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Washington, D.C., Reloads Apps for Democracy

The District of Columbia reintroduces Apps for Democracy with three new features.

Washington, D.C., has reloaded its popular Apps for Democracy 2008 program and renamed it Apps for Democracy: Community Edition (APPS09).  The new version includes three additional features to the successful 2008 initiative, which challenged citizen programmers to create public applications for acquiring information useful to district residents and visitors. Last year, contestants submitted 47 iPhone, Facebook and Web applications. The District of Columbia's Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) boasted that it spent $50,000 on the contest, which yielded $2.3 million worth of applications. Manipulating publicly available code, contestants won cash prizes for these applications, several of which the district is deploying as a result.

Among the new features for APPS09 is what OCTO calls "problem sourcing." This means the agency will first seek feedback from citizens via the Web about the information needs contestants should try to meet. The citizen with the best input will win $1,000. Next will be competition Round 1 and Round 2, each with a first-place winner collecting $3,000 and a second-place winner taking $2,000. After that is the final competition in which one winning application gets $10,000. If OCTO views that application as good enough, the agency will also offer its Community Grant of $14,000 for further development. Partnering marketing firm iStrategyLabs will act as an adviser to the winning team.

"Government is going to invest actual money into helping that particular group carry the application forward and enhance it, but in addition to that, iStrategyLabs is going to use some of its connections to help the group get involved in the venture capital community or the angel investor community," said Chris Willey, interim chief technology officer of Washington, D.C., describing the other two new components of APPS09 -- government support and commercialization.

Willey predicts that opportunity will motivate more talented programmers to become contestants.

"We want people to come to us with motives both selfish and unselfish. We want them to come because they want to do something good -- build an application that's going to help people, but it also might be a way they could create or sustain their own businesses. It may be an opportunity for them to create something another city would buy," Willey explained.

The contest is open to any team of programmers in the nation, but contestants tend to be district area residents, according to Willey. This is because the district holds on-site "code jamming sessions" at which programmers meet other like-minded programmers and form application teams.


Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.