Blog Post

Digital Democracy Contest


Information overload is real. In his first day in office, President Obama signed legislation increasing government transparency. Now more information will come online. Students better be able to sort through it effectively.


The Digital Democracy Contest is a web-based game hosted by high school social studies teachers. Students compete in teams to answer questions using government websites. We can provide it for free to high school social studies classes because of a generous MacArthur award and a partnership with the Sunlight Foundation. We hope to pilot the project in schools this fall and expand greatly in spring 2010.


This game is based upon the successful collegiate Digital Literacy Contest. Purdue University students created both games to help people thrive in information overload.


The Game


The game is ready to go, and it requires little work from the teacher.


High school social studies teachers host the game for their students. It requires one class period and a school computer lab. Students learn how to answer certain types of questions using online U.S. Government data. Then they compete in teams to answer questions. They receive points for correct answers and are penalized for incorrect answers.


During the event students:


  1. Form teams (one team per computer)
  2. Login to our website in a school computer lab
  3. Learn and practice how to answer different types of questions

    • Watch a short video (see below) describing how to answer a type of question (e.g. how to use to discover which industries contributed the most to a Congressperson's campaign)
    • Compete to answer a particular question of that type in 3 minutes (example questions)
    • Compete to answer another question of that type in 1 minute
    • Compete to answer another question of that type in 30 seconds
  4. Repeat the above cycle several times


Click here for a video of the game. It teaches students how to find money industries give to specific members of Congress.



This video teaches students how to find money industries give to all of Congress.

Example Questions

  • In total, how much did Senator Chuck Grassley's campaign committee receive in campaign contributions from people who worked for lobbyists in the 2008 election cycle? [Answer: $284,097]
  • How much has the Accounting industry contributed to all candidates for Congress (i.e. both House and Senate) in all campaign cycles since 1990? [Answer: $85,882,205]
  • For the Insurance industry, which member of the House was the top recipient of campaign contributions in the 2008 election cycle? [Answer: Charles Rangel, $370,090]
  • How many of Conrad Burn's former employees now work for a lobbying firm? [Answer: 18]
  • John F Scruggs used to work for Congressperson Trent Lott. What company did John work for from 1999 - 2002? [Answer: Philip Morris USA]
  • How often does Representative Brian Bilbray vote with his party (give a percentage)? [Answer: 92%]
  • How did Representative Howard McKeon [R, CA-25] vote for H.R.2892 OPEN FOIA Act of 2009 amendment 10 (Aye, Nay or Abstain)? [Answer: Nay]

Background: Created by Students

This game is similar to the successful college-level Digital Literacy Contest. We created the contest in 2007 as undergraduates at Purdue University.

Six months later our team won enough funding in a few competitions to expand the idea. Within a year, three other universities hosted the contest. Now our list of affiliated libraries triples each semester:

  • Brown University
  • Cornell University
  • Hanover College
  • Northwestern University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Purdue University
  • Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology
  • University of Alabama
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Florida
  • University of Michigan

The Digital Democracy Contest and the Digital Literacy Contest are our first two contests of "Internet-enabled intelligence." We are influenced strongly by writers such as Alvin Toffler and Ray Kurzweil as well as their critics like Jaron Lanier.


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