This Week in Civic Tech: Remembering Jake Brewer, Using Data for Street Safety, Streamlining Federal Websites

A look back at highlights and happenings in the world of civic tech.

by / September 24, 2015
Civic tech advocate Jake Brewer speaks at the Ignite DC3 conference in 2010. Flickr/Jared Goralnick & Jeff Tong

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.

Jake Brewer: ‘A Beacon of Inspiration’

When Code for America Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka described White House staffer and tech advocate Jake Brewer, 34, she used the words, "beacon of inspiration." Brewer died Sept. 19 in a cancer charity ride when his bicycle collided with an oncoming car. In a blog post, Pahlka gave a personal account of Brewer’s influence on the civic tech organization, crediting him for his passion and insight.

"Jake and his colleagues at Sunlight, most notably [colleague] Clay Johnson, were (to me) at the time, some of the only voices reaching out to the technology community and asking them to pay attention to what was going on with their government,” Pahlka wrote.

During Code for America’s first year, Brewer worked for the organization to help veterans find jobs that matched their skills. Since then, he went on to serve groups like Change.org directing global policy initiatives and eventually entered the White House as a senior advisor to U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Notable accolades at the OSTP included advancing the Obama administration’s TechHire initiative, a program to educate Americans for well-paying tech jobs, and offering his support for greater broadband connectivity.

“Jake served as an informal advisor, cheerleader, connector and champion in all his subsequent work, including most recently, the tour of duty he’d just begun,” Pahlka wrote.

Both the president and Smith expressed their own sentiments on Brewer's passing, and offered condolences to his family, which includes his parents, wife Mary Katharine Ham, daughter Georgia and his unborn child. Family and friends have created the Jake Brewer Education Fund that will provide for his children’s education. The site has raised more than $370,000 so far.

Safer Streets

Microsoft has partnered with DataKind, a data impact group, to protect pedestrians from traffic hazards. Under the moniker of Vision Zero, the initiative seeks to reduce the nation's tragic tally of more than 30,000 traffic deaths reported each year. It hopes to accomplish this with data analytics (of course), but also involvement from a collaboration of stakeholders like city officials, businesses, nonprofits and regulatory groups. The idea is to not only stir actionable insights, but also draw commitments from decision-makers who can create policies and resources.

In a blog post introducing the endeavor, DataKind said that despite traffic’s pervasiveness, not much is known about the underlying factor contributing to accidents. Studies indicate children, senior citizens and low-income resident are most affected, yet what’s unclear are the interventions in education, enforcement and policy changes required to reduce such fatalities. To begin research, DataKind’s Erin Akred will lead a team of data scientists to collect open city data, crowdsourced data and data sets from private companies. Initial efforts aim to isolate patterns and predict common locations for pedestrian fatalities

A Guide for Federal Websites

Federal agencies now have a guide for crafting modern websites. The U.S. Digital Service and 18F just completed an alpha launch for U.S. Web Design Standards. The release, which can be found on GitHub, offers digital templates and instructions that can streamline styles and add features across multiple agencies and federal organizations.

Similar to Web design frameworks like Bootstrap that create a ready source for HTML, CSS and JavaScript, the standards aim to assist developers who can quickly create website prototypes while saving time in Web development with reusable code. For Web designers, the standards promise an easy reference point to create a uniform look and user experience for citizens. Inspiration for the guide was drawn from Code for America’s Chime Styleguide, Pivotal Labs Component Library, the U.K.’s Government Digital Service’s UI Elements, and federal sites like Healthcare.gov and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office portal.

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.