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What’s New in Civic Tech: What Works Cities Releases 2018 Certification Criteria

Plus, New York City uses its kiosks to showcase historic photos; three world cities form a coalition for digital rights; and a weekly Chicago civic tech meetup evolves into a nonprofit.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities program created a set of criteria aimed at molding a new standard for excellence in city government.

Dubbed What Works Cities Certification, they laid out the specifications and awarded tiered certification standards to nine major American cities, with five more also being recognized. They were given these certifications for 2017. Now for the first time, What Works Cities has published its certification criteria for 2018, doing so in a post on medium.

In addition to laying out a ton of specific and useful information for cities, the post also notes that “What Works Cities Certification is the standard of excellence for data-driven local government. The program’s 45 criteria outline the people, processes, and policies foundational to a well-managed city.”

The relevant criteria are grouped into eight foundational practices, including data governance, evaluations, general management, open data, performance and analytics, repurposing, results-driven contracting, and stakeholder engagement.

This year’s criteria is a revised and updated version of last year’s. In 2017, more than 230 cities applied for this benchmarking program. To be eligible for 2018 certification, local governments must submit their assessments by Dec. 31, 2018. Click here for more information about What Works Cities Certification.  

New York City Uses Kiosks to Showcase Historic Photos

New York City has launched a new program aimed at sharing more of its historic photographs with residents and visitors through a collaborative effort between its LinkNYC kiosks program and its Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). The program is called Historic NYC and it brings historic photographs of New York’s world-famous landmarks and streets to the Link kiosks spread throughout all five boroughs.

Also partnering on this program are the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) and Urban Archive. The photos are being provided by the museum while Urban Archive’s mapping technology is making the location-based displaying possible within a couple hundred feet of where the individual photographs were first taken. 

“Some of the new photography includes Staten Island’s Richmond Club in 1895, the Forest Hills Inn in Queens from 1916, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower in Brooklyn in 1929, and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx from 1937. Links will feature the exact address at which the photo was taken, the distance from the Link showing the photo, as well as the photographer and the year the photograph was taken,” the city said in a press release.

This is a pretty noteworthy campaign, in that it expresses a truth about such kiosk programs, which have become popular in other major cities as well, and that truth is that there are many new and creative uses for this tech that have yet to be explored.

Click here to see some of the photos.

Trio of Major World Cities Form Coalition for Digital Rights

In other New York City news, the jurisdiction is teaming with Amsterdam and Barcelona to form a new coalition for digital rights.

The three cities have launched an effort dubbed Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, an initiative aimed at both promoting and tracking progress they are making toward better protecting the digital rights of residents of and visitors to their cities.

The idea is for this new coalition to help with the creation of things like policies, tools and resources that can advance burgeoning digital rights efforts. The group’s work will also align with the Charter for Human Rights and Principles for the Internet, which was established by the UN’s Internet Governance Forum.

In a press release this week, the cities noted this is the first time that cities have come together to protect digital rights on a global scale.

There are five shared principles at work, and organizers say they expect them to help set the agenda for policy discussions as well as with other cities in the future. The five principles are as follows:

  1. Universal and equal access to the Internet, and digital literacy

  2. Privacy, data protection and security

  3. Transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination of data, content and algorithm

  4. Participatory democracy, diversity and inclusion

  5. Open and ethical digital service standards 

Full details about all of this are available at

A Weekly Chicago Civic Tech Meetup Has Evolved into a Membership-based Nonprofit

Chi Hack Night, the prolific weekly Chicago-based civic tech meetup, has evolved into a membership-based nonprofit organization, the group has announced on its website.

Chi Hack Night co-founder Derek Eder detailed the changes in the post, noting that “in December 2018, Chi Hack Night will incorporate as an independent, membership-driven 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We will invite attendees to become voting members and elect who will serve on our Board of Directors. And on December 11th, we will hold a town hall feedback session about these changes at Chi Hack Night.”

This marks a major evolution for Chi Hack Night, which has been running every Tuesday night in the city for roughly six and a half years, attracting notable attendees who have ranged from candidates for governor to employees of the city’s tech and innovation department. In fact, before leaving city service, then-Chief Data Officer Tom Schenk attended all of the group’s meetings.

The format for Chi Hack Night features food, speakers and time to invest in civic tech projects in various stages of completion. The group has a long resume of projects it has helped complete, with notable examples ranging from a website that provides easy access to lobbying data to a visualization of vacant buildings to an online snowplow tracker. Chi Hack Night has drawn interest from all levels of government, been featured in the Chicago Tribune and inspired copycat efforts as far away as Toronto.

Incorporating as a nonprofit will essentially formalize the group moving from an ad hoc setup to one wherein decisions are made democratically by a more diverse leadership structure.

“I’ve been running Chi Hack Night for almost seven years,” Eder wrote in his announcement. “It has grown beyond me. In order for Chi Hack Night to grow and sustain itself, I need to give up some of my power and distribute it to others. By spreading this power around, Chi Hack Night will become stronger and better equipped to inspire and promote civic engagement and technology.”


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Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.