What’s New in Civic Tech: New Virginia Website Fights Hunger

Plus, Bloomberg Philanthropies is replicating an innovative early childhood development program in five new cities; MIT is giving $1.5 million in funding to tech entrepreneurs working to solve global problems; and more.

by / September 26, 2019
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Virginia has launched a new website, dubbed FeedVa, to help combat childhood hunger and also strengthen food systems at the local level, Gov. Ralph Northam announced via press release.  

FeedVa is “an interactive tool to connect partners, share resources, and accelerate efforts to help end childhood hunger in Virginia and strengthen local food systems,” according to the release. Essentially, the new site is a centralized hub for state and local data related to things like food security, school nutrition, access to food in communities and health outcomes. 

The website is also designed in a clear and easy-to-use way, allowing for searches of all the data within. Data sets on the site are broken down into the five categories of data mentioned above, those being labeled with colorful buttons reading food security in Virginia; women, infants, and children; Virginia grown food access; Virginia health outcomes; and school nutrition programs.

In the press release, the governor described the site as “a valuable tool,” noting that it would “help guide our efforts as we work together to strengthen Virginia’s food system and address the needs of families facing food insecurity across the Commonwealth.”

In a broader sense, this site is part of the vanguard of a new wave of increasingly specialized government websites, using human-centered design techniques to present once-siloed information in accessible ways to broad audiences. These websites are slowly spreading in prevalence across the country, addressing issues that range from housing to how to reach public officials to better understanding redlining

Bloomberg Philanthropies Replicates Early Childhood Innovation Program in More Cities

Bloomberg Philanthropies will replicate an innovative early childhood learning program in five new cities, the program has announced.

Those five cities are Birmingham, Ala.; Detroit; Hartford, Conn.; Louisville, Ky.; and Virginia Beach, Va.

The program, which is called Providence Talks, was the first-ever grand prize winner of the Mayors Challenge. As its name suggests, it was started in Providence, R.I., during the first round of the Mayors Challenge, back in 2013. How this program works is that participating families receive a small recording device — a talk pedometer — and it counts the adult's words spoken when a child is around. It also tracks the conversational interactions the child has throughout the day.

The idea is that research has shown that more exposure to words and conversation between birth and age four is crucial for vocabulary building and brain development. The success of Providence Talks has been tracked by the major academic institution in that city, Brown University.

Researchers at Brown found that children within the program made significant gains in the number of words they heard, as well as how often they participated in conversation. The gains were especially large for children who started out furthest behind. That group showed a 51 percent growth in the number of words they heard daily. 

The five new cities will get tech and software they need to replicate what was done with families in Providence, provided by LENA, a national nonprofit that works within the space. 

The five new cities were selected from an application process, and they will all have this approach tested citywide during the next three years. Interested parties can find more info about the Providence Talks program at www.providencetalks.org.

MIT to Give $1.5M in Funding to 32 Tech Entrepreneur Global Problem Solvers

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Solve program has announced $1.5 million in new funding for 32 teams of tech entrepreneurs that are working to solve global challenges.

The teams, which hail from a total of 16 countries, were selected at the Solve Challenge Finals, where they pitched to a panel of judges during the kickoff of the UN General Assembly Week. These winners were selected from a pool of 1,400 applicants, originating from 100 different countries. They were also split among four equal categories, those being circular economy teams, community-driven innovator teams, early childhood development teams and healthy cities teams

The prizes ranged in size from $25,000 to as much as $200,000. 

“We are thrilled to welcome our new class of 32 Solver teams — innovators bringing groundbreaking tech-based solutions to tackle four of the most pressing global challenges,” said Solve’s Executive Director Alex Amouyel in a statement. “Over the next nine months, the Solve staff will work closely with each Solver to build partnerships across the Solve community and help source the funding, mentorship, and support they need to scale their solutions.”

The nature of the projects these teams are engaged in is diverse, ranging from such varied challenge areas as local journalism — Supercívicos, for example, created a citizen journalism video app that crowdsources data about public infrastructure and public services issues in Latin American cities — to clean water — Faircap Clean Water designed water purification devices that are easy to use and available at a friendly price point.

Cook County, Ill., Clerk’s Office Releases New Online Directory of Public Officials

The Cook County, Ill., Clerk’s Office has made a new online searchable directory of that jurisdiction's public officials.

The Directory of Elected Officials, which the jurisdiction has long published and distributed in print format, can now be found online here. Users have three ways of searching for members of government: by address, by level of government and by name. For most of the officials within Cook County, which is home to Chicago, term dates and contact information are available. The idea is that residents of Illinois’ most populous county can easily find out who represents them and for what.

The full data set is also downloadable in PDF or Excel format.

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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