What’s New in Civic Tech: San Antonio Joins MetroLab

Plus, civic technologist details the best way to map the nation’s broadband speeds, Code for America is conducting its first Brigade Census, Digital Inclusion Week is now set for the first week of October, and more.

by / March 28, 2019
Shutterstock

The MetroLab Network, which works to connect city-led innovation efforts with academia, has now added San Antonio and the University of Texas, San Antonio to its list of participants.

The pair joins 44 cities, six counties and 60 universities from scross the country. In an announcement this week, organizers noted the city’s Office of Innovation and the university would be working to overcome shared obstacles for residents. The intent is to also help build upon the ongoing smart city work taking place as part of SmartSA, which ultimately works to leverage tech and data to improve life for residents. SmartSA’s involvement brings a wide assortment of local agencies, including CPS Energy, the San Antonio Water System, the San Antonio River Authority and VIA Metropolitan Transit.

“The city of San Antonio, in collaboration with our SmartSA partners, is driving forward a smart city 3.0 model that prioritizes community input regarding challenges that our constituency faces every day,” said San Antonio CIO Brian Dillard, in a statement. “We acknowledge that we can’t tackle these issues alone, which is why we are excited about partnerships like the one we now have with UTSA via the MetroLab network. Their expertise and energy will help ensure we remain inclusive, forward-thinking, and even more impactful in this space of urban innovation.”

The announcement also notes that an upcoming project aims to address digital inclusion, following a report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance that indicates the city has 37.5 percent of its residents lacking a household broadband Internet connection.

The Best Way to Map Nation’s Broadband Speeds

Something many digital inclusion experts agree upon is that the country would benefit from a more accurate and comprehensive map of the nation’s broadband speeds.

To that end, Ed Blayney — a civic technology manager in Louisville, Ky. — recently penned a blog on medium suggesting how America could do a better job of mapping broadband speeds. Blayney, who works on digital equity, led by essentially noting how important such data is to local policymakers and digital inclusion advocates. Currently, the FCC 477 data is the best available resource, he noted, but even that information does not provide a totally clear picture of availability or, perhaps most importantly, the service speeds customers are actually getting from broadband providers.

Louisville, however, has built a tool that may offer a solution and it’s open-source, which makes for easy sharing. That tool is called SpeedUp, and it’s live now via SpeedUpLouisville.com. The platform was created by working with Louisville’s startup and civic tech communities. What it does is give users insights into the real speeds residents are getting, down to the Census tract level.

Why this is significant for folks outside of Louisville is that it could soon go nationwide. In fact, Blayney notes in his piece that the civic tech group Tech Oregon is working to build a similar platform that encompasses the entire country.

A similar platform has also been developed for San Jose, Calif., which can be found via SpeedUpSanJose.com.

Also, in other Louisville and digital inclusion news, the city will be hosting another Digital Inclusion Design Jam April 6, which essentially combines municipal digital equity efforts with expertise from local designers.

Code for America Is Conducting Its First Brigade Congress

Code for America, the national nonprofit and nonpartisan group that helps government use technology to better serve the population, is conducting its first ever Brigade Network Census.

The Code for America Brigade Network is essentially a collection of localized groups that conduct projects that speak to the larger group’s mission, focusing of course on their individual communities. The census is a series of questions for brigade volunteers, and it seeks to find out more about who they are and what their work is like. Organizers have said they hope to learn about a wide range of topics, including gender inclusivity within the brigades, the sorts of day jobs that the members of the brigades hold and whether the racial and ethnic makeups of the brigades are reflective of the rest of the country.

The information collected as part of the census is to be used to help leadership better organize the brigades as well as to get a more accurate sense of “which voices we are currently bringing to the table,” organizers wrote in a medium post.

If you are a member of a Code for America brigade, the census can be filled out in roughly five minutes, and you can click here to begin.

Digital Inclusion Week Is Now Set for the First Week of October

Organizers have moved Digital Inclusion Week to a new permanent home.

Moving forward, the week of events and awareness will take place during the first week in October, with this year’s slate of activities scheduled for Oct. 7 - 11. The announcement was made via the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) blog. That group is perhaps most accurately credited as the creator and organizer of the week.

In the announcement, the NDIA also noted that the week has grown in scope and participation since its inception in 2017. In fact, last year the week had registered hosts from 20 states as well as from 68 organizations. So many participants held social media campaigns, that the week actually had its own Twitter Moment.

Other activities associated with Digital Inclusion Week include classes aimed at fostering improved digital literacy, special events and more.

18F Highlights Four Favorite Projects from 2018

As noted last week, the federal tech consultancy 18F is in the midst of celebrating its fifth anniversary, and now part of that is sharing the group’s four favorite projects of 2018.

These projects include the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services Electronic Advanced Planning Document, the FedRAMP Dashboard, the U.S. Marine Corps Logistics IT, and the U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command work. In addition to just listing the projects, a recent blog by the group has its staff members detailing why each is meaningful and what the positive outcomes of them have been to date.

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.

Platforms & Programs