Civic Tech Roundup: August 17

Introducing a new feature on the Seattle IT TechTalk blog: the Civic Tech Roundup. Twice a month, we’ll feature news, must-reads, and upcoming events in civic tech, curated especially for Seattle’s civic-minded tech community. To suggest content, including upcoming events, email us at civic.tech@seattle.gov.

In the news

  • For those still wondering what civic tech even is, here’s a quick overview from today’s GovTech.
  • This month, the print edition of GovTech magazine featured Seattle civic entrepreneur Ethan Phelps-Goodman on the cover, in a story (available online) that also features national leaders such as Code For America Founder Jen Pahlka. The article quotes Open Seattle organizer Seth Vincent and several members of the City of Seattle IT department. Author Colin Wood writes, “civic tech — the place where government interests intersect with community-minded activists who are ready to donate their time and talents — is the public sector’s fastest-moving innovation inlet.”
  • The Bay Area Startup-in-Residence program (STiR) is entering its second cohort of civic-minded, tech-enabled startups helping city governments tackle their challenges. This is impressive, but perhaps the biggest innovation news in the piece is the fact that it triggered a simplification of the procurement process in the San Francisco City government, rolling up 17 separate requests for proposals into a single form. Learn more about the 14 startups working with Bay Area governments in the article.
  • Finally, GeekWire ran a lengthy interview with Civic Technology Advocate Candace Faber (that’s me), outlining the need for technologists to get involved in civic issues beyond creating apps.

 

Must-reads

  • The Surprising Place Where Activists Are Fixing Society’s Problems,” in this month’s Inc. magazine, highlights activists-turned-entrepreneurs who see technology as a potential solution to social problems. Benjamin Jealous, a former head of the NAACP, is quoted saying, “All of us had been national, progressive advocates, leading organizations that needed urgently to solve big problems, and we found ourselves banging our heads against a brick wall. Here [in Silicon Valley] was an opportunity to do things that had proved impossible in Congress.”
  • Exploring Online Engagement in Public Policy Consultation: The Many or the Few?” Many civic tech products are focused on engaging the public in solving their own problems. Is this always the right approach for government? What are the implications for members of the public whose needs deserve consideration but cannot participate as directly in the decision-making process? That’s the subject of this academic paper from Helen Liu of the University of Hong Kong, published in this month’s Australian Journal of Public Administration and available in full online.
  • vTaiwan: Public Participation Methods on the Cyberpunk Frontier of Democracy,” explores the seeds of collaboration between Taiwan’s government and its open-source community, resulting in a virtual policy development engine that has since expanded beyond addressing cyberpolicy. This is perhaps a counterpoint to the essay above, with author Liz Barry noting, “The fact that these methods are working at a national scale in Taiwan suggests that, in an age of mass digital participation, we can reclaim the democratic process for including the people’s voice in creating laws.”
  • Design and the Self,” an essay by Khosla Ventures’ Irene Au, summarizes all the reasons why design matters – including how it makes us feel, with implications for cities that also want to be the best versions of their “selves.”

 

Upcoming events 

  • Thursday, August 18 (tomorrow!), 3:00-5:00 pm: Data Science for Social Good Presentations at University of Washington (details + RSVP)
  • Friday through Sunday, August 19-21: Maker Land open air camping + maker event, Seal Rock, Oregon (details + RSVP)
  • Wednesday, August 25, 6:00-8:00 pm: Open Seattle Meetup at Socrata headquarters, International District (details + RSVP)
  • Saturday, August 27, 10:00 am-10:00 pm: Hack for Healthcare at University of Washington Startup Hall (details + RSVP)
  • Looking ahead: Seattle Design Festival, September 10-23

 

BONUS: Request!

The Civic Tech Roundup needs a logo! A pixelated lasso, perhaps? An adorable gathering of techie things on a picnic blanket? Or maybe even a different name to go with a more compelling image? If you’re inspired and willing to contribute, please reach out.

Note: If you love civic tech, we recommend keeping up with the news via GovTech (esp. Jason Shueh and Colin Wood), Civicist, and the Code for America blog, as well as local Code for America brigade Open Seattle