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What’s New in Civic Tech: How to Increase Civic Participation in Design Initiatives

Plus, Louisville, Ky., uses data to pinpoint ideal locations for electric vehicle charging stations; Pittsburgh announces its 2019 Inclusive Innovation Summit; Philadelphia hires designers to help facilitate homeless services; San Antonio, Texas, awards $15K contract during its datathon event; and check out this list of 100 forward-thinking government job skills.

A new public toolkit is offering a set of design strategies local governments can use to increase civic participation.

This toolkit, dubbed Making a Civic Smart City, is available to the public and marks a collaboration between a number of colleges and universities. Some support for this work is given by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In a press release this week, stakeholders billed the project as “an open process for shaping smart city initiatives with increased civic participation.”

At the center of the toolkit is a guide for hosting workshops and symposiums designed to foster discourse related to smart cities and other local government work. It offers guidance around planning, stakeholder inclusion and more, adopted from a program piloted in March. Essentially, the guide seeks to help local government create playbooks for work that “give[s] the public a voice in how new technologies are integrated into their neighborhoods,” according to the press release.

Another facet to the work is ensuring that government understands public values when it makes decisions pertaining to technology, procurement and related policy. This is all perhaps indicative of an ongoing local government shift toward embracing human-centered design, which preaches the value of building services that work for real people rather than the inherently wonky needs of bureaucracies. To that end, organizers of the toolkit are also hosting workshops related to their work in Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit and Charlotte, N.C., in the months to come.

This collaboration involves the Engagement Lab at Emerson College, the City as a Platform Lab at the University of Waterloo, and the Center for Smart Cities at Arizona State University.

Louisville, Ky., Uses Data to Pinpoint Ideal Locations for Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

Louisville, Ky., recently installed a new public charging station for electric vehicles in its local Seneca Park, pinpointing the location by using data collected through an extensive public survey.

The station, which was made possible through Louisville Gas and Electric Company’s EV Charging Station Program, is intended to help “meet the growing demand for accessible, convenient charging facilities as more motorists embrace electric vehicles,” the city noted in a recent announcement.

What is perhaps of most interest to civic technologists is, of course, the way data was collected and used to pick Seneca Park as the location for the new charging station. The city essentially disseminated a survey asking the public to list places they thought needed more vehicle chargers. Simple, but effective.

And now, the city has a new charging station located on its Rock Creek Drive thoroughfare near the park’s restrooms and tennis courts, one that’s available to the public for an hourly fee during normal park hours. It’s also, the city notes, equipped with quick-pay options and safety features such as charging plugs that lock in place when they aren’t being used.

Although simple, this sort of human-centered approach to collecting data — taking time to ask the public their opinion on city decisions — is at the heart of the data-driven governance movement.

Pittsburgh Announces 2019 Inclusive Innovation Summit

Pittsburgh is preparing for its fourth annual Inclusive Innovation Week, which is scheduled to return to the city in 2019 with a new format.

To prepare, officials held an event this week that essentially serves as an announcement for what’s to come, noting that “this new format provides an opportunity for a new approach, and we believe, a larger impact.” That change will be three days of an inclusive innovation-related summit to be held next year at the end of March. The event this week was also aimed at soliciting public input as the city prepares for the new summit.

Inclusive Innovation Week has been a productive tradition for Pittsburgh, leading to organizers partnering with 400 organizations to produce 200 free events hosted across 30 neighborhoods, with at least one taking place in all nine of the city council districts.

In what is perhaps an attempt to reach “the kids,” updates about the 2019 Inclusive Innovation Summit can be found on the event’s Instagram feed. Interested parties can also sign up for email updates here.

Philadelphia Hires Design Experts to Help Facilitate Homeless Services

As more and more jurisdictions work to embrace human-centered design, city halls have increasingly moved to bring in design experts.

Two of the most recent hires belong to Philadelphia, which took to twitter this week to announce the hiring of Aditi Joshi as a service design fellow and Adam Chagani as a service design apprentice. Both of the new design hires will work with the Philadelphia’s Design Lab’s service design team on the city’s ongoing homeless services project, which is aimed at making homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring in Philadelphia.”

Interested parties can learn more about human-centered design here and how designers are driving change in government here.

San Antonio, Texas, Awards Potential $15K Contract During Datathon Event

San Antonio, Texas, has potentially awarded a $15,000 contract to a participant in the city's inaugural datathon event, according to local news reports.

This event concluded Oct. 21, and it saw 32 groups submit project proposals to San Antonio's startup engagement initiative, CivTechSA. The focus of the event, which spanned three days, was to use data and technology to find new ways to address transportation, sustainability or access to services. The list of teams was first narrowed down to seven, all of which spent the weekend devising work that essentially stemmed from new data sets provided by several agencies, according a report from Texas Public Radio.

Two things differentiated this datathon from past civic tech efforts in the Alamo city: Agencies chose what specific data sets to share with technologists, and the winning project received an opportunity with the potential to eventually lead to a $15,000 contract from the city.

Following an afternoon of project pitches on Sunday, that winner was Cool Connect, a brother-sister team who devised a subscription service that auto-calls and texts users when power or water outages occur in their neighborhoods. 

Cool Connect will get $2,500 and the option of developing their project with the city, which could lead to a total $15,000 contract. What's perhaps most notable, however, is that the technologists behind Cool Connect told local media that they had never considered putting their skills toward civic challenges before participating in the datathon.

Indeed, one of the central goals of this competition and those like it across the country is to help bridge the logistical gap between government work and private-sector skills. If this year is any indication, San Antonio's efforts have a bright future ahead.

Check Out This List of 100 Forward-Thinking Gov Job Skills

Apolitical, a global network aimed at helping government overcome the toughest challenges facing society, has looked to the future and created a list of 100 forward-thinking job skills that public servants will need.

The list is available here, and it contains advice for a wide range of government work, from communications to data to leadership. Categories for the resources are broken down into the following: communications, essential skills, leadership, design and innovation, data, digital and AI, cities, global policy, private sector and sustainable development goals.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.