File Under: Databases, Visual Design

Sunlight Labs Offering $5K for Best Government Data Mashups

designforamerica

Artists, web developers and data visualization geniuses, here’s a chance to strut your stuff, serve your country and win some serious money in the process.

Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides tools to make government data more transparent, has announced a new contest called Design for America. Billed as a “design and data visualization extravaganza,” Sunlight is encouraging the public to create and publish data visualizations that help make complex government data easier for people to digest and interact with.

There are several different categories open for submission, including: visualizations of Recovery.gov data that shows how the stimulus money is being spent, visualizations showing how a bill becomes a law, a redesign of a .gov website, and a redesign of any government form. Top prize in each category is a cool $5,000.

Creations can be in any form — a website, a game, a poster, a sculpture, whatever — though we suspect most of the entries will be either posters or interactive Flash graphics.

The contest is being run by Sunlight Labs, the skunkworks wing of the larger Sunlight Foundation. The Sunlight group spends most of its energy collecting government data, organizing it into publicly accessible databases, then creating tools that make it easier for ordinary people to access that data. The non-profit works with organizations like OpenCongress, MapLight, FollowTheMoney and USASpending.gov. Sunlight also maintains a list of APIs developers can use to access the data.

The Design for America contest encourages participants to sift through the vast datasets available from all of these organizations, as well as the datasets maintained by Sunlight Foundation and any raw government data that’s available. As the Sunlight Labs blog says, the goal of the contest is to “tell interesting stories” that go beyond what can be an overwhelming amount of unfiltered data.

Visualizations can be in any medium, not just the web, so if you’re a video or infographic specialist, you can still enter the contest. The main criteria for judging are the visual quality of the artwork and how well the underlying information is conveyed.

Design for America follows in the footsteps of Sunlight’s Apps for America contests, which sought to bring transparency and accountability to government using open web applications to mine government data sites. Apps for America generated a number of useful apps — like RSS feeds for the House Committee schedule, GovPulse and the Earmark Watch tool, among others. With any luck, the Design for America contest will generate some equally useful and enlightening visualizations of government data.

If you’d like to test your mashup and design chops, head over to Sunlight Labs and have a look at the full contest rules. One important thing for designers to keep in mind — your entry needs to be licensed under a Creative Commons By-Attribution or Creative Commons 0 license, or an OSI approved license for those submitting code.

The contest judges vary by category, but the list includes some big names in the online design world — Nicholas Feltron and Nathan Yau are both on the list, as are various members of Sunlight Labs and other design gurus.

Design for America submissions are due by May 17 and the winners will be announced at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington, D.C. on May 27.

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