Since 2006, the Advisory Panel has awarded the Pizzigati Prize annually to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution in public interest software development. Each winner serves on the Advisory Panel for three years following their award.
- Dr. Micah Altman (2013)
- Nathan Freitas (2012)
- Ken Banks (2011)
- Yaw Anokwa (2010)
- Darius Jazayeri (2009)
- Barry Warsaw (2008)
- George Hotelling (2006)
Dr. micah altman, 2013 WINNER
Politicians have been gerrymandering legislative districts — and distorting democracy — for almost as long as the United States has been a nation. But average American citizens now have a powerful tool to challenge those distortions, thanks to the talent and vision of the seventh annual winner of the Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest.
This year’s Pizzigati Prize winner, Micah Altman, has teamed with political scientist Michael McDonald to develop the first software that empowers average Americans to impact the process that determines how legislative districts get drawn.
The drawing of legislative districts has always been one of the least transparent — and most easily manipulated — steps toward democratic governance. Altman and McDonald set out seven years ago to break this political insider lockgrip on the electoral mapping process.
The initiative the two activist scholars went on to launch, the Public Mapping Project, would involve “good government” and other nonprofits across the country in a drive to develop redistricting software that any concerned citizen could use.
The software that eventually emerged out of this effort, DistrictBuilder, runs on ordinary Web browsers. Anyone with a computer can access DistrictBuilder and use it to both create legislative maps that fairly divide political power and evaluate the maps that legislators create, usually with their own partisan outcomes in mind.
DistrictBuilder, notes Midwest Democracy Network Executive Director Janice Thompson, “takes the map-making process out of the political backrooms.”
Before DistrictBuilder, few community advocacy groups ever dared dive into the redistricting process, partly because lawmakers kept the process opaque, but also because the groups simply lacked the capacity and ability to draw redistricting maps themselves.
But DistrictBuilder has changed everything. In the redistricting that followed the release of the 2010 Census data, citizen groups submitted about 100 times as many redistricting plans as they submitted ten years earlier.
All this activity has had a direct impact on the politics of redistricting. Citizen plans have won widespread media attention and reframed redistricting from a problem citizens can only complain about to an activity that citizens can engage and affect.
In the post-2010 Census redistricting cycle — for the first time ever in American history — citizen groups have had their plans submitted as bills in state legislatures, recognized as legitimate by courts, and even, in part, been incorporated into new legal districts.
Micah Altman credits this success to the broad partnership the Public Mapping Project has been able to forge. National groups ranging from Common Cause to the League of Women Voters have worked side by side with the Sloan and other foundations that have provided the resources to help along the software development work. And Azavea, the firm involved in that development, has also contributed significant pro bono support.
Altman himself has been programming for social change since, as a 19-year-old, he helped the Washington, D.C.-based Clean Water Action better handle its data in the late 1980s.
“I was originally hired to do phone canvassing,” he remembers with a smile, “but we soon discovered I had much more of a comparative advantage for programming and database administration.”
Altman, now 45, earned his doctorate at Caltech and spent some years working in Silicon Valley. But he has spent most of his professional career deeply engaged with research and open-source software projects, with an ongoing interest on how technology can help open up the political process to greater levels of citizen involvement.
Altman currently directs research in information sciences at the MIT Libraries in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He also serves as a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
DistrictBuilder has won honors from the American Political Science Association, but nothing gives Altman more pleasure than how swiftly students have taken to it.
“It’s been very gratifying,” he says, “to see students use the software to create legal districts and really engage with the political process.”
NATHAN FREITAS, 2012 WINNER
The team leader of a two-year-old project that’s enhancing the safety, security, and effectiveness of activists and human rights defenders from Syria and Tibet to Afghanistan and Burma has become the sixth annual winner of the Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest.
This year’s Pizzigati Prize winner, Nathan Freitas, leads the Guardian Project, a team of software developers working to address what may be the cruelest irony of our mobile technology era. On the one hand, mobile phones have become absolutely essential to struggles for political and economic justice all across the world. On the other, as Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society has noted, mobile devices can be “profoundly unsafe” for the activists who use them. The world’s most repressive governments can exploit mobile technology to monitor and track down protestors and their organizations.
That reality first struck Nathan Freitas when he started working to support Tibetan human rights activists who would regularly be risking their freedom—and even lives—on trips into China and Tibet. Mobile phones would be the activists’ only tether to the outside world.
“I felt that if we could make those phones more tuned to their needs, both from a security and functionality perspective,” says the 36-year-old Freitas, “that would help bolster their cause and make their sacrifices count.”
The Guardian Project that Freitas leads has released a suite of privacy and security-minded mobile applications for Android phones. All the apps come free and, notes Freitas, “can run just as well on $100 smartphones available in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia as they do on higher-end models popular in the United States and Europe.”
Over 100,000 users have already downloaded the new apps that Freitas and his team have developed. One of these apps shields the safety and privacy on instant messages sent via mobile phones. Another lets users access blocked and censored Web content.
For more information about The Guardian Project read the full announcement here.
