Empowering immigrants and refugees through computer literacy

Coalition for Refugees from Burma

Story by Alia Marsha, The Seattle Globalist

Imagine how hard it would be to access information and resources if you didn’t have computer skills. Now imagine if, on top of that, you have just moved to a foreign country and were still learning the predominant language.

The goal for the Coalition for Refugees from Burma’s program “Nexus: Connecting Newcomers with Technology” is to remove those barriers for recently-arrived refugee and immigrant communities.

The Coalition for Refugees from Burma (CRB) has secured a grant from the City of Seattle through the Technology Matching Fund (TMF) for the third time to continue their computer literacy programs

When the CRB began in 2009 there was a larger community of refugees and immigrants from Burma in the Seattle area. Since then, though, a lot of them have moved to more affordable cities. According to the City’s Office of Immigrants and Refugee Affairs, as of October 2015, there are 261 refugees from Burma in Washington state. Five years prior, in 2010, there were almost 800 refugees from Burma in the state, according to data by the U.S. Department of State Refugee Processing Center.

Responding to the change, in 2016 CRB started to expand their computer literacy programs to serve all recently-arrived refugees and immigrants. CRB collaborated with partners like Seattle World School, Somali Youth and Family Club and the Seattle University Center for Service and Community Engagement to ensure its computer classes are linguistically and culturally relevant. It has also expanded its program to include immigrants and refugees in Kent.

According to Siobhan Whalen, a program manager at CRB, this past year in the Kent program alone, CRB served immigrants and refugees speaking over 13 languages from eight countries.

Rosa, an immigrant from Mexico who moved to Seattle in 2002, is one of those clients. Her son goes to Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, where the Seattle University Center for Service and Community Engagement hosts “Family Talk Time,” a program to help English Language Learner families get involved with conversations that happen at the school. This was also where the computer classes taught by CRB were held.

Rosa joined the program at the beginning of 2016. Because of the computer classes, Rosa now has a Gmail account. But there are many other tech skills she wants to learn this coming year.

“I want to know the other programs I have on my computer, use more of my fingers on the keyboard,” said Rosa.

The TMF award will also allow CRB to file paperwork to reduce monthly home internet costs for Rosa and others, from $45 to $10.

Whalen, who is also an instructor, said that the impact of those computer classes on immigrants and refugees is very immediate. “That’s part of technology, right? That immediate access to information, to opportunities, to resources,” she said.

Whalen recalls seeing that impact hit her inbox on a recent day, following one of the computer literacy classes at Bailey Gatzert. Students had just gone through a lesson on making an email account and practicing writing messages to each other.

After the class was over, Whalen opened her inbox to find an email from one of the parents in the class: “We really want more computer classes.”

“We just thought, how cool, that almost instantly that this parent felt empowered and had a platform for her voice to reach out to me and our partners at Seattle U. It was like full circle I think for myself and for the Seattle U folks — that advocacy piece,” said Whalen.

Learning technical skills is an important part of those classes, but Whalen says that the CRB is really interested in building confidence so that the communities they serve are able to advocate for themselves and their families.


Civic Tech Roundup: January 11, 2017

Seattle happenings

  • GovTech published a new piece summarizing the City’s snow “hackathon” on December 15th. As the City makes any updates to snow preparedness on the technology front, we will keep you posted here.


National news

  • Uber teased a new website, Movement, that visualizes its traffic data for ease of exploration by transportation professionals, urban planners, and the general public. (TechCrunch)
  • The White House published a report called “Try This at Home” that shares its best practices from the last 8 years of government innovation, for possible implementation at the state and local level. (White House)
  • The City of Long Beach just released 100 new spatial datasets on a new, location-centric open data portal, DataLB. The portal offers a number of easy-to-explore maps and other contextual information. (RouteFifty)


New tools

  • The “Party of Lincoln” app is getting a lot of attention this week, though it was released in September. It claims to be a non-partisan resource guide that facilitates voter registration, changes to party affiliation, and a resource for information on candidates and measures. It joins a growing collection of applications designed to facilitate engagement with the political process.
  • D-CENT describes itself as “a Europe-wide project creating open, secure and privacy-aware tools for direct democracy and economic empowerment.” Tools in use include a participatory budgeting platform in Reykjavik, a notification platform in Helsinki, and policy development platforms in Barcelona and Madrid, as well as electronic voting and other cutting-edge ideas. The project is a partnership of a number of European organizations, including UK innovation foundation Nesta and the Open Knowledge Foundation.



  • Vicki Sellick, Director of the Innovation Lab at Nesta, wrote that volunteering from home is about to become as common as working from home. Technology is opening opportunities for volunteerism, both for technology builders (such Red Cross volunteers mapping the Ebola crisis from oceans away) and for casual users (such as peer-to-peer support networks and tutoring via the web or SMS). She also notes the ways people can “donate” data for good causes, linking to a number of existing and upcoming opportunities. (Nesta)
  • Fast Company interviewed Ariel Kennan, a designer at the City of New York, for its “Designing Women” series. Kennan, an alum of the Code for America Fellowship program, works in the City’s Center for Economic Opportunity. She has worked on projects like the City’s new street homelessness initiative, HOME-STAT, as well as deeper efforts to build design capacity across the City. (Fast Company)
  • GovTech released a “Year in Tech” review, spotlighting open data, civic engagement, expansion of tech in state and local governments, and big moves in the industry. It’s a quick roundup of all the major events of the year and a window into emerging trends. (GovTech)


Upcoming events

Community events with a civic tech component:

  • Wednesday, January 25, 10:00-11:30 am @ Impact Hub Seattle: “Community Cross-Pollinators: Technology + Social Impact.” Free. (RSVP)


If you’d like to suggest events or content, please email us at civic.tech@seattle.gov.

