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What’s New in Civic Tech: NYC Launches New Tech Competitions

Plus, Pew publishes its report on the status of broadband work within state government, IBM announces the theme for the 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge, and a new report outlines civic engagement strategies.

New York City Parking
Carl Solder/Unsplash
New York City has launched a pair of new civic tech competitions, of which one is aimed at strengthening tenant protection and the other at boosting access to mental health treatment, the city announced this week.

These competitions are the work of a joint effort between the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (MOCTO) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), which are collaborating with other city agencies as well as the communities of Inwood and Washington Heights. Although there are two separate competitions, the application process for both is open now and slated to run through April 7.

The first competition is the NYCx Co-Labs: Housing Rights Challenge, which will see MOCTO and NYCEDC working with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, as well as with the NYC Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants. This challenge is looking for ideas to help the city inform residents of the Inwood and Washington Heights neighborhoods about housing rights, and it is also in search of proposals for projects that can help these same residents ultimately take action. 

In a statement announcing the challenge, organizers noted that “winning proposals would empower residents to claim their rights or would connect them with community-based organizations, resources, or relevant city services. Applicants should focus proposals on tenant education and outreach [as well as] solutions that simplify laws, regulations and procedures.”

The other new NYC civic tech competition is the NYCx Co-Labs: Accessible Mental Health Challenge, which will see MOCTO and NYCEDC working with the Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC. The goal of this challenge is to find projects with the potential to improve mental health among Latinx youth between the ages of 13 and 18. To accomplish this, the city is looking for tools and technology that can improve both awareness of and access to mental health resources for that group. Noting that research shows nearly 20 percent of young Latinx residents of New York City have seriously considered suicide, organizers wrote that “winning proposals will propose tools and resources that make it easier for Latinx youth to understand mental health and mental illness and how to get support when needed while helping reduce stigma around mental health issues.”

The second contest is also focused on specifically helping residents of the Inwood and Washington Heights neighborhoods. Although the desired results are hyper-local to New York City, organizers have opened the competition up to technologists, innovators and startups from across the globe. 

As many as two winners will be chosen for each of the challenges, with the selected projects receiving as much as $20,000 to be used in the service of a pilot program. Winners will also have the opportunity to partner with city agencies for an entire year. Organizers expect to make their selections in the spring after the April deadline passes, with the pilot projects slated to launch in the fall. 

More information about both challenges can be found online here.

Pew Charitable Trusts Publishes New State Government Broadband Report

Pew Charitable Trusts has published a new report about what state governments are doing to close broadband gaps.

Dubbed "How States Are Expanding Broadband Access," researchers involved with the report first previewed it earlier this month at an event in Washington, D.C., which featured panel discussions with many prominent state government broadband officials. The report is available online now, and at its core is a thorough description of what is happening in a number of states to close broadband connectivity gaps, make broadband pricing affordable for all residents and help train those same residents on meaningful skills to benefit from this technology.

Other issues covered in depth within the report include a detailed look at the role that states play in broadband deployment, noting that this conversation most commonly revolves around what’s being done at the federal and local levels. 

In addition, the report identifies five promising practices by state governments that have started to yield results. With states often facing common challenges, the idea behind sharing successes is that what works in one state can offer useful ideas to another state.

Finally, the report also goes into specific stories across the country, including how Colorado has retrained coal miners to lay fiber, how rival towns in Maine came together to create a joint broadband effort, and how a family in Wisconsin was able to move to a rural community after the town’s new broadband infrastructure made telework possible. 

This is all perhaps most notable because, as Pew officials noted, broadband issues are perhaps most commonly framed as federal or municipal challenges. States taking an active and aggressive role in closing the digital divide is a movement that is still gaining momentum, with some states further ahead than others. This report paints a detailed picture of what’s happening at the state level nationwide, doing so by using roughly a dozen states as case studies. 

IBM Announces Theme for 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge

IBM has announced the theme for the 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge: climate change.

The Call for Code Global Challenge is an annual civic tech competition that ranks among the largest and most prominent in the world. This year, participating developers and technologists are being asked to help “halt and reverse” the effects of climate change via projects that deploy open source-powered tech. 

To put the size of this competition in context, over the past two years that it has taken place, Call for Code has seen 210,000 participants building roughly 8,000 applications. The past two winners — Prometeo (2019) and Project Owl (2018) — continue to receive support from IBM developer teams and other partners helping them to test, scale and deploy ideas that grew from the challenge. 

The grand prize for this year’s challenge is $200,000 and open source deployment through Code and Response with The Linux Foundation. 

More information, as well as the application process, is online now

Report Outlines Civic Engagement Strategies

A report this month from New America looks at the successful civic engagement strategies that have emerged as part of Cities of Services’ Engaged Cities Award.

The Engaged Cities Award, for the unfamiliar, is an international effort to find and ultimately share local government work to include citizens in problem-solving processes. What the new report details is, essentially, what’s being done at the local level to strengthen relationships between citizens and governments, noting that this type of collaboration is an effective move to strengthen communities and bring more residents into local government. 

The report can be found online here.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.