What’s New in Civic Tech: CfA Justice Project Gets Donations

Plus, Chi Hack Night introduces its first ever board of directors; Chicago also releases a wide swath of transportation data; start learning GIS right now with 17 free online lessons; and more.

by / April 18, 2019
A marijuana plant. Shutterstock/Yarygin

This Saturday is April 20, colloquially known as 4-20 and celebrated nationwide by those who enjoy recreational marijuana. To honor the day, the cannabis platform Eaze will donate up to $100,000 to help the civic tech group Code for America (CfA) clear criminal records as part of its ongoing Justice at Scale campaign.

Eaze is a platform that connects consumers with legal and licensed retailers of marijuana. This April 20, it will donate $4.20 to CfA for every delivery it makes, capping its total donation at $100,000. The money will go toward Justice at Scale, which is continuing work by CfA to help eligible individuals expunge their criminal records.

Supporting that particular civic tech project is a natural fit for Eaze. CfA recently announced that with the help of an algorithm it had assisted in clearing more than 54,000 total convictions for eligible individuals in Los Angeles and San Joaquin, Calif., counties. This came after it did the same thing in San Francisco County, helping to clear more than 8,000 convictions there. Meanwhile, the Cook County, Ill. state's attorney announced this week that her jurisdiction, which contains Chicago, was interested in working with CfA as well.

The work to clear past marijuana convictions comes as more states move to legalize recreational marijuana, joining those that have already done so, such as Colorado, California and Oregon. The work being done by CfA involves tools that governments can use to quickly and efficiently determine eligibility without investing large amounts of work hours, subsequently clearing them.

“Millions of Americans are eligible to clear their records, but the process of record clearance is complicated and costly,” said Evonne Silva, senior director, criminal justice and workforce development at CfA, in a statement. “Our partnership with Eaze will help open the door to jobs, housing and opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Californians by making record clearance automatic.”

Chi Hack Night Introduces First Board of Directors

Chi Hack Night, a once-informal weekly civic tech meetup in Chicago that has grown into a nonprofit organization, announced its first board of directors this week.

In November, Chi Hack Night stakeholders announced that the weekly meetup would transition into a nonprofit organization. Since then, the group’s founders have worked to put a framework for that new organization in place. A big part of that was finding a Chi Hack Night Board of Directors to govern the new group, continue to oversee its weekly events, manage its website, and tend to any number of organizational duties. That board is now in place.

The Chi Hack Night Board of Directors consists of 11 members, all of whom the group notes are slated to serve one- or two-year terms, either appointed by members of the group or voted for in elections. The board members come from diverse backgrounds, with some having prior involvement with the group and others being entirely new to it.

Their professional backgrounds are also widely varied, including software engineers, attorneys, executives, GIS developers, content managers, educators, and positions in the media. A full list of the new board members can be found on the Web page with the announcement. That same announcement also notes that continuing priorities for the new organization include sharing more information about working committees, bylaws and how interested parties can get involved.

Chi Hack Night is one of the largest weekly civic tech meetups in the nation. Convening every Tuesday, the group begins by welcoming a speaker. In the past, these speakers have included members of the local government’s technology staff, politicians running for governor and other major regional stakeholders.

Chicago Releases Wide Swath of Transportation Data

Also in Chicago this week, the city released one of the largest and most diverse transportation data sets made public by any major jurisdiction in the country.

The comprehensive data largely has to do with so-called transportation network providers such as Uber, Lyft and others. The information was published through the city’s existing open data portal, and includes data about the services’ drivers, vehicles and the trips customers book through ride-hailing apps. Chicago detailed the data in an announcement on its website.

In a separate posting on the city’s website, developers shared how the city is protecting the privacy of its residents while sharing so much information about transportation network providers and taxis. “A deidentification and aggregation technique was developed and applied to reduce the risk of reidentification while allowing for beneficial public use of the data,” developers wrote.

What this means is that the information does not include any identifying passenger information, in part because taxi companies and transportation network providers don’t give that kind of data to the city. In other words, the city can’t share users’ private information because it does not have it. Such information includes names, dates of birth, zip codes, phone numbers, genders or anything else that could be used to identify a passenger.

Other privacy measures shared by the city include rounding all the trips in the data to the nearest 15-minute interval, using census tract locales rather than exact locations, and more.

Moving forward, the data sets will be updated on a quarterly basis as the city receives information from the transportation network providers.

Start Learning GIS with 17 Free Lessons

For aspiring civic technologists, there are 17 free lessons online now to start learning GIS.

These lessons are available through Esri, one of the largest and most prominent GIS product providers in the gov tech space. Each lesson starts with a lesson plan that explains what participants are being asked to do and why, along with a duration for how much time it will take. The lessons, of course, increase in complexity as you go.

The first lesson, for example, asks users to simply create a map. The second lesson then steps that up to story map, while the third moves on to learning the Esri product ArcGIS Earth. From there, the sophistication continues to increase incrementally, with users building as they go.

GIS is a key facet of civic tech work, with data visualizations based on maps and geography serving as a common overall project for some, or a component of other civic tech work for others. The lessons are all available for free now on Esri’s Learn ArcGIS website, all 17 of them.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.