Opening Up Local Data with Prize-Inspired Apps

Today, the Federal Communications Commission and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the winners of the Apps for Communities Challenge, which challenged software developers to create open source apps that make local public information more personalized, usable, and actionable for all Americans.  The Apps for Communities Challenge exemplifies the potential of prizes to bring America’s ingenuity to bear on pressing national challenges, as called for by President Obama in his Strategy for American Innovation.

Code for America developer Ryan Resella won the $30,000 grand prize for, a real time bus notification system for bus riders without a smart phone. Inspired by watching public transportation users in his California hometown, Rasella developed an app that uses voice and SMS to deliver arrival times in both English and Spanish.

Snagging second place, Homeless: Santa Clara County was developed by non-profit consultant Curtis Chang.  Chang was moved to create the app after watching families approach homeless shelters and seeing case workers struggle to find government services under mountains of paper files. The app helps homeless people and families with services according to their specific needs and eligibility.

A team of six citizen solvers that met at a hackathon took home the third place prize with Txt2wrk. Txt2wrk helps parolees, the homeless and other job seekers compete on a more level playing field by allowing them to apply for jobs online through a text-to-speech delivery of job postings on any mobile phone. Job seekers are alerted to new job postings, can listen to job descriptions, and apply for jobs – all without a connection to the Internet., Homeless-SCC, and Txt2wrk are just three of the 75 apps created by innovators across the country to connect citizens to critical local information, such as social services, job listings, fresh food locations, and education training. Many of the apps can be used on any phone that can send text messages. Not only will all of the apps be available on the winners’ websites, but the source codes are free and available for anyone to download and use.

Today’s Apps for Communities Challenge winners demonstrate what having millions of more Americans digitally empowered can mean for the country: more customers for online businesses, more Americans using cost saving e-government services, and more Americans with the digital skills needed to find and land the jobs of today and tomorrow. High-speed internet is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity for full participation in our economy and democracy

Robynn Sturm Steffen is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

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