’t afford it.

“We don’t want urban planning to just be for big cities,” he said. “We want these tools to be accessible to all sorts of municipalities.”

So the OpenPlans team turned to the Knight Foundation for a chance to help spread their planning toolkit around the land.

The idea is that city planners in, say, Fresno or Erie can use an easy web template to get people to engage with the city planning process.

“I actually grew up in very, very small town in Ohio,” said Ogle. “So I’m really, really excited about taking these ideas and being able to scale them to places of all shapes and sizes.”

The Knight Foundation awarded the idea with $620,000 — tops among the eight winners announced Monday.

Big with bureaucrats 

The winners were whittled down from a pool of almost 900 applicants, says the Knight Foundation’s Michael Maness. The goal was to fund new approaches to improving the ways people and government interact.

Judging was done by various groups, ranging from mayors to coders. Through it all, Maness says, Plan in a Box was a big hit among city officials.

“Digital stuff is complex for them, getting people to engage with those things is hard for them to do,” said Maness. “And they were by far the ones that said, ‘I would use this; I’m excited by this; this is the kind of thing that I need.'”

A few members of the geographically-dispersed OpenPlans team have done work in Philadelphia before, including Ogle with septa.mobi, phillystormwater.org and walkshed.org

We’ll count the recent News Challenge win as another small victory for Philadelphia’s bustling civic hacking community.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.