What’s New in Civic Tech: California Procurement Move Lauded

Plus, Louisville, Ky., maps available scooter and bike locations; a new book looks at shining examples of municipal fiber infrastructure; Code for Baltimore to host human-centered design lunch and learn; and more.

by / January 10, 2019

One of the first things new California Gov. Gavin Newsom did upon taking office was sign an executive order aimed at facilitating more efficient modern tech procurement — and the civic tech community was stoked.

Tech procurement in the public sector is a notoriously difficult process, one that is often heavy on the bureaucracy and not conducive to startups or even established tech companies selling products liable to change before many state or local government procurement processes can even run their course.

A new process created by Newsom’s order aims to change that. Newsom’s executive order calls for a new approach dubbed an "Innovation Procurement Sprint."

It’s a complex and nuanced order, but, to put it simply, what it does is modernize California’s procurement processes by giving them a more agile and efficient route, perhaps most notably creating an alternative to a traditional system in which the state has a specific service or product in mind when it issues a request. The new system is closer to procurement methods that involve listing a governmental challenge and inviting technologists to submit products and solutions. This method has been used to great success by the Startup in Residence Program — which has chief among its goals an intention to break down barriers between startups and government — as well as by Code for America, the nonprofit and nonpartisan group that works with tech to help government function better for the people.

Jay Nath, who is co-executive director of the City Innovate Foundation that manages Startup in Residence (STiR), praised the move by California Thursday morning during a conference call announcing STiR’s chosen startup companies for 2019. Meanwhile, Jennifer Pahlka, who is the founder and executive director of San Francisco-based Code for America, wrote a medium post voicing her own support and noting that “having Gov. Newsom start his service as the leader of our state this way bodes well.”

In addition to the praise from leaders in civic tech, there’s a lot of budgetary gain to be had by states who embrace more modernized procurement practices. In fact, a recent audit found that embracing efficient e-procurement practices could potentially save Oregon more than $1 billion, or rather that it would have saved the state that amount had it been in use as of late.

Louisville, Ky., Maps Available Scooter and Bike Locations

They seemed to appear overnight, popping up in high foot traffic areas covered in bright colors, just waiting to give pedestrians a faster ride to whatever destination they were seeking. They are rented bikes and scooters, and they can now be found in ample supply in most American cities.

Now a map of the locations of available bikes and scooters that are part of the Bird and Lime company programs is available online. That map is available via the free and open-sourced application Multicycles.Org, which launched early last year. Meanwhile, some cities have launched their own official bike-share programs, and they are now mapping them with their transit apps. Louisville, Ky., is one such city. This isn’t the first time Louisville has worked to assemble and release data related to these programs.

In fact, on the city’s open data portal, visitors can find data about individual scooter trips separated by month. Municipal efforts to map, corral and encourage the use of programs like shared bike and scooter rentals seem likely to only become more prevalent. In fact, a recent study from DePaul University, which was partially funded by Bird, found that the availability of these scooters and bikes can help close transit gaps between public vehicles such as buses and trains, thereby improving quality of life for residents who do not own cars.

A New Book Looks at Shining Examples of Municipal Fiber Infrastructure

A new book looks at and praises some of the best examples of municipal fiber infrastructure networks in the country, which are of an increasingly great interest to those involved in local government as well as in civic tech.

The book is called Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution—and Why America Might Miss It. Its author is Susan Crawford, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a technology adviser to President Barack Obama.

In the book, Crawford specifically praises Santa Monica, Calif. — where she went to public high school — as a shining example, noting that the city is now a tech hub, and that it is no coincidence that during the past 20 years, Santa Monica’s local government has undertaken careful planning to build an affordable fiber network that businesses can use to quickly and efficiently transfer large volumes of data.

Such networks have become a major priority among those in economic development, as their presence can greatly affect a local government’s ability to attract business to a jurisdiction. In the book, Crawford writes extensively about what other cities can learn from Santa Monica’s sterling example.

There is also potentially a lesson to be learned from the book for state governments as well. In a piece previewing the book, a local publication noted that while 20 states have made it challenging for cities to intervene in facilitating better fiber access for businesses, California is not one of those states. That lack of interference is part of what enabled Santa Monica to form a telecommunications master plan in 1998 that helped them create their enviable fiber infrastructure.

Code for Baltimore to Host Human-Centered Design Lunch & Learn

The localized civic tech group Code for Baltimore is partnering with the city there to host a discussion about a subject that is of increasing concern to those involved with civic tech — human-centered design.

Human-centered design, in this context, essentially means creating platforms and services that are built with users in mind — often with extensive research about what a user’s experience using them is like. This commonly manifests in new municipal websites as having search bars and the most popular pages up front while also streamlining government information all throughout an easy-to-navigate layout. This concept has been used in the private sector for many years to enable ease of purchase, driving mega companies like Amazon and Apple to nigh-unprecedented success. In the public sector, however, the vast majority of governmental institutions are just now struggling to embrace the discipline.

Events like the one being hosted in Baltimore, however, aim to change this. That event is slated for 12 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 28 in the 11th Floor Inner Harbor Conference Room at Baltimore City Hall. It has been dubbed Lunch & Learn: Intro to Human Centered Design, and the official hosts are Code for Baltimore and the city’s Department of General Services. The event is free to attend and participants are invited to bring their own lunch.

During the event, experts will host an introductory session that focuses on related methodology and how it can be applied to everyday civic tech or local government work.

Portland, Maine, Seeks a Director of IT and a Director of Innovation and Performance Management

Portland, Maine, has a pair of openings for technologists. The city is currently looking to hire a director of innovation and performance management, as well as a director of information technology.

These jobs are, essentially, leadership positions that make up two sides of the municipal tech and innovation ecosystem coin, as it were. The director of information technology is charged with managing IT, implementing new technologies and basically ensuring that the local government's IT needs are met on a daily basis.

The director of innovation and performance management, meanwhile, is responsible for leading innovation work in Portland, work aimed at overcoming longtime obstacles, increasing governmental efficiency and embracing modern ideas.

It is not at all uncommon for these to be separate roles in cities. More information about each position can be found on the job postings section of Portland, Maine’s website.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

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.