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What’s New in Civic Tech: San Francisco Digital Team Expands

Plus, San Jose, Calif., reports strong results from text messaging app aimed at finding nontraditional housing residents for Census; Tennessee grant seeks to reward local gov Census projects; and more.

by / January 23, 2020

San Francisco’s Digital Services Team, which is often at the forefront of tech and innovation work for American local government, is looking to expand from 25 staffers to more than 40, making new hires to do so.

San Francisco Chief Digital Services Officer Carrie Bishop announced the intention to expand on Twitter this week, noting that this just might make the city’s team the largest of its kind in the nation. 

“For those who are wondering what this means,” Bishop wrote, “San Francisco is committed to making services digital, and is building an internal team that can deliver. We are looking for designers, engineers, and product strategists from all walks of life, and who represent [San Francisco] at its best.”

The city has posted a first wave of job openings online. That list of positions includes a visual designer, a senior UX designer, a senior product strategist, a Drupal engineer, and a senior Web engineer. All positions, of course, will be based in San Francisco. On that page, the city notes that there will be more openings to come, and it gives interested parties a chance to sign up for an email list that will provide updates as the team continues to hire for new roles in the service of expansion.

On Twitter, Bishop also went on to note that this expansion effort is focused on a number of innovative ideas within local government, including the internal joining of services to make processes seamless for residents, getting the city’s permitting processes online, and more.  

San Francisco, of course, is in an enviable hiring position, housing as it does what is likely the largest concentration of private-sector tech expertise in the nation. Given national sentiment that has slowly begun to call for more responsible private-sector tech practices, it’s not hard to envision tech talent being increasingly of a mind that lends itself to local government work.

San Jose, Calif., Uses Texting to Identify Hard-to-Count Residents for Census

As local governments nationwide prepare to help support the 2020 U.S. Census, one of the clearest applications of civic tech has been taking place in San Jose, Calif.

Roughly two years before the official start of the Census, San Jose turned to a tool that enabled volunteers to walk the streets and identify the locations of nonconventional housing, logging those locations via text. The idea was that such housing — which is common in the San Jose metro area due to California’s ongoing housing crisis — makes it difficult for the Census to count the folks who live there. The tool has proven a success, with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo reporting at this week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., that the tool logged 23,500 housing locations in the city.

San Jose is far from the only local government or adjacent group turning to civic tech to help augment and support its Census efforts. In fact, one of the most prominent pieces of civic tech work in the space, the Hard to Count Map, continued to add new data to its own interface this week. 

Specifically, the map now features the latest release of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which enables the map to show vital information for entities like those in San Jose supporting the work at the community level. That information includes the number of people in households, populations at risk of an undercount and the share of households with no home Internet, which is valuable information during this Census, since it’s the nation’s first high-tech count. That information’s addition to the map was facilitated by the Census Bureau’s new data dissemination platform.

Tennessee Grant Seeks to Reward Local Gov Census Projects

In other Census news, Tennessee is offering grants up to $10,000 for local government or nonprofit projects aimed at supporting the count.

This grant is Tennessee Counts, which is a program by the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration aimed at helping people in that state understand the purpose of the Census to ultimately ensure a more accurate count. The grant is for groups working in a similar space, actively engaged with education and awareness around the Census.

The grants will fund work for up to three months, starting April 1, 2020. The maximum amount of funding per project is $10,000, and intent to apply must be submitted by Feb. 5, with an official application deadline to follow on Feb. 12.

Preference is given to projects focused on hard-to-count Census tracts. Information about how to apply can be found here.

Washington, D.C., Seeks Citizen Input on Draft Tech Plan

Washington, D.C., officials are seeking citizen input on a draft of a new tech plan to guide the work being done by the city’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

More information about the plan can be found here, but, in brief, it is essentially a tech road map that extends through 2022. As officials note on the site, it also builds upon existing tech initiatives in the nation’s capital, including Smarter DC, ConnectDC, and Resilient DC. Citizen input is key, because, as the site also notes, technologists in Washington “expect to revise and adjust the plan over the next three years to incorporate what we learn and as the world around us — and the needs of our customers — continue to change.”

A draft of the plan can be viewed here, and feedback can be left here.

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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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