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What’s New in Civic Tech: CfA Names New Chief Comms Officer

Plus, meet the winner of the international Call for Code Challenge for 2020, West Virginia is moving to Google Workspace in its agencies statewide, Indiana’s digital government portal hits user milestone, and more.

by / October 15, 2020
West Virginia Capitol (David Kidd)

Code for America (CfA), the nation’s pre-eminent civic tech group, has named Arlene Corbin Lewis as its new chief communications and marketing officer, the group announced this week.

Lewis will join the nonpartisan and nonprofit organization on Oct. 28, thereafter leading all of CfA’s communications, marketing and public affairs initiatives. Lewis brings to the position more than 20 years of communications work. Most recently, Lewis was director of communications at Demos, which is a national think tank that works for just, inclusive and multiracial democracy. Prior to that role, Lewis was director of strategic communications for the Urban Institute, which is another think tank. In that capacity, she helped relaunch the Urban Institute’s brand, as well as to mainstream its research and maximize its work with the media to increase visibility. 

During her career, Lewis has also spent time with Habitat for Humanity International, the Case Foundation, the Equal Rights Center, the United Nations and more. She is a native of Canada. 

Lewis is not the only high-profile hire that CfA has made this year. Amanda Renteria joined the group in May as its new CEO, essentially replacing departing founder Jennifer Pahlka. In her new capacity, Lewis will report directly to Renteria. 

"We're excited to welcome Arlene Corbin Lewis in this new role at Code for America as the Chief Communications and Marketing Officer," said Code for America CEO Amanda Renteria. "Arlene will drive strategic campaigns and initiatives to create a more equitable and resilient government. We have a unique chance to shape government systems to truly serve everyone with dignity and respect.”

Call for Code Challenge Names 2020 Winner

The winner of the 2020 Call for Code Awards — a civic tech competition sponsored and hosted primarily by IBM — is Agrolly, a team that used technology to make farming smarter.

The focus of the Call for Code challenge this year was two-pronged, asking participants to work on projects that address climate change as well as the impact of COVID-19. Agrolly used technologies such as IBM’s Watson in the service of a project that helps farmers do their work while better adapting to climate change. The Agrolly team consisted of members from across the globe, including Brazil, India, Mongolia and Taiwan, all of whom met at Pace University to create one application to benefit their communities. An overview of their work is available through a short video now. 

Agrolly will now receive a $200,000 prize and a chance to work with IBM experts as they move to incubate and develop Agrolly’s open source solution in a way that will allow other developers to help scale and improve the technology. 

IBM’s ultimate goal is to deploy the winning solution in the communities globally that need it most. More information about the competition is available on the Call for Code website.

West Virginia Is Moving to Google Workspace

West Virginia will transition all of its employees and internal state agencies to Google Workplace, the state announced Thursday.

In a press release, Google noted that the move will help the state “drive cost savings, innovation and enhanced IT security.” It’s a multi-year deal for the state to use Workplace, which is Google Cloud’s cloud-based productivity and collaboration solution. The security features will also make it easier for West Virginia employees to work remotely without cybersecurity risk during the pandemic. Features relevant to that include data loss prevention, access control policies, advanced video meeting capabilities, and more. 

"Google Cloud is committed to our partnership with West Virginia, and we look forward to helping them transition to a flexible, secure and innovative way of working, collaborating and serving constituents," said Mike Daniels, vice president of Global Public Sector for Google Cloud. "Google Workspace's advanced productivity and collaboration tools can help state employees become more efficient and productive in their daily work, while also allowing them to better deliver citizen services."

West Virginia joins a growing number of state governments to switch to Google Workplace, including Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming.

Access Indiana Surpasses 125,000 Users Milestone

Access Indiana — which is that state’s single sign-on user portal for digital government services — has now surpassed 125,000 users. 

This marks a major milestone for Indiana. Single sign-on portals — which enable residents to access multiple services with a single username and password — have long eluded government. Registering 125,000 users for one is no common feat. Indiana got to this point by starting with one application back in March 2019 before steadily adding to it. It now connects users with more than 25 state services, all of which previously required separate logins.

Those services include getting hunting and fishing licenses; finding resources for job seeking; applying for permits and licenses; and filing or checking the status of complaints. Additional services continue to be added to the portal.

Many U.S. Cities Join Bloomberg Philanthropies Recovery Effort

Thirty U.S. cities are joining a new program support by Bloomberg Philanthropies — What Works Cities’ City Budgeting for Equity and Recovery program. 

The program is exactly what it sounds like. What is perhaps most notable for folks in the civic tech space is that a lot of the skills and tools involved will require using data, be it for decision-making at the highest levels of local government or finding new ways to make budgeting more efficient. 

You can learn more about the program that these cities are joining via this Medium post.

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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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