What's New in Civic Tech takes a look at highlights and recent happenings in the world of civic technology.
Efforts to encourage political involvement through tech have begun popping up amid the polarizing early days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
A number of new apps and websites seek to simplify, focus and facilitate opposition to the president’s agenda. Their functions range from providing mobile alerts suggesting daily topics to bring up in phone calls with senators to aggregate job listings for tech-sector talent interested in working directly against Trump.
Previously, some involved with the tech sector, specifically Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka, have suggested technologists consider continuing to serve the federal government with work that helps the masses, politics aside. President Trump’s federal chief digital officer, Gerrit Lansing, has also voiced support on Twitter for tech initiatives begun under President Obama, including the United States Digital Service and 18F.
Still, the tech sector has been largely wary of Trump, and that wariness is now manifesting itself in oppositional sites and apps. One such effort is phonecongress.com, which prompts users to enter addresses before choosing from a list of topics to phone Congress about. Afterward, the site returns contact information for relevant representatives along with customized scripts and counsel.
Another site, dailyaction.org, provides mobile alerts via text each workday about one issue organizers determine to be urgent in the region where the respondent lives. Recipients need only tap a phone number within the text to connect to a senator or member of Congress, a process the site estimates to be brief, promising that “in 90 seconds, you can conscientiously object and be done with it.”
To make online information available to residents, California's Marin County has a new portal for analytics and reports, with data that includes emergency medical response rates, food safety inspection results, kindergarten immunizations and more.
The new portal for this information, dubbed Marin County Open Data, aims to share data with residents in order to bolster conversation and analysis, ultimately fostering discussions of potential solutions for challenges in the county, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. The portal was created by the county’s department of information services and technology.
“We’re excited about this because we’ve been working to enhance access to information and self-service by sharing data with the public," said Rwena Holaday, assistant director of the department, in a press release. "We’re making non-personal public information broadly accessible. We’re eager to provide a means to engage with the local software developer community about the most effective ways to use this information.”
To build on the effort, the county will host a hackathon for students on April 1, wherein participants will use Marin County Open Data to create technical solutions for local health challenges.
Marin County Open Data was developed with Seattle-based Socrata. With its launch, Marin joins the open data movement, which includes neighbors such as the city and county of San Francisco, San Mateo County, and Alameda County. Marin has previously committed to better governance through technology as part of its Five-Year Business Plan.
A group of government and civic tech organizations have launched a morning speaker series in Los Angeles, seeking to connect those who are involved in their respective sectors with each other — and donuts.
The series, dubbed Data + Donuts, held its first event Thursday at Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. This series is a joint effort between Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles, as well as volunteers from Los Angeles’ civic tech community. The speaker for the first event was Ted Ross, the general manager and chief information officer for the city of Los Angeles.
Plans call for future speakers to address a range of topics, including big data, platform as service, open data, analytics and visualization, community engagement, civic technology, and more. The presentation portion of this event will be followed by a networking session. No date for the next iteration has been announced.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the name and signage indicate that donuts are a veritable guarantee.
A civic tech group in Pittsburgh this week used simple information and a basic map to convey the location of potable water distribution areas during a precautionary flush and boil advisory in the city.
While there was no evidence of bacteria in the system, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority issued a precautionary flush and boil advisory Tuesday, Jan. 31, for certain areas of the city, impacting an estimated 100,000 residents. As part of the warning, 2,500-gallon water buffalo tanks were made available at 11 locations. The civic tech group — the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center — then took the locations and built a simple map for residents seeking out the water tanks. The warning has since been lifted.
The Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, which is managed by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Urban and Social Research in collaboration with Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh, is that region’s first open data platform. When it was launched in 2015, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto described it as “just the beginning” of open data collaboration between municipalities, universities and nonprofit groups in the area.
Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.