Looking back at 2016, a year of movement and reaffirmation

Plaza Roberto Maestas

In many ways, 2016 was a year of both progress and reaffirmation. Time and again, our community stepped up to care for its most vulnerable residents, showed the world our spirit of inclusiveness and demonstrated what it means to put progressive values into action.

Here’s a look back at how we kept momentum and set the stage for even bolder action in pursuit of a more equitable, livable and vibrant city in the year ahead.

Housing affordability
It’s no secret Seattle is in the midst of a housing affordability crisis due to a booming economy driving population growth and demand for housing that has outpaced supply. In August voters renewed the Seattle Housing Levy by an overwhelming margin, adopting the largest affordable housing funding measure in the city’s history. By leveraging $290 million in levy funds with other pieces of our Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, we’re on track to create 20,000 income- and rent-restricted affordable homes over the next decade, along with 30,000 market-rate units to meet growing demand. Since the start of 2015, 1,725 income and rent-restricted homes have opened, with 3,512 more units in development. This represents the most aggressive housing production this city’s ever seen and we’re on pace to triple past investments in affordable housing. This year we celebrated the opening of affordable housing and cultural space at Plaza Roberto Maestas (pictured above), broke ground at Arbora Court and Anchor Flats, and continued work with partners to leverage the Housing Levy.

To promote greater housing production and more equitable distribution of affordable housing, we adopted the Mandatory Housing Affordability program that for the first time ensures residential and commercial developers create or fund affordable housing with every new project. Supporting a vision laid out in the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, growth is being directed at urban centers and villages with access to transit, parks, small businesses and schools. In addition, the City this year adopted a number of new tenant protections, such as tackling source-of-income discrimination and prohibiting rent increases when units don’t meet minimum maintenance standards.

In October we struck a deal for redevelopment of Civic Square, otherwise known as “the hole next to City Hall,” which will result in nearly $22 million to support affordable housing and our Equitable Development Initiative.

To learn more about HALA, developer requirements and how you can join conversations about smart growth strategies, visit http://seattle.gov/hala and watch a replay of this Facebook Live Q&A.

Related to housing affordability, we’ve been facing a homelessness crisis affecting not just Seattle but a number of West Coast cities. The causes are many, from a decades-long decline in state and federal funding for health and human services to a worsening opioid epidemic. With more than 3,000 people – including 500 families – living unsheltered in Seattle, it’s clear that we must take bold action and try new approaches to achieve the goal of getting those experiencing homelessness off the street and into stable housing. To that end, this year we’ve initiated Pathways Home, a person-centered strategy that focuses on programs and approaches that best achieve the goal of ending homelessness by finding stable housing for those living unsheltered.

Pathways Home is transformational, and will take years to fully implement. We’ve begun by establishing performance-based contracting, funding programs that assist vulnerable residents with finding and keeping stable housing, and pursuing low-barrier shelter including a soon-to-open Navigation Center that will accommodate the individual needs and challenges of those experiencing homelessness including those with pets and those fighting addiction.

While Pathways Home offers the best chance to end homelessness in the long term, we must do more to provide safer alternatives for those living unsheltered and establish greater safety and certainty for those living in and near encampments. Like many, I was shocked by the violence and terrible conditions of the unauthorized East Duwamish encampment known as “the Jungle,” which existed for decades as a threat to the health and safety of its inhabitants and the wider community. Following months of outreach, in October we worked with the State to close the Jungle, found safer shelter for dozens of those who had been living there and cleared away hundreds of tons of garbage.

Also in October I unveiled Bridging the Gap, an interim action plan on homelessness that:

  • Creates safer alternative spaces to live, including four new authorized encampments including up to two low sites.
  • Expanded outreach by tripling the number of outreach workers connecting with people living in encampments, dedicating a Seattle Police team to partner with outreach workers to address behavioral disorder issues they encounter, and training frontline City employees on how to best offer referrals for people experiencing homelessness.
  • Enacted more compassionate protocols for unauthorized encampments, including clearer notice of cleanups, improved handling of storage and personal belongings, and transparency around when and why cleanups are carried out.
  • Improved trash and needle pickup with Seattle Public Utilities to help address areas most affected by trash buildup and make needle deposit boxes more accessible.

Our efforts to curb homelessness and work with neighborhoods to address issues related to encampments will continue in the year ahead, but I believe we are on the right track and are pursuing the most effective strategies. We can’t do it alone, and it will take the Federal and State government stepping up to bring an end to this crisis. We’ll be further challenged by the Trump Administration if it makes good on its threats to cut local funding.

Seattle Will Remain a Welcoming City
Speaking of President-elect Trump, 2016 will go down as a year when a presidential campaign waged through outrageous bigotry, misogyny and divisiveness challenged our core values. As I said on Election Day, regardless of the outcome of the presidential race, Seattle’s values will not change. We will continue to be a city that embraces diversity, welcomes immigrants, and declares that we will never enact a religious test. I recently spoke to these policies in an interview with the BBC.

