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What’s New in Civic Tech: Bloomberg Cities Highlights 'Data-Driven Women to Watch'

Plus, New Jersey joins multistate coalition suing FCC over its net neutrality rollback; Code for America launches an apprenticeship program; San Francisco looks to hire eight for its digital services team; Oakland, Calif., launches a civic design lab; and Indiana updates its Alexa skill to include travel advisories.

Beth Blauer and Simone Brody, who are the executive director and founder of GovEx at Johns Hopkins University and the executive director of Bloomberg’s What Works Cities initiative respectively, recently lauded six women whose work in open data is improving the public sector.

The piece highlighted the women and their work in a medium post titled “Data-driven Women to Watch.” The recipients of the honor were Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, deputy city coordinator of Minneapolis; Joy Bonaguro, the chief data officer of San Francisco; Monica Croskey Chaparro, the strategic planning and performance manager of Raleigh, N.C.; Shireen Santosham, the chief innovation officer of San Jose, Calif.; and Kate Bender and Julie Steenson, deputy performance officers with Kansas City, Mo.

In addition to praising and detailing the women on the list, the piece also points out that a common misconception about data science work is that it’s only about numbers, but there is actually a human component to the work that benefits from a diversity of life experiences. Currently, only 25 percent of data scientists in the public and private sectors are women.

“These women are leading by example and encouraging more women and girls to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and computer science programs,” Blauer and Brody wrote. “And they’re women who are helping position our whole field — men and women alike — to think more critically about the biggest challenges facing our cities while, at the same time, ushering some of the biggest advances in public-services delivery in more than a century. This means better outcomes for all people, more responsive governments, and a pipeline of inspired, talented and emboldened females in the public-sector innovation workforce.”

New Jersey joins multistate coalition suing FCC over net neutrality rollback

New Jersey is the latest jurisdiction to join a multi-state coalition suing the FCC and federal government over the rollback of net neutrality protections, a move that has drawn harsh criticism and warnings from IT officials at all levels of government.

In a press release this week, New Jersey’s attorney general called an open and free Internet “vital to state government services and virtually every aspect of daily life in New Jersey.” New Jersey will now join a New York-led coalition of 22 other states in a lawsuit that alleges the FCC departed, without justification, from a long-standing policy and practice of defending net neutrality. It also accuses the FCC of misinterpreting or ignoring evidence of potential harm to consumers and businesses. This coalition has filed a petition for review of the FCC’s decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“We are committed to taking whatever legal action we can to preserve the Internet rights of New Jersey consumers, and to challenge the federal government’s misguided attack on a free and open Internet,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in the press release. “The Federal Communications Commission acted arbitrarily and against the evidence before it when doing its about-face on net neutrality. If the FCC has its way, ISPs will be able to play favorites on the internet, deciding which consumers can have access to what content and features … deciding, essentially, what consumers can do, say and view online.”

In addition, some governors of the involved states have signed executive orders aimed at preserving net neutrality.

Code for America launches apprenticeship program

Code for America (CfA) is launching an apprenticeship program aimed at equalizing access to opportunities in tech, the group recently announced via a post on Medium.

The apprenticeship program is a first for CfA, one that is designed for software engineering and data science for junior technical talent. Recipients of the apprenticeships will be paired with mentors, and they will work on some of CfA’s ongoing headline projects, including its Integrated Benefits Initiative and GetCalFresh.

The apprenticeships will be full time, and they will span a period of six months starting in early June. CfA officials are looking for applicants who have recently graduated from college or boot camp programs, who are returning to the workforce and want to update skills, or who are in their early careers and are in search of more experience.

“Diversity and inclusion are core values here at Code for America,” the group wrote in the post. “We serve ALL Americans with our work. As we make decisions, our employees in the room must be representative of those we serve. It’s key to our programmatic and organizational success. We are also acutely aware that access to opportunities in tech are not equal. Many people land their first break through networks and connections, of which access is often determined by power and privilege.”

Interested technologists can apply here, and applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

San Francisco looks to hire eight for its digital services team

In other opportunities news, San Francisco is looking to make eight new hires for its digital services team.

The team is currently made up of 18, and it includes product managers, designers and developers. The new recruits are needed for a range of work, including roles within the Affordable Housing Services team, which is of particular import in a city and state suffering from a continuing housing crisis. The positions the team is seeking to fill are also varied, and they include a product manager, a full stack engineer, a Salesforce engineer and a designer, among others.

Other work for new hires includes the design and development of a new digital service for cannabis businesses, which have just become legal in California. The San Francisco Digital Services team notes that it is looking for ways to do permitting online while also tying into the city’s new physical permit center that is currently under development. A senior service designer is needed for that project.

Meanwhile, the city is also rebuilding its website from the ground up to include a service-led approach that makes it easier for users to quickly find what they need.

Interested technologists can find more information here.

Oakland, Calif., launches a civic design lab

Oakland, Calif., has launched its first Civic Design Lab, which is an innovation department designed to help solve long-time bureaucratic bottlenecks and make local government easier to navigate and more accessible for both residents and public employees.

The Civic Design Lab is a collaboration between Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, City Community Development and 100 Resilient Cities, according to a recent press release. The Civic Design Lab plans to use design strategies to find new solutions for some of the city’s oldest problems. This, officials note, is a new approach to government, one that seeks to maximize limited resources and to make Oakland’s communities more equitable.

While the announcement of the design lab was recent, work is already under way. In fact, the Civic Design Lab has redesigned the city’s Rent Adjustment Program, creating an online portal that is more user-friendly for tenants and property owners. They have also improved the Healthy Housing inspection process and streamlined partnerships between city programs and entrepreneurs related to equitable economic growth in Oakland.

“The Civic Design Lab can redesign our government to make it a more responsive city government for all Oaklanders,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf in a press release. “If we want different outcomes in our city, we need a fresh set of eyes, a nimble team, and a compassionate heart to solve problems in creative new ways.”

The lab is now embedded in Oakland City Hall. Future undertakings include a revamped summer youth jobs program and a financial justice project.

Indiana Updates its Amazon Alexa Skill

The state of Indiana has introduced an update to its Amazon Alexa skill, Ask Indiana. The newly revamped tool allows constituents to more quickly access county travel statuses throughout the state. 

For example, the skill will push specific travel information to Alexa users when asked, “Alexa, ask Indiana for travel advisories.” In addition to advisories, users will also be alerted to watches and warnings, which constitute more serious and limiting travel conditions.

“Access to information is a key component of preparedness,” Bryan Langley, executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said in a press release. “This important step will allow Hoosiers yet another way to rapidly access information and make informed decisions to keep themselves and their family safe.”

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.