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What’s New in Civic Tech: Cities Launch COVID-19 Web Portals

Plus, government support groups launch a new COVID-19 local action tracker, the Civic Innovation Challenge kicks off with $9 million in funding, and the New York State Digital Service is now hiring.

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As cities take drastic steps to control the coronavirus pandemic, micro-mobility providers such as Lime and others have curtailed operations.
As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, agencies at all levels of government continue to launch online resources for their constituents to find resources, help and new information.

New York City is perhaps the jurisdiction hardest hit by the crisis in the world right now, and, as such, earlier this month technologists there launched the NYC COVID-19 Engagement Portal, which is exactly what its name implies. Developed with the goal of helping to guide the city’s ongoing response, it allows New Yorkers to both self-report COVID-19 information as well as access information reported by others. 

Those in New York can input their information confidentially, reporting a wide range of statuses such as quarantine status, the date of the onset of any related symptoms and more. Users can also sign up to get updates about COVID-19 from the city via the platform. The platform is also available in many languages, with a long list including Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, English, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Urdu. 

New York City is certainly not the only government in recent days and weeks to have launched such a platform. There are myriad examples across the country, with Kansas City, Mo., standing out with its efforts amid other mid-sized cities. Kansas City has built a data visualization platform for the COVID-19 crisis with granular, regularly updated data about who’s being affected and when cases are being reported. 

This sort of Web-based informational response extends upward from the local level as well, with county and state agencies building similar resources. Allegheny County, Pa., which is home to Pittsburgh, has a data visualization with neighborhood-level data for that city, which interested parties can find here. Alabama — which was relatively slow to respond in terms of stay-at-home orders, and saw a resultant uptick in new cases — has now launched its own state online resource hub.

Overall, this crisis has sparked a wave of agile data and tool design work aimed at both informing and engaging with citizens. It is perhaps the largest digital mobilization around a single shared challenge in the history of the country, and it will likely continue as more testing data rolls in and needs to be disseminated to the public.

Civic Innovation Challenge Launches with $9M in Funding

The Civic Innovation Challenge launched this week, offering a total of $9 million in prizes for participants.

This challenge is a joint effort between three federal agencies and the MetroLab Network, which works to foster better collaborations between gov tech and academia. The three federal agencies involved are the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

In an announcement, organizers described the event as “a national research and action competition in the smart and connected communities domain.” Simply put, it’s a tech and innovation competition where teams will work to create projects that solve shared challenges. At stake in this competition is up to $1 million for each team to support their ready-to-implement, research-based projects, with the goal being the creation of something that is “scalable, sustainable and transferable.” 

Teams, the announcement noted, will include partnerships between government agencies and nonprofits, as well as tech and social science researchers. The total of $9 million in anticipated funding is coming from all three of the involved agencies. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, participants this year are likely to focus efforts on the COVID-19 crisis, with an eye toward how civic services and related systems will be rebuilt to be stronger and more resilient as the country emerges from the pandemic. 

“As teams reflect on the focus areas of the Civic Innovation Challenge,” organizers wrote in the announcement, “they are encouraged to consider how both the current situation and other experiences in their communities uncover new challenges, motivate new questions and highlight the need for new perspectives.”

The two tracks for the challenge are communities and mobility, and resilience to natural disasters. The challenge is split into two stages, with the first stage seeing teams compete for grants of up to $50,000 that will go to 12 teams, with an expected release date of fall 2020. With the support of that money, successful teams will then refine their projects to compete for $1 million to support their work. 

More information about the challenge is available here.

Bloomberg, National League of Cities Launch COVID-19 Local Action Tracker

With the COVID-19 pandemic having essentially now affected every local government in the nation, a pair of leaders in the local government space have teamed up to create a centralized resource to track related actions.

Those leaders are Bloomberg Philanthropies and the National League of Cities, and what they’ve built is the COVID-19: Local Action Tracker. At the heart of it is a fairly simple concept: a list of all the various actions being taken at the local level to address the pandemic. 

“The scale of this global crisis is unprecedented, and so is the scope of the local government response,” developers wrote on the project’s home page. “These extraordinary efforts will have far-reaching implications to public health, municipal services, and local economies that we are only beginning to comprehend. Our goal is to ensure mayors, city leaders, and other local decision makers have the information they need to lead their communities through this crisis.”

At the heart of the page is an easy-to-read table with data such as when an action was taken, which local government took it, a brief policy description, and more. In addition, there is also a space for government staffers to submit local response actions that have not yet been added to the page.

Now Hiring: New York State Digital Service 

As noted above, COVID-19 has perhaps spurred the single largest mobilization of governmental digital work around a shared challenge in the country’s history, thereby emphasizing the importance of robust gov tech infrastructure within state, county and local government.

All of that is a means of pointing out that gov tech has never had a greater need for qualified and talented individuals to push the work forward. One place that interested parties can apply to do that is with New York State, which is currently hiring for its nascent New York State Digital Service

Those interested in applying can find more information here.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.