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Colorado Digital Service: 2021 Is the Year of Civic Tech

The Colorado Digital Service has been prototyping the USDS model with Colorado technologists. Here's a look at the first year in review.

CDS Team
Team meeting with Jennifer Anastasoff.
Colorado Digital Service
The Colorado Digital Service was an experiment that began with a simple hypothesis; if we could attract tech talent using a “tour of service” model and couple it with modern software delivery practices, like product management and human-centered design, we could help to improve the experience for people engaging with government services.

We've shown that this model works. The bet that Gov. Polis and the Legislature placed on us has delivered a solid return on investment. Here are some highlights from 2020:

With strong technology talent within OIT and vendor teams, it has been argued that experiments like the digital service aren’t necessary. This year has proven that it takes a village to deliver great services to Coloradans — from state agency delivery teams with strong products, UX, and engineering talent to collaborating with other states and working with volunteer tech corps like the U.S. Digital Response.

We’ve also seen firsthand the impact of “software is eating government” (a remix of the phrase coined by Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape). Software has begun to permeate every aspect of our lives and is fundamentally changing business models. We cannot afford to ignore technology as we deliver government services.

It used to be that an expert in public health or Medicaid or criminal justice could run a program that delivered a service to residents. Now, this program needs a website, which requires a login, Google Analytics, and security that prevents ransomware attacks. That service needs a strategy set by a product owner and must meet the needs of the people it serves. The team is being asked about APIs and data-driven decisions. They are reading articles about machine learning and ethics and wondering how to apply it to their program.

As software continues to eat government, there’s a strong need for technology talent at every level and in every agency.

As anyone in civic tech will tell you, delivering on agency projects is just one piece of the puzzle. We want to help rethink how the government buys digital services and bring top tech talent into civic service. And we want to create momentum in unique ways that complement all of the great work Colorado is doing.

After a little more than a year, the digital service remains a small but mighty, multidisciplinary team that combines procurement, product, user experience, and engineering. But we’ve also managed to build a superpower that helps us scale — an incredibly strong civic tech network of policy wonks, full-stack developers, bureaucracy hackers, UX designers, DevSecOps engineers, and more from New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, etc. by working closely with the U.S. Digital Service, 18F, and with volunteer teams like the Citizen Software Engineers, Code for America, and the U.S. Digital Response. We’re all working on solving the same problems and the national civic tech network continues to open doors for us and accelerate our thinking.

CDS wants to say thank you to all of those who’ve supported us this past year and given guidance. Thank you to all of the state of Colorado employees that partnered with us. And, thank you to those of you that continue to follow us and be interested in our work. We know that you have allowed us to work on projects that impacted Coloradans and saved millions of dollars.

So, what’s next?

  1. We’re hiring an engineering lead, join us! If now’s not the right time, then follow us on GitHubLinkedIn or Twitter to stay connected and to help us share our work in Colorado and beyond.
  2. In 2021, we're focused on:
  • Continuing to bring great tech folks into government;
  • Continuing to support the COVID-19 response;
  • Supporting Colorado’s child welfare program;
  • And more!
This piece has been republished with permission from the Colorado Digital Service. See the original on Medium

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