Ken Banks, 2011 Winner
Ken Banks accepted the fifth annual Pizzigati Prize for his creation of FrontlineSMS, a simple yet powerful program that speaks directly to a harsh global reality: Millions of people in remote areas have no access to the Internet, but many do have simple mobile phones. Banks's software enables grassroots groups to reach these millions using only a laptop computer, a USB cable, and a plain mobile phone — and the constituents of these groups can use their own mobile phones to communicate back.
Since 2005, nonprofits have downloaded the totally free — and easy to use — FrontlineSMS software almost 13,000 times, for use in a varied assortment of projects across the globe. The first independent news agency in Iraq, for instance, is using the software to send updates to readers in eight different countries. In Zimbabwe, the software is enabling groups to monitor human rights violations. One group serving overseas Filipino workers is using FrontlineSMS as an emergency help line.
A number of groups and organizations, ranging from National Geographic to the MacArthur Foundation, have noted the wide and positive impact that Banks has had with FrontlineSMS. Banks himself hopes that his work will have an equally positive impact on the next generation of software developers. "Stories like mine — developing FrontlineSMS with very limited resources over a five week period — can inspire younger developers," he points out. "They prove that anyone with an idea can make a real difference if they stick with it."
For more information about Banks and FrontlineSMS read the full announcement here.
Yaw Anokwa accepted the fourth annual Pizzigati Prize on behalf of a team of University of Washington doctoral students who crafted an open source application called Open Data Kit (ODK) that unleashes the mobile phone’s social change potential. Anokwa and his fellow developers Carl Hartung and Waylon Brunette developed software that turns cell phones into tools for collecting date ‘in the field’ and moving that data, with just a few finger swipes, to central Web-based servers or local computers.
With Open Data Kit, grassroots activists can capture and export text, photos, video, audio, barcodes, and even location. “At the heart of ODK,” notes Anokwa, “is a simple idea: make data collection easier.” The software makes that collection easy by letting grassroots groups replace a variety of traditional tools—paper survey forms, cameras, audio recorders, GPS units—with a mobile phone technology that operates independently of any particular mobile phone model. Several groups currently employ ODK, including D-Tree International, the Boston-based nonprofit that nominated Anokwa for the Pizzigati Prize. D-Tree has put ODK to work on a project in Tanzania that helps health aides reduce the high rates of serious illness and premature death from preventable and treatable diseases.
To learn more about Anokwa and ODK, read the full announcement here.
Darius accepted the third annual Pizzigati Prize for his creation of OpenMRS, an open source software application that health clinics and hospitals on five continents are using to keep, share, and track medical record data. Thanks to Jazayeri’s application, resource-poor communities around the globe have seen significant improvements to the medical care they can offer.
Jazayeri began work on OpenMRS four years ago as the lead software developer at Partners in Health, a Boston nonprofit working globally to provide a preferential option for the poor in health care. Partners in Health, teaming up with the South African Medical Research council and the University of Indiana Regenstrief Institute, aimed to create a free, flexible medical records system that health providers could customize and operate without the help of expert programmers. With Jazayeri taking the lead, that vision for an easily accessible, user-friendly electronic medical record (EMR) system became a reality.
OpenMRS can be run on anything form a larger server to a laptop computer. Non-programmers can easily add new items to the system and find them within a suite of easy-to-use tools for data analysis and reporting. Health providers in the United States and around the world use the system,which has impacted actual patient care. One hospital in Rwanda was able to use OpenMRS to identify HIV-positive children who had not been picked up by the pediatric program to get them on life-saving treatment.
For more information about Jazayeri, OpenMRS, and other groups using the software, you can read the full announcement here.
Barry Warsaw accepted the second annual Pizzigati Prize as the lead developer of GNU Mailman, an open source application that hundreds of nonprofits around the world are using to manage electronic mail discussions and e-newsletter lists. Warsaw’s free application has built up a large, experienced base of users who have been more than willing to help new users make the best possible use of the software. And Mailman’s design and development team actively listens toand interacts witheveryday users.
GNU Mailman is free software licensed under the GNU Public License, and is a mailing list management application that provides an easy-to-use Web interface for managing mailing lists.Since its unveiling in 1996, GNU Mailman hasbecome the online world’s most popular free mailing list manager. Hundreds of nonprofit sites, from software development projects and community outreach efforts to advocacy organizations and religious groups, currently use Mailman.
For more information about Warsaw and GNU Mailman, you can read the full announcement here.
George Hotelling accepted the inaugural Pizzigati Prize for his development work on CitizenSpeak, a free email advocacy service for grassroots organizations and an open source module on the Drupal content management system. Hotelling’s work on the CitizenSpeak project began when he realized that local groups needed a tool that could help them impact local decisions and decision-makers. He soon discovered that CitzenSpeak.org, a free online service founded in 2002 by Jo Lee and Pablo Calamera, shared the same vision. With over a decade of experience of working with open source tools, Hotelling rebuilt CitizenSpeak and made the code available as open source software.
Community groups have been putting the revamped CitizenSpeak to work in a wide range of campaigns, from a Rhode Island effort to stop the siting of new schools on contaminated land to a multi-denominational offensive against religious intolerance in Indian River, Delaware.
For more information about Hotelling and CitizenSpeak, you can read the full announcement here.