What’s New in Civic Tech: Philadelphia Officially Launches New Website

Plus, San Antonio debuts the new 311SA Mobile App; Pittsburgh seeks director of innovation and performance; Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder unveils plan to expand broadband access throughout state; and Restoreyourvote.org offers legal advice and guidance for voters with past convictions.

by / August 16, 2018
Philadelphia City Hall Shutterstock/Marco Rubino

Philadelphia has launched its new phila.gov website, the development of which dates back several years and aims to create a modern and flexible portal focused on improving citizen interactions with government.

The launch of phila.gov is the culmination of a redesign that started in December 2014 and progressed alongside continued use of the previous iteration. This effort, which was carried out by Philadelphia’s Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation (ODDT), essentially consolidates more than 300 city services into one platform that is intended to be user-friendly. In service of that last goal is a host of features, including easy-to-read content, improved viewing on mobile devices, transparency into how city services are delivered and many other features.

For the first year or so of the project’s life, the development team pushed out alpha pages that users could visit and comment on, providing suggestions that could be used to improve on future iterations of the site. A beta testing site went live in 2016 and began handling more than 40 percent of the total web traffic.

In a press release announcing the launch of the new site, city leaders note that the ODDT carried out this work in collaboration with a number of other city departments, ranging from the Office of Innovation and Technology to the Department of Revenue.

Other new features on the site include a news and events section, blogging and departmental calendars that show upcoming events.

San Antonio Debuts New 311SA Mobile App

San Antonio has launched a new mobile app aimed at giving residents 24/7 access to city services.

Dubbed 311SA Mobile App, the city launched its new project this week with an interactive event to show off its functionality to residents and community leaders. At its core, the app is essentially a mobile alternative to actually calling 311, one that residents can use to report issues, check the status of previous service requests and view service requests that other residents have submitted in their area. Development of this app grew out of San Antonio’s smart cities initiative.

The app was designed by Cityflag Inc., and it’s free for users to download via the iTunes and Google Play stores.

City officials, of course, had plenty of things to say about their new app in a press release announcing its launch.

“I’m extremely proud that San Antonio will now have a new avenue for residents to have access to city services that provides a personalized experience through innovative technology,” San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley said. “My vision for the city of San Antonio is to be a connected, inclusive and resilient community supporting a high quality of life, and this is one way we are achieving that vision.”

Pittsburgh Seeks Director of Innovation and Performance

Pittsburgh is looking for an IT leader for the city.

The city posted a job listing for a new Director of Innovation and Performance last week, noting that the position is the primary IT lead for the city, and that the director “provides strategic leadership for the Department of Innovation & Performance by establishing and executing on a clear enterprisewide IT strategy, and ensuring that the strategy continues to align with the overall strategic objectives of the city of Pittsburgh.”

The director would also sit on the mayor’s executive leadership team. More information about the job can be found here.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Unveils Plan to Expand Broadband Access Throughout State

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has unveiled a plan to provide high-speed Internet access for all residents of the state.

Dubbed the Michigan Broadband Roadmap, Snyder detailed the plan this week, joined by tech and business leaders during an event at a Michigan high school. The plan’s goal is a clear one: Raise broadband access and adoption all throughout Michigan.

This goal is one shared by the majority of states. Achieving it, however, is an ongoing problem nationwide.

To help Michigan get where it wants to be, Snyder previously created the Michigan Consortium of Advanced Networks (MCAN) via an executive order. This group has gathered input related to guiding the state to ubiquitous high-speed Internet from a diverse group of stakeholders. It has held six listening tours aimed at understanding the needs of residents and the barriers the projects face.

“As we traveled the state we heard a clear consensus — Michigan residents need and deserve secure, reliable and affordable broadband,” said Dave DeVries, the MCAN chairman and Department of Technology, Management and Budget director. “The thoughtful contributions made by each of the MCAN members and support staff led to these realistic goals and timelines. The path toward reaching our goals will take time and collaboration from both the public and private sector, but is ultimately achievable.”

Michigan currently ranks 30th in the country in terms of broadband availability, with over 350,000 households in mostly rural areas lacking access to high-speed Internet. Officials report that another 2 million households have access to only a single terrestrial Internet service provider.

Click here to view the full broadband roadmap report.

Restoreyourvote.org Offers Legal Advice for Voters with Past Convictions

A civic tech project aims to help voters with past convictions regain the right to vote, provided they’re eligible to do so.

This project is Restoreyourvote.org, and the first thing developers do on the site is address the existence of a common misconception, writing “many people with felony convictions assume they cannot vote. But that’s not true!” The site goes on to note that most states return the right to vote to people who have complete their sentences, before estimating that 17 million Americans with past convictions are able to vote now without knowing it.

The idea of the site is to clear up any confusion relating to this matter. The site has answers to questions about convictions and a brief form that visitors can fill out in order to find out if they are eligible to vote and what steps they must take to register.

The site was developed by the Campaign Legal Center, an organization made up of working attorneys in Washington, D.C.

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.