In November I signed an Executive Order reaffirming these values. We made clear that City employees will not ask residents seeking services about immigration status unless police officers have a reasonable suspicion that a person is committing or has committed a felony violation. City employees will serve all residents and services will remain accessible to all residents, regardless of immigration status, ancestry, race, ethnicity, national origin, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender variance, marital status, physical or mental disability, or religion.

Further, I’ve directed that $250,000 be set aside to address the needs of unauthorized immigrant students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools. These students and their families are part of the fabric of our community. These parents work and pay taxes and make our community a more vibrant place. Their children will become the innovators and problem-solvers of the future, and deserve the chance to focus on school rather than live in fear of their family being ripped apart.

Equity and Inclusiveness
Building greater equity and inclusiveness was a major theme of our work in 2016. We completed a workforce equity strategic plan to better ensure the City’s workforce reflects our community’s diversity both in hiring and in participation, retention and advancement. Women- and minority-owned businesses accounted for nearly 20% of City contracts, one of the highest rates since passage of I-200 nearly 20 years ago.

We filled several important cabinet positions with skilled leaders who bring rich experience, diverse backgrounds and innovative thinking to our departments. These include:

  • Mami Hara, our new Director of Seattle Public Utilities, who previously served at Philadelphia Water and helped implement Green City, Clean Waters, one of the nation’s most ambitious green infrastructure programs.
  • Dylan Orr, who was sworn in as Director of Office of Labor standards in December. Dylan helped spearhead the City’s adoption of secure scheduling regulations to afford workers greater stability, a healthier workplace and more work-life balance. Previously, Dylan was appointed by President Obama as Special Assistant to the Office of Disability and Employment, making him the first openly-transgender person to be appointed by a presidential administration.

In addition to diversifying the City’s leadership, we took a series of steps to build greater equity and access in services, programs and community engagement:

  • In July I issued an executive order directing the Department of Neighborhoods and others to develop robust, modern community engagement plans that offer greater avenues for participation to under-represented communities and make use of digital platforms including the web and social media. A shift to more representative and accessible outreach will ensure greater equity and inclusiveness in neighborhood decision-making. To learn more and participate in Equitable Outreach opportunities, visit https://engageseattle.consider.it/.
  • We launched a Language Access program to increase the City’s ability to serve immigrant and refugee communities, and held a number of free workshops to provide resources to those seeking to become citizens.
  • In August we secured an Age-Friendly City designation from the World Health Organization and AARP, recognition of our commitment to increasing age-friendly policies such as access to recreation, safe transportation, housing assistance and more.
  • In October our Mobile Community Service Center made its debut during a Find It, Fix It walk in Georgetown. This “City Hall on wheels” will bring services and information to under-served neighborhoods.
  • In the 2017-18 budget we funded expansion of Community Centers, increasing operating hours at several facilities, switching to free programming at five community centers and reducing drop-in fees for activities such as toddler gyms and basketball at all facilities.
  • On Earth Day, we released an Equity and Environment Agenda to help ensure those most affected by environmental injustices have a bigger role in finding solutions and benefiting from them. Environmental equity means fighting pollution in communities of color through support for a “Green Wall” in Georgetown, promoting career opportunities in exciting fields of renewable energy and others through Green Pathways, and supporting the MobilizeGreen Conference which is building the next generation of leaders in environmental justice.

    Duwamish Valley Youth Corps

    Duwamish Valley Youth Corps members learn job and leadership skills while supporting environmental projects in their community.

  • In February I signed an executive order directing all City data be open by preference, meaning City departments will always make their data accessible to the public while taking steps to screen for privacy, security and quality. An open data policy builds equity and accountability, while increasing transparency and opportunities for innovation. We’ve established performance dashboards showing progress on public works projects and tools for exploring the City budget. App and software developers can work with these and other datasets at data.seattle.gov to develop new tools and solutions.

Education Summit
Closely tied to equity is our work on education reform, career readiness and pre-K programs.

In its second year, the Seattle Preschool Program expanded to serve 680 students, up from 280 the prior year, and exceeded equity goals with more than 75% of those served being students of color.

Building on our early learning initiatives, last spring I convened the City’s first Education Summit in 25 years, bringing together more than 500 attendees and facilitating more than 1,300 community engagements to address disparities facing students of color by ensuring all students are being prepared for the jobs of the future. Given that 43% of Seattle’s African American and Latino students do not graduate on time, or at all, we must do more to close the achievement gap. We’ve set a goal of raising post-secondary credential attainment to 70% for all Seattle Public Schools students by 2030.

Education summit

In November, we received recommendations from an Education Summit advisory panel comprised of leaders in education, business and community engagement. Among the recommendations we’ll pursue in the coming year:

  • Expanding the My Brother’s Keeper mentoring program for African American/Black male students from Aki Kurose Middle School to five additional middle schools.
  • Expanding the innovation school model, which has been successful in addressing disparities in middle schools around attendance, behavior and curricula, to a high school.
  • Broadening the City’s Summer Learning Program to serve an additional 200 students, with an emphasis on programs offering culturally specific curriculum.
  • Investing in post-secondary programs that ensure students who graduate from high school remain engaged during the summer and successfully enroll in college.

The Seattle Department of Education and Early Learning, in partnership with the Seattle School District, community, philanthropy, and business community will release an action plan early next year outlining next steps.

I’d like to thank everyone who has participated in the Education Summit. Our work is by no means done but we couldn’t have gotten to this point without strong community buy-in.

