2017 saw the country edge ever closer to mass use of self-driving vehicles on public roadways. In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation named 10 test sites that will together form a “Community of Practice” to advance the tech behind autonomous and connected cars. Guidance for local government came from the National League of Cities in April, which directed members to grab a seat at the table, and staff it with experts from IT, procurement and transportation.
The civic tech community met in San Francisco on the eve of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, where Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka reminded attendees of the enduring importance of using tech to improve how government serves its people. Concerns about what the election might mean for recent tech progress persisted throughout the year, as leaders in gov tech watched open data disappear from federal websites. Government staff also grappled with enforcing policies they didn’t agree with, like a presidential commission request for detailed voter data, which many feared would be used to restrict access to the vote.
Government took a more prominent seat at the table at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, where policymakers participated alongside the private sector to ponder emerging technologies such as big data, the Internet of Things, sensors and smart cities. For example, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock talked about Peña Station Next, a mixed-use connected development that prioritizes sustainability with smart lighting as well as plans for driverless shuttles and a quarter-mile LED welcome sign that connects the area to the adjacent airport.
Philadelphia is among the U.S. cities working toward zero waste, with a goal of increasing its trash diversion rate to 90 percent in less than 20 years. The inaugural Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, with city and community representatives, is behind a data-driven litter index to catalog the type and location of trash in two pilot neighborhoods. Officials are hopeful that detailed and accurate data will help drive effective city litter policy.
On the gov tech biz beat, readers tuned in to hear from incoming Granicus CEO Mark Hynes following the announcement in late 2016 that the company, known for its legislation management tools, had merged with constituent messaging company GovDelivery. A Harvard Business School alum, this is Hynes’ first venture into working on products geared toward government.
In February, five cities got a boost in their respective quests toward smart city status. The Smart Cities Council, partially funded by the White House Smart Cities Initiative, awarded packages of services and products valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars from member companies to five jurisdictions: Austin, Texas; Indianapolis; Miami; Orlando, Fla.; and Philadelphia.
Four states made recreational use of marijuana legal in November 2016, requiring them to set up the necessary groundwork ahead of legislative deadlines. While the challenges in front of affected states (California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada) were great, many could use lessons from pot pioneers, and tech they already had — processes for background checks, business licensing and safety inspections, to name a few — to get ready.
Originally intended to improve planning and maintenance, a statewide roadway inventory in Utah using lidar technology has given the state insights it didn’t expect. Officials now use the information for hydrologic modeling to better plan for water runoff when flooding occurs. The lidar-gathered data, including details on road temperature and guardrail locations, could help Utah become the first state with self-driving snowplows.
Persistent concerns over biased policing have contributed to close examination of the use of predictive technologies in law enforcement. One-time Chicago Chief Data Officer and former Chicago PD Commander Brett Goldstein, now with Ekistic Ventures, is behind the work of CivicScape, a startup focused on bringing transparency to predictive policing and weeding out bias from the data that goes into its algorithms by publishing them on GitHub.
The government tech community gathered in Washington, D.C., in March for a market forecast on IT spending in state and local government. With uncertainty at the federal level, activity in state and local government was projected to grow. Cybersecurity was the No. 1 area of increased spending in states, while innovation at the local level is fueling efforts related to smart cities, open data and civic engagement.