What’s New in Civic Tech: State CDO Network Summit Wraps Up

Plus, the Digital Equity Lab at the New School releases a new guide to help communities prep for the first high-tech Census; the Knight Foundation puts out a call for public data innovation work; and more.

by / November 14, 2019

The newly launched State Chief Data Officers Network met for the first time this week in Washington, D.C.

After the event, attendees said it was a productive and inspiring two days, feeling at times educational, useful for networking and just a little bit like a professional support group. The State Chief Data Officers Network has been in the works for nearly two years, with members attending a long-distance meeting monthly over the phone. This in-person meeting, which was held at Georgetown University, was the first time many of them had met. Tyler Kleykamp, the former CDO of Connecticut, is now with the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, which is housing the network. Kleykamp was influential in starting the network while with the state government, and he is helping shape and lead it now.

Kleykamp noted that the timing for the new network is beneficial, because as of late, CDOs like him who were the first to hold their positions are leaving government, giving rise to a second wave of state CDOs, all of whom now have access to the network as a resource.

“We spent a lot of time talking about the key responsibilities for the state CDOs,” he said after the event. 

Topics discussed included CDO being enablers for using data and how states can work collectively to advance work around challenges they all face, including child welfare, workforce and opioids, among others. He said he was also pleased to hear member feedback on how the network and its leadership could better support their work, which ranged from logistic advice around communication to more ambitious undertakings such as also conveening state legal councils to cross-pollinate ideas at the intersection of law and data work.

Carlos Rivero became Virginia’s first-ever CDO when he was appointed in July, and he said the event was fantastic, giving attendees a chance to build new and more in-depth relationships with one another.

“A big part of the role as chief data officer is building relationships,” Rivero said, “and not just among data, but among the people who use and collect the data. Here we were doing that ourselves, building relationships so we’ll have a support structure and be able to call on each other.”

This is especially useful in a space like state government, wherein the agencies face a large number of the same issues. Oregon CDO Kathryn Darnall Helms, who became that state’s first-ever CDO in January, agreed.

The very existence of the network helped bring her to the work.

“I researched the State CDO Network when I was first looking at becoming a state CDO,” said Helms, who was previously a data/information governance lead with Austin, Texas. “The fact that this network existed was part of what empowered me to think this was a doable job and a thing we could do with these resources, having the power together to get things done.”

In addition to the state CDOs in attendance, the event also welcomed municipal data stakeholders as well as Suzette Kent, federal chief data officer with the Office of Management and Budget, for a talk about ways that data work at all levels of government overlaps.

All of those involved are hopeful this will be a start to more meetings and collaborations within the network.

Digital Equity Lab Releases Guide to First High-Tech Census

The Digital Equity Laboratory, which is housed at the New School in New York City, has released a guide to preparing for the first digital Census, which is rapidly approaching

As noted by the report’s title — Preparing for the First Digital Census: A Manual for Libraries, CBOs, and Community Advocates — the idea is for the resources here to help those who are with local government on the front lines of making sure everyone in their communities is counted. 

Advocates and Census experts alike have been clear that while the first digital Census brings with it advantages in terms of cost and efficiency for counting populations, residents in areas with digital equity challenges are at risk of being left out. To that end, this nearly 100-page guide is loaded with resources to help.

These resources range from a clear explanation of why the Census matters to practical IT guidance. It’s a really comprehensive look at a complex challenge with high stakes, seeing as the Census stands to determine federal funding, political representation and even a large amount of derivitive data used by the private sector to help find locations for new businesses. 

The guide is available online here.

Knight Foundation Issues Call for Public Data Innovation

The Knight Foundation put out a call this week for ideas to help data build stronger communities. 

To encourage participation, the Knight Foundation is offering as much as $1 million to support selected ideas. In its call for ideas, Knight describes how data is being used in communities regularly now for important matters such as resource allocation to care for parks and other infrastructure. One of the hopes for the call is that it will entice ideas that tap into the unrealized potential of open data, too.

"The power of data — especially 'open' data, made available by government and, in some cases, private companies — also extends to the possibility of better informing and engaging residents, encouraging them to participate in more civically-focused activities,” Knight wrote in its call for ideas.

This sort of utilization of data is at the very heart of civic tech, and it has been since the movement has accelerated over the course of the past decade. Not only that, but, as Knight also notes, more private companies such as Uber are releasing useful data sets capable of contributing to this work. This data, however, can be difficult for the vast majority of the population to utilize without having extensive data science knowledge. The hope is that this call will lead to work that bridges the gap between the data and the communities it has the potential to benefit. 

The call will remain open through Dec. 13. Interested parties can find a full Request for Proposal, webinar, and application here.

San Antonio Awards $250K to Local Civic Tech Organization

San Antonio has awarded $250,000 to Geekdom, which is a tech organization and hybrid co-working space/startup incubator in that city that is active in supporting and hosting civic tech efforts.

The money comes after a vote to bestow it by the City Council. It will be given to Geekdom over the course of two years from economic development funds. Local news reports that the hope is the financing will fuel the growth of CivTechSA, which is a local program aimed at giving startups a smooth pathway to working with government. Much like the larger, national program Startup in Residence, the idea is that entrepreneurs will help government solve shared challenges while at the same time earning them lucrative government contracts.

Geekdom CEO Charles Woodin was quoted saying the civic-tech arm of Geekdom is getting a major jumpstart from the new funding. Specifically, the money will go to supporting six teams — three during each year of the grant — as part of a Civic Tech Division Pilot Program.

The first participants have already been selected. One is a team that is developing an online notification system to make pet adoption more efficient. Another is a neighborhood safety app that shares crime data in real time, and the third is a mobile app and Bluetooth networked aimed at fostering virtual community along the city’s marquee River Walk.

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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