Civic Tech Roundup: August 31, 2016

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Seattle happenings

  • What happens with your ORCA card data? The Seattle Times ran a feature on a team of students in the University of Washington’s Data Science for Social Good summer program who just completed a project analyzing 21 million ORCA card readings – a two-month sample that reflects a fraction of Sound Transit’s holdings.
  • Using some of the source code developed for Seattle’s Broadband Speed Test, the City of Louisville released a similar interactive tool called Speed Up Louisville.
  • This weekend, Hack for Healthcare was held at Startup Hall, yielding ideas for tackling issues from mental health to prescription drug use tracking. Check out this writeup from host Kal Academy and the Tweets tagged #hackforhealthcare.


In the news

  • The White House and the U.S. Department of Education just awarded $100k to New York-based ThinkZone Games, the winner of the Reach Higher career app challenge. Watch First Lady Michelle Obama make the announcement, read a writeup in Xconomy, or check out the company site at
  • Data company Kaggle just released its own open data portal, which allows for analysis and visualization without download. Check it out.
  • Policy.Mic featured several young entrepreneurs in a feature on elections-related civic tech. In explaining why one of the featured organizations was set up as a nonprofit, author Kathleen Wong highlights the gap between the private and public sector that’s given rise to civic tech overall: “Those who understand Congress typically don’t understand technology, and vice versa.”



  • California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom Talks Transparency, Civic Tech, State IT Reforms.” In this interview with GovTech magazine, current Lieutenant Governor of California and former Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom shares his vision for how civic tech can transform government. “People are demanding a different kind of openness, and they have a right to demand it,” Newsom says. “It’s a race against time right now because people’s experience with government is contrasted every single day by the private sector, and our experience in public sector is so glaring, and so problematic in terms of civic engagement, and in terms of governmental interaction and trust that, at least from my perspective, this is code red. […] We just have to have this massive cultural and technological shift around interests — not agencies, not silos, and that requires a massive reorganization. That’s not reform, that’s reimagining, and what I’ll be promoting is reimagining these systems, not reforming them.”
  • Encouraging and Sustaining Innovation in Government.” This new report from open government legend Beth Noveck and Stefaan Verhulst of GovLab details the outstanding challenges and opportunities for the public sector.
  • Three Advantages of Beta-Testing City Websites.” This article in GovTech explores an emerging trend among cities: trying beta sites on real users before relaunching.


Upcoming events 

  • Thursday, September 15, 12:00 pm: Civic Tech Lunch Hour at Impact Hub Seattle featuring the Department of Neighborhoods (RSVP)
  • Friday-Saturday, September 9-10: Technology & Justice Symposium at University of Washington School of Law (RSVP)
  • September 10-23: Seattle Design Festival
  • Thursday, September 22: Open Seattle Meetup (no RSVP yet)
  • October 14-16: Seattle GiveCamp
  • October 15-16: DubHacks (students only)

Open Data Playbook Now Available

Seattle IT staff and members of the community stand behind Mayor Ed Murray as he signs an Executive Order in support of the City’s new open data policy on February 26, 2016. Photo courtesy of Colin Wood.

Want to know how Seattle’s open data program is managed? Curious how we get from policy to action? Check out our newly published open data playbook here, also linked to from

The playbook is a guide for City staff on how to implement the open data policy and executive order that were issued in February 2016. We are making it available to the general public as well, based on demand for this information from other cities as well as from members of the community.

This document is in Portable Document Format, but please consider the content open-source: You may use or reuse any language or images you find helpful, with the exception of the City’s official logo. We plan to update the document as needed based on feedback from users inside the City as well as any changes we make to the program’s management over time.

If you have feedback for the open data team on this playbook or any other questions about the program, you can reach us at

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

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.



  • 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