The Open House Project from The Sunlight Foundation


In January 2007, the Sunlight Foundation launched the Open House Project, a collaborative effort by government and legislative information experts, congressional staff, non-profit organizers and bloggers to study how the House of Representatives currently integrates the Internet into its operations, and to suggest attainable reforms to promote public access to its work and members. John Wonderlich, program director for the Sunlight Foundation, leads the project.

The Open House Project’s goal is not to radically rework every congressional procedure. The operating principle of its work is known as Paving the Cowpaths. Its recommendations include some very unobtrusive ways to open up the House, low-hanging fruit where the Internet and congressional procedures come together, though its report of recommendations also contains several more high-reaching aspirations. The potential of this project lies in the possibility of experts and citizens from all fields to come together and identify areas where Congress can open up and allows all of us to have more information and access.

The group devised its transparency recommendations online in a thoroughly collaborative way – from choosing topics through conversations on a list-serve, to researching House institutions and reforms through blog posts and a wiki, to authoring sections of the report with shared documents online. These contributors presented their consensus on attainable legislative access reform in a press conference in the Capitol on May 8, 2007, covered by C-SPAN, at which Rep. Brad Miller and Minority Leader John Boehner spoke glowingly. The report also received endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer, and garnered very positive press coverage, including editorials in Roll Call and the Washington Examiner and a series of seven op-eds in The Hill.

The Open House Project has initiated a new phase in the public discussion of congressional transparency and provides a forum for transparency advocacy that otherwise would not exist. Currently, its members are working with members of Congress, staff and House administrators to work to implement the report’s recommendations.