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What’s New in Civic Tech: Dashboard Visualizes Census Hiring

Plus, an AI-driven wire service aims to boost news coverage of local government; the Census Bureau is sharing information about its differential privacy plans; a rural Indiana county is working toward digital equity; and more.

by / February 20, 2020
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Developers have created a new dashboard to visualize state-level Census hiring data as employment efforts for the forthcoming count begin to ramp up.

The dashboard was created within the Tennessee State Data Center, which is part of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The information it visualizes, however, is not just limited to that state. Instead, the new dashboard features state-level Census hiring data for the entirety of the United States.

The key visualization on the dashboard is the current number of temporary workers that have been employed for the Census. Users can view this data holistically for the entire country, or they can click on individual states to view the data in those jurisdictions. In addition, the visualization also conveys hiring progress by showing users how many temporary workers were employed in an area for the Census the prior month and breaking that down by percentage increase over the past month.

The Census, which begins in earnest in April, requires a massive hiring effort to recruit temporary workers. Conducted every 10 years, the Census holds the distinction of being the largest peacetime mobilization of the U.S. government, and the mass hiring of the temporary workers is a significant part of that.

This year’s Census is also likely to include more training than the last Census 10 years ago did, owing to its status as the nation’s first high-tech Census. While there are still analog options such as pen and paper mailings available, the onus this time is on having respondents complete the Census digitally. This, of course, will require training temporary employees on how to help people go about this. 

AI-driven Wire Service Aims to Boost News Coverage of Local Government

A new content wire service — born out of a collaboration between California Polytechnic State University and the University of Miami — is aiming to help news organizations do a better job of covering state and local government with a process driven by artificial intelligence.

The work, which will now be pushed forward by a $200,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, is called AI For Reporters, and the goal at present is to take it from the ideation phase into a functional prototype. The goal of the project is to generate narrative content about state legislatures automatically from primary data sources, thereby distributing it to the state and local news organizations that would then publish it.

In a press release, developers noted that the “ambition is to empower hometown media to receive articles specifically covering the activities of their state representatives and issues of local/regional significance they currently lack because of limited reporting resources and/or being overlooked by traditional wire services.”

In addition to the two academic institutions working on the project, other partners include Google, as well as the Institute of Interactive Systems and Data Science at Austria’s Graz University of Technology. The prototype will first work to generate content about the state legislative process in California and Florida. 

In announcing the new project, stakeholders noted that statehouse reporting nationwide has reached an all-time low, citing statistics that show a 30 percent decrease in full-time newsroom staffing between 2003 and 2012. Resources to cover statehouses have, as a result, dropped, with less than one-third of newspapers in the United States now assigning reporters to statehouses. 

Having a simplified and relevant way to discern what the state legislature is doing is, for obvious reasons, important to those who work in both local and state government, and this project has the potential — or at least the goal — of ensuring that.

Census Bureau Shares Information About Privacy Efforts

In other Census news, the U.S. Census Bureau is sharing more information about its plans to ensure that the massive amount of data it collects and stores stays safe and also cannot be used to violate the privacy of individuals.

Questions about the Census privacy and data practices have swirled in the lead up to the count, and now the Bureau has started to shed some light on what will happen come April. The Census will be adopting differential privacy to ensure confidentiality. This is a process that involves making small tweaks to the data to ensure that individuals cannot be identified within it. At the same time, the Census Bureau is grappling with a set of expectations that the data will be comprehensive enough to inform the nation. For many years, everyone from private businesses to policymakers to analysts have relied on Census data to help inform critical decisions.

As the count approaches, Census officials say they are now “counting on input from our data users to help ensure our 2020 Census data products retain the same high quality and utility the nation has come to depend upon.” To date, the Census Bureau has solicited this input by releasing a set of demo products and also holding a workshop for input. 

As the Bureau continues refining its data products, it plans to update interested parties through its blog, and it also asks that any who have feedback reach out via email at dcmd.2010.demonstration.data.products@census.gov

Rural Indiana County Adopts New Digital Equity Plan

An increasing number of local governments nationwide have started to create digital equity plans aimed at bridging the digital divide so that more of their residents can benefit as technology continues to accelerate.

These governments, however, have largely included cities, but now a rural county government in Indiana has rolled out its own digital equity plan as well. That jurisdiction is Rush County, Ind., and its new digital equity plan was created by Broadband Connect, a Rush County Task Force

Broadband Connect is an all-volunteer group — formed under the leadership of Robert Gallardo, the assistant director for the Purdue Center for Regional Development — and its new plan is the "Rush County Digital Inclusion Plan 2020 - 2025."

The plan is similar in nature to those implemented by many large cities, including goals such as improving broadband connectivity, increasing the number of computing devices owned throughout the county, and bolstering digital literacy, which means making sure that more residents have the skills they need to use technology in meaningful ways.  

What makes this plan notable is not the nature of its goals, but rather the size and location of the jurisdiction that is adopting them. Organizers noted in a recent press release that Rush County — which is home to roughly 17,000 residents — is among the first in the state to adopt such a plan, and it is entirely possible that it is also the first primarily rural jurisdiction in the country where the local government has created an official effort to stem the digital divide.

Tennessee Launches an All-in-One Mobile App 

Tennessee citizens can now access a bevy of services and sift through a wealth of information with the free MyTN smartphone app, which was released Tuesday.

Strategic Technology Solutions, housed under the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration and led by state CIO Stephanie Dedmon, created the app in coordination with different state agencies. Dedmon cited one of the main functions of the app in a press release.

“State government services are utilized by every citizen, and we want to provide access to those services where it’s most convenient — on your mobile device,” she said. “The one service used by almost everyone at some point is renewing your driver’s license, and beginning today, that service is mobile.”

Users can also access services or information related to children and families, the state business climate, hunting and gun licenses, vessel management, farmers markets and businesses throughout the state, convicted felons and more.

Government Technology staff writer Jed Pressgrove contributed to this report.

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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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