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What's New In Civic Tech: Responding to the Coronavirus

Plus, the cancelled Code for America Summit starts to move some of its programming to virtual events online; the Beeck Center announces three new projects and eight new team members; and more.

by / March 12, 2020

In response to the coronavirus, Bloomberg Philanthropies is partnering with adjacent organizations such as the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as well as the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. Plans involved with this work and these partnerships include providing city governments with virtual tech assistance and coaching, as well as accurate information that can potentially be used to respond on the front lines.

Part of this work also involves strategies that Bloomberg’s other local initiatives have deployed for years to help improve governmental efficiency. One of these is facilitating learning between cities. With the coronavirus situation, plans call for Bloomberg Philanthropies to work in real time in order to pinpoint and document the needs and lessons that the first cities with the most cases of the sickness — including Seattle — are experiencing in the midst of the outbreak. The idea is to help other cities benefit from the insights of those hardest hit in order to get out ahead of the situation. 

The organizations collaborating with Bloomberg Philanthropies will be contributing expertise.

“Relying on public health experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as well as additional researchers and clinicians from across Johns Hopkins University,” the group wrote in the program announcement, “the network will provide mayors with the most up-to-date information on the virus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and help them understand how to act on it quickly, efficiently and reliably for the benefit of their citizens.”

The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership initiative, meanwhile, will adapt its virtual governmental efficiency programming to focus on crisis leadership and crisis communications, thereby enabling mayors to connect directly with one another. 

City leaders who are interested in participating in this program can get involved or receive more information by writing to

Cancelled Code for America Summit Starts Transitioning to Virtual Events Online

Code for America, the largest national civic tech group in the country, planned its annual summit to take place this week in Washington, D.C.

In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, the group had to cancel nearly three days of civic tech programming, nixing an event that essentially serves as the state of civic tech in the United States each year. Code for America, however, has now begun to transition some of the in-person programming to virtual events online.

The first event took place Thursday, and it was fittingly a panel titled Successful Remote and Distributed Work in Uncertain Times. Panelists for this virtual event included technologists with experience at all levels of government, including state, local and federal. With an audience of more than 180 watching live online, they addressed issues such as successful remote meeting practices, recommendations for collaborative software, advice on how to procure that software, advice for managers working with remote staff members, the logistics of a great work-from-home setup, and how to stay healthy by setting boundaries that prevent burnout.

This is, perhaps, the most relevant panel the group could have chosen to conduct online, with companies across the country having to tap remote work as the nation works to stem what has now been officially classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. 

While there are no additional virtual panels scheduled as of yet, organizers said they expect to add more soon. Interested parties can check the status of that by visiting this page. Organizers have also noted that the content from the first panel will be available online soon.

Beeck Center Announces Three New Projects and Eight New Team Members

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Communications, which is housed at Georgetown University, has announced three new projects that are directly connected with or adjacent to organizations that work with tech and innovation in government.

Of these three new projects, the one that is perhaps most relevant to civic technologists is an effort to support the growing number of governmental digital service teams taking hold across the country. The specifics of this project involves pairing local researchers with the teams in state and local governments in order to document the work, related learnings and potential ways to share new information. In the service of this project, the Beeck Center is currently working with the newly created Colorado Digital Service team as well as New Jersey’s Office of Innovation. 

A second project seeks to help improve foster care, partnering to do that with groups like Foster America, New America and the Rockefeller Foundation. The goal of this project is to ultimately create a playbook for state governments looking to make it both easier and faster for foster children to be placed with people they already know.

The third new project for the Beeck Center is conducting social safety net benefits research. A target area of many civic tech efforts across the country in recent years has been applications for social safety net benefits, which in jurisdictions nationwide remain inefficient and often paper-based. This reality often leads to people who are eligible for benefits not applying for them. With this in mind, the Beeck Center is now partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on what it describes as “an action-oriented research project to detail data and technology-enabled solutions that can close the gap to give more people better access to priority safety net benefits.”

Interested parties can learn more about that work here.

In addition, the Beeck Center also announced that it was adding eight new fellows to its Data + Digital team, they are Taylor Campbell, Robin Carnahan, Amen Ra Mashariki, Chad Smith, Sara Soka, Conor Carroll, Yeri Kim, and Katya Abazajian.

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Zack Quaintance Associate Editor

Zack Quaintance is the associate editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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