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This Week in Civic Tech: Opioid Map Tracks Overdoses Nationwide, RFP Released for NYC Subway Upgrade

A look back at highlights and happenings in the world of civic tech.

This Week in Civic Tech presents a line up of notable events in the space that connects citizens to government services. Topics cover latest startups, hackathons, open data initiatives and other influencers. Check back each Friday for updates.

Interactive opioid map tracks epidemic

The National Association of Counties and Esri, the IT firm known for its mapping systems and GIS data tools, have released a new site to track the nation’s battle with opioid addiction. Each day, the site reports that 78 Americans are killed from opioid overdoses, and the number of prescription opioid deaths have quadrupled since 1999 — totaling more than 165,000 victims since then.

To confront the pressing issue, the The Opioid Epidemic map analyzes how counties, cities and neighborhoods compare to state and national averages. Site visitors can pinpoint incidents of reported overdoses, prescriptions and providers. And for those wishing to take action, the map has sections dedicated to education, steps to confront the issue and links to additional resources.

NYC revamps subway with digital perks

On July 27, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a the official request for proposals for the revealed a major overhaul to New York City subways. The much needed additions embed a number of digital enhancements to both the metro cars and stations. In a press release, the governor’s office reported that the upgrades are part of a five-year, $27-billion Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) program to modernize the metro system. With the additions, the MTA hopes to reduce wait times and increase capacity in its cars.

Among the many upcoming amenities are 1,025 “new and redesigned” subway cars, 750 of which will be enlarged by eliminating the dividing doors between passenger cars.

“The MTA is the one of the busiest transportation networks in the country and we’re taking the next step toward rebuilding and modernizing New York’s subway system,” Cuomo said. “This action will increase capacity, reduce overcrowding, and enhance the customer experience while creating jobs and building for the future.”

Real civic tech demands real resources

Civic tech solutions are not abstract solutions. They require policy shifts, operational adjustments, changes to workflows, engineering, upkeep, oversight and, yes, even dollar bills. In a co-authored article TECH Miami Founder David Capelli and Civic Tech Consultant Carla Mays have made a call to governments, companies and innovators to think pragmatically about these issues.

Last April, the two were part of the team that won the Hillary Clinton Presidential Hackathon with their “Voter Protection/Equity App.” It supplied on-demand voter assistance and allowed users to report any kind of voter suppression or discrimination at the polls. The two said the app was championed and then abandoned once the realities of implementation and sustainability came into play.

“When a diverse team wins a tech competition and is promised to be brought in for development as a prize, being told to volunteer is part of the problem,” Mays and Capelli said. “Having an innovation agenda or a hackathon doesn’t mean anything if we can’t implement solutions we have developed and won.”

The problem isn’t isolated to Democrats or Republicans, they said, but is a growing problem within the civic tech community as financially unsustainable and volunteer solutions never scale upward or benefit their intended users. The two suggested that real solutions require revenue models to support the apps with grants and contracting, while helping citizens with opportunities for entrepreneurship, employment, education and accessible services. Further, Mays and Capelli asked that governments take ownership of their role facilitating and investing in local civic tech efforts if they want them to succeed.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.