Police Accountability & Reform
One of the biggest challenges in my time as Mayor has been overseeing a change in culture, training and accountability in our Police Department to improve its relationship with communities of color and comply with the terms of a federal consent decree on use of force. The past year saw tremendous progress. The federal monitor, Judge James Robart, wrote in the latest progress report:

“The Seattle Police Department has made significant progress over the last year in achieving compliance with many aspects of the Consent Decree. With diligence and hard work, and in the absence of unforeseen impediments, and if there comes about greater community cooperation and trust, the SPD could well reach full and effective compliance in as little as a year from now (Fall 2017) in many, if not all, areas. It has been a prodigious effort to come this far, and the distance traveled now exceeds the distance that remains.”

Evidence of that progress can be found in a recent survey showing an approval rating of 72% for the Seattle Police Department, compared to 54% in 2015. Seattle’s police force is becoming more diverse and better equipped to deal with people in crisis without resorting to force.

In October, we sent a reform package to Judge Robart for review that includes the strongest police accountability measures in the City’s history:

  • Creation of the Office of Inspector General, empowered to review and report on any aspect of SPD’s policies and practices.
  • Increases the independence of our Office of Professional Accountability, replacing sworn SPD officers with civilian staff tasked with overseeing all investigations and complaints against officers.
  • Makes the CPC a permanent body, ensuring community input is institutionalized into Seattle’s police services.

Thanks to Chief O’Toole, and to all in SPD and community who have helped make our reform efforts a model across the nation. I look forward to continuing these efforts in the year ahead.

A fast-growing city striving for greater livability and working on the front lines of the fight against climate change needs a modern, multimodal transportation infrastructure. We saw great progress on transportation this year, from the historic passage of ST3 which will expand LINK Light Rail service for decades to come, to the opening of new LINK Light Rail stations connecting downtown with Capitol Hill and the U-District, to the opening of the Westlake cycle track, recently named the best new bike lane in America by People for Bikes.

University of Washington LINK Light Rail opening

Celebrating the opening of the Capitol Hill-UW LINK Light Rail line.

Seattle is a leader on climate action and is moving away from fossil fuels by promoting renewable energy, walkable urban villages and transit-oriented development. This year we launched Drive Clean Seattle, through which we’re accelerating adoption of electric vehicles in our municipal fleet and making dozens more EV charging stations available throughout the City.

Seattle electric vehicle facts

We also took big steps on pedestrian and driver safety by adopting reduced speed limits as part of our Vision Zero initiative aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities by 2030.

Strengthening bonds
While most of our efforts are focused locally, I’m a big believer that cities have a role to play in making the world a better place, and that we can and should learn from one another. This year Seattle continued to lead on climate action, equity and inclusion, and innovation, while forging stronger bonds with other communities committed to these efforts.

In May, Seattle was selected to participate in the 100 Resilient Cities Network, one of only 37 cities chosen from 325 applicants. As part of the 100RC Network, we’ll work to bolster our ability to deal with challenges now and in the future. I’m most excited that we are bringing equity to the table as a strategy for building greater economic and environmental resilience by ensuring solutions are informed by and accrue benefits to all in our community.

Mexico City MOU signing

Joining Mexico City’s Chief of Government, Miguel Ángel Mancera Espinosa, Ph.D, to announce a new partnership between our cities.

In December, I spoke at a climate conference in Mexico City and signed a memorandum of understanding with leaders of that city, pledging cooperation on trade, information technology, clean technology, creative industries, education, people-to-people exchanges, and other fields of common interest. Just as we’ll share innovative approaches taking shape in Seattle, we’ll continue to learn from other communities through these partnerships.

I’m proud of the progress we’ve made together this year, and excited by the opportunities that await in 2017. As this year comes to an end and we gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays and look forward to new beginnings, I want to thank all of you for your input, civic pride, kindness and generosity. I am proud to be the mayor of this great city and humbled by the actions of our passionate and dedicated community.

I wish you all a very happy holiday season and a bright new year.





The post Looking back at 2016, a year of movement and reaffirmation appeared first on Mayor Murray.

Civic Tech Roundup: December 29, 2016

Seattle happenings

  • The Let It Snow! Community Design Workshop presented by the City in partnership with Substantial and Open Seattle was a success, with approximately 30 participants across government, the tech industry, and community members. The event received widespread media coverage, including television coverage from Q13 Fox, radio coverage on KNKX, and online coverage at Geekwire, Madison Park Times, and 21st Century State. You can read more about the event on the Substantial blog as well, or dig into datasets, either by exploring these direct links or going to data.seattle.gov and typing “storm response.”

National news

  • Here’s one way to end 2016 with a bang: New York City announced that it is building a 254,000 square foot facility to facilitate civic technology work. It will include classrooms, meeting rooms, office spaces, and a food hall. Activities will be managed by the existing nonprofit Civic Hall, and will include tech education in partnership with General Assembly as well as work to advance social equity through technology through partnership with Coalition for Queens. At a cost of around $250 million, this marks the largest investment yet by a municipal government in civic technology. (StateScoop)


