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What's New in Civic Tech: California Creates Grants Portal

Plus, the Census 2020 Hard to Count Map adds a set of new features; Pew experts compile resources for federal efforts to close the digital divide; and a national civic volunteer award spotlights community heroes.

by / July 16, 2020
California's state capitol building in Sacramento. David Kidd

The California State Library has built and launched a new grants portal that gives users a centralized location to find state grant and loan opportunities.

Dubbed the California Grants Portal, the platform currently features more than 100 grants that total more than $17 billion in potential funding. The platform for the new portal is also an intuitive one that allows users to search by applicant type, grant category and timeframe for application deadlines. 

The categories of grants on the portal include environment and water; disadvantaged communities; education; health and human services; housing, community, and economic development; libraries, parks, recreation and arts; disaster prevention and relief; and science, technology and research and development. 

There is also a feed on the page that lists recently added grants, as well as a statistical tracker. For example, that tracker currently notes that 50 grants were added in the past week, there are 111 current grant opportunities, and $17.6 billion available in total funding. 

In the press release announcing the creation of the portal this week, developers noted that it was built with input from both grantseekers and state agencies. This research spanned 14 months and included collecting input from more than 1,000 grantseekers and 120 state staffers. The creation of the portal was spurred by legislative action in California, specifically the Grant Information Act of 2018 (Stats. 2018, Ch. 318; Asm Limón, AB 2252), which required the creation of a centralized location for grant info by the state library before July of this year.

Census 2020 Hard to Count Map Adds New Features

The Census 2020 Hard to Count Map — a comprehensive statistical asset used by government and community groups working to complete the Census — has announced a host of new features, including a new bird’s-eye view of response rates, as well as response rates by state legislative districts.

These new additions, according to a release announcing them, are aimed at “visualizing the trajectory of self-response rates by county or city with dynamic trendlines, and an animated county-level nationwide map.” The point of this is to help those involved with the Census to more easily visualize how counties and cities are doing when it comes to getting out the count.

Some of the new data visualizations are color-coded, with different shades for counties corresponding to the ways in which residents were informed and encouraged to fill out the Census. These visualizations can also be highlighted in a way that shows response rates day-by-day. 

This map is perhaps the most prominent and widely used civic tech project related to the 2020 U.S. Census, which will determine federal funding and political representation for communities across the country over the next 10 years. It was created within the City University of New York’s Graduate Center and is free for Census stakeholders to use. Other recent updates for the map have included dynamic new metrics to track response rates at various levels, as well as new map search features for the locations of area Census offices. 

Pew Experts Compile Resources for Federal Efforts to Close the Digital Divide 

Experts with Pew Charitable Trusts have compiled a series of research products related to helping actors at the state level specifically bridge the nation’s digital divide.

Noting that the “coronavirus pandemic has unveiled the crucial importance of broadband,” Pew shared a list of five related resources via email this week, which are especially relevant given that policymakers across the country — on both sides of the aisle — now recognize that expanding Internet access in a way that makes it accessible to all people is vital. It needs to be done in order to expand telehealth, connect students to online classrooms, enable teleworking and distribute information about pandemic relief from programs at all levels of government.

The resources shared by Pew in the service of this are ones the group has been rolling out in recent months. There is a letter urging federal leaders to support state progress in the area, an interactive tool to view actions at the state level, an analysis of who in America is not online, a report on how states are expanding broadband and a fact sheet related to state-level broadband programs. 

National Civic Volunteer Award Spotlights Community Heroes

Finally, local gov officials in small communities are being asked to nominate civic volunteers or groups for a new program called the Small Town America Civic Volunteer Award.

The award is exactly as the title implies — a way to honor folks who volunteer in small American towns — and the plan is for it to recognize 100 entries to “shine a spotlight on the growing need for local engagement in critical civic roles.”

Examples of potential recipients include a volunteer fire chief in a rural community, a team of citizens in a small southern community who attract private investments to a downtown corridor in decline and a town official who works to lead an effort to elevate safety capabilities in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. 

The top three nominees for the new award will receive cash prizes of $10,000, $7,500 and $5,000 for their respective communities. All of the 100 entries will also get a new CivicCMS community website at no charge with a component that includes a volunteer module aimed at helping with future recruitment.

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news 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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