Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award

The Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award rewards communities harnessing high-speed Internet to enhance citizens’ democratic participation and engagement.

The Benton Award is led by Next Century Cities. Winning communities receive financial resources, technical support from experts, and workshops to connect with other innovators. The competition is designed to strengthen and learn from cities’ efforts to drive more participatory democracy and civic engagement using high-speed broadband.

  • Winning communities were awarded up to $30,000 to implement or enhance projects that tap high-speed Internet access to better engage their citizens in the democratic and civic process.
  • Winning communities receive hands-on technical assistance from Next Century Cities to implement their plans and peer-to-peer connections with other innovative municipalities.
  • Communities applying were expected to demonstrate how, in addition to the award funding, they would contribute funds or use in-kind support, partner support, or a combination to ensure the project’s success.
  • All municipalities were encouraged to apply. Communities did not need to be members of Next Century Cities. Applications were only accepted from municipal employees.
  • County governments were eligible to apply for the Benton Awards.
  • If a community intended to develop an app with award funds, the resulting app had to be open source.

Judging Criteria

The 2016 judges of the Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award included: Todd O’Boyle, Deputy Director of Next Century Cities, Adrianne Benton Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Foundation, Susan Crawford, co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Tom Glaisyer, Program Director at Democracy Fund, and Blair Levin, nonresident senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

Download the Benton Award fact sheet
Listen to a podcast hosted by Craig Settles
Watch a webinar about the Benton Award program

2016 Winners

Congratulations to the three winners of the inaugural Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award! The winners were announced in August 2016, and each received $30,000 and hands-on technical assistance to make their projects a success.

Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh, NC, a team is developing InVision Raleigh, an immersive online tool that makes it easier for citizens to get involved in visioning and planning with local government.

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane: “We are incredibly excited to receive the Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award to build upon on past successes and investments to provide our citizenry a tool that will allow greater engagement with and in city government as we look to improve services to the community that we serve.”

Austin, TX

In Austin, TX, a program called Smart Work, Learn, Play will engage public housing residents near two public transportation hubs to increase citizen access to and use of online public services.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler: “Through this award, the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) can help ensure mobility equity for residents in public housing in Austin – especially residents who can least afford it or easily navigate it.”

Louisville, KY

City officials in Louisville, KY plan to wire an existing community center in West Louisville with gigabit connectivity, creating a Gigabit Experience Center which will serve as a hub for this underserved community, providing access to digital training, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement opportunities.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer: “The Gigabit Experience Center will allow us to help our citizens see the enormous potential this technology has for reshaping our city.”

The Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award Playbook

Following the success of the three cities’ projects, Next Century Cities teamed up with Raleigh, Austin, and Louisville to create a civic engagement playbook: Five Lessons for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement. This playbook uses lessons learned from each project and highlights best practices to leverage technology for civic engagement and digital inclusion initiatives. The playbook also includes a Civic Engagement Checklist that community leaders can use from the ideas stage through the implementation of technological civic engagement and digital inclusion projects.

The playbook is geared towards local government leaders and practitioners as they work to more effectively empower residents using broadband connectivity. Next Century Cities hopes that this playbook and the accompanying resources will add to the digital civic discourse as cities seek innovative solutions to their communities’ problems, and be a resource for local government leaders and practitioners in the field.

Please find the official playbook here, the civic engagement checklist here, and all related Benton Playbook Resources here.

The Benton Awards program is being primarily supported by the Democracy Fund, with additional support from the Benton Foundation.