What’s New in Civic Tech: Feds Hold Digital Equity Hearing

Plus, Philadelphia has launched an open data survey; Missouri has built a new website to centralize state government job postings; Pew creates an interactive state debt comparison tool; and more.

by / January 30, 2020
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The U.S. House of Representatives held its first-ever hearing on digital equity this week, fielding testimony from a number of experts who work on the issue with local government. 

The hearing took place Wednesday within the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and it was dubbed “Empowering and Connecting Communities through Digital Equity and Internet Adoption.” Witnesses in the hearing included a range of stakeholders, spanning state government, local government and a lead advocacy group that works to support digital inclusion efforts at all levels.

The list of those involved with government who gave testimony included Detroit Digital Inclusion Officer Joshua Edmonds, the Director of Broadband Infrastructure with the North Carolina Department of IT Jeffrey R. Sural, and the Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance Angela Siefer. Rounding out the panel were American Enterprise Institute Visiting Scholar Roslyn Layton, and Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy Gigi Sohn. 

A livestream is available online now, as are transcripts of the individual testimony heard by members of Congress. What emerges from reading the collected testimony is a picture of an issue that has long existed but due to ongoing acceleration of technology now affects an unprecedented number of Americans in new and evolving ways.

Indeed, digital equity as an issue has accelerated within government, with cities and states across the country now employing personnel dedicated to the work where as recently as three or four years ago they did not. Detroit is one such example, but cities from Boston to San Jose, Calif., now have full-time staff members who work on helping to bridge the digital divide in those communities. 

What Siefer’s testimony in particular suggested was that more digital equity planning at the state level, complete with financial support, would be a good first step, and that the work would be greatly helped by the passage of the Digital Equity Act, which was introduced to Congress last year. 

For those in search of a quick digital equity primer, there are three general sections of the work, including access to the Internet, access to technology, and possession of the skills to use Internet technology in ways that give individuals equitable outcomes in an increasingly digital world. 

Philadelphia Launches Open Data Survey

Philadelphia wants to know how it’s doing on its open data efforts, and has launched a new survey to ask about just that.

Dubbed the 2020 PHL Open Data Survey, the set of questions seek to determine how individuals use the city’s open data, what future data they’d like the city to release, and challenges that residents face with using the data. The survey will remain open until March 6. 

“We want to better understand the value open data brings to Philadelphia residents, and the ways in which we can improve our efforts,” city staff wrote in a press release. 

Philadelphia’s data work, like data work in many cities, has greatly accelerated in recent years, with what is now the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology having released 70 new open data sets since January 2016, while also completing 84 refreshes of data sets that it had previously published. All of this work is available now at OpenDataPhilly.org, and its roots date back even further to 2012. Since then, the city has released a total of 245 data sets. 

Benchmarking open data, as well as other tech and innovation work, based on the needs and experiences of residents is part of a larger ideological shift in local government, which is in the process of embracing human-centered design concepts across many different tasks and agencies. Human-centered design in government, in the simplest sense, means making an effort to build services and products based on the user experience of residents rather than the needs of government or established legacy practices. 

As part of the survey announcement, the city also notes that plans call for putting the feedback into practice by reviewing the suggested datasets for the future, highlighting compelling uses of the open data, and tailoring future data efforts based on the results of the survey. 

Missouri Launches Centralized State Gov Job Website

Those searching for work with the Missouri government can now find all postings in one place thanks to a new centralized website that lists state employment opportunities. 

In addition, that same site can also be used to apply for jobs with the state, with officials aiming to make the entire application. The site will also span all of Missouri’s 16 executive departments, putting job openings for each in the same place. 

Charmingly dubbed MoCareers, the state launched the site earlier this month, and the first hires have already been made.

Pew Creates a State Debt Comparison Tool

Pew Charitable Trusts has created a new online interactive tool related to state debt.

While rolling this tool out, Pew noted that in the absence of state guidelines as to how much debt state government can afford, lawmakers often turn to comparing their own debt burdens to nearby states or to states with similar credit ratings.  

“When and how states choose to issue debt is based on several factors – and this interactive helps states explore and compare those factors,” Pew wrote when announcing the creation of the tool.

This tool can be used for many things related to state debt, including population growth rates, debt per capita, revenue volatility, and how much debt is held by the state government versus component units such as independent authorities. 

The central idea of all of it, of course, is to give state government lawmakers and officials an easy-to-use means of comparing debt issues in their state to those in other states.

Beeck Center Publishes Guidebook for Responsible Data Sharing

Following a year of research and collaborative discussions with stakeholders in the space, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University has released a new online guidebook for responsible governmental practices, dubbed Sharing Data for Social Impact: Guidebook to Establishing Responsible Governance Practices. 

The guidebook, penned by Beeck Center Fellow Natalie Evans Harris, is most closely related to helping government build a framework for data sharing and data governance.

“A framework can address major points of risk and ambiguity that prevent many actors from engaging in meaningful data sharing,” Harris writes, “and better data sharing and data governance will in turn lead to improved social service delivery.”

The guidebook was published Thursday and is available now.

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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