What's New in Civic Tech: One-Step Representative Lookup, Mapping Hate Crimes, an Open CIO Position and a Civic Tech Guidebook

A look at highlights and happenings in the world of civic tech.

by / November 23, 2016
A map from the Anti-Defamation League showing cities that reported no hate crimes, juxtaposed against states that have high rates of hate crime per capita. Screenshot/Anti-Defamation League

New app looks to connect constituents to representatives, minus the hassle

Type in an address, get the phone number of the congressional representative who speaks for that district.

That’s the entire process used in Call to Action, a new civic engagement application launched this week online. Along with the phone number, users get some basic information about their representative, a guideline for how to introduce themselves and a write-up on what to expect once they connect with somebody in their representative’s office.

As of right now, that’s it — no email address, no bio listing all the offices the representative has previously held, no senators. That’s on purpose.

“Calling the district office of your congressional rep is the most effective way to get government to listen to you, according to political staffers,” a boilerplate on the website reads. “Calls are taken more seriously and make a greater impact than emails or written letters. Because your congressional rep serves fewer constituents than a senator, a call to your rep is more likely to be answered and carries more relative weight.”

The whole project was thrown together during the weekend, according to TechCrunch. Zack Shapiro, an iOS developer, pulled a team of coders together via Twitter. Since then, the website has been viewed thousands of times and some big names like Jon Favreau, former Barack Obama speechwriter, have shared the app on social media.

ADL launches hate crime map using policing data

This is the election season where the Internet was introduced to the concept of the triple parentheses, a textual code anti-Semites used to denote social media users who appear to be Jewish. It was also the election where Jewish people began appropriating the symbol, adorning their own profiles with parentheses in a statement of pride.

Amid a renewed racist vigor, one organization is using open data to fight back. On Nov. 17, the Anti-Defamation League launched a hate crime map pulling from FBI data sets.

One piece of the project shows cities that reported no hate crimes in 2015, some of which are in states with high rates of hate crimes per capita.

According to the project, the top jurisdiction for hate crimes reported in 2015 — not necessarily all hate crimes — is Washington, D.C., with nearly 100 such crimes per million people. Next on the list are Massachusetts, North Dakota, Montana and Kentucky. The bottom five were, in order, Hawaii, Mississippi, Arkansas, Iowa and Alabama.

The bureau collects hate crime data from local police jurisdictions, though the ADL project also highlights the states that don’t track hate crimes — Wyoming, Indiana, Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina. The project links users back to original data sources, including .csv, .pdf and .png files.

Fairfield becomes latest Bay Area city to look for a CIO

Oakland, Calif., has been without a permanent chief information officer since Bryan Sastokas left to take on the same role in Long Beach in June 2015. San Francisco is searching for a CIO since Miguel Gamiño announced plans last month to become chief technology officer for New York City.

Now a third city in the San Francisco Bay Area — or the outskirts, anyway — is in search of a CIO. Fairfield, population 105,000, is taking applications for the position until Dec. 5.

The previous CIO, Steve Garrison, retired in June, according to city staff. The city posted the job opening on Nov. 1.

The salary range for the position is $10,186 to $12,381 per month.

Professor raises $11,000 on Kickstarter for civic tech “guidebook”

Andrew Schrock, a professor who has taught communications and technology at the University of Southern California, California State University Dominguez Hills and Woodbury University, is working on a “guidebook” for civic tech.

Schrock has raised more than $11,000 toward publishing the book on Kickstarter, where he described it as “the first guidebook to the big ideas behind the civic tech movement." The 128-page work will explore concepts such as user-centered design, open government and community infrastructure, according to the Kickstarter page.

“Over the last five years I've been collecting stories and strategies to make communities stronger and government more responsive,” Schrock wrote on the page. “These are stories of geeks banding together with government and local leaders to help solve our biggest social problems. The book is about about community organizers like Tiffani Bell, who created The Human Utility for Detroit residents who couldn’t pay their water bills. It is about civil servants like Mark Headd who use data to drive participation. It is about how government teams like Boston’s New Urban Mechanics experiment with city life and reform government from the inside.”

The book is titled Civic Tech: Making Technology Work for People, and Schrock estimates that he’ll ship the first copies to Kickstarter contributors in April. Six months after that, he said, he plans to release the entire work under a creative commons license. The free version will be available as a PDF download, while hard copies will be available for purchase.

The Kickstarter campaign is closed, but preorders are available here.

Ben Miller Staff Writer

Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.