  • Tom Friedman was a guest on Kara Swisher’s Recode Decode podcast and broke a small section of the internet with his comments on technology, policy, and social change. The podcast covered a wide range of subjects emerging from his new book, Thank You for Being Late. He traces many of the innovations at the turn of the century to the dramatic drop in the cost of connectivity starting in 2000 – and the increase in the spread of ideas and the devolution of greater power to individual people that came with it. The interview covers ethics, education, the new economy, media, social media, social change, and fake news, among others, and puts the civic technology movement in a broader context. (Recode)
  • Fast Company documents the huge range of technology-related activities at the federal level that the Obama administration has introduced and developed over the last 8 years, including ambitious data projects, the recruitment of pioneering tech experts, and the development of structures that allow these activities to take place at a greater scale. There are many open questions about how this infrastructure will be used by a new administration, and those who started it hope that their legacies of encouraging citizen participation, more effectively delivering government services, and building trust will continue. (Fast Company)

Upcoming events

Community events with a civic tech component:

  • Wednesday, January 25, 10:00-11:30 am @ Impact Hub Seattle: “Community Cross-Pollinators: Technology + Social Impact.” Free. (RSVP)

If you’d like to suggest events or content, please email us at civic.tech@seattle.gov.

Civic Tech Roundup: December 15, 2016

Hi folks – this was slated for publication on December 15 but got held up in reviews due to approving staff out of office. We’re publishing today (December 20) but the content is written for December 15 publication. You can expect the next edition on December 29.

Seattle happenings

  • Today’s civic tech-focused edition of local newsletter The Evergrey featured Open Seattle and its lead organizer/founder, Seth Vincent. After highlighting the projects Open Seattle has worked on since late 2012, the authors note that, “today Open Seattle is at a crossroads. After the election we just had, people around the city want to work together in what feels like drastically uncertain times. And Open Seattle, which has struggled to complete some of its projects and to draw a broad selection of people to design and lead them, is looking for new energy.” Tuesday’s Meetup focused on the future of the group. You have until January 17 to apply to be an organizer of Open Seattle.
  • Seattle Department of Transportation’s Winter Weather Map was highlighted by several media outlets as we faced the first snow of the year last Friday. To facilitate the creation of similar tools, including by members of the community, the City plans to release the data behind this map as open data by the end of 2016.

National news

  •  We’re not the only ones who did a recap of the Code for America Summit. The GovEx DataPoints podcast offered a full review as well, noting that the nation is moving beyond “cute visualizations” or a straightforward transparency agenda to more significant work with public data that influences policy and processesA. “People are now going deeper and thinking about how they can solve major problems with their data,” noted Sheila Dugan, a senior program officer at GovEx. StateScoop also covered Jazmyn Latimer’s work on Clear My Record, which she presented at the Summit.
  • There’s no slowing of interest in civic hacking as a mechanism for addressing seemingly intractable problems through technology. There were two major civic hackathons already this month – the Jersey City Hackathon for Sustainability and a hackathon around foster care in NYC.
  • Civic User Testing groups (or CUT groups) are taking off nationally as civic tech makers seek to ensure that new tech tools are usable for the wide range of people who depend on them. Some have been launched by community groups, as in the case of Code for Miami, while others are led by organizations such as Smart Chicago, which created the model. (GovTech)

New tools

  • The AllTransit database brings together data from multiple agencies and cities to make it easier to see how well particular areas are served by public transit – identifying “transit deserts” and seeing how transit maps to jobs, among other applications. Check out the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index, which provides a more robust picture of housing affordability that includes transportation costs and could be useful for activists and city planners. (GovTech)

On the horizon

  • Autonomous vehicles. And with them, many questions about how cities will respond to them and the 2 petabytes of data they are expected to generate each year and whether regulations will remain consistent across jurisdictions. Two Chicago aldermen have introduced legislation to block fully autonomous vehicles from using roadways within the city limits. Automakers are hoping for the federal government to set regulations so that the same autonomous vehicles could be used across the United States, limiting the ability of individual cities and states to create separate regulations that could influence manufacturing and technology development. The current Department of Transportation leadership supports mandating vehicle-to-vehicle or “V2V” communications to help prevent collisions. Meanwhile, Google’s self-driving car project has spun out into its own company, Waymo, which continues to use data to make the case that self-driving cars could be safer than those governed by humans. With the launch of the new company and site, the detailed monthly reports have disappeared; it remains to be seen whether any sort of mandate around transparency (e.g. releases of crash data) will be part of future regulations.

Upcoming events

Official City events:

  • Thursday, December 15, 5:30-8:30 pm @ Substantial in Capitol Hill: “Let It Snow: Community Design Workshop.” (Full)

Community events with a civic tech component:

  • Wednesday, December 14, 6:00-9:00 pm @ Socrata: “Designing Open Seattle’s Role in Civic Tech Post-Election.” Free. (RSVP)
  • Wednesday, January 25, 10:00-11:30 am @ Impact Hub Seattle: “Community Cross-Pollinators: Technology + Social Impact.” Free. (RSVP)

If you’d like to suggest events or content, please email us at civic.tech@seattle.gov.

Let It Snow! New Open Datasets

We are pleased to announce the publication of 22 open datasets (21 of them new) related to the City’s storm response, just in time for tonight’s community design workshop. You can find all of them by going to data.seattle.gov and searching “storm response.” Here’s a comprehensive list of all the relevant datasets, along with direct links, prepared by our Department of Transportation (SDOT)’s Open Data Champion.

