What’s New in Civic Tech: San Antonio Surveys Digital Equity

Plus, the CA.gov redesign is now underway; new tools created to help address online misinformation; Census State Data Centers are offering localized training resources for community groups; and more!

by / December 5, 2019
Unsplash/Matthew T Rader

San Antonio has launched a new survey aimed at gauging the severity of the digital divide in its community. 

The survey — which is a collaboration between the city, Bexar County, and the University of Texas San Antonio — is live online now, and its branded as SA Speak Up. The questions on the survey seek to determine the level of Internet access among takers, as well as their level of digital literacy. 

As perhaps is vitally necessary for a survey about the digital divide, it can also be taken offline locally. People in the San Antonio area can take it at any of the city’s community centers, San Antonio public libraries and at special SA Speak Up outreach events. 

The survey will run through Feb. 2, 2020. According to the website for the survey, the responses will be ultimately broken down based on San Antonio’s 10 city council districts. To make them easier to read and more accessible, they will be disseminated in report card form.  

This survey fits into an ongoing increased focus on digital equity nationwide. More and more local governments — like Boston and Detroit — are starting to hire staffers whose sole function is working to foster digital inclusion and bridge the digital divide for their residents. The goal is to create more equitable outcomes while at the same time cultivating a more skilled workforce of residents equipped for modern employment. 

These efforts are likely to accelerate within local government as the world continues to digitize, with everything from homework to job opportunities to access to health care migrating online. In San Antonio, the mayor notes that roughly 25 percent of residents don’t have easy access to the Internet. 

CA.gov Redesign Effort Is Now Underway

Last month, news came that California was launching an ambitious new effort to create a website that better serves its citizens.

Well, things are moving fast in the Golden State. In fact, a team for the project is set up and meetings are already underway. The project even has its very own dedicated Twitter account. As that account notes, the team working on this new website consists of “user research, content design, UX, tech, product design, delivery and one executive fellow.”

The project really got started earlier this week with two days of brainstorming and planning. For those in the civic tech space, this is definitely a project to watch. Websites for state and local government are becoming increasingly user-friendly, aiming to create customer service experiences tailored toward the needs of their users rather than to satisfy the bureaucratic needs of government. 

California being the nation’s most populous state and largest economy makes this one of special interest. 

New Civic Tech Tools Address Online Misinformation

A set of new civic tech tools aim to help combat online misinformation.

These tools are part of a larger initiative coming out of the University of Washington. The goal is to counter a wave of increasingly complex misinformation, one that goes past fake news items on social media and will soon involve deepfake videos that can make it look like people are saying things they never said. 

The work is specifically being done by the Center for an Informed Public, and it is being supported by a $5 million grant from the Knight Foundation. The center will also be partnering with Washington State University to take a cross-state approach to the work. Leaders from both institutions signed a formal commitment to combat misinformation at an event announcing the effort this week.

According to a press release, officials at the event talked about how important it is to counter misinformation in the months to come among as much of the population as possible, including the old and young, and the residents of the country and cities. 

Census State Data Centers Offer Localized Training for Community Groups

Census State Data Centers (SDC) are now offering 2020 U.S. Census orientation for state-level partners who are helping to get out the count.

This is a bit of a different function for Census State Data Centers, a federal effort to provide access and guidance related to Census data. In addition to offering this orientation programming, which interested parties can learn more about here, the SDC is also collecting best practices, activities and other useful information from the states.

In other words, the group wants to hear about what’s being done and what’s working best from state-level stakeholders so it can share that with those working on the 2020 Census in other states. More information about that, along with resources that have been shared already, can be found here.

The Census, for the uninitiated, is the largest peacetime mobilization of the American government. It is an effort to accurately count the nation’s entire population. It benefits the entire country to get this right, because the Census is used to determine everything from political representation to the distribution of federal funding dollars over the next 10 years. In addition, Census-derived data is used by local businesses to make decisions such as where to open a new location. 

What this means is that if a community is undercounted, it just might cost them representation, funding and a chance at a new Starbucks.

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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