A look back at highlights and happenings in the world of civic tech.
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.
Shortly after the Sunlight Foundation released its state-by-state repository of criminal justice data, California followed suit. On Feb. 17, Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the release of criminal justice data for cities and counties. The new information — that chronicles topics like use of force, officer involved shootings and in-custody deaths — was brought to light through an update to the California Department of Justice’s transparency site OpenJustice.
The site, launched in 2015 with statewide statistics, furthers a campaign to strengthen trust between citizens and law enforcement after the recent string of national controversies involving police use of force against minorities. The measure is also intended to serve policy makers to improve the criminal justice system with data-driven legislation.
At present, analytics tools on the site allow users to peruse statistics by type of crime, degree of crime (felony or misdemeanor), and by demographic information of race, gender and age.
From 2005 to 2014, the furthest year of reported data, Humboldt, Glenn and Del Norte counties held the first, second and third spots for highest arrest rates. At the state level, California is seeing an overall improvement — its overall arrest rate decreased by about 26 percent from 2006 and 2014. And while black residents still represent the largest minority for arrests since 2005, the number of Hispanic arrests has dropped to become nearly parallel to whites, with 3,263 Hispanic arrests in 2014 compared 3,009 white arrests.
In a press release announcing the update as Version1.1, Harris did not mince words about the findings racial implications or the national controversies that surround them.
“This data helps clarify a simple truth: Too many boys and young men of color are being arrested and killed by police,” she said. “By releasing vast amounts of criminal justice data, OpenJustice v1.1 adds numbers and facts to the national debate on police-community relations.”
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said updates to the portal are currently set to happen on a yearly basis, and it is hoped that future versions will give a more granular picture of law enforcement activities at the local level, with the ultimate goal of quarterly updates for high value datasets.
A recent experiment in text messaging indicates a little narcissism may actually improve your health. The finding comes from a study conducted by a U.K. government research group called the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT), which analyzed how text messages could prompt New Orlean’s low-income residents to visit health-care providers. BIT’s team, which drew funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities initiative, collaborated with a local health system to send three different types of text messages to more than 21,000 people for a free doctor’s visit.
Out of the pool, the researchers said that texts with ego-boosting messages were significantly more likely to stir residents to schedule checkups, as resident responses came in at 1.4 percent. Simple messages, messaging that just asked whether a resident wanted a checkup, prompted the second highest response, at 1 percent; and messages that were socially minded — worded to encourage good health so respondents could take care of others — had the lowest response at about 0.7 percent.
The results surprised researchers, who said they’d expected the social messaging to make the most impact based on initial feedback. Yet it might also be observed that showing you are socially mindful — as opposed to actually being socially mindful — is also an ego-boosting behavior that may have influenced their early feedback.
The study is still ongoing, and researchers' next steps are to reach out again to residents to see if the text messages converted into doctor visits. Whatever the case, though, the team said the findings were clear that “simple, low cost interventions, like the use of text messages, continue to prove to be an effective method for improving the lives of underserved populations.”
The 2016 Golden Post Awards are now officially accepting nominations to honor state and local governments that have applied social media to engage citizens in a savvy way. The contest, sponsored by Government Technology magazine and social media startup Archive Social, received more than 150 entries for its debut last year at the Government Social Media Conference in Reno, Nev., and aims to replicate efforts at this year's event held April 6-8.
The awards are meant to recognize social media efforts by elected officials, law enforcement, communications officials and others. The deadline to nominate jurisdictions is March 1; additional information and submission and voting rules can be found here.