This Week in Civic Tech presents a line-up of notable events in the space that connects citizens to government services. Topics cover latest startups, hackathons, open data initiatives and other influencers. Check back each week for updates.
Boston is redesigning its city hall campus and has taken a digital-first strategy for public input. On Nov. 3, the city launched RethinkCityHall.org to gather feedback for a one-year study that will map operations and re-envision buildings and space within the Boston City Hall Plaza.
The goal? Modernization. Boston’s City Hall first opened in 1968, and most of its architecture therefore mirrors yesteryear, especially when operations are concerned. Space was provided for file cabinets in the lower levels of the building, corridors were designed to accommodate clerks pushing document carts, and there were kiosks and counters to handle all the paper-based transactions such as business permits and licenses — now mostly automated. Officials working in the Digital Age now want a city hall that supports digital transactions, not paper. Likewise, Boston desires to give citizens another reason to visit city hall — whether it be a place for civic alchemy, political debate or community meetups.
"As we progress in the planning process, it is important to take inventory of all of our assets to be able to identify opportunities for improvement,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a press release. “This study will help us develop a thoughtful and forward-thinking plan to reimagine city hall and the plaza as thriving, healthy and innovative civic spaces."
Boston expects to have a final project budget and implementation plan by mid-September 2016.
On Nov. 10, the civic tech movement passed another milestone, this time, by way of an announcement from GovDelivery. The civic engagement platform, which assists governments with emails, texts and open data services, is celebrating 100 million citizen subscribers to its more than 1,000 government customers.
Though some might dismiss the news, the numbers are encouraging when framed as an indicator for citizen interest and government buy-in for civic tech and public engagement solutions — something entrepreneurs and startups can take note of. Since the Saint Paul, Minn., company was founded in 2000, it has expanded from an email distribution service, to include social media offerings and open data platforms with the acquisition of NüCivic in 2014. In 2015 it acquired Textizen to further embed itself into the government communications market with the startup’s text messaging tools.
In its release, GovDelivery touted average subscriber growth this year to about 3.3 million unique users per month. Currently, its emails sent to citizens in 2015 total more than 6.3 billion and its text messages are counted at more than 174.6 million. Geographically, GovDelivery — which is held by the cloud company Actua — has laid roots in 244 countries. Creating bridges between governments and citizens appears to be not only beneficial for communities, but also lucrative to civic tech companies that have popped up. Other civic engagement ventures to arrive in recent years include Nextdoor and mySideWalk, which are coupled with popular consumer tech companies like Yelp, Facebook, Google and Twitter -- that are jumping into the fray with their own civic engagement tools. A study by research firm IDC reports that local and state government will spend about $25.5 billion on IT, with civic tech spending comprising 24 percent and growing 14 times faster than traditional tech.
New York state’s redesigned NY.Gov has shown it has more than a pretty face. Since it was relaunched on Nov. 12, 2014 officials report that the site’s “users have doubled, mobile traffic tripled and pageviews quadrupled to a record high of over 17 million.”
The numbers are substantial when paired with its predecessor, a site that hadn’t seen a major overhaul for more than 15 years. Credit for the success goes to Rachel Haot, the state’s first chief digital officer, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who hired Haot for the task, among other digital initiatives. To start the process, the state put together a 100-person team filled by staff from the New York Office of Information and Technology Services and the creative development agency Code and Theory for a 10-month long development project. The open source development firm Acquia also assisted.
A few of the site’s specialties include its accessibility for mobile devices, a simplified navigation menu and a feature that allows residents to customize their experience based on their neighborhood — all without a burdensome login process.
See the infographic below for a few of the highlights:
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.