Winter Weather Response

  1. Traffic Cameras
    Displays the location of traffic cameras maintained by SDOT and WSDOT along with live images from those camera’s locations.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Traffic-Cameras/vhnv-4n94
    REST endpoint:  https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/0
  2. Road Temperature Stations
    Displays the location and data being collected from road temperature stations in the City of Seattle. This data shows the road temperature and the air temperature at the location of the sensor and maintains records of temperature data collected up to 2 hours beforehand.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Road-Temperature-Stations/wd5q-q35v
    REST endpoint:  https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/1
  3. Storm Event Closed Streets
    Displays the location of streets that have been closed due to a winter storm event.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Storm-Event-Closed-Streets/hfn3-xkyg
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/2
  4. SDOT Storm Response Vehicle Travel Directions
    Displays the direction of storm response trucks traveling in the city based on the most recent 10 minutes of data collection from the vehicles.
    data.seattle.gov: https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Storm-Response-Vehicle-Travel-Directions/ixan-y3x4
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/4
  5. SDOT Storm Response Last Hour
    During a winter storm, SDOT sends out a fleet of vehicles equipped with GPS tracking systems. Some vehicles have a plow blade; others have de-icing or spreader equipment. This dataset shows the recent path of vehicles that have been dispatched to respond to the winter weather event within the last hour.
    data.seattle.gov: https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Storm-Response-Last-Hour/3hff-bi5z
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/5
  6. SDOT Storm Response Last 3 Hours
    During a winter storm, SDOT sends out a fleet of vehicles equipped with GPS tracking systems. Some vehicles have a plow blade; others have de-icing or spreader equipment. This dataset shows the recent path of vehicles that have been dispatched to respond to the winter weather event within the last 3 hours.
    data.seattle.gov: https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Storm-Response-Last-3-Hours/tm4s-nafj
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/6
  7. SDOT Storm Response Last 12 Hours
    During a winter storm, SDOT sends out a fleet of vehicles equipped with GPS tracking systems. Some vehicles have a plow blade; others have de-icing or spreader equipment. This dataset shows the recent path of vehicles that have been dispatched to respond to the winter weather event within the last 12 hours.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Storm-Response-Last-12-Hours/v4r6-dv2s
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/7
  8. SDOT Raw Storm Response Data
    During a winter storm, SDOT sends out a fleet of vehicles equipped with GPS tracking systems. Some vehicles have a plow blade; others have de-icing or spreader equipment. This dataset shows the path of vehicles that have been dispatched to respond to a winter weather event.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Raw-Storm-Response-Data/5udx-nks4
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/8
  9. SDOT Archived Storm Response Data
    During a winter storm, SDOT sends out a fleet of vehicles equipped with GPS tracking systems. Some vehicles have a plow blade; others have de-icing or spreader equipment. This dataset shows the archived path of vehicles that have been dispatched to respond to previous winter weather events.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Archived-Storm-Response-Data/gs2u-kk8b
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/9
  10. Storm Snow and Ice Routes
    Seattle City streets designated by Level of Service as defined in the SDOT Snow and Ice Response Plan. The data displays planned response routes based on Level of Service: Gold – All travel lanes bare and wet; Emerald – One travel lane in each direction is bare and wet
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Snow-and-Ice-Routes/84nk-pkrw
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/10
  11. Street Use Permits

  12. SDOT Closed Streets
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to closures of the street.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Closed-Streets/jqrj-93ep
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/12
  13. SDOT Blocked Streets
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to blockages of the street.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Blocked-Streets/8as2-jarx
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/13
  14. SDOT Closed Lanes
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to a closure of the travel lane on a given street segment.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Closed-Lanes/ua7h-fmde
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/14
  15. SDOT Blocked Lanes
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to blockages of the travel lane on a given street segment.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Blocked-Lanes/ppj4-g3hb
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/15
  16. SDOT Closed Intersections
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to a closure of the intersections associated with the given street segment
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Closed-Intersections/6ck6-agtm
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/16
  17. SDOT Blocked Intersections
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to a blockage of the intersections associated with a given street segment.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Blocked-Intersections/syrz-txdt
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/17
  18. SDOT Closed Parking Lanes
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to a closure of the parking lane associated with the given street segment.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Closed-Parking-Lanes/adxw-hn4v
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/18
  19. SDOT Blocked Parking Lanes
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to a blockage of the parking lane associated with the given street segment.
    data.seattle.gov: https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Blocked-Parking-Lanes/8b4j-qdj5
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/19
  20. SDOT Closed Sidewalks
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to closures of the street.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Closed-Sidewalks/9nx7-889m
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/20
  21. SDOT Blocked Sidewalks
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to a blockage of the sidewalks associated with the given street segment.
    data.seattle.gov: https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Blocked-Sidewalks/5ias-ynza
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/21
  22. SDOT Closed Bike Lanes
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to a closure of the bike lane on the given street segment.
    data.seattle.gov: https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Closed-Bike-Lanes/yn2a-j5d3
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/22
  23. SDOT Blocked Bike Lanes
    Displays all permits that have led or will lead to a closure of the bike lane on the given street segment.
    data.seattle.gov:  https://data.seattle.gov/dataset/SDOT-Blocked-Bike-Lanes/v9xu-gsz3
    REST endpoint: https://gisrevprxy.seattle.gov/arcgis/rest/services/SDOT_EXT/StormResponse_DSG/MapServer/23


Let It Snow! Hackathon, December 15


Today marks the first official snow of the season! As part of our preparation at the City, we are reviewing the technology tools and data we use to communicate with the public about how we’re responding to winter weather emergencies – and we want your input.

We are looking for people with all tech abilities and levels of access to technology to participate in a facilitated hackathon on December 15th at the offices of Substantial on Capitol Hill. For more information and to RSVP, please visit seattlesnow.eventbrite.com.

Civic Tech Roundup: November 23, 2016

Seattle happenings

  • Check out yesterday’s recap of the Code for America Summit, a collaborative effort from Seattle IT, Seattle Police Department, and the Mayor’s Innovation Team. We continue to explore how we can bring more user-centered design to the services we provide as a city and the technology we use to support them.
  • Startup Week Seattle was as energetic as ever. For the first time, we presented a civic & social impact track with 5 events – three with City involvement. Approximately 150 people attended our events on edtech, civic tech, and inclusive design. Special thanks again to all our speakers and congratulations to all the successful track organizers, which focused on everything from “real talk” on diversity in tech to the evolving AR/VR landscape. Check out this recap of the civic startups panel on StateScoop and explore all the events and companies at seattle.startupweek.co.
  • On November 9, Open Seattle launched a new meetup, OpenIDEO, focused on user-centered design and design thinking. You do not have to have technical skills to participate. For more on this meetup or to attend the next event on December 7, visit the new outpost’s Meetup page.
  • Love Seattle? Love tech? You have until November 30 to apply to be an organizer of Open Seattle.

National news

  • A new app called Nexar is crowdsourcing traffic data in San Francisco and New York. The app is free; the company has $14.5 million in backing, with a business model around monetizing crowdsourced data. The founders say this data has value for insurance companies now and the makers of autonomous vehicles later. (GovTech)
  • The City of San Rafael has implemented a just-launched tool called ProudCity Service Center that embeds directly into Facebook, allowing users to find information, make payments, submit service requests, and provide feedback all from a simple initial interface. (GovTech)
  • Is the future of open data open source? A new product from GIS company Boundless believes so, switching up the traditional gov-SaaS business model, around licensing for individual users, to a model more focused on providing central support for agencies that operate at scale. It’s worth keeping an eye on as the civic tech sector and government in general wrestle with the tradeoffs between open-source and proprietary software. (GovTech)

New tools

  • Escape Your Bubble, a Chrome extension that interrupts your Facebook news feed with clearly marked stories from “the other side” (you can choose whether you wish to better understand Republicans or Democrats) is just one of several civic-minded apps and offline efforts to emerge in the immediate aftermath of the election. In “Coders Think They Can Burst Your Filter Bubble With Tech,” Emily Dreyfuss lists them all. (Wired)
  • Pittsburgh’s new Burgh’s Eye View app is an open-source tool that displays geocoded open data about service requests, arrests, code violations, and more. (CityInspired)

Is civic tech partisan? Harvard Kennedy School’s David Eaves says it can’t be. Code for America Founder Jen Pahlka says it fundamentally isn’t. FedScoop asked both sides of the aisle. Everyone seems to agree that good government technology isn’t a partisan issue – but 18F has taken a stand in small ways on things like gender and racial equality, and the civic tech movement is fundamentally oriented around the notion that government should be accountable to people. It’s unclear whether those values will carry forward, and there’s an active debate among thought leaders as to where the work can and should go from here.

  • In “Looking Forward: How Civic Technology Can Bridge the Divide,” AppCityLife CEO Lisa Abeyta urges civic technologists to stay focused on tangible outcomes. She writes: “We must continue to develop and share the technology and tools that can deliver better self-service access to the information and services we need within our own communities, urban or rural, that empower us to make informed decisions, interact with our government, and improve our own economic mobility.” (Inc.)
  • 18F’s Noah Kunin says he’s staying to work for Trump.”My oath to this country was not to a particular office, or person, and certainly not to a political party. It was to the Constitution and to the people (emphasis added)” (Medium)
  • Civic tech, government tech, and urban tech are often used interchangeably, but to many in the fields, they are not the same thing. In a post-election essay, “How Civic Tech Should Respond to Our New Reality,” Personal Democracy Media/Personal Democracy Forum founder Andrew Rasiej urges the civic tech community to stay focused on equity, even when that is perceived as political. “If [civic tech] is to ever fulfill its promise,” he writes, “our field must become a champion for decency, equity, and openness, and to do everything it can to fight bigotry, racism, and hate. The fear of openly talking about these subjects at Summit makes me also fear that the civic tech community has not yet developed enough to know when to recognize the difference between partisanship and an existential threat.” (Civicist)

On the horizon

  • From 911 to 311 to crisis hotlines, governments operate a lot of call centers. But could any of those services be automated? What about gamified? In “The Future of 311 could be weird,” David Dudley writes, “The ultimate goal, many 311 experts say, is to allow cities to forge a frictionless and spookily immersive e-commerce kind of relationship with its residents, complete with the ability to predict their wants and needs.” Quoting Andrew Nicklin from the Johns Hopkins Center for Government Excellence: “In an ideal universe, your interaction with government would be so seamless you don’t even know it’s government.” That ideal may not be far away. (CityLab)

Upcoming events

Community events with a civic tech component:

  • Wednesday, November 30, 7-8:30 pm @ University of Washington Kane Hall: “My Politics as a Technologist,” featuring civic technology legends Terry Winograd and Alan Borning. Free. (RSVP)
  • Wednesday, December 7, 6:00-9:00 pm @ Impact Hub Seattle: OpenIDEO meetup about civic engagement and employment in the age of automation. Free. (RSVP)
  • Wednesday, December 14, 6:00-9:00 pm @ Socrata: “Designing Open Seattle’s Role in Civic Tech Post-Election.” Free. (RSVP)
  • Wednesday, January 25, 10:00-11:30 am @ Impact Hub Seattle: “Community Cross-Pollinators: Technology + Social Impact.” Free. (RSVP)

If you’d like to suggest events or content, please email us at civic.tech@seattle.gov.

