What’s New in Civic Tech: Sweeping COVID-19 Data Platform

Plus, Philadelphia announces new pilot projects that will be supported by the city’s innovation fund, the Harvard Kennedy School releases a new step-by-step RFP guide for local governments and more!

The Philadelphia skyline at dusk.
Civic technologists have a new sweeping COVID-19 data platform, which can be found at global.health.

To be more specific, the project is an open-access epidemiological platform that can be used to track and predict the spread of infectious diseases, a group that, of course, includes COVID-19. Currently, the platform features a data set that includes detailed information on more than 5 million anonymized cases from more than 100 countries. 

The website — which is described on its home page as “first of its kind, easy-to-use global data repository and visualization platform that enables open access to real-time epidemiological anonymized line-list data” — was created with support from the philanthropic organizations, The Rockefeller Foundation and Google.org. On the research end, contributions to the platform were made by some of the world’s leading institutions, including Oxford, Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital, Georgetown and more. As noted here, the project grew out of a single spreadsheet initially.

The data on the site is aimed at helping epidemiologists model the trajectory of the virus and track its variants in a way that is potentially also useful in stemming future infectious diseases. Each of the records on the site can contain dozens of different data points about the individual case to which it refers. That might include demographics, travel history, testing dates, outcomes and more. Along with the relevant data sets, there are also data visualizations on the page, interactive maps and ways to filter information to make it more useful. 

Philadelphia Announces Innovation Fund Pilot Projects

Philadelphia has announced six new pilot projects that will receive grants from its Innovation Fund, which aims to improve government services and seed innovation throughout the city. 

This marks a significant year for the fund — which is managed by a group within the Office of Innovation and Technology, and supported by the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia — in that it welcomed its first private donation, receiving support as well from Verizon. All told, the fund had $70,000 to bestow upon grant applicants. 

Six departments within the city received awards this year, and they are Parks and Recreation, the Department of Prisons, the Department of Commerce, the Fire Department, and the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service. The majority of the awards were for $10,000, and the work was wide-spanning and varied. 

Projects were largely related to the pandemic, and they included everything from an urban wood design competition to fire academy remote training to a new community engagement toolkit. 

“Awarding Innovation Fund grants this year feels especially impactful, not just because we know how much this opportunity means to the departments receiving funding, but because it’s really uplifting to see that so many employees are still deeply invested in and excited about their work,” said Eliza Pollack, director of innovation, in a press release. “Government has been pulled in a lot of directions over the course of the pandemic, but the people who applied for Innovation Fund grants never stopped believing in the power of the public sector, and that’s an important story to tell right now.”

Harvard Kennedy School Lays Out Step-by-Step RFP Guides for Gov

The Harvard Kennedy School is poised to help facilitate better connections between the public sector and private-sector technologist via a new step-by-step RFP guide aimed at local governments.

The resource is called Guidebook: Crafting a Results-Driven Request for Proposals (RFP), and it is exactly what it sounds like. It is broken into eight modules that are intended to help department head-level managers, buyers, contract analysts and other procurement professionals. These modules include planning for your RFP, information gathering to inform your RFP, RFP writing, finalizing your RFP and activities to conduct once your RFP has been finished. 

Each module comes equipped with best practices and interactive sub-sections, part of which will help participants create written content that can be incorporated directly into RFP drafts. The RFP process has long been held up as an obstacle — or at least a tricky segment — when it comes to public and private cooperation.

Baltimore Names First Broadband and Digital Equity Director

Baltimore has joined the small-but-growing number of cities with a full-time staffer dedicated to digital inclusion within city hall, doing so with the announcement of plans to hire a broadband and digital equity director. 

The announcement was made by Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott, who noted in a release that “this position will serve as Baltimore City’s primary representative for coordination with internal and external stakeholders focused on digital equity and broadband connectivity issues, while working to expand public access for Baltimore residents.”

While the name can at times vary, similar positions to this one do exist, albeit rarely. Boston and Detroit, as well as Philadelphia, all now have full-time stafferers heading up this work. It’s also a position that has had its importance emphasized by a pandemic that has sent people into their homes, relying on technology to interact with health care, education and employment.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine