Far from shutting down, the Sunlight Foundation is busier than ever - Technical.ly DC


Far from shutting down, the Sunlight Foundation is busier than ever

In which we get some answers on what happened after that confusing announcement in September.

Open data isn't enough by itself.

(Photo via Twitter)

Back in September, Sunlight Foundation cofounder and Board Chairman  published a blog post to the open gov nonprofit’s website suggesting a somewhat uncertain future for the foundation.

After an unsuccessful search for a new executive director, the organization had decided to “explore alliances with other organizations similarly motivated, perhaps merging with one of them, in an arrangement that advances and preserves Sunlight’s mission and identity with increased efficiency and effectiveness,” he wrote at the time. The public outcry, from open gov advocates and journalists and more, was immediate and vociferous.

Then, in December, a new post appeared — “Sunlight will endure,” the headline read. “Sunlight will continue its role as a nonpartisan advocate for open government under the leadership of Executive Director John Wonderlich.”

So what changed?

Alexander Howard, a longtime open gov activist and reporter, who joined Sunlight in April 2016, told Technical.ly that the initial communication from September was intended as “a marker” — at that point Klein truly believed that the best path forward for Sunlight was some sort of merger.

But, following the response to this announcement, Klein “decided that he wanted Sunlight to endure as an independent institution.” Of course, there’s also the matter of what happened between September and December on the federal stage (ahem, Donald Trump) and the opportunity the various actions of the new administration pose for the kind of work Sunlight does.


Yes, Sunlight did shut down Labs, the orgs tech tools arm, and yes, Sunlight did let go of some staff. “We did go through a very difficult existential period,” Howard told Technical.ly. But that existential period was just that — a moment in Sunlight’s continued quest to “preserve and defend an open government by, for and of the people” (as Klein and Wonderlich put it in their “Sunlight will endure” post).

Wonderlich actually served as Sunlight’s interim executive director during the search for a candidate last year, so he has now just taken this role on more permanently, Howard said. And Howard himself got a promotion — he’s now the Sunlight Foundation’s deputy director. “I’m very proud to be leading Sunlight right now,” he said.

“We are smaller than we were, and now we’re thinking about how to grow from here.”

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