Accelerating to the future of online democracy in Australia

The OpenAustralia Foundation has achieved some remarkable things in the few short years that it’s been going. We’ve built some great projects that have shown Australia that democracy and the internet can be very good and positive bed-fellows, done a bit to help push governments in the right direction and most importantly of all, helped over one million Australians connect with their Politicians, Governments and Communities through projects like OpenAustralia, PlanningAlerts and Election Leaflets.

It’s been amazing, thrilling and very very satisfying, but having said that, it’s been hard. Really hard.

The sad but difficult reality is that we’ve been struggling to find a way to make this whole enterprise sustainable. What do we mean by that?

Our online democracy projects have been built on the creativity and hard work of our volunteers. Most people dip in, help a little using their specialist (and usually highly-paid) skills to fix something and then dip out when their other commitments and life takes over.

We also have a core group consisting of the founders, Matthew Landauer and Katherine Szuminska and an early volunteer, now board member, Henare Degan, that do around 90-95% of the work. This in itself is not a problem. Nobody is making us do this! However, it has, especially over the last two years become increasingly difficult to put in the large number of unpaid hours that’s required to maintain, nurture and build the OpenAustralia Foundation and its projects so that we continue what we started funded only by our own savings and a burning desire to make a difference.

Early on, a couple of months of the very early prototype development of PlanningAlerts was funded by the Government 2.0 taskforce. Other than that all unpaid.

A couple of months ago we received a surprise email from a supporter we’d never been contacted by before. Guy King wrote a short mail to us to say he was considering donating some money. “Were we still busy?” He asked “What would we do with money?”

This is what we wrote back:

Hi Guy,

Thanks for getting in touch!

The project is still active, though we haven’t built any new projects
in a while and the blog has definitely been neglected. Over the last
year or so we’ve been maintaining and developing the existing
projects. For instance, the scraper for OpenAustralia.org was
rewritten to handle the changes that aph.gov.au made to the way they
store the Hansard data. We ran ElectionLeaflets.org.au for the recent
Queensland election and we’ve steadily been expanding the reach of
PlanningAlerts.org.au by adding new local councils. We’re now covering
129 councils and we’ve sent out over 3.5 million development
applications.

As you’re probably aware, the vast majority of the work on the
projects is done by volunteers.

The biggest barrier to building new projects, which of course we
desperately want to do, is a shortage of funding. We’ve found that the
sustained effort required in getting a new project off the ground and
nurturing it (including building a community around it) is far too big
a commitment for people to undertake unpaid.

Over the last years we’ve tried to obtain funding from numerous
sources. Our major obstacle has been that we don’t fit into the
traditional model of charitable work in Australia. That’s why our only
major successful bit of external funding so far was actually from the
Federal government Gov 2.0 Taskforce who funded the building of the
very initial prototype of PlanningAlerts.org.au.

So, in a word, a significant donation would provide an extraordinary
shot-in-the-arm to everything we do.

Then I laid out our plan with what we would do with the money.

Shortly after this exchange his significant donation came through.

The only reason I’m not including what I wrote there is I don’t want to spoil the surprises we have in store over the coming weeks and months. What I will say is that the donation will make it possible for us to create and launch at least two new major projects this year and we’re already hard at work on the first one!

On behalf of OpenAustralia Foundation and all Australians who care about democracy and transparency I want to thank Guy for his donation. It’s going to help make amazing things happen.

Illustration credit pupilasgustativas

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2 Comments

  1. Posted June 29, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    This bloke should be given a medal! – all too few with moolah to spare would recognise the work that you’re all doing, and its significance.
    He’s a little Bill Gates, I reckon. :-)

  2. Alan Corbett
    Posted August 12, 2015 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I just came across this site via the NZ equivalent which I have been using to pursue an interest of mine that is relevant to both countries. I have been able to access information for free and within a reasonable time period as well. Not like here in Aust where it can take months to get any response and you have to pay up front when making an application for RTI or FOI requests from state governments. And then more.

    Well done people.

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