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What’s New in Civic Tech: Gov Data Efforts Evolve in Crisis

Plus, the California Homeless Data System team is looking to hire new tech talent; a New York City group has rolled out a new Census messaging guide; and the Connecticut Data Collaborative is now hosting online events.

by / April 30, 2020
A new GIS tool shows COVID-19 cases by neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pa. Courtesy Pittsburgh Department of Innovation and Performance

As the COVID-19 crisis wears on, government work with data surrounding its impact has evolved along with it.

One tangible example of this can be found right now in Pittsburgh, where the Pittsburgh Department of Innovation and Performance’s GIS team has created a platform to map positive COVID-19 test results by neighborhood. That map can be found here, and it’s color-coded with a deeper shade of red to represent more positive tests. 

Pittsburgh, of course, is not alone in creating more precise and localized uses for data within the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the work has extended outside of government as well, with entities in other sectors also using data to visualize the impact of the virus within the United States.

The Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, a nonprofit organization, has an internal group called the GISCorps, which coordinates volunteer efforts to use data to help communities in need across the country. That group created a new data map that visualizes the locations of COVID-19 testing sites nationwide, which can be found here. Developers also invite government entities and health-care organizations to contribute their own data to the map, which is free and open to all. 

These are just two examples of similar civic tech work that has taken hold in communities across the country. Data itself is a key part of helping the country recover from the outbreak of an infectious disease pandemic, necessary as it is to gauge related risk factors including chance of infection and risk of exposure to the disease. 

Data work is not the only tech work within government accelerating to meet new needs accentuated by the crisis. There are myriad examples, one of which is a pair of states — California and Arizona — receiving federal approval to pilot a new program that would allow the recipients of public food assistance benefits to order groceries online and have them delivered, minimizing their need to go out during the pandemic and risk their health. 

California Homeless Data System Looks to Hire Tech Talent

While state and local government budgets have been decimated by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, one entity at the state level is currently looking to hire tech talent — the California Homeless Data Integration System (HDIS). 

The job position is a project manager within HDIS, under the general direction of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency information officer and deputy secretary for homelessness in the IT project management domain.

In short, California is looking for a project manager to join its Homeless Data Integration System Project. The posting as of now is a 12-month position with the potential to become permanent, and interested parties can learn more about what it all entails here.

The codifying of such a database is a concept that was recently introduced within the California state Legislature. 

New York City Group Releases Census Messaging Guide

A lightly discussed aspect of COVID-19 is that it essentially upended months and even years of outreach planning related to the 2020 U.S. Census. 

As such, a New York City-based Census support entity created a new messaging guide for those still working to get the word out about the importance of the count, which will determine federal support for the communities over the next decade — which is even more important given the damage wrought by the virus.

There were massive national and local Census outreach efforts planned throughout April and the weeks to follow to ensure an accurate count of Americans. Many of those efforts were predicated on things that were entirely derailed by the pandemic, including ads during March Madness and the Olympics, ads on public transportation, and in-person conversations at public events, libraries and door-to-door visits.

The group that created the messaging guide is the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), which is a nonprofit aimed at supporting growth and renewal in America’s largest city. A key part of a successful Census effort is for larger entities — such as the city of New York or the U.S. Census Bureau — to deputize more grassroots, street-level community organizations to reach people, leveraging their own trust and relationships. This is the role ABNY is essentially playing.

With the messaging guide — which is free and can be found here — the goal is to give outreach groups well-researched data, best practices and input to help them make their messaging even more specific. 

In the wake of the pandemic, the window for the Census has been extended through the end of October, and efforts seem likely to continue right until the end.

Connecticut’s Open Data Program Rolls Out Online Programming

Finally, the Connecticut Data Collaborative — which supports data-driven decision-making within that state — has joined the growing number of civic tech organizations that are hosting virtual events and other online programming during the pandemic. 

The full slate of upcoming virtual events can be found here. The topics of the events, which are slated for May and June, are varied, but they’re largely all related to civic technology. These events include workshops on guidelines and practices for survey design, a happy hour event for women in data, and collecting data in ways that will help rather than harm.

The events are all free.

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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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