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)

Must-reads
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.