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What’s New in Civic Tech: Global Food Data Project Kicks Off

Plus, a new online platform tracks health disparities across the country, a study in Kansas is the latest regional effort to obtain more precise broadband data and new data details equity gaps related to public parks.

farmer and field of grain
Flickr/Bo Nielsen
An international cohort of civic tech groups has launched a new effort to collect public input around food systems sustainability, ultimately aiming to use the resultant data to drive new innovations.

This effort is taking place under The 100 Questions Initiative, which has an aim of helping innovators and technologists better define questions in order to “unlock the potential of data and data science,” the group writes on its website. This new campaign around food sustainability is being led by the Governance Lab (The GovLab) at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. For the effort, The GovLab is partnering with Italy’s Barilla Foundation and the Center for European Policy Studies, which is based in Brussels.

Dubbed Food Systems Sustainability, this new effort stems from two substantial concerns, the first of which is the damage being done to the environment by unsustainable farming practices. The second is the way climate change continues to make existing food systems more fragile as the global population continues to rapidly increase.

“Solving both of these challenges requires more sustainable approaches to producing, consuming and disposing of food,” reads the Food Systems Sustainability website.

The first step for the project is to identify the 10 most important questions to make food systems more sustainable.

In a practical sense, this means working with a group of global experts to find the most pressing questions — especially those with the greatest possible impact — that can actually be answered by data and data science. Coinciding with the launch of this campaign is a call for experts who are knowledgeable about both data and food sustainability to help.

Once the top 10 questions have been identified, the public will be asked to vote on the questions that should get solved first. (Zack Quaintance)


A new online platform seeks to use COVID-19 data to reveal how health disparities impact U.S. communities.

The platform was created in a coordinated effort by the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine, Gilead Sciences, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the CDC Foundation and, with the COVID-19 pandemic serving as the impetus.

Using data from five sources, the platform currently examines 15 variables, including cases, deaths and hospitalizations. By giving a detailed view of these items as they relate to several different factors, the platform’s goal is to show policymakers — as well as the public — how different communities are affected and how resources can improve inequities.

The plan is to expand the platform to include more data about COVID-19; develop policy templates for local, state and federal government; and measure progress by releasing additional data.

For more information or to examine the data, the Health Equity Tracker can be viewed online. (Julia Edinger)


A new project in Kansas will ask residents to provide info to help create a clearer picture of Internet and broadband infrastructure, filling in gaps left by frequently criticized Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data, organizers have announced.

The effort is led by the University of Kansas, where a team of researchers at the Institute for Policy and Social Research have already surveyed students about broadband, finding what they described as valuable information around inadequate Internet access. Essentially, that same effort is now being extended to look at the issue statewide.

“The information we’ve received about uneven and inadequate Internet access among students has been valuable, but there are still a lot of geographic areas of Kansas that we know very little about in terms of Internet access and options for service provision,” said Germaine Halegoua, an associate professor involved with the work. “Policymakers still lack essential knowledge about Internet affordability and quality in rural as well as urban areas. We’re hoping that our statewide survey fills in those gaps.”

Kansas is far from the only state or region that has found FCC broadband data lacking or too broad, with similar localized efforts taking place from Georgia to California. In fact, amid the outbreak of and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, many who work in the broadband expansion and digital equity space have advocated for these types of efforts, essentially giving local stakeholders agency when it comes to reporting whether they find their Internet sufficient, rather than trusting the reports of private companies that provide these services, often with the aim of profit.

The research in Kansas is being supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and will gauge the availability and quality of Internet access across the state, gathering detailed information on areas with slow speeds as well as data on availability and cost. Ultimately, the researchers plan to share their findings with the public, Internet service providers and state lawmakers.

Interested Kansas residents can take the survey on the researcher’s website. (Zack Quaintance)


A new data set this week provides some interesting insight into urban development trends — trends of which those in both civic tech and urban planning may want to take note.

The report, which was released last week by nonprofit The Trust for Public Land, details equity gaps in U.S. parks. For example, in the 100 most populous cities, people have 44 percent less park acreage when they live in neighborhoods that are predominantly Black, Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native or Asian American and Pacific Islander, as opposed to when they live in predominantly white neighborhoods.

The report goes on to examine data on how this inequity impacts other variables, including health, climate and the economy. (Julia Edinger)
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.
Associate editor for <i>Government Technology</i> magazine.