Greg Elin
Technology Patterns for Increasing Transparency
Greg Elin, Sunlight Foundation
August 2008

Over my past two and half years experimenting with how to leverage technology, I've seen the following patterns among our own work at Sunlight and that or our grantees and peers. For readability, I've kept my notes short. More deserves to be said about each pattern. These patterns were identified for creating transparency, but they apply where ever social organizing applies.

The patterns are also resource determined rather than goal determined. In other words, if you are journalist and do not know how to program you can pursue the Aggregation pattern because it is inexpensive and requires research and editorial skills more than anything else. For Sunlight and other organizations, these patterns represent one way to conceptually organize their program portfolio and more realistically asses outcomes of investements. Each patterns suggests particular level of investment and type of impact. For example, Model Services offer the potential for very concrete change (e.g. outright government adoption), but also require specific skills to undertake.

Model Services
What: Create an operational version of desired service
Works by: Unleashes new demand, appeals to under-served populations, sets expectations gov't must adhere
Examples: EDGAR,
Who: Alpha geeks and domain experts (talent lowers costs)
When: Data is mostly available; nascent/competitive advantage exists; sufficient financing available for robust service; sufficient courage
What: Conveniently organize previously dispersed information in one place
Works by: Aggregates interests, shows patterns, reveals needs, gathering spot for previously dispersed parties, convenience
Examples: Programmableweb, Techcrunch,,, POGO, EWG Farm Subidy Database
Who: Journalist, domain expert, interested party. Alpha geek helpful, but not required.
When: Editorial expertise and/or technical expertise; minimal financial resources
Open Deliverable Collaboration
What: Gather virtually or face-to-face group of interested doers
Works by: Weaving social network, building trust, humanizing parties, enables back-channels, safe place for insiders/officials, opens communication channels
Examples: ODOG, The Open House Project, IETF, Earmarks
Who: Baried parties and skill sets, collaborators, skilled facilitator, shared interests, multiple venues (e.g., audience reach)
When: Meaningful deliverable or milestone exists, time-delimited exercise, value in connecting
Repetitive Storytelling
What: Similar to aggregation, but more focus on inter-daily coverage providing actionable information or revealing opportunities
Works by: Authority building, attention economy, ice-breaker ("Did you see..."). aggregates interests, leads to quoting, creates acceptance and expectations
Examples: Techcrunch, SunlightFoundation, Cool Site of the Day
Who: Storyteller
When: Emerging trend, inadequate coverage, minimal financial resources, daily time
Visualization / Presentation
What: Creation of meaningful visualization(s)
Works by: Establishing a reference point, memorable and associative, word of mouth. Best get used in testimony and press.
Examples: Valdis Krebs what they read, Earmarks on maps, Enron flows, Many Eyes Gonzales testimony, GoogleZon
Who: One or more of the following talented designer, insightful thinker, creative domain expert
When: talent available, idea, patience