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Pennsylvania's Code4PA Event Expands, Taking on the Opioid Crisis

The annual event now features four sites spread across three cities in the state, as well as a new focus on the opioid crisis.

Pennsylvania’s annual statewide civic tech event, Code4PA, has expanded once again this year.

Last year’s event saw participants working together at two separate sites — one in Philadelphia and the other in Harrisburg — connected by live video conferencing technology supplied by Cisco. This year, Code4PA is expanding the event to include Pittsburgh as well, adding two sites in that city for a grand total of four. Three of the sites are affiliated with Harrisburg University, while a fourth in Pittsburgh is affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University, organizers said.

Also new for this year’s event, is a concentrated focus for the work: the opioid crisis — a countrywide drug-use epidemic claiming a significant number of lives every day. On Sept. 21 and 22, participants will come together at the four sites to conceptualize technology-based projects that use open data and other information available to them to address community obstacles associated with the opioid crisis. The teams will then spend a month working on those ideas and developing them further, before reconvening on Oct. 20 to pitch their projects and compete for awards from state officials. The grand prize is recognition from the governor’s office.

Julie Snyder, director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Data and Digital Technology, said that the state recently released 30 data sets that could prove useful for combating the opioid crisis or shedding awareness about its extent. Those data sets come from myriad departments throughout the state, and they are related to a wide range of topics, from corrections to drug and alcohol rehabilitation to the police numbers associated with opioid-related arrests.

For this event, the state is also pulling in federal data sets and collaborating with the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, among other groups. Basically, the general idea here is to give technologists and other participants as much information and as many resources as possible for the creation of new work.

“We’re looking at this event as a way to utilize a lot of the tools that were created in this last year for visualizations and analytics,” Snyder said.

Organizers noted that the governor’s office has done much to combat the opioid crisis, from declaring an emergency to creating a prescription drug monitoring program that allows doctors to see patients’ prescription histories and identify patterns of overuse. Pennsylvania has also recently created an information opioid dashboard supported by its open data platform, as well as an internal database used by law enforcement and public safety agencies to share overdose and arrests information.

In addition to technologists, organizers are working to make sure this event includes others associated with the area of focus, including those who work in health and human services and in public safety. This year’s event is also expected to attract academics, IT vendors, members of nonprofit organizations and other participants.

“We’re looking at this as a collaborative effort to give us an analysis and a different look from the people within these industries at the services we’re providing,” Snyder said, “and if we’re providing services in the right ways.”

Kelly Logan, who is Harrisburg University’s vice president for strategic workforce development and university centers, attended last year’s event, and said that the video conferencing aspect made it feel as if all of the participants were in the same room, which provided a great boost to the level of cooperation. Whereas last year’s event attracted around 200 attendees, Logan said that the hope for this year is to have 500 participants spread throughout the four sites.

Interested parties can sign to attend the event via the Code4PA website.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine