Civic Tech Roundup: November 9, 2016

It’s the biggest news day of the year. Here are the civic tech stories not to be missed, even – especially – as we prepare for the new presidency.

Seattle happenings

  • Eight people on staff at the City of Seattle attended the annual Code for America Summit in Oakland, where Seattle Police Department Sergeant Dan Nelson presented alongside Code for America Seattle Fellowship team member Meredith Hitchcock about their new app, RideAlong. The app was developed in collaboration with front-line officers to help law enforcement provide appropriate responses to people in crisis on our streets. Their presentation is now online. (YouTube)

National news

  • This is the year elections went real-time, with VoteCastr providing free data via Slate and a Vice newscast. They predicted that Clinton would win swing states early on – before noon, leading to a surge in stocks and the peso that was later reversed. Most traditional media embargo early results information in the name of fairness, until polls close. However, in states like Washington where we vote by mail and often long before November 8, returns from other states are less and less likely to sway the final voters. As I write this, it seems clear that Votecastr’s methodology was flawed, but there’s no doubt that conversations about data (not just the data themselves) are influencing our elections more than ever. (Recode, NYTimes)
  • The biggest civic tech event of the year is the Code for America Summit. This year, it tackled big structural issues in the field, including procurement and diversity. We’ll post a recap next week; in the meantime, you can check out the highlights on Twitter at #cfasummit.

 

New tools

  • I hope you didn’t miss “Electionland,” the real-time map of voter issues from Google and Pitch Interactive, which grouped searches nationwide around key topics and showed where search spikes were the greatest. Read more about the project in Wired.
  • Last week’s biggest civic tech news drop was the launch of Code.gov, which open-sources federal government websites and other custom tools, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs’ vets.gov. It’s connected to the United States’ first-ever federal source code policy, which pushes the government to operate more on open-source and to publish at least 20 percent of custom code to the public. You can browse code, view repos, offer feedback on the API’s, and even contribute via  Code.gov’s GitHub.

 

Must-reads

  • “We don’t call that a revolving door, we call it being a citizen,” says DJ Patil, the United States’ first-ever Chief Data Scientist, about techies moving between the private and public sectors. Listen to the entire interview on Recode Decode.
  • In a panel discussion at this year’s Code for America Summit on “Working Together to Address Racial Disparities”, Kristian Lum from the Human Rights Data Analysis Group showed clearly how data-driven, predictive policing leads to disparate enforcement of drug laws in the Bay Area. This results in more arrests of people of color, even though we know that drug use is consistent across racial groups. “Technology has the potential to reinforce the biases that already exist in the data,” Lum says.  Worth a listen.
  • The Center for Data Enterprise published its Open Data Transition Report on October 24th, presenting a set of recommendations for the incoming U.S. President on how to build on the achievements of the last 8 years. The interactive site allows you to download the full report or explore the recommendations one-by-one. (Open Data Transition Report)

 

On the horizon

  • A new president. And, very likely, efforts by the sitting president to solidify the work this administration has done to open up data and modernize use of technology across the federal government through initiatives like the U.S. Digital Service and 18F. As Popular Science put it, “Modern technology is amazing and no one running for president understands it” – in contrast to our current commander-in-chief.  The faster technology moves and the more it becomes part of our lives, the more essential it will be to have a government that gets it. How will the next administration handle “cyber”? We still don’t know – but we do know that this current White House has a plan for passing along the Presidential Twitter account. One would hope the other elements of the national civic technology infrastructure have a solid succession plan as well. But it is worth noting, as always, that technology is just tools, and they can be used just as readily to perpetuate injustice as to address it.

 

Upcoming events 

Events with official City involvement: 

Community events with a civic tech component:

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