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What’s New in Civic Tech: How 7 Cities Plan to Fail Forward

Plus, a tracker follows the progress being made with affordable housing in Atlanta, a New York City plan takes aim at the digital divide, Missouri lawmakers consider a bill that would add a CDO, and more.

by / February 6, 2020
Shutterstock/T.Dallas

A new gov tech program aims to help local government fail. It sounds counterintuitive, but is actually a key part of innovation work in any sector.

This program is a joint effort between the Centre for Public Impact and the Aspen Institute Center for Urban Innovation, a pair of nonprofit organizations in the gov tech support space. The organizations picked seven jurisdictions to be an inaugural class of what it’s calling failure foundries, and those jurisdictions are Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; King County, Wash.; Seattle; Dallas; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C.

Being a failure foundry means that these jurisdictions, which will be representing more than 20 different local government departments, will next attend workshops aimed at helping them get a better understanding of the barriers they face when it comes to learning from failures. The idea here, as in all innovation work, is that in order to find unprecedented solutions, stakeholders must be free to try things and also narrow down their ideas by determining what won’t work. 

All of this is fairly standard in the private sector. In local government, where executive leadership is accountable to taxpayers and voters, the idea that government would ever be OK with undertaking work that does not yield major results is a difficult one to grasp, both for the public as well as for decision-makers. 

That’s why the ultimate goal of this new program is to help foster culture changes that will enable thinking of setbacks not as failures but as opportunities to learn instead. More information about the new program can be found online here.

New Tracker Follows Affordable Housing Efforts in Atlanta

As major cities across the country grapple with housing crises, Atlanta has created a new tool in its effort to provide affordable housing — a tracker that shows users the number of affordable housing units created in the city.

Dubbed the Atlanta Housing Affordability Tracker, the new platform gauges both the number of affordable homes in the city as well as the amount of funds that have been committed to affordable housing projects. The data, of course, gets more granular than that, with the tracker allowing users to break down projects by type, funding sources or the ZIP codes in which they are located. Users can also view more information about individual projects, such as their locations, as well as the ratio of total units to affordable units.

Moving forward, plans call for the data on the tracker to be updated quarterly, with other data sets such as private versus philanthropic funds being added to the interface. 

The tracker is being made possible by data from across a number of city agencies, including housing, city planning and others. A useful set of terms for those unfamiliar with housing jargon can be found on the city’s website as well.

New York Broadband Plan Takes Aim at Digital Divide

New York City’s recently released Internet Master Plan is squarely aimed at bridging the digital divide in the nation’s largest city.

In fact, when you open the plan up online, the first, biggest and most prominent line is a mission statement to do just that.

“All New Yorkers should have world-class connectivity,” the plan reads, “and the ability to use the Internet to its full potential. New York City has a plan to achieve that goal.”

A full version of the plan is available to any interested parties online. To sum it up, however, the plan contains a list of the city’s goals for Internet and technology over the next decade. It also identifies potential partnerships and infrastructures necessary to bridge the digital divide, while at the same time offering a list of actionable steps to come next.

The plan notes that “achieving universal broadband will require lower-cost options for home and mobile service as well as no-cost access at computer centers, in public spaces, and through wireless corridors.” 

Perhaps most importantly, the plan stands as a declaration by America’s largest city that fostering digital equity is the duty of local government, which is a value often under question in government, especially at the federal level. By virtue of its size and prominence, New York City is often a leader in the local government space. So, by New York laying out this vision, and potentially accomplishing it over time, it makes it much easier to envision smaller cities doing the same, or at least making digital inclusion a greater priority than it is today. 

Missouri Bill Would Create Chief Data Officer Position for State

New legislation that is currently in the Missouri Senate would create a state chief data officer position.

The bill was introduced in January, and it seeks to codify the chief data officer as of August, giving the Missouri state government a full-time leader “authorized to oversee each state agency’s management of electronic data for purposes of evaluating appropriate management and security of the data,” the bill reads .

If the proposal is successful, Missouri would join an increasing number of states that have chief data officers or roughly equivalent positions. In fact, a recent analysis of the position by Government Technology found that as of January, more than half of states now have chief data officers. This marks a significant over the last count of the position, which was conducted in July of 2018 and found 21 states with the role.

In fact, as the role has become more widespread, those who hold it have even formed a collaborative network to share tips, insights and best practices, a network that has been fittingly dubbed the State Chief Data Officers Network. The group even held an inaugural meeting in November in Washington, D.C.

What’s especially interesting about the legislation in Missouri is that it also seeks to require data work from the various state agencies, essentially giving the eventual chief data officer the power to develop internal data policies, create a plan for responding to data breaches, adopt data collection standards, and more. In addition, state agencies would be required to identify types of data, the location of data, and appropriate levels of security for data, all of which would be communicated to the state chief data officer.

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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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