What’s New in Civic Tech: User-Centered Research Helps Guide Code for America’s Work in California

Plus, LinkNYC kiosks celebrate city’s famous Caribbean residents; California’s Humboldt County enhances website accessibility; and Nashville launches new app to improve government interactions with citizens.

by / June 14, 2018
A depiction of one of the proposed LinkNYC kiosks that will help deliver the gigabit-speed Wi-Fi to millions of residents and visitors across New York. LinkNYC

As part of its ongoing work on California’s food assistance program GetCalFresh, the civic tech group Code for America (CfA) recently conducted extensive user-centric research aimed at modifying eligibility expectations.

This effort, which members of the nonprofit and nonpartisan group wrote about recently on medium, ties in with the overarching goal of CfA’s work in this area — to make it as easy as possible for residents to apply for food assistance in California. While researching the application process, CfA found that a large number of applicants were over the income limit to qualify — be it because they were overlooking source of income or because the application worded its question in a way that resulted in guestimating.

Operating with the belief that individuals unlikely to be eligible due to income should find out as quickly as possible, CfA turned to user-centric research to help it make changes to GetCalFresh, noting that getting rejected more quickly in the process would give individuals a chance to find alternative food assistance in a more timely manner.

To improve in this regard, CfA is now working to improve GetCalFresh’s application so that it provides better guidance about reporting income, specifically unearned income such as disability, veteran benefits, money received from a friend or relative, and worker’s compensation.    

User-centered research and design is a process in which developers extensively study the people who use services, rather than just scientifically guessing at their needs. Relatively common in the private sector in recent years, the discipline is currently being deployed by an increasing number of governmental organizations and vendors across the country.

LinkNYC kiosks celebrate city’s famous Caribbean residents

To celebrate June as Caribbean Heritage Month, LinkNYC kiosks in New York City are sporting images of influential Americans of Caribbean heritage.

This program first launched last year, and it is a collaboration between New York’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications and CARIBBEING, a cultural organization based in Brooklyn. The Caribbean American icons will be featured on the 55-inch digital display kiosks spread throughout the city with a goal of raising awareness about their contributions.

While last year the program included figures such as artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, rapper the Notorious B.I.G., and Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz, this year’s program will expand to feature even more visages. New this year are comedian Majah Hype, singer and musician Amara La Negra, and author Elizabeth Acevedo.

“This month, New Yorkers will get to see some of the most influential Caribbean American icons of the past century just by walking by a LinkNYC kiosk,” said Samir Saini, New York’s IT commissioner in a press release. “We’re thrilled to collaborate with Caribbeing to showcase the Caribbean culture and heritage while shining a light on the figures who have positively impacted New York City.”

LinkNYC is made up of more than 1,650 individual kiosks spread throughout the city’s five boroughs. It was first launched in early 2016.

Nashville launches new app to improve government interactions with citizens

Nashville is launching a new app to accompany the hubNashville online portal the city debuted late last year, according to local news reports.

The new app is designed to give citizens easier access, 24 hours a day, to municipal government services. This comes in the form of everything from reporting problems about street lights to getting information about job opportunities at city hall. After a problem is reported, the app will send users updates about how that problem is being handled.

In addition to the app, the city has also created an online video tutorial for residents. Essentially, the app is a comprehensive mobile customer service center aimed at connecting residents for any non-emergency services, handling requests made of the Mayor’s Office, the Metro Council Office, public works, codes and metro water services’ stormwater division.

According to the app’s website, more departments and agencies will be added soon.

Humboldt County, Calif., enhances website accessibility

Humboldt County, Calif., has launched an enhanced website aimed at increasing equitable access to its services for users with disabilities, both with and without access to assistive technology devices.

As government services move increasingly online, there is a fear among many officials, advocates and residents that digital equity will leave some residents behind. Perhaps most frequently, this fear is framed in terms of income levels, but it also applies to the inclusion of users who suffer disabilities.

Essentially, digitizing as many services as possible is wonderful. Agencies, however, must also work to make sure those digitized services are available to individuals with visual, hearing or other disabilities.

This is the situation that Humboldt County — home to more than 135,000 residents in Northern California, near the border with Oregon — has sought to remedy.

To make these enhancements, the county worked with Civic Plus’ CivicEngage Website design and hosting solution, as well as with AudioEye Inc., which is CivicPlus’ accessibility solution provider.

“IT has several goals,” said Jim Storm, Humboldt County’s IT division director, in a press release. “Strive to keep current with technology, ensure reliable systems and provide excellent customer service. With CivicPlus, our website is optimized for efficiency, and we have a collocated geographically diverse data center and 24/7/365 support. We also wanted to be a leader among California counties in Web accessibility.”

AudioEye is software that monitors websites as they grow or are modified in order to automatically fix certain issues to ensure accessibility for users of assistive technology for disabilities.  

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.