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What’s New in Civic Tech: Bloomberg Announces $42 Million Addition to What Works Cities Initiative

Plus, 18F details efforts to improve state government RFP process, Code for Tampa Bay launches a second monthly meetup in nearby St. Petersburg, Fla., and Syracuse, N.Y., CDO shares the benefits of hosting civic hackathons.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced an additional $42 million investment in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities program, a comprehensive nationwide initiative aimed at enhancing the use of data and evidence by municipal governments. 

Established roughly three years ago, to date What Works Cities has helped 100 cities of varying sizes use data and facts to better define the problems their localities face, as well as to make progress in areas that include health and safety, homelessness and blight. As of this month, the initiative has provided direct support for city governments spread throughout 39 states. The announcement of the increased investment was made to coincide with Bloomberg’s annual report.

In a letter within the report, the former mayor of the nation’s most populous city stressed the importance of facts and data in these times, criticizing President Trump’s administration and saying that Washington’s “direct assault on facts and data is making it harder for America to address major challenges here and around the world.”

Bloomberg also noted that a “counter-assault” is underway, writing, “As Washington has grown more dysfunctional, American cities have grown more dynamic. Mayors in both parties are leading where Washington won't."

As part of this leadership, Bloomberg emphasized that these leaders are enthusiastically using data while at times working across party lines to improve government performance for citizens. Providing leadership and support for cities has long been a part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ work. In fact, last year the organization launched a $200 million Bloomberg American Cities Initiative aimed at giving mayors and municipal leaders tools to use data more effectively.

18F Details Efforts to Improve the State Government RFP Process

18F, a federal digital consultancy that helps other governmental agencies improve their efficiency via tech, has detailed its ongoing efforts to help state governments improve their RFP processes.

18F did so with a piece on its website titled Using Agile Methods to Improve the RFP Process, which shared information about the organization's work with Alaska. In the blog post, 18F describes what it did to help with Alaska’s RFP process and why, before offering ideas that other similar agencies could glean from the work to improve the way that they operate.

Those ideas included asking vendors for their feedback, holding a retrospective to reflect on the lessons of the previous work that has been completed and conducting an internal post-mortem after initial procurement has concluded.

“Each of these exercises provides valuable information that can be used to improve how vendors are engaged on public-sector technology procurements,” 18F wrote. “Each new procurement in a modular contracting strategy becomes an opportunity to improve on the one that came before — helping identify vendors that will enable governments to deliver high-quality digital services to the public.”

Since its formation in March 2014, 18F has done much work toward improving governmental procurement processes, and not just in Alaska. In fact the work that 18F has done has been influential across the country, including within Ohio, among other jurisdictions. Even municipal governments such as New York City have built initiatives based on the work done by 18F.

Code for Tampa Bay Launches a Second Monthly Meetup in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Tampa Bay is a singular metro area made up of two cities —Tampa, Fla., and St. Petersburg, Fla.— and as such its local Code for America brigade has now launched a second monthly meetup.

The group, Code for Tampa, previously only had a meetup in Tampa, but it has now expanded to include a second event across the causeway in St. Petersburg. The new event is a Pinellas County Meetup held on the third Monday of each month at St. Petersburg’s TEC Garage, and its first iteration was held Monday. This second meeting seeks to continue the ongoing expansion of the Code for America brigade program.

In fact, earlier this month the program added an entirely new brigade, Code for PDX, located in Portland, Ore. This brings the total number of Code for America brigades up to 65 participating groups across the country. Code for America is a nonprofit and nonpolitical organization with a mission of using technology to make government function more efficiently for constituents, and its brigades seek to convene technologists and others interested in assisting with its mission at the local level.

Code for America itself is currently preparing for its annual summit event, which will be held at the end of the month in Oakland, Calif.

Syracuse, N.Y., Chief Data Officer Shares the Benefits of Hosting Civic Hackathons

Syracuse, N.Y., Chief Data Officer Sam Edelstein recently weighed in online on the value of civic hackathons, noting that two that had taken place in his city as of late had netted a good deal of positive results.

The first of the two hackathons Edelstein describes was the “Syracuse Roads Challenge,” which aimed to find better ways to handle the city’s deteriorating infrastructure. The city coordinated with Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, AT&T and a civic tech group called Hack Upstate. The event included 13 teams, the majority of which were composed of Syracuse students or members of Hack Upstate, and the winning project created a pothole chatbot that people could use to report problems via Facebook Messenger.  

“Partnering with the university and Hack Upstate, we were able to show people in the community that we wanted to be open about the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis and that we are interested in what they think,” Edelstein wrote of the benefits.

The other civic hackathon was called “Plowing Through Data,” and it sought to address the region’s always-difficult snow removal challenges. This hackathon, which was upon for three weeks, was another collaboration between the city, Syracuse University and AT&T, and it drew 20 participating teams. The winning projects helped to visualize the best paths for snowplows to quickly and efficiently clear the streets.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine