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What’s New in Civic Tech: Knight Invests $2.2M in Philadelphia

Plus, San Francisco is hiring for multiple roles, a report examines the world of intergovernmental software co-ops, and a new organization has called on the Biden administration to create a local innovation unit.

Philadelphia city hall from street level.
Philadelphia's city hall. Pennsylvania's largest city has had little luck passing a gun control bill in the state legislature, which is dominated by rural lawmakers. (Photo: David Kidd)
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has announced a total of $2.2 million of investments to be spread across nine civic projects in Philadelphia, many of which involved tech and innovation.

The investments — which were announced by the Knight Foundation this week — will support “local programs that advance equitable community development and digital innovation in city neighborhoods,” officials noted in the announcement. In doing so, the money will also go toward incorporating residents of the city in the creation of the work. 

“A truly thriving Philadelphia is an equitable Philadelphia,” Ellen Hwang, Knight Foundation program director for Philadelphia, said in a statement. “Accessible public spaces are critical assets and places for our communities. These new investments will help ensure that as neighborhoods develop, there are opportunities for communities to be drivers and decision-makers of the change and to benefit from the opportunities that come from development.” 

In a more specific sense, the money will go toward programs such as the city’s Parks and Recreation department working on a pilot program to test innovative play in public spaces, as well as a series of other projects that tap innovation more directly. These include enabling the Philadelphia Rail Park to use digital tools in the service of accessibility, leveraging an AI data analytics tool to better understand city communications with residents, and more.

The unifying factor of the work is that it has largely been born out of lessons learned during COVID-19 about the need to enhance public spaces as well as the digitization of city services for residents. 

“The pandemic taught us that communities need better access to quality spaces and digital services to be more engaged in the community,” said Kelly Jin, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives, in a statement. “As we continue to recover from the pandemic, it’s vital that civic assets continue to serve everyone and adapt to the changing needs of residents. These investments will help ensure that Philadelphia is poised for the future.”

San Francisco Is Hiring for Multiple Roles, Including a CDO

San Francisco is looking to hire for multiple roles related to tech and innovation, including chief data officer.

The full list of four openings can be found on San Francisco’s website, beneath the fitting header, “Come build a digital city.” In addition to a chief data officer, San Francisco is currently looking to hire a front-end developer, a senior design researcher and a senior UX (user experience) designer for housing.

The chief data officer role is perhaps most notable, given that San Francisco was one of the first cities in the country to establish that role anywhere within its local government structure. The job would essentially involve leading the way on San Francisco’s robust DataSF program. Applications are open now, and the job is ultimately considered a mayoral appointment, enshrined in the city’s administrative code. The opening comes after the DataSF team combined with the city’s Digital Services team.

The position opened up earlier this year after Jason Lally — who formerly held the CDO role — joined the recent migration from San Francisco tech and innovation work to take on similar projects for the state government of California.

Beeck Center Report Examines Intergovernmental Software Co-Ops

A new report from the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University has taken a close look at the world of intergovernmental software co-ops.

Dubbed Sharing Government Software: How Agencies Are Cooperatively Building Mission-Critical Software, the report is authored by Waldo Jaquith and Robin Carnahan, who was just nominated by President Biden to helm the General Services Administration, which houses the federal tech consultancy 18F. 

The report can be found online via the Beeck Center now.

Policy Nonprofit Calls on Biden Administration to Create Local Innovation Unit

The Day One Project — which is a nonprofit group that works to better democratize policymaking by collaborating with the science and tech communities — is calling on the Biden administration to create a local innovation unit.

The call, which the group published on its website, was written by Josh Sorin and Lindsay Zimmerman, and it makes what it’s asking pretty clear: Essentially, the call wants a federal effort to “catalyze and coordinate decentralized, city and county-based experiments focused on the most urgent and complex challenges facing the United States.”

In terms of reasoning, they note that taking a “bottom up” approach to solving wider national problems by starting at the local level is best suited for the issues of the day. Indeed, many in local government have long felt the same way. What the proposed local innovation unit would do is legitimize and organize cooperation networks and a digital platform that would make sharing work and best practices easier at the local and county levels.



Civic Tech
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine