What’s New in Civic Tech: What Is Digital Distress?

Plus, Honolulu launches a new performance dashboard; NYC city planning creates a digital platform for a lengthy zoning resolution; major jurisdictions prep for Open Data Day; a host of gov tech jobs are available; and more.

by / February 21, 2019
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A new study found that in 2017, 14.1 million people were afflicted by digital distress.

This, of course, raises a key question: what exactly is digital distress? The answer is closely tied to more commonly known concepts like digital inclusion and digital equity. Roberto Gallardo, assistant director for the Purdue Center for Regional Development, recently co-authored a piece about this topic with the center’s communications coordinator, Cheyanne Geideman. Essentially, digital distress is the condition of being left behind by rapid modernization.

Digital equity is the larger philosophical concept while digital inclusion is to work to ensure that citizens do not suffer from digital distress. Gallardo and Geideman this week go into much greater detail about digital distress with a two-part post on Medium. The posts explain what the concept is, who it is most likely to affect based on factors such as geography, and more.

The second post takes a deeper and more nuanced look at socioeconomic factors that many digitally distressed areas have in common, drawing heavily from the 2013-2017 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) to get a read on digital distress for the more than 72,400 Census tracts in the country.

In total, roughly 4.87 million American households are located in digitally distressed areas, which as noted above adds up to 14.1 million people, or approximately 4.4 percent of the nation’s population.

In recent years, digital inclusion work has increasingly been taken on by local government agencies, who work as facilitators for nonprofits and community groups on the front lines of ensuring that communities have equitable access to high-speed Internet, technology and the skills they need to harness them.

Honolulu Launches a New Performance Dashboard

Hawaii's capital city has launched a new performance dashboard, fittingly dubbed “Honolulu Dashboard.”

The city announced the new platform this week with a press release, describing it as “a quick and easy way to review progress on key city services and issues.” Honolulu has been beta testing a version of the dashboard since December, which the city noted has given its staff the opportunity to solicit and learn from user input.

In a statement, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell noted the dashboard is part of his administration's long-standing commitment to transparency, and that it would also help local government with community engagement. The dashboard was created as part of the city’s collaboration with What Works Cities, a Bloomberg Philanthropies program aimed at helping municipal government across the country better use data and evidence-driven decision-making to solve pressing challenges.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to improve the lives of residents. Last year, Honolulu became one of 100 cities to receive technical assistance from the program’s experts and partners. The city also worked with the Center for Government Excellence (GovEx) at Johns Hopkins University, a What Works Cities partner.

Initial efforts centered around dashboards capable of reporting key performance indicators related to homelessness and housing. This work was later expanded to also measure and include roadway and parks improvements. Now, a total of 13 dashboards have been published, all but one of which includes benchmarks to measure the city’s progress against its stated goals.

The dashboard was developed in-house by the Honolulu Department of Information Technology. The city’s press release also announced plans to add more to the dashboard, “driven primarily by community interest and the availability of accurate data.”

New York City Planning Creates Digital Platform for Lengthy Zoning Resolution

Earlier this month, New York City’s planning department announced a new digital zoning resolution platform, an environmentally friendly replacement for information that was previously available through a 1,570-page physical copy.

In a press release last week, the city noted that the mammoth physical copy would no longer be printed, thereby saving the city money and the world from unnecessarily drawing on its finite supply of paper. Having the gigantic resolution info available digitally will also make it more accessible to folks who weren’t able to or interested in reading a fantasy novel-worth of governmental information. One suspects that would include the vast majority of people.

Making the resolution even more accessible is the format in which it will be published. The city is not just posting a PDF of the pages. Instead, the zoning resolution will now be available in an interactive digital format. The new online platform is slated to be mobile-friendly and also feature a streamlined path to information with a modern interface, allowing users to conduct keyword searches for specific information. They will also be able to print or download the digital edition, adjust text size, use links to access cross-referenced sections, subscribe for updates on new land use actions and more.

The New York City Zoning Resolution was first adopted back in 1961, and has been instrumental in the way the nation’s largest city handles matters of land use and development. As the city noted in its press release, the resolution is a legal instrument that “regulates and establishes limits on the use of land and building size, shape, height, and setback.”

Major Jurisdictions Prepare Events for Open Data Day

With just longer than a week to go until Open Data Day, some of the largest cities in the country are preparing localized events to celebrate.

Open Data Day, for the uninitiated, is an annual celebration of the discipline and practice that takes place all over the world. This is the ninth year it’s been actively organized, and it in large part entails local events where organizations show what can be done with open data work in various communities. This week saw announcements for Open Data Day activities in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco — three of the biggest and most innovative technology communities in the country.

Open Data Day LA is set for Saturday, March 2, and it is being organized by Hack for LA and LA Counts. At the Los Angeles event, attendees will have the chance to join a hands-on workshop led by MaptimeLA, which works on map-making with public data and free tools. Interested parties can find more info here.

On that same day in New York City, data-interested folks have a chance to attend NYC School of Data, billed by organizers as “a community conference that demystifies the policies and practices around civic data, technology and service design.” The event is aimed at kicking off the city’s annual open data week, which features more than 24 other sessions organized by the civic tech community in that city. Conversations at the NYC School of Data event will be around topics such as digital literacy and privacy, smart cities and more.

Finally, Code for San Francisco is hosting its annual Open Data Day event on Sunday, March 3. That event will feature working sessions with bus data provided by the local Open Transit group. More information can be found here.

Registration Now Open for San Antonio’s CivTechSA Program

Registration is now open for San Antonio’s CivTechSA program, which is similar to the international Startup in Residence program in that it involves bridging the gap between the public sector and startups by facilitating a 16-week working relationship on a project aimed at solving a governmental challenge.

Now in its second year, CivTechSA is preparing to welcome a new class of startups to tackle local challenges in the Alamo City. There are seven local challenges this year, a list of which can be found here. Interested parties can also find all the info they need to sign up on that page.

Job Openings in Gov Tech

It is a good time to be looking for a job in gov tech, insofar as there are currently a pretty diverse group of departments looking to make new hires. Here’s a brief list of job openings found online this week:

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.