Day one of the 2011 CampaignTech conference highlighted this year's 10 Innovator Award winners. Nominated by their peers, Innovators work in the fields of technology, campaigns, advocacy and government and have developed a legacy of innovation and collaboration.

Insights from a few of this year’s winners:  

"Washington, DC is the Silicon Valley of making a difference," said Clay Johnson, owner of Big Window Labs.  

The political technology field has become stagnant, argued Johnson, focusing too much on building more sophisticated tools to get email addresses and raise money, instead of making constructive changes that solve significant problems.

Jill Miller Zimon, a city councilwoman from Pepper Pike, Ohio and noted political blogger talked about teaching constituents in her community to use and trust technology.  

"People don't understand the power of the tools we have," she said. "Lots of communities out there could use someone to start with them and show them."

Dr. Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez, the first lady of the Dominican Republic, highlighted programs in her country designed to engage citizens and teach them how to better use technology.

"I'm always tweeting. I use Twitter because I want to be in contact with my people and their social problems so I can get unfiltered information. I want to monitor people’s views of our social problems and government policies," said Fernandez.

The Dominican Republic is building community technology centers in rural and impoverished areas to give citizens free access to technology and training.

The ultimate goal, said Clay Johnson, is building technology that actually solves problems.

"Technology is not a service,” he said. “Technology is a solution.”

The full list of 2011 Innovator Award winners, presented by New Media Strategies:

Wesley Donehue: CEO, Donehue Direct

After South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie” at President Obama during a joint address to Congress, it was Donehue who helped Wilson raise some $2 million online in just two weeks. He also helped Sen. Jim DeMint build an online presence and become an Internet force during the 2010 cycle. Donehue launched his own firm in 2010 with a focus on new media and technology.

Sarah Granger: Founder and CEO, PublicEdge

Credited by Wired magazine with launching the “first true weblog to be put up by a politician,” (for former Sen. Gary Hart’s 2003 presidential exploratory committee) Granger has more than 20 years of experience in new media and online communications. Her firm crafts online messaging and social media strategies for campaigns and organizations. Last cycle, Granger served as new media strategist for the Women’s Campaign Fund and as the interim political director at BlogHer. 

Vince Leibowitz: Principle Consultant, the Dawn GroupDemocrat

After working as a newspaper editor and journalist out of college, Leibowitz entered politics full time in 2003. He founded his own firm, now known as The Dawn Group. A co-founder of the Texas Progressive Alliance and TexBlog PAC, his digital outreach work on Hank Gilbert’s campaign for Agriculture Commissioner last cycle was recognized nationally by the New Organizing Institute.

Steven Moore: Chief of Staff, Office of Illinois Republican Rep. Peter RoskamRepublican

On Capitol Hill, Moore played a key role in the effort to update House rules to allow online advertising to be used for constituent communication. Last cycle, Moore launched an experiment to determine whether online ads persuade and just how many impressions it takes to move votes. In a study co-authored with Google and CampaignGrid, Moore concluded that 18 million impressions delivered over eight days to voters in Florida’s 11th congressional district moved 18 percent of the campaign’s targeted demo. 

Advocacy Innovators

Michael Ertel: Supervisor of Elections, Seminole County, Florida

After eight years in the U.S. Army and with a dozen years of experience in the PR field, Ertel was one of the first election supervisors in Florida to engage with voters through social networking using Facebook and Twitter. Ertel became the co-founder of the foursquare "I voted" badge where users earn the badge by checking in at their local polling place on Election Day.

Jim Gilliam: Founder and CEO, NationBuilder

A former documentary filmmaker, Gilliam is the creator of NationBuilder, an online management platform. NationBuilder organizes online tools for campaigns, regardless of partisanship, including free access to a nationwide voter file. Among Gilliam’s other creations—, a tool to help circulate petitions on Twitter. Gilliam’s speech at this year’s Personal Democracy Forum has more than 300,000 online views. 

Capitol Hill Innovator

Matt Lira: Digital Director, Office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

Lira is the first digital staffer to be given a full-seat at the senior leadership table in a Congressional leadership office and his time on Capitol Hill includes many Congressional firsts. Among them are the first Congressional web video, Twitter account and the first online ads under the franking program. Lira is also responsible for the YouCut program, which allows the public to vote on which item to cut from the federal budget with the winning item actually brought up for a vote on the House floor.

Candidate Innovator

Jill Miller Zimon: City Council Member, Pepper Pike, Ohio

Zimon is the first nationally recognized female blogger to be elected to a city council in the country and the first candidate for her city council to utilize a website or social networking tools during a campaign. Zimon, who blogs at, is also the project director for the Civic Commons EfficientGovNetwork Project which aims to make local governments in Northeast Ohio more efficient through online collaboration.

Nonpartisan/International Innovators

Margarita Cedeño de Fernández: First Lady of the Dominican Republic 

As first lady, Margarita Cedeño de Fernández has worked to improve education and close the digital gap through access to information and communication technologies. She has worked to strengthen the country’s community technology centers, which are located in 75 rural communities nationwide. Last year, the centers provided more than half a million citizens with free access to online tools and services.

Clay Johnson: Owner, Big Window Labs

During the 2004 election cycle, Johnson served as the lead programmer for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign—a catalyst for the use of the Internet in politics. He went on to found Blue State Digital, which played a key role in Barack Obama’s digital strategy in 2008. He also led a campaign titled, “Let our Congress Tweet,” part of the effort to allow members to use social media under Congressional franking rules.