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What’s New in Civic Tech: Nation Preps for Open Data Day

Plus, meet the 2020 Innovations in American Government Award finalists; check out these five tips for cities doing data inventories; and take a look at this pair of new digital U.S. Census tools.

Memphis Open Data Event
Joseph Roberts, GIS analyst, and Paige Jackson, communications and training lead, demo tech projects and gather student feedback related to Memphis' priorities such as jobs, public safety, good government, youth and neighborhoods.
Wendy Harris, Project Management Administrator Memphis.
The annual Open Data Day event this year is set for Saturday, March 7, and as such, communities across the country are hosting celebratory Open Data Day events.

This marks the 10th annual Open Data Day slate of events, and what is perhaps most notable this year is the level of maturity for the data work that is being celebrated by local government and adjacent groups nationwide. 

At the top is New York City, which has already started, launching an Open Data Week in the nation’s largest city that began Feb. 28 and will continue through this weekend. As the city noted in a press release announcing its events, this year’s festivities there are aimed at advancing the strategic plan for NYC Open Data, which it describes as “a 10-year vision to launch a more open and dynamic platform,” as well as to strengthen the capacity of data work within the city’s government agencies, and to foster connections related to the work in the community. The events there are wide and varied too, featuring everything from art exhibitions related to data, to how certain communities there can benefit from exploring health data. 

New York City, of course, is far from the only city in the country anchoring a celebration and events around open data. In advance of Open Data Day, Boston also celebrated five years of having a citywide analytics team there, releasing a new report that details major projects as well as the future of data in Boston. Memphis, Tenn., is holding a Civic Data Hackathon all weekend; Little Rock, Ark., is hosting four open data events at libraries in that area; and San Francisco is having an event at Code for America HQ. 

A full global map of events can be found on the Open Data Day website

Meet the 2020 Innovations in American Government Award Finalists

Organizers have announced the 2020 Innovations in American Government Award finalists, highlighting four projects at all levels of American government that help the public sector get better at tackling problems and overcoming challenges.

The award is the work of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The finalists are located all across the country, and they are the City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, Philadelphia’s BenePhilly program, Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement Project, and Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Business Relations Program.

The focus of this year’s award was projects or programs that focus on addressing and promoting economic opportunities for all members of a community. The finalists for this were picked by a group of policy experts, researchers and practitioners, chosen on the basis of “novelty, effectiveness, significance, and transferability, as well as their impact on issues of economic and social mobility, inequity, and stratification,” organizers announced in a press release.

A representative from each of the finalist programs will give a presentation Thursday, March 12 to the National Selection Committee of the Innovations in American Government Awards. Recordings of those presentations will be released in the months to come, with a winner to be announced later in the year. 

Five Tips for Cities Doing Data Inventories

As data-driven governance accelerates and becomes more prevalent in local governments across the country, cities must be able to find data sets within their systems. 

This is a challenge that can be eased by an effective and thorough data inventory. To help cities with the data inventory process, Bloomberg Cities has recently offered a set of five tips for cities doing data inventories, doing so in a blog in which the group spoke with Sheila Dugan, the director of cities at the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University.

Those five tips are find an easy pace for the project; communicate the reason for doing it well to all involved; get public input involved; be sure to include data sets with confidential information; and be creative in ways that prevent the data inventory process from becoming tedious. 

A Pair of New Digital Tools Are Available to Help with the U.S. Census

As the U.S. Census rapidly approaches, a pair of new digital tools are now available to help with the efforts of those who are involved with the count.

First up, Connecticut’s State Data Center has created a new tool to assess the impact of differential privacy on U.S. Census data. Upon inception, the scope of the tool was aimed at data for Connecticut, but it’s now spreading to other states, with the team having now adapted it for Vermont, too.

The main idea behind this tool is that it is a means of assessing the impact of the approaches that the U.S. Census Bureau is taking toward ensuring that the information it releases to the public cannot be used to identify individuals. 

The second new digital tool related to the Census that has recently become available comes from the U.S. Census Bureau itself, and it is the 2020 Census Response Rate Tracker. This will be a crucial tool for the work of state, local and community level efforts to ensure that traditionally hard-to-count Census tracts are counted as the Census process progresses, identifying as it does tracts that have high percentages of likely uncounted residents.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine