What’s New in Civic Tech: Boston Shares Key Performance Data

Plus, a new report finds that one-third of citizens are unaware of government digital services; Philadelphia's Digital Literacy Alliance receives a $500,000 grant to support immigrant-serving organizations; and more.

Boston has continued to update the digital platform for its CityScore program, which takes key performance metrics from departments throughout the city and compiles them into an easy-to-read format.

The idea behind CityScore is simple: it’s essentially a platform designed to inform the mayor and other city managers in near real time about how well the city is performing by aggregating key performance metrics into one simple number. That number on Thursday, for example, was .97, which is just a shade below 1.0, the number that means everything is operating at the city’s targets. 

This public-facing platform for CityScore also does the work of showing the public how this program is being used to guide improvements in the city. One can scroll down from the 1.0 target number to find the individual components that went into the calculation. These include things like 311 call center performance, pothole repair, EMS response times and crime data benchmarks. 

They all operate under the same easy-to-read system, with 1.0 being the target ranking, while numbers below indicate a need for improvement, and numbers above show performance beyond the city’s targeted level. Brief summaries of what exactly is being measured and how are available at the bottom of the page, separated by department names. There are also case studies as well as links to other content related to CityScore. 

The entire platform is managed by Boston’s Analytics Team.

Philadelphia's Digital Literacy Alliance Gets $500,000 Grant to Support Immigrant-Serving Organizations

Philadelphia’s Digital Literacy Alliance — a coalition of stakeholders who work to foster digital inclusion in that city — has received a $500,000 grant to help fund immigrant-serving organizations engaged in digital literacy efforts.

That money comes in the form of a two-year grant from Independence Public Media of Philadelphia Inc. (IPM), which is itself a new private foundation that evolved from the long-tenured Independence Public Media group.

Molly de Aguiar, president of IPM, detailed the grant in a recent Medium post about $5.3 million of funding that was being given to 11 organizations throughout the city with the goal of empowering communities in Philadelphia to enrich themselves through better use of media. 

The $500,000 the group granted to the Digital Literacy Alliance aims to support those goals by boosting digital skills and understanding among immigrant communities. To do this, $300,000 will go to existing immigrant-focused digital literacy initiatives. Another $200,000 will be earmarked for helping to establish better partnerships with organizations that are already funding the Alliance. 

Grantmaking has always been foundational to its work in Philadelphia. The most recent grant cycle by the group was aimed at promoting digital literacy with an eye toward addressing the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census

Report: One-third of Citizens Unaware of Government Digital Services

A new report found that nearly one-third of citizens are unaware of the digital services offered by the government.

The report, which was the work of the digital services company Accenture, is based on a survey of 5,000 citizens from a wide range of countries, including Australia, Germany, Singapore and the United States. What is perhaps more startling is that number increases drastically if the sample size is kept entirely to respondents from the U.S., with a whopping 55 percent of respondents reporting that they don’t know about or use a single governmental digital service.

This reality is something that agencies at all levels of government must grapple with. Government services are inherently meant to serve all segments of the population, but agencies run the risk of alienating those who lack this awareness if all their innovation and update work is aimed at digital interfaces, which are almost always cheaper and more efficient. 

The lack of awareness about government digital services is, however, only part of the story. There is a long list of other key findings stemming from the survey as well.

Among them is the fact that a growing segment of the population supports governmental use of artificial intelligence, with 55 percent of respondents noting they think they would increase use of government digital services if AI was used to help deliver them. Also, 58 percent favored governmental use of AI to bolster defense against cybersecurity threats. 

Virginia Courts Launch Statewide Search Functionality

Virginia has now launched statewide search functionality for criminal and traffic records, doing so in a way that allows users to look within both circuit and general district courts.

The new functionality is pretty intuitive, allowing users to search based on a defendant’s name, subsequently finding docket information that dates back to 1990 or earlier from all jurisdictions throughout the state.

Local news outlets are reporting that this marks a substantial update for an online system that previously put records online while limiting searches to specific courthouses. In effect, one would have had to know which court held the records they were looking for. The new system is a blanket search of all court systems in Virginia. 

The platform was built by the Office of the Virginia Supreme Court, which was required by legislation passed in March 2018. That bill required that the new system go live by early July, which is exactly what happened.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine