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What’s New in Civic Tech: New York City Prepares an Open Data Week

Plus, Buffalo, N.Y., creates a new open data portal, Baton Rouge, La., launches a new website, San Antonio forms a committee to address tech issues, and Ohio moves to a second phase of its Opioid Technology Challenge.

by / March 1, 2018
Bicyclist, joggers and walkers enjoy car-free streets as part of New York City's Summer Streets program. (Shutterstock)

New York City Open Data Week will begin on Saturday, March 3, which is also International Open Data Day, and run through Saturday, March 10, encompassing as it does a range of conferences, events and workshops.

The activities will take place through a collaboration between New York City Open Data, BetaNYC and the New York City civic tech and data communities. The week will begin with a daylong conference produced by BetaNYC dubbed School of Data. This event will feature a host of conversations that revolve around four key focus areas: digital literacy and privacy, smart and wise cities, effective and open government, and civic and government technology.

Another event of note will take place on Monday, March 5. This one will see location intelligence leader Esri in attendance to give demonstrations of their data visualization and spatial analysis tools, specifically showing how they are applied to info available through New York City’s open data site. At this event, Esri will be working with the city’s 311 data, specifically nonemergency information about potholes, streetlights and other less urgent issues.

This, however, is just a small sampling of the events and activities that New York City and its tech and innovation community have planned. All told there will be more than 30 individual events. Outside of New York, many other jurisdictions have events planned for International Open Data Day. To make these events easier to locate, technologists have created an Open Data Day map that visualizes the dozens of affiliated events taking place across the globe.

Buffalo, N.Y., Launches New Open Data Portal

Elsewhere in the Empire State, Buffalo, N.Y., has launched a new open data portal.

Dubbed Open Data for All of Buffalo, the platform is live now. In a letter on the site welcoming residents to the page, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown notes that the city’s open data journey began in May 2013, led the local government to participating in Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities initiative and ultimately resulted in the creation of the new portal.

Other key bits of progress included consulting with the Sunlight Foundation to create the Buffalo Open Data Policy in January 2017, appointing data liaisons to serve as ambassadors for the work within major city departments and partnering with the leading gov tech company Socrata on the work of building the actual portal.  

Buffalo’s open data portal includes data sets such as crime statistics, recycling rates, tree inventories, 311 call info and many others. The platform also comes complete with other tools that allow users to do things such as access state data, find additional resources and suggest other data sets for the city to eventually include.

Baton Rouge, La., Launches New Website

Baton Rouge, La., has launched a new website with the hope that it will bolster the city’s commitments to transparency, technology and fostering better citizen engagement through digital channels.

In a press release announcing the creation of the site, officials noted that it is replacing a website that was more than 17 years old. As has become a trend in local government, Baton Rouge’s new site boasts a modern user-friendly design, mobile device-friendly responsiveness and streamlined tools aimed at making it easier for users to quickly and efficiently find critical information about the city.

Baton Rouge’s new site also features notification functions that allow users to subscribe to real-time updates via text or email about news alerts and new site content. Another interesting tool on Baton Rouge’s new site is Community Voice, which connects residents with city planners in order to encourage discourse about projects that impact homes, neighborhoods and workplaces, thereby eliminating the need for those same residents to take time out of their schedules to attend public meetings.

The website, the press release notes, was designed by CivicPlus, a national Web design and solutions provider that works with more than 2,500 local government clients throughout the United States. City officials also emphasized in the release that work on the new site will continue via an interface that is designed for the addition of new modules and online service capabilities. This site is the latest municipal government online HQ to move away from walls of text and toward user-friendly design, simplifying the tools it offers and seeking to create a customer-friendly experience closer to what residents find in the private sector.

San Antonio Forms Tech Issues Committee

San Antonio has formed a committee to address tech issues in the city, convening a group called the Innovation and Technology Committee, which was created by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and focuses on policies and initiatives designed to bolster the city’s ability to tap into innovative ideas.

The committee consists of city council and community members, and they have already set to work reviewing several items, including a citywide data portal, innovation zones for smart technologies and plans to prepare for the advent of autonomous vehicles. In reporting on this new committee, local media has noted that San Antonio’s smart city program, SmartSA, has not had consistent policy guidance from the city council since it was created back in October 2016.

The new committee is somewhat of an outlier because it includes members of the San Antonio community. The committee will, of course, function in a purely advisory role, with the City Council having final say on decisions.

Tech progress has accelerated in San Antonio as of late, or at least become a greater point of focus for the local government. In November, the city launched CivTechSA, a variation of the San Francisco-born Startup in Residence program that recently extended to include cities nationwide. San Antonio opted to do its own thing because it wanted a program that focused more on showing students the value of working with the city government there on tech projects, rather than simply drawing on private-sector expertise from its local community.

Ohio Begins Second Phase of Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge

As jurisdictions across the nation continue to battle the opioid crisis of drug abuse, excessive prescriptions and dangerous resulting health issues, Ohio has moved to addresses the epidemic with tech.

To this end, on Thursday, March 1, the state launched the second phase of its Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge. The challenge is a three-phase, prize-based competition that urges participants to find tech-based methods for improving opioid abuse prevention, treatment and overdose avoidance, as well as response times. The second phase consists of four challenge topics: connect, diagnose, prevent and protect. The goal is for work that will help prevent and treat addiction and overdoses.

For this phase of the challenge, as many as 12 participants will be announced as winners in September, with $200,000 of funding given out to advance the ideas and solutions that they have proposed. These semi-finalists will then be eligible to participate in the final phase of the program, the product phase, which will see them further developing their ideas as they prepare for market entry.

Responses to the challenge phase are due on its website by July 11, 2018.


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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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