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What’s New in Civic Tech: National Day of Civic Hacking 2019

Plus, Code for Philly preps for month-long civic tech event; Maryland-based nonprofit creates mobile learning labs from old shipping containers; and Illinois is recruiting a chief data officer.

Code for America, the nonprofit and nonpartisan group at the forefront of civic tech, is preparing for National Day of Civic Hacking 2019, which will take place on Sept. 21.

National Day of Civic Hacking, which is now in its seventh year, invites all members of a community to participate, from civic leaders to government employees, to technologists and those who just want to help. The idea is that they will bring their disparate skills to bear on obstacles and challenges in their respective communities. This year’s event aims to address something Code for America (CfA) has worked on in recent years — record clearance.

“This year we invite you to join us for a day of collective action to help those impacted by the criminal justice system, particularly in the area of record clearance,” Code for America wrote in its announcement for the event.

With this in mind, the 2019 National Day of Civic Hacking will coincide with National Expungement Week, which is an effort by community groups across the country to help those who are eligible start the process of clearing their criminal records.

This sort of record clearance has really become a prominent CfA effort, especially as it applies to jurisdictions that have recently decriminalized marijuana. To evolve the work, CfA’s network of more than 80 brigades across the country are taking lead, offering three actions for volunteers to undertake on National Day of Civic Hacking.

These three actions are: mapping out the record and clearance process; developing a services usability scorecard; or creating a user-friendly know-your-rights website. Interested parties can learn more about those three action paths here, with about a month to prepare their efforts and events.

Code for Philly Preps Month-Long Civic Tech Events

While organizations and communities across the country prepare for the National Day of Civic Hacking, the civic tech group and Code for America brigade in Philadelphia, Code for Philly, is preparing for its own annual month-long hackathon.

Dubbed Launchpad 2019: Phundamentals, this event will start in early September and span the entire month, as it has for the past two years as well. Launchpad is hackathon composed of many different events, participated in by groups of multi-disciplinary volunteers.

Code for Philly’s efforts are focused on creating innovative ways to help provide equitable access to the things that satisfy basic needs. This means the obvious — food, water, shelter — but the group is also extending it to include the more nuanced and modern services residents have come to rely on, including health care, digital access, emergency services, education, job opportunities and more.

“Project teams will explore civic tech solutions that help provide equitable access to Philly’s (re)defined set of basic needs,” Code for Philly wrote in its event announcement. “What are those 21st century basic needs? That’s up to us to decide! We’re starting a conversation around the resources and services that are necessary to thrive in Philadelphia today and forming project teams to improve access for Philadelphians.”

The month-long event will start on Sept. 6, taking the form of a project brainstorming session in city hall, specifically in the city council caucus room there. The next day, Sept. 7, will be an all-day hackathon for teams to continue brainstorming and to ultimately start the work. The first night is free, with the full series of events costing $25 to join. 

Work will then continue throughout the month, leading up to a demo night showing off each team’s work on Oct. 1. 

Maryland Nonprofit Creates Mobile Learning Labs in Shipping Containers

A nonprofit group in Maryland has converted three old shipping containers into mobile learning labs that will visit schools and teach students more about tech and other STEM-related disciplines. 

The group is called Learning Undefeated, which was formerly MdBioLab, and this project is called the Drop Anywhere Labs. These are being described by the group as “custom outfitted STEM learning spaces built from modified shipping containers.” The idea is that these spaces can be deployed at schools, directly bringing learning resources to teachers and students. 

The resources are wide-spanning, covering a curriculum that includes science and health, advanced manufacturing, environmental sustainability, technology, energy, and more. There is also a wide range of technologies built into these mobile labs to teach students about these things.

These include up-to-date engineering and technology equipment, as well as more science-oriented resources that can be used to teach chemistry and biology. 

The labs are being funded by a public-private partnership, with local media reporting that more than $2.45 million was contributed by a range of donors, including the Toyota USA Foundation, AstraZeneca, and the states of Maryland and Texas. 

Illinois Is Looking for a Chief Data Officer

Illinois wants to be the next state to add a chief data officer, which is a position that is steadily spreading in prominence among governments at that level.

Illinois has a job posting for a chief data officer on LinkedIn now, billing the role as a leadership position within its Department of Innovation and Technology. The position would be based in Chicago, rather than in the state’s capital, Springfield, and the list of associated responsibilities include “determining/implementing strategy for building a data environment, managing public data, building enterprise efforts and determining standardized data models.”

Illinois’ tech and innovation staffing has undergone significant and expected changes after the election of a new governor, with Ron Guerrier being named the state’s new CIO. A new chief data officer position represents another significant move.

It’s also a move that an increasing number of state governments nationwide are embracing. In fact, Illinois isn’t even the only state this summer to launch a search for a chief data officer, with Pennsylvania having done so in July. As a result of the increasing prevalence of the state chief data officer position, a professional collaborative network for folks who do the job has also taken hold.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.