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What’s New in Civic Tech: STIR Labs Unveils 2020 Challenges

Plus, Boulder, Colo., launches a beta website to gather user feedback; and a new Gallup/Knight survey finds that four out of five Americans worry disinformation will sway the presidential election.

by / October 8, 2020

The STIR Labs program has unveiled the research challenges that its inaugural cohort will tackle, the group announced this week in a press release.

These challenges are paired with the government participants, and the full list is as follows: San Jose, Calif., will address child care; Costa Mesa, Calif., will address climate change; Detroit, San Leandro, Calif., and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will address the digital divide; Santa Fe, N.M., and Sacramento, Calif., will address economic innovation; Memphis and the Association of Bay Area Governments/Metropolitan Transportation Commission will address housing; the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will address mobility; and West Sacramento, Calif., and Austin, Texas, will address public safety.

The next phase in the development of this inaugural year for STIR Labs will be finding the university research participants to pair with the cities and challenges, which is in keeping with the mission of the program. STIR Labs works to pair local universities with government agencies in the service of applying academic expertise to community challenges, thereby improving government functions while giving researchers real-world situations to address. 

The application period for university researchers to apply for STIR Labs is open now and will run through Nov. 1. More information is available on the STIR Labs website. The program shares part of its name and its organizing body — City Innovate — with the original Startup in Residence Program, which essentially does the same thing STIR Labs does, instead pairing government entities with startup companies. 

Knight/Gallup Study: Four of Five Americans Worried Disinformation Will Sway Election

A recent poll conducted by Gallup/Knight Foundation has found that roughly four out of five American are worried that disinformation will sway the upcoming presidential election, Knight announced in a press release.

“As the nation prepares to go to the polls in less than a month, Americans are widely concerned that misinformation on social media will sway the 2020 election outcome,” the Knight Foundation noted in the release. “Majorities of Americans say President Donald Trump and social media websites and apps are spreading a great deal of misinformation.”

Researchers arrived at this through a probability-based Web survey conducted between Sept. 11 and Sept. 24, prior to the twin news stories that have shaken the election — the first presidential debate and President Trump’s subsequent COVID-19 diagnosis. The survey found that roughly 4 of 5 Americans are concerned — either very concerned (48 percent) or somewhat concerned (33 percent) — that misinformation will sway the outcome of the election. 

These concerns, the survey found, vary by party lines, with 62 percent of Democrats saying they are very concerned versus 36 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of Independents. Despite that difference, majorities of both Republicans and Independent respondents say they are at least somewhat concerned about misinformation swaying the election. 

The sources of misinformation respondents said they were most concerned about were social media platforms, as well as President Donald Trump.

The presidential election is, of course, slated to happen on Nov. 3. 

Boulder, Colo., Launches New Website Beta

Boulder, Colo., has launched a beta of a new website aimed at soliciting input and feedback from users, the city announced via a press release.

This beta website consists of a handful of what the city describes as “key webpages,” the idea being that community members can log on and get a sample of the planned changes that are likely to come with a full-scale redesign. In return, the users will then share their input and feedback with developers, in order to shape a better project via human-centered design techniques. 

Interested parties can find the beta at beta.bouldercolorado.gov, or it can be accessed via a prominent banner on the city’s current website. The goals for the site, the press release notes, include being user-centered, service-driven, intuitive, easy to use, more efficient for staff to update, modern and built on research that improves over time based on user feedback. 

Essentially, Boulder is looking to join the growing ranks of cities who are turning to human-centered design techniques to create websites that serve the user rather than bureaucratic stipulations. The chief way that residents are being encouraged to share feedback about this project is through the city’s online engagement platform, Be Heard Boulder. There are, however, also feedback forms that can be accessed on the beta site too.

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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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