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What’s New in Civic Tech: Virginia Codifies Data Work

Plus, San Francisco creates a master housing data set; Code for America’s marijuana conviction expungement work expands to a new county within California; and a new map visualizes Census hiring needs.

by / January 9, 2020
The capitol building in Richmond, Va. David Kidd

Virginia has now codified its data operations with an executive order from Gov. Ralph Northam that creates a state data commission, an executive data board and a data governance council.

As Executive Order 48 notes, the creation of all of that has essentially grown out of a 2018 decision by lawmakers to establish a chief data officer position for the state as well as a related advisory committee. Upon creation, those entities were charged with developing “a permanent data sharing and analytics governance structure” for Virginia, which is what the governor signed into being after a report recommended that he do so. 

The trio of new creations also comes with a set of priorities as identified by the executive order. Some of the more prominent among them include promoting the sharing or use of data assets, maximizing the value of state data assets, and promoting an increase in data collaboration between the state and other public agencies at the county and city levels.

Codification of data work like this has become a topic of increasing import for state governments. As data work has matured and become entrenched in governance structures, it has quickly become readily apparent that commissions, boards and councils need to be laid out for it as they are for other public focuses. 

In Virginia’s case, the creation of the commission is perhaps the move with the most potential to yield tangible results, given that the membership of the group is to be made up of more than a dozen executive-level leaders from other public agencies. This sort of group will be inherently useful when it comes to fostering agency-wide buy-in for the data work, a challenge often discussed among those in the field. 

San Francisco Creates Master Housing Data Set

San Francisco, one of the cities that has been hardest hit by California's ongoing housing crisis, has created a master data set with a monthly count of new construction and total occupiable units within the jurisdiction.

The work was done by the offices of the San Francisco Controller, the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection and DataSF, which is that city’s open data office. As the controller’s office noted in a tweet announcing the creation, the aim of the project was to address the city’s challenging lack of access to “consistent, accurate data on housing construction.”

To augment the creation of the data set, the city also published methodology and other info, all of which interested parties can peruse here.

Within the data set, which is to be updated monthly, users can also view the change in the number of new units associated with building permit applications, the units that were approved for occupancy, the type of document approving the units, and the location of the units. This is all preliminary data meant to be a monthly gauge before the city’s planning department publishes its annual Housing Inventory Report, which developers of the new data set describe as “a more complete account of new residential units,” noting they may vary slightly. 

The idea is, of course, to give the city, residents and activists a clearer picture of the new housing ecosystem in San Francisco, which can then be used in support of their work.

Code for America’s Marijuana Conviction Clearance Work Expands

Code for America, which helped a number of jurisdictions across the country clear newly eligible marijuana convictions, has expanded the work to Contra Costa County, Calif., which is near where this project started in San Francisco.

Indeed, Contra Costa is located in the East Bay region of the San Francisco metro area, and it is home to more than 1 million residents. With the help of Code for America, the district attorney there was able to recently announce that officials had cleared 3,264 convictions. 

The technology used to do this work is called Clear My Record, and it started after California passed Proposition 64, which enabled a massive number of previous convictions to be — fittingly — cleared off records. The tech is automatic, which means that the residents involved don’t have to do anything and also that there is no valuable time lost for public servants who have to handle or process the paperwork.

Contra Costa joins a list of some of the largest counties in California that have benefited from this work, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Joaquin. Officials estimate that to date the work has helped reduce or dismiss roughly 75,000 eligible convictions under Proposition 64.

A New Map Visualizes Census Hiring Needs

Developers have created a new map that visualizes 2020 U.S. Census goals by county in all 50 states.

This coming Census, as anyone who has been reading my coverage knows, is the nation’s first count that will be primarily digital, which creates new advantages as well as some lofty new challenges. One of those challenges is hiring, which is difficult this time around because ideal candidates will have to posses or be trained in digital skills. 

What the new map shows is which counties still have the furthest to go in hiring staff to help with the count. Counties that have made the most progress toward their hiring goals are colored blue, while the ones that have not are coded in a burnt orange color.

Interested parties can check out the map 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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