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What’s New in Civic Tech: Seattle’s 2020 Tech Fund Grantees

Plus, Pew Charitable Trusts pens letter to Congress emphasizing the importance of broadband expansion after the crisis and Bloomberg Philanthropies launches COVID-19 Management Metrics to support local response.

by / June 18, 2020
Seattle, part of King County, Wash. Shutterstock

Seattle announced the recipients of its 2020 Technology Matching Fund awards, which rank as one of the longest local gov-supported digital literacy initiatives in the nation.

This week, city officials announced that 15 organizations would be benefiting from a total investment of $345,000, aimed at supporting community-led initiatives that will boost access to technology as well as digital skills training for underserved communities. That money is split into individual grants ranging from $12,490 to $25,000. 

As the Technology Matching Fund name implies, organizations outside of the local government have pledged a total of $360,000 to match the city, with at least 50 percent coming in cash or in-kind donations of labor, services and donated software or hardware.

As always, the groups receiving support this year are wide-ranging, including programs that offer technical training, programs that help young people get access to academic resources, and more. It’s all part of a broader city program called the Digital Equity Initiative, which is exactly as it sounds. That program is managed by the Seattle Information Technology Department and it supports work to provide devices and tech to communities that would otherwise lack access to things they need to participate and thrive in an increasingly digitized society. This is of particular concern in a city with a civic fiber so thoroughly entwined with tech companies.

That intersection of tech and civic interest is perhaps why Seattle — and specifically this tech fund matching program — have been the vanguard of local government promoting digital equity in the United States. In fact, the Technology Matching Fund was first created back in 1997, before the nomenclature around digital equity and digital inclusion even existed. Since its launch, the program has helped distribute more than $5.7 million to organizations in the region, thereby funding more than 350 community programs related to tech.

The grants are funded through the city’s cable franchise fee in tandem with contributions from community partners, including famous tech companies like Facebook — which matched fund projects in 2017 and 2018. This year saw the Verizon Foundation giving $25,000 to expand the overall reach. 

Recipients of the grants were chosen from a pool of 41 initial applicants, and more information about their individual work can be found here.

Pew Charitable Trust Letter Stresses Broadband Need to Congress

In a letter to federal lawmakers, broadband researches at Pew Charitable Trusts are stressing the importance of support at the highest levels of government for expanding broadband in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pew Charitable Trusts — which is one of the nation’s leading research bodies on broadband expansion work at the state and local levels — urged the lawmakers to turn to the state leaders for actionable insights on how they can support the work, pointing to the success some states have had in closing digital divides.  

Pew’s letter to Congress can be read in its entirety here.

In addition, Pew pointed to much of the recent research it has published around this topic and the related challenges. In fact, broadband researchers at Pew have explored several relevant issues, including how states work to expand broadband access, what state broadband programs are in place and policy developments related to broadband in 2019. In addition, Pew has worked to collect insights directly from state leaders as it relates to their experiences with the work. 

“Pew’s message to congress pointed to these findings and actions at the state level as worth consideration and how Congress could support them,” Pew officials noted in a press release about the letter.

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ COVID-19 Management Metrics to Support Local Recovery

Bloomberg Philanthropies and several partners have created a new initiative called the COVID-19 Management Metrics for Cities, which was designed to help city leaders collect and analyze data to guide ongoing recovery from the pandemic with an emphasis on addressing vulnerable residents’ needs.

Joining Bloomberg on the work is the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and What Works Cities, and a key part of what they’ve done is create a set of critical data-driven indicators plus technical assistance. The new resource aims to help officials analyze data throughout seven key areas related to better pandemic-related decision-making. 

The areas are status of infection by local rate, the capacity of a health-care system, the status of contact tracing, levels of compliance with public health safety measures, protections for emergency workers, protections for facilities such as nursing homes or prisons, and the preparedness of businesses that are reopening.   

What Works Cities will provide technical assistance and training for the work, which will see local leadership learning to distill and analyze data based on race, gender, age, location, census tract and income to highlight disparate impacts of COVID-19 among varied populations. This will help to guide resource allocation in the service of equitable cities moving forward. 

“By tracking the right metrics, mayors will be better positioned to drive equitable response and recovery efforts, advocate for at-risk populations, allocate resources according to need, and manage services to ensure the health and safety of all residents,” Bloomberg officials wrote in a press release announcing the work.

Interested cities can download the metrics here.

This is all part of an ongoing initiative launched by Bloomberg Philanthropies in March — the COVID-19 Local Response Initiative, which has seen more than 570 cities across the globe join up in work that gives them tools to manage the public health crisis.

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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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