Human-Centered Design, Homelessness, and Civic Tech at the 2016 Code for America Summit

In early November, several City employees attended the Code for America Summit in Oakland, California. There were three representatives from Seattle IT (CTO Michael Mattmiller, Director of Applications Tara Duckworth, and myself, Civic Technology Advocate Candace Faber). We were joined by four members of the Mayor’s Innovation Team (Tina Walha, Rodrigo Sanchez, Adam Petkun, and Hannah Hill), and Sergeant Dan Nelson from the Seattle Police Department, who worked closely with Seattle’s Code for America Fellowship team this past year.

After the Summit, we got together to trade insights and lessons learned. Here are our collective key takeaways:

  • Sustainability matters. There are a lot of people who want to solve problems with technology – building the tools is the fun part – but afterwards, the tools need to be transferred, marketed, supported, sustained, and monitored to see if they are really being used.

    “We need to set up just enough documentation, and just enough process, to ensure [civic tech tools] can be sustained.”

  • Tech can lower barriers and increase engagement. We learned about tools being used in other cities to engage with the public, from a crisis text line in Anchorage that operates over SMS to the CityVoice app that allows people to chime in through short telephone surveys.

    “The statistics showed that they were reaching new people [with the surveys]. In Morro Bay, 74 percent of respondents said it was their first time engaging with government. In San Francisco, it was 58 percent. That seems timely given the Mayor’s focus on equitable engagement.”

    “Other cities are using text messages to deliver services. It’s so low-cost, so easy, and so common as a way for people to receive information, compared to drafting letters and stuffing envelopes.”

  • Government and constituents experience things differently. There is a natural tension between how government and the public experience our work. In government, we think about policy, then process, then services. For the user, it goes in the opposite direction.

    “It’s on us [in government] to think not just about the policy, but what the constituent experiences.”



Design Thinking & Homelessness
We also had an extended discussion about design thinking and user-centered design, particularly in the context of homelessness. These are the insights we’d like to share:

  • It’s not about housing, it’s about having a home. Bureaucrats can get lost in the day-to-day of what we have to accomplish and forget that the person on the other side isn’t looking for “a unit of affordable housing,” but a place to live that meets their needs. If we don’t achieve that, we haven’t solved homelessness, no matter how much housing we build.
  • The “user experience” is critical. When a person seeks assistance from the government, what message does the government send? Are they a welcome guest or an unwanted visitor? Right now, it’s hard to imagine justifying these customer service touches as a budget line item. As one of our attendees said, “We don’t measure user experience as part of performance. It would change a lot of things if we did.”

    “When you walk into a Doubletree, it smells like a warm cookie, and then they just give you a warm cookie. How would it change things if you just gave people a warm cookie when they walked in seeking services? It’s a small thing, but it communicates that people are valued.”

  • Government should question whether its practices help or harm. People are not always willing to accept government services, but we rarely ask why. Perhaps it’s not true that they “just don’t want help” – it might be that what we are offering doesn’t help at all.

    “When we do intake, we say to people, ‘Tell me about your life story’ – and they are retraumatized every single time.”

  • We need to design City employees’ work around the people they serve. The hours for a typical homelessness outreach program are Monday through Friday, 7 am to 5 pm – not the hours when an outreach worker is likely to be most helpful to a person in crisis.
  • We have competition. In the private sector, competition fuels service. Companies don’t want their customers to go to a competitor. In government, we think we have a monopoly, but we don’t. If what we’re providing isn’t good enough, it impacts people’s lives. We are competing, and we want to do better.

    “In government, we think we have a monopoly. But we don’t. Our competitor is the street.”

Want to know more?
Below is a video of Sergeant Dan Nelson’s presentation with Code for America Fellow Meredith Hitchcock from the Summit main stage. You can find full video content from the Summit on the 2016 Summit Mainstage channel on YouTube.

Center for Digital Government Names Seattle Digital Cities Survey Winner

Brianna Thomas, Legislative Assistant to Lorena Gonzales, accepting Seattle's 2016 Digital Cities Award

Brianna Thomas, Legislative Assistant to Council Member Lorena Gonzales, accepting Seattle’s 2016 Digital Cities Award

Seattle Information Technology (Seattle IT) was recognized for its recent consolidation. The new department is made up of 650 staff members that once worked across 15 city agencies and aims to create efficiencies and capacity for tech projects.

Other accomplishments include: the launch of a mobile-responsive website, a customer relationship management system to improve communications with residents and a data analytics platform for the police department. Efforts to work with the city’s tech community include the hiring of a civic technology advocate to engage with those individuals, a Hack the Commute program that developed prototype apps to help solve transportation issues, and a partnership with Code for America on the development of a crisis intervention app to connect people in need with social services.

In addition, an in-house innovation team is working on data-driven solutions to challenges in Seattle. While an open data program has been in place since 2010, the city’s “open by preference” policy was signed in February and calls on department heads to name “open data champions” to spearhead the release of information.  And for monitoring IT performance, Seattle developed TechStat, which is modeled off programs like the New York City Police Department’s CompStat, to facilitate internal transparency and monitor metrics